When you book a connecting flight through a flight search engine you’ll be stuck playing by their rules – you need to stick to the same airline or airline network, the times they choose and they airports they connect through. Building you own connecting flights can be an affordable alternative to traditional connecting flights. There are many reasons you might want to try building your own connecting flight rather than going for the flights suggested by a computer algorithm:
- You can get yourself a hub airport a lot cheaper than direct to your desired airport
- You’ve found the best flight times or prices on airlines that aren’t on the same network.
- You want to use budget airlines which don’t operate a transit service.
Let me show you how you could build your own connecting flights and give you some tips for doing it yourself!
Search for Flights
- Search for flights. I use the ITA Matrix Software. You can’t book through this site but it will give you a tonne of alternatives on airlines and traditional connections. Adioso will also return some DIY connections in it’s search results but it’s a bit buggy and pedantic though as it’s a new site. Look at what cities they suggest as connections. Let’s use Sydney to Las Vegas as an example – ITA shows us the best flight/price combination is to fly Qantas from Sydney to LAX, wait for 8 hours in the airport and then fly to Las Vegas on American Airlines for the princely sum of $900 one way.
- Search for flights from the connecting city on different airlines and look for a connection that is either cheaper or involves less waiting time. For example, there are tonnes of different airlines operating LAX to Las Vegas so we needn’t use American Airlines at all. We can still fly Qantas from SYD to LAX for $845 and fly Spirit to Las Vegas for only $30 or fly Virgin for $60 and cut the time waiting in LAX down to three hours.
- Search for alternative connecting cities. This requires thinking outside the box a little. Look at a map and see if there are any logical stops between your origin and destination. For example, there isn’t much in between Sydney and Las Vegas except Hawaii. Search flights form Sydney to Honolulu and Honolulu to Las Vegas and see if you can build your own cheaper connecting flight. SYD to HNL costs $500 on Jetstar and conveniently arrived in the early morning so it’s now just a matter of finding a flight to LAS on the same day for a good price. You may need to do some digging around and look for budget airlines that don’t appear on flight search engines. Allegiant flies this route for $200 which makes the total price $700 – a $200 saving on the original flight we found.
Know the Minimum Connection Time
Each airport has a set minimum connection time (MCT) for flights. The set MCT depends on many factors such as the size of the airport, distance between terminals and the amount of people passing through the airport. Obviously it’s going to be a lot quicker to make a connection at the small, relatively quiet Christchurch airport than it is to make a connection at bustling and busy Heathrow.
Simply Google “XX airport minimum connection time” to find out what it is for the airport you plan on connecting through or you can find the MCT for many major airports listed here:
- Airport Minimum Connection Times – Amsterdam to Dallas
- Airport Minimum Connection Times – Denver to London
- Airport Minimum Connection Times – Los Angeles to Miami
Smooth Your Connection
Leave yourself enough time at the airport (by adhering to the minimum connection time for each airport). You’ll need time to clear immigration if you’re on an international flight, collect your bags, check-in for your new flight and go through security & immigration. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and go for a longer connection time if you don’t know the airport or are unsure how long it will take. Generally though, three hours is enough time to connect from one flight to another.
Know if you need to transfer terminals in advance. Big airports like London, Singapore and Los Angeles have more than one terminal and they can be quite far apart and require a train or bus transfer. If you’re connecting from an international to a domestic flight, these terminals can also be some distance from one another.
Pack light if you can as you’ll need to schlep your luggage from one airline to another. Especially important if you’ve given yourself a tight connection time. If you’re on a tight timeframe make sure you’re dressed to power walk through the airport with ease.