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We’re funny (usually), controversial (sometimes) and insightful (always!). Our travel experts share their experiences below in hopes of hearing back from YOU. So read, comment and enjoy!

The best long haul flight option? London – Florida.

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I would firstly like to note that this blog reflects only my personal views regarding certain air carriers and not necessarily the views of my colleagues; I write in hopes that you will find my experiences useful in planning your next trip from the UK to the American Southeast (specifically, to Florida) and that you will share your own pond hopping insights and experiences by commenting below.

 

Right…so, I was recently faced with the task of booking a last minute flight from London to America.  As, previously, I had only flown between Heathrow and Philadelphia or Baltimore (and subsequently travelled by car to my home in Delaware.  And yes, Delaware is a state…in which there are no major airports…), I never had to worry about domestic flight connections upon arrival to the US.  But, this time, I was going to visit family in Jacksonville, Florida.  Had I been visiting one of the major southeastern destinations—say, Atlanta, Miami or Orlando—a non-stop flight would have been feasible.  But for other popular vacation spots, such as St. Augustine, Charleston, New Orleans (and, in my case, Jacksonlle)—finding an affordable, low-hassle flight becomes quite difficult.

The point here is that you shouldn’t narrow your US travel destinations to cities that seem to pose the least complicated flight routes.  There are so many lovely, coastal spots in the southeastern states that require just a bit more effort—a few more minutes of crafty internet searching and an extra hour or two of travel time.  In my case, Delta Airlines provided the most affordable, reliable and comfortable way of getting from London to Jacksonville. 

First, a note on baggage…

Perhaps some of you, like me, have made the pond hop several times: then there’s a good chance that you, or people that you know, have experienced problems with recovering baggage.

Last time I flew from Philadelphia to Heathrow, using a certain air carrier that shall remain nameless, over $300 worth of valuables were stolen from my suitcase in transit, for which, the airline refused to compensate me.  The incident was, the customer relations agent informed me, not the airline’s fault, for I, the traveler, had chosen to place valuables in my suitcase.  Point taken, but with all of the hand baggage restrictions these days—and all of our technological obsessions—it is nearly impossible keep every digital device, Apple gadget, and Nintendo gaming accessory slung over our shoulders for a 17 hour door-to-door journey.

The moral of this story: proceed with caution when indulging in the dollar discount…

(My friend Natalie also wanted me to add: “mind the gap between the airport employee, and the conveyer belt: next stop, ‘Charring Loss’”—I can’t take credit for her genius).

Finding an affordable flight with easy connections…

With my normal go-to airline out of the question, I had to start from scratch. As always, my first points of research were skyscanner.net, and lastminute.co.uk.  Between these two sites, I was able to get a general idea of which airlines flew directly from London to Jacksonville…none!

 

I first considered taking a direct flight to Miami or Orlando…and then switching to a US low cost air carrier such as Southwest to get to Jacksonville (Florida is much bigger than it seems: Miami is a 5 hour + drive from Jacksonville).  The combined cost of these flights was way, way, way beyond my budget.

 

After about 2 hours of online research, I concluded that Delta Airlines was my best option: they offer several routes—with changes in Atlanta—to cities across the southeast, including Jacksonville.  Their prices were also the lowest, and, significantly, they offered plenty of layover flight times.  This is key, as, depending on the size of your travel party—and your country of citizenship—you may require more time to get through passport control and through customs before embarking on your domestic flight.  As a solo traveler with a US passport, 45 minutes probably would have been enough, but I chose a 2-hour layover, just to be safe.

The actual flight:

…was great!  We departed on time, my meals were decent (a choice between chicken and pasta, followed by pizza), and the movie selection was good.  We landed on time, and the Delta representatives were very specific and concise in their instructions for passengers needing to board transfer flights in Atlanta.  The route from the plane gate, to passport control, to baggage claim, through customs, to baggage re-check, and back through security was clearly mapped out and jet lag/idiot proof.  I was back through security with enough time to purchase a Father’s Day gift and to relax and stretch before boarding my connector flight to Jacksonville, which actually arrived early.

The take home advice:

Don’t be put off from planning a holiday to a non-major US city because of complicated flight routes.  Chances are, if you are traveling to Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, or Tennessee, that Delta offers an affordable route through Atlanta

Good luck and happy planning!

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Planning Your Bank Holiday Weekend

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Phase 1: Destination Selection + Flights.

If you’re anything like me, you probably waited until the last minute (i.e. NOW) to start planning a trip away for the upcoming May Bank Holiday (weekend of the 24th). A few of your friends probably came back suntanned and smiling from their early spring Moroccan and Andalusian getaways, thus inspiring you to embark on a fun little beachside excursion and of your own…

And then you saw the flight prices. Eek!

My mini holiday plans have become exponentially less exotic since I began researching, er, 5 days ago. I’m travelling from London with an Aussie, beach-loving friend of mine: we started out with grand ideas of jetting down to Tunisia or to the north coast of Sardinia.

But then…we saw the flight prices.

Okay, we thought, maybe somewhere a bit closer to home would be more feasible. The north coast of Spain? A bit of Basque country action in San Sebastian? Or perhaps a surfing excursion to Biarritz, France?

Still, no flights under £300. Unless, of course, we opted to depart at 6:00 am on a Wednesday from Stansted Airport, which, as many Londoners know, is a complete nightmare to fly out of—even at a decent time of day. However, the discount air carrier flights from Stansted can be worth the headache (brought on by complicated transfers, massive queues) for longer trips, planned well in advance. But for the busy professional seeking a quick weekend break: Gatwick and Heathrow all the way.

We gave in to the reality that our trip would have to be driven by the whims of the low-cost air carrier market, and we thus narrowed our destination selection to a few coastal, European cities that we deemed would pose more affordable flights: Lisbon, Bilbao, Nice, and Marseille.

Still, nothing within our budgets…with the exception of the touristy package holidays we found on lastminute.co.uk. It was time to let go of the ‘beach holiday’ idea and focus on the high-traffic ‘city break’ destinations: Amsterdam? Madrid? Rome? Paris? Prices were looking much better, but, unfortunately, one or both of us had already been to each of these cities.

Hmm…Wales? Brighton? The Isle of Wight…?

Where would we go?

“It’s too bad you’ve already been to Ireland,” we both said at the same time.

We quickly discovered that both of us had always wanted to go to Dublin! We ended up booking our flights (fist spotted on skyscanner.net – a very useful site!) with Aer Lingus, which not only offered competitive prices, but also provided flexibility in departure times and crucially, given our desire to depart post-workday, departures from Heathrow.

In conclusion, some tips for those planning budget, last minute weekend getaways from London:

- It’s not too late to book something affordable, but you can pretty much forget trips to locations that your great auntie in America hasn’t heard of.

- Unless, of course, you are willing to take a risk with an all-inclusive travel package. For this, try lastminute.co.uk.

- Use skyscanner.net to get comprehensive overview of the various airlines and available flights to your destination. Beyond Ryanair, Easy Jet, etc., there are often smaller, region-specific companies to choose from, depending on your destination.

- If you can’t possibly miss a day of work, forego the appealingly-priced flights out of Stansted, which are not worth the extra travel time, transportation costs and the massive queues that you will face upon arrival to the airport.

- Stick to the major ‘city break’ destinations – Paris, Rome, Berlin, Amsterdam, Dublin, etc.—for better deals and more flexible scheduling.

Happy Planning!

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