Connecting Flights or Nonstops: Which are Cheaper

There’s a little-known extra you pay for certain flights. Airfare expert and FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney calls it the “convenience tax.”

Why Connecting Flights are Often Cheaper

Seaney says we pay this higher airfare for the most convenient flights. Examples include flights on most popular travel days (Fridays and Sundays), morning flights (but not too early) and popular routes.

The most popular routes, of course, are nonstops. The airlines know this and charge us more for this convenience. Sometimes, a lot more.

Price Comparison: Connecting vs. Nonstop

If you can endure the inconvenience of a longer travel day, you might save a lot of money. Some examples for flights in July (prices found June 4 on FareCompare).

Detroit to Los Angeles

  • Nonstop: 466
  • One stop: 402 – Save $64

Washington, D.C. to Seattle

  • Nonstop: $577
  • One stop: $474 – Save $103

Atlanta to Cancun

  • Nonstop: $705
  • One stop: $348 – Save $357

Notice the Atlanta/Cancun connecting flight is half the price of a nonstop!

More Connecting Flight Savings

Foregoing nonstops can save money for U.S. and international travelers, as revealed by an analysis of airfare and destination data from FareCompare and other sources. It confirms the trend that – based on airfare averages – connecting flights can be cheaper.

International: Connecting flights to the following destinations provided the biggest savings on average, ranging from Seoul ($300+) to London ($130+).

  1. Seoul – $316
  2. Rome – $303
  3. Shanghai – $286
  4. Beijing – $257
  5. Paris – $210
  6. London – $136

Americas: The biggest average potential money-saving destinations for connecting flights within the Americas ranged from Toronto ($170+) to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic ($99):

  1. Toronto – $171
  2. San Jose Cabo – $130
  3. Maui – $126
  4. Honolulu – $123
  5. Vancouver – $106
  6. Punta Cana – $99

Again, these cheaper destinations are based on averages; what you pay will vary depending on departure city and destination.

How to Find the Cheaper Flight

This is so simple: Shop an airfare comparison site – such as FareCompare – that shows you the prices of nonstops and connecting flights whenever you search for tickets. Once you see what you will (or won’t) save, you can then decide if a connecting flight is worth the inconvenience of a longer travel day.

Other Benefits of Connecting Flights

In some cases, a connecting flight isn’t an inconvenience, it’s a plus. A few examples.

  • Break time for kids. Taking kids on a 10-hour flight can be more stressful than two shorter flights. Let them stretch their legs in the airport (many of which now offer play areas for children).
  •  Break time for adults. Domestic layovers can last up to four hours, plenty of time to catch up with a friend or relative over a meal.
  • Side trips. Layovers can be as long as 24 hours on international flights which may allow for a quick jaunt around a city you might otherwise miss.

If you’ve ever traded convenience for cash, we’d love to hear about it. So how much did you save?

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Updated: August 16, 2016