For a long time, the only specialist low-fare airlines flying the Atlantic were charter affiliates of large tour operators, mostly European carriers hauling vacationing Europeans to the Unites States. Only a few airlines tried low-fare transatlantic flying without package-tour-market backup, including PeoplExpress and World Airways, but none lasted. Now, however, as the giant legacy airlines hike up their cheapest tickets, low-fare start-ups might again have a price "umbrella" under which to thrive, and a few are trying it out.

Currently, most low-fare transatlantic flights are still on European airlines affiliated with tour packagers. Two lines, however, are doing it without a built-in tour-market base. And more will probably follow. Here's a roundup of some of your primary low-fare transatlantic options, with notes on plane types, fares, and routes.

Test fares shown are in U.S. dollars, for round-trip travel in July on airlines with less-than-daily frequencies. Keep in mind that on some carriers, flying a few days later or earlier could make a difference of several hundred dollars in your fare. Also, on nonstop routes, competitors may offer lower fares on one-stop-connection itineraries. Except where noted, major OTAs and metasearch engines include flights on these low-fare airlines.

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Airberlin is something of an anomaly: Although it started with a low-fare strategy and absorbed longtime low-fare carrier LTU, it is morphing into something more like a traditional airline.

Routes: Chicago, Ft. Myers, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York/JFK to Germany—mainly Berlin and Dusseldorf. It also offers connecting service from dozens of North American cities to dozens of cities in Europe.

Equipment: A330s, with economy in a relatively conventional two-four-two arrangement and at a tight 30-inch pitch, plus business class with flat-bed seats.

Sample Fares: Nonstop New York–Berlin starts at $1,079 plus $21 in online baggage fees on the lowest fare. Business class starts at $4,322.

Verdict: Airberlin is a good option. It has the best prices for economy nonstops to Berlin, with a product comparable to legacy airlines.

(Photo: William Mewes via flickr/CC Attribution)

Air Transat

Canada-based Air Transat is the only independent low-fare airline headquartered in North America. It relies heavily on traffic generated by its package-tour operations, but it sells a lot of air-only tickets.

Routes: Seasonal flights from 15 Canadian cities to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Glasgow, London/Gatwick, Manchester, and Paris (and to warm-weather destinations in the winter). Most routes operate with less-than-daily frequency.

Equipment: A310s and A330-200s, with terribly tight nine-across economy seating but above-average 32–33-inch seat pitch, and one A330-300 with standard eight-across seating at a 31-inch pitch. All models have a few deluxe "club" seats that are comparable to premium economy on legacy airlines.

Sample Fares: Vancouver–London/Gatwick starts at $1,239 in economy and $2,726 in club. Air Transat charges extra for seats in pairs, seats with a view, and exit-row seats.

Verdict: Only fly Air Transat if cutting costs by almost $300 justifies 11 hours of misery in those awful nine-across seats.

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Condor, once Lufthansa's charter subsidiary, is now part of the Thomas Cook Group of airlines and tour companies.

Routes: Seasonal flights to Frankfurt from Anchorage, Halifax, Las Vegas, Seattle, Toronto, and Vancouver, with winter flights from Florida and Vegas. It offers connections throughout North America and Europe.

Equipment: 767s, with economy in conventional seven-across seating plus options for extra-legroom seating, semi-premium economy, and business (which is really more like premium economy) with six-across seating.

Sample Fares: Seattle–Frankfurt starts at $1,517 in economy, $2,061 in semi-premium economy, and $2,548 in business.

Verdict: Condor is probably a good bet when competitor fares are much more expensive.

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Corsair, a former subsidiary of tour operator Nouvelles Frontieres, now belongs to the TUIfly group.

Routes: Corsair's lone North American route is from Montreal to Paris/Orly.

Equipment: A330s in the undesirable cattle-car three-three-three arrangement in economy, plus a "Grande Large" premium-economy equivalent.

Sample Fares: Fares start at $945 in economy and $1,500 in premium economy.

Verdict: When I tested prices, I didn't find that Corsair offered the best deals.

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Once renowned as the "backpackers' airline" for its cheap tickets to Luxembourg, Icelandair is now hard put to beat competitors on most routes it flies.

Routes: To Reykjavik from Anchorage, Boston, Denver, Edmonton, Halifax, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York/JFK, Newark, Sanford, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver, and Washington/Dulles, with onward connections to much of Europe. Many North American routes are seasonal.

Equipment: 757s, with economy at an above-average 32-inch pitch, "economy comfort," with the middle seat blocked, and "saga," comparable to legacy-airline premium economy.

Sample Fares: New York–Copenhagen starts at $1,169 in economy, $1,519 in comfort, and $2,337 in saga.

Verdict: When testing prices, I found that Icelandair offered the best deals for those who want a no-charge stopover in Reykjavik—a great opportunity if you haven't been.

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Also known as Eurofly or Air Italy, Meridiana's main claim to fame is that it offers the only nonstops from the U.S. to Southern Italy.

Routes: New York/JFK to Catania, Naples, and Palermo.

Equipment: 767s; I found no information on specifics, but on the basis of the number of seats, the planes have either a very tight pitch or are in a very, very tight eight-across configuration—worse, even, than nine-across in A330s. The airline also advertises a business class (but it's more like premium economy).

Sample Fares: New York–Naples starts at $1,363 with extra charges for checked bags and meals. Business class starts at $2,096.

Verdict: Meridiana is probably an OK choice if you're headed to Southern Italy and you want a nonstop schedule.

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Norwegian is the airline everybody has under a microscope as it challenges top legacy carriers on the world's most important intercontinental route: New York to London. It also posts fares and schedules for Los Angeles to London. Although its plans are not yet set in stone, the airline will likely start flying this summer.

Routes: To London/Gatwick from Los Angeles and New York/JFK, plus older routes from Ft. Lauderdale and New York to Copenhagen, Oslo, and Stockholm; from San Francisco to Copenhagen and Oslo; and from Orlando to Oslo. Flights on all routes are less than daily. Regulatory issues may delay the London routes.

Equipment: Brand-new 787s, unfortunately with the narrow nine-across economy seats, plus what looks to be a good premium-economy option.

Sample Fares: Fares start at $1,398 in economy and $1,947 in premium economy.

Verdict: It will be a good deal, as long as the legacy airlines allow Norwegian to retain the price advantage it currently posts.

(Photo: BriYYZ via flickr/CC Attribution)


Air Canada calls its new low-fare airline-within-an-airline "Rouge," and it has assigned Rouge to fly several (mainly leisure) routes to Europe and warm-weather beach destinations.

Routes: From Toronto to Dublin and Edinburgh and from Montreal to Athens and Venice.

Equipment: 767s at a 30-inch pitch in economy, plus premium economy at a 37-inch pitch.

Sample Fares: Fares start at $872 in economy and $2,205 in premium economy. For comparison, you could fly on Air Transat for $863 or on Aer Lingus, in economy, for $962. Major search engines show Rouge flights as Air Canada.

Verdict: Rouge is probably a better bet than Air Transat.

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XL Airways France

Still another tour-operator-based airline, XL Airways France flies to Paris from a handful of U.S. cities.

Routes: To Paris/Charles de Gaulle from Las Vegas, Miami, New York, and San Francisco, plus the only nonstops from New York to Marseilles; some routes are seasonal.

Equipment: A330s, with a punishingly tight pitch of nine-across in economy, plus a premium-economy class.

Sample Fares: New York–Paris starts at $1,210 in economy. For comparison, fare start at $1,477 on OpenSkies.

Verdict: XL Airways France is only worth it if you're willing to put up with hours of torture to cut your fare by a few bucks.

(Photo: Juanedc via flickr/CC Attribution)

Ryanair: Waiting in the Wings?

Michael O'Leary, Ryanair's CEO, publicly speculates about offering transatlantic flights with base fares starting at $10 each way. Yes, that's what he says, and he assumes that Ryanair will make big bucks off of fees for everything. Even though O'Leary is famous for his off-the-wall remarks—remember pay toilets?—you can't ignore a man who built Europe's largest and most profitable airline. If O'Leary actually does it, Ryanair would upend the market even more than Freddie Laker did four decades ago.

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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title  10 Cheapest Airlines for Flying to Europe.

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