How to book the best connecting flights for your next trip

Don’t be so quick to rule out a layover. We share our best tips for booking connections and how to get the most out of your time at the airport

Category Tips & tricks

Date 18th May 2017

While some travelers might see connecting flights as an inconvenience, others see them as a great opportunity – an opportunity to save money, stretch their legs for a bit, and maybe even add another city to their itinerary. In order to help you make a better and more informed decision next time you book your ticket, we break down the advantages and disadvantages of booking connecting flights.

As an added bonus, we also reveal today’s busiest connecting flight hubs, as reported by the latest OAG industry research.  We’ll include some interesting facts and tips for keeping yourself entertained in and around the airport just in case you happen to find yourself in one of these flight hubs during your next layover.

Connecting flights vs. self-connecting flights

A man checks the departure screen to find his gate - Bristol Airport, UK
A man checks the departure screen to find his gate – Bristol Airport, UK

Traditionally speaking, a connecting flight is any flight which requires passengers to change from one plane or airline to another at an intermediate stop on way to the final destination. For many of today’s global travelers, this extra stop is not a deal-breaker and may actually be preferred. In fact, 37% of all travelers are willing to wait more than four hours on a layover in order to save $200 USD, and for millennials, that number jumps to 55%, according to air travel intelligence company OAG.

There are two different types of connecting flights. There are those that are included as one route on your ticket and scheduled by the airline or OTA, and then there those which you plan yourself and book separately, known as self-connecting flights.

A self-connecting flight is unrelated to any other ticket or tickets you have purchased. If purchasing a self-connecting flight sounds like something you would do or are considering for your next flight, you are not alone. It just so happens that 92% of travelers are willing to self-connect under the right circumstances, according to the same OAG report.

Planning your own connection

If you have a stop in Pisa, how about a walk to the city centre? It will only take you 45 minutes by foot from the airport
If you have a stop in Pisa, how about a walk to the city centre? It will only take you 45 minutes by foot from the airport

Perhaps the number one reason why people book their own connections is to save money. If you can save hundreds of dollars by flying from another airport and can find a cheap flight to that said airport – why not? A great way to do this is to book with low-cost airlines and local airlines. You might find some truly great deals if you know where to look for them (may we suggest momondo?)

But keep in mind, as is often the case with low-cost airlines, you might not have any checked luggage included with your ticket and it will cost you extra to bring a bag, so make sure to double check the conditions for your specific ticket and to read all the restrictions.

If you decide to check a bag on your self-connecting flight, you will have to retrieve it from baggage claim, exit the airport, and then re-enter and go through the security process all over again. This can be time-consuming, which is why many self-connect travelers prefer to fly with hand luggage only.

Read more: Hand luggage only? Learn how to pack light

Passengers wait patiently to pick up their luggage from baggage claim at Schiphol Airport - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Passengers wait patiently to pick up their luggage from baggage claim at Schiphol Airport – Amsterdam, Netherlands

You’re a smart traveler, but just in case you don’t do this already, we would like to remind you that whenever you book a self-connecting flight (or any flight in general), always make sure to double check the airport code. Some major cities like New York have several airports in the area and certain multi-stop flights could require an airport change. If this is the case, you will need to book additional transportation (train, taxi, bus) to the other airport.

In general, it’s always a good idea to double or triple check the airport code. It would be quite the story to end up in San Antonio, Chile if you really wanted to be in San Antonio, Texas. But then again, never say no to a new adventure!

Extending your layover

Perhaps you are intrigued by the idea of adding a new stop to your schedule and exploring more than one city during your trip. If so, consider extending your layover overnight, a few days or even a couple of hours – long enough to get out of the airport and enjoy the city while still having enough time to make it back on time for your next flight. By adding another destination to your itinerary, you might be able to see two places for the price of one and you even save some money if you do it correctly.

Consider stopping in Iceland's capital city, Reykjavik, for a few hours or even a few days of stunning nature and new adventures
Consider stopping in Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik, for a few hours or even a few days of stunning nature and new adventures

There are some airlines that are known for their layover advantages, like Icelandair for example. Icelandair has an established policy which allows passengers to choose layovers of up to seven nights in its hub city of Reykjavik free of charge, enabling travelers to take advantage of a destination that they may not have thought to explore before.

Many times these airline connections turn out to be even cheaper for flyers. A recent search on momondo* for flights from Amsterdam to Boston come out to around $521 USD with one 17-hour stop in Reykjavik with Icelandair, whereas a direct flight with other carriers will cost over $755 USD at a minimum.

Emirates is another airline that encourages its passengers to include a layover in their itinerary.  They offer a pre-prepared stopover package to travelers who wish to take a day to see its hub city of Dubai. Although not entirely free, the package can cost as little as $64 USD and it includes one night at a hotel, a visa, and assistance to and from the airport.

What happens if I miss my connecting flight?

Travellers pass through the terminals of Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport
Travelers pass through the terminals of Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport

Each airport has its own recommended minimum connecting times set by the industry. For example, the minimum connection time reported by Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport for transfers within the same terminal is 60 minutes. For transfers to Terminal 3, CDG ups the recommended minimum time to 90 minutes. Each airport’s recommended flight times can usually be found on the airport’s official website.

If you have purchased a ticket from an airline or Online Travel Agency (OTA) which includes a connecting flight, in most cases the airline will do its best to book you on one of their flights or on one of their partner airline flights. Don’t forget to double check the terms and conditions for your specific ticket just to be on the safe side.

You will not get reimbursed, however, if you have purchased two separate self-connecting tickets and miss your connecting flight. Having an idea of the minimum connection time will help you to plan your connecting flights better and will take much of the stress out of making your next flight on time.

Megahubs by region

Passengers wait in line for their flights at Heathrow Airport - London, UK
Passengers wait in line for their flights at Heathrow Airport – London, UK

With thousands of connecting flights taking off every day, some of the world’s most connected airports are also some of the busiest – not only in terms of flight traffic but also in terms of queues. Below, we outline which airports are considered the most connected based on the maximum number of their potential routes each hour. Referred to as megahubs, these airports are ranked according to the OAG Megahub Index 2016**.

Europe

Frequent flyers to London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) know that even the recommended one-hour minimum time between connecting flights (even in the same terminal) is risky. Heathrow is so massive in fact that it is Europe’s largest megahub. With plans for a third runway already in the works, it is only expected to get bigger and more crowded.

If you have a couple hours to kill, you can reach the city center in just under 45 minutes via the tube or hop on the Heathrow Express, which will take you to Paddington Station in only 15 minutes. Another option is to grab a cab and take a 20-minute ride to Windsor Castle, the longest occupied palace in Europe and the preferred weekend home of Queen Elizabeth II.

Flights to London

North America

The "Sky's the Limit" art exhibition connects Concourse B and C in the Chicago O'Hare Airport
The “Sky’s the Limit” art exhibition connects Concourse B and C in the Chicago O’Hare Airport

The Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) is not only the biggest player in the Midwest United States, but it is also the largest hub in the US. Its expansive grounds are so large that travelers walking from one terminal to the next can get a small workout in. A passenger could walk well over a mile if they go from Concourse C in Terminal 1 all the way to the end of the L Concourse in Terminal 3. Yogis will also be happy to know that there is a yoga room located in Terminal 3 – the perfect place to stretch out before a long flight!

Flights to Chicago

Latin America

Brazil’s São Paulo-Congonhas Airport (CGH) is one of the four airports serving the São Paolo area. Since 1985, international flights have not operated from CGH, so it’s very likely that you will find yourself at this airport only if you are planning to fly internally within Brazil. And why wouldn’t you? From CGH you can reach the gorgeous beaches of Rio de Janeiro in about 50 minutes by plane, or you can venture out a bit further to the sunny peninsulas of Recife or the amazon capital of Manaus.

Flights to São Paulo

Middle East and Africa

Dubai's Terminal 3 was considered the largest building on earth at the time of its construction
Dubai’s Terminal 3 was considered the largest building on earth at the time of its construction

The world’s busiest airport for international passenger traffic just so happens to be the primary airport serving Dubai – Dubai International Airport (DXB). DXB sees around 90 million travellers passing through its terminals annually. If that doesn’t seem like a lot of foot traffic, consider this – DXB saw 88,545 connections on its busiest day in 2015 according to the same OAG report.

DXB’s massive grounds are so well-known that National Geographic even produced a 10-series documentary called Ultimate Airport Dubai, which gives viewers a behind the scenes look at the day to day operations of the airport.

Flights to Dubai

Asia Pacific

Indonesia’a Java island is home to the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport (CGK), serving the greater Jakarta area. OAG ranks it as the 7th most connected airport in the world and it’s known as being the busiest airport in the Southern Hemisphere. CGK boasts free Wifi, 21 reading corners located throughout its terminals and even a golf course located on the left side of the airport’s main gate.

Flights to Jakarta
If you’re lucky enough to land a layover in one of the 10 best airports in the world and you feel like doing a little shopping, don’t forget to check out our guide to making the most out of duty free shops. Happy travels!

 

*For a 10-day travel period in September 2017, searched in April 2017
**OAG created the index by calculating the total number of all possible connections between inbound and outbound flights within an eight-hour window during a single day at the largest airports (based on scheduled seats in 2014)

Originally published

18th May 2017