Opportunities to devise interesting itineraries by using "open-jaw" fare combinations--which means flying to one city and returning from another on the same ticket--have expanded in Europe as U.S. airlines such as United, American and Delta have become major players in transatlantic flights to European points.
An example of an open-jaw combination in Europe would be flying from Los Angeles to London and returning to Los Angeles from Paris. (A domestic illustration: flying from Los Angeles to New York and returning to Los Angeles from Washington, D.C.)
The best arrangements for open-jaw combinations in Europe are from U.S. carriers that serve both of the points in Europe that you want to use to begin and end your trip. While you can set up open-jaw flights using a foreign carrier, and possibly at the same fare, you have to go through the foreign airline's gateway city, which adds another stop and change of plane.
"For example, a traveler could take United from L.A. to London and from Paris to L.A., both on a nonstop basis," said Brian Clewer, head of Santa Monica-based Continental Travel Shop, a travel agency and consolidator. "If you wanted to use British Airways, you would have to stop first at London either en route to Paris or from Paris on your return flight to the U.S."
Open-jaw combinations should be set up in advance. With a regular ticket you can change your open-jaw routing once overseas. Some airlines permit you to change flight dates on discount tickets, but you pay a penalty of at least $100. In some cases, you would have to buy a regular one-way fare back to the United States if you need to change your return date. As a rule, you have to stick to your travel dates with tickets sold by consolidators. (Consolidators buy blocks of seats from airlines and sell them at steep discounts, but offer little flexibility for changes.)
Buying trip cancellation/trip delay insurance is a prudent move, especially with more expensive fares.
Suppose a traveler had in mind a Los Angeles-London-Los Angeles routing on a discount fare, but wanted to visit Paris as well. You could devise a Los Angeles-Paris and London-Los Angeles routing, with the traveler responsible for getting from Paris to London for the return flight. The same itinerary could be constructed in reverse, with a Los Angeles-London and Paris-Los Angeles routing. The passenger, in this instance, would have to get from London to Paris on his or her own.
As far as cost, you can get a nonrefundable, advance-purchase round-trip fare during midweek of $478 on an LAX-London-LAX routing and the same rate on an LAX-Paris-LAX itinerary. Your fare on this open-jaw routing would still be $478, based on a combination of half the round-trip fare of the two discount fares. Let's say the price on the London routing was $500 and $600 for Paris. The cost of the open-jaw combination would be $550.
You could also work the same open-jaw combination with consolidator fares. For example, you could buy a $449 round-trip LAX-London-LAX rate and $499 for LAX-Paris-LAX. The cost would be half of each rate, coming to $474.
Getting from one European city to another can be accomplished in several ways. You don't have to fly, although that's quickest. Regular intra-Europe air fares are expensive. But there are various ways to come up with cheaper tickets.
Some U.S. travel agencies/consolidators specialize in working with overseas agencies, especially in London. The foreign-based agency buys your ticket abroad after you've paid for it in Los Angeles. Time permitting, you can be issued your ticket before you depart. Or you can pick your ticket up in London. These tickets might be consolidator fares sold in Europe or intra-European discount or excursion fares called Super Pex.
"If the consumer buys the ticket more than two weeks in advance of departure, we can provide the tickets here," Clewer said. "Otherwise, they pick up their tickets in London, either at the airport or at our affiliate office in the city."
"We have contracts with various airlines, and we also work with other discount companies overseas," said Hans Ravenstein, a spokesman for San Jose-based British European Travel, another California outfit selling such tickets.
The European discount fares, which aren't always promoted or sold in the United States, also have assorted conditions such as advance purchase and cancellation penalties. "There are many different sorts of excursion fares, some sold on a one-way basis, some round-trip, some on a day-excursion basis," Clewer added. "As a rule, the restrictions have become more liberal in recent years."
In some cases, when the intra-Europe discount fare is only sold on a round-trip basis, it may still be cheaper to buy a round-trip excursion fare than a regular one-way fare. All you do is toss the return part of the excursion ticket.
Consolidator fares sold in London, which are non-endorsable and nonrefundable, might involve flights whose final destinations are in the Far East or Africa. Many international carriers flying to the Far East and Africa from London make an intermediate stop in Europe, such as at Frankfurt, Zurich, Rome or Athens. While the airlines sell these flight segments on their own, consolidators can generally offer lower rates.
Consolidator-sold seats also have the advantage of not involving advance-purchase conditions.
In this fashion, you could possibly get a one-way intra-European fare for substantially less than the regular one-way rates. For example, you could purchase a one-way London-Paris rate at this point for $104 compared to a regular one-way economy fare of $173.70.