London to New York market stable at just over four million annual pax; over 30 flights per day from seven carriers with Heathrow-JFK #1 choice
The London to New York city pair is still the world’s busiest long-haul route. With over 30 daily flights in each direction involving four airports serving London (Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton and London City) and two in New York (JFK and Newark) there a number of options for passengers, ranging from Norwegian’s low-cost services from Gatwick to JFK to British Airways’ business-only service from London City to JFK (outbound via Shannon).
Passenger numbers between the two great cities reached four million as long ago as 1999 and reached 4.2 million the following year. The events of ‘9/11’ had a significant impact on traffic flows and it was not until 2007 that the record of 2000 was beaten (just). However, the banking crisis of 2008 again depressed demand between the two major financial centres and it has taken until 2015 for the demand level of 2007 to be reached again. Throughout all the ups and downs, the share of London to New York traffic generated by Heathrow to JFK services has been surprisingly consistent at between 65% and 75%.
Fare data sometimes difficult to pin down
With the end of the school summer holidays in the UK rapidly approaching, anna.aero was curious to see how fares among the various operators compared over the next few weeks as business traffic starts to ramp up once more. Although there are seven airlines serving the market, some are closely aligned due to alliance partnerships and joint ventures. American Airlines and British Airways are both part of the oneworld Alliance, while SkyTeam member Delta Air Lines is now a major shareholder in Virgin Atlantic Airways. So here’s our observations and analysis of the fare data found on the airline’s websites.
- Norwegian: Collecting fare data was easiest for the long-haul LCC. Its “Low Fare Calendar” shows the lowest fare each day for a specified month. The fare data collected was the LowFare price. For passengers wanting checked baggage, a meal and seat reservation it’s an extra £50, known as the LowFare+ ticket. There’s also a Flex price for economy, as well as Premium and PremiumFlex fares which offer more legroom, a three-course dinner and drinks, breakfast and access to lounges where available. The revenue management model follows the LCC model of offering cheaper fares the further you book ahead. A passenger booking now to take advantage of the UK Bank Holiday on Monday 29 August could pay £650 for the outbound flight on 27/28 August and £560 if returning on Wednesday 31 August for a total LowFare price of £1,210. However, before the end of September return fares can be bought now for between £450 and £500.
- British Airways/American Airlines: BA’s website is rather frustrating. For example, if you just want to see fares for flights from a specific London airport (it operates from Heathrow, Gatwick and London City) to JFK it insists on showing all flight operations. It also shows all American Airlines flights and there appears to be no way to select flights only flown by BA. BA’s all-business London City to JFK service, which operates using an A318 on weekdays, has late booking return fares of around £5,500. This reduces to around £4,300 for bookings at the end of October. Also the individual price of the inbound service on a given day is dependent on the date of the outbound service. For example, if leaving London on Saturday 27 August for around £450 there are inbound fares for under £500 every day until mid-September. However, if leaving on Sunday 28 August and returning within a week each one-way flight is now around £850 making a total of £1,700. This is clearly targeting the business passenger who does not want to be away from home at weekends.
- Virgin Atlantic/Delta Air Lines: Virgin’s website also shows Delta’s non-stop Heathrow-JFK flights but it also offers one-stop flights via its main hub at Atlanta, which is a significant and time-consuming detour. Although direct flights can be specified, the headline fare shown will still often be for an indirect flight. In comparison to BA, a passenger departing on Sunday 28 August and returning on Thursday 1 September will pay around £1,350.
- United Airlines: The airline’s website has its own quirks. If you tick “My dates are flexible” you have to specify how many days you will be away for (default is six). Non-stop flights are easily specified. The next page then shows cheapest return fares for the specified day of travel and length of stay. For a four day trip starting on 28 August and returning on 1 September United’s fares are from £1,207. However, for a similar length of trip at the end of September this drops to just under £500. It may be worth noting that during anna.aero’s time on the United website the system was “unable to process your request” on two occasions. Not good.
- La Compagnie: The self-proclaimed “All-Business-Class Boutique Airline” currently offers up to six flights per week from Luton to Newark using a 757 equipped with 74 lie-flat seats. For travel departing Monday 29 August and returning Thursday 1 September the return fare is just under £1,200. This is the ‘Best-Buy’. There are also ‘Promo’ (subject to availability) ‘Semi-Flex’ and ‘Full-Flex’ options which can take the return fare up to around £3,100.
For this analysis anna.aero used the individual airline websites. Of course, there are a number of websites that simplify the process by looking at many airline websites simultaneously and ranking the results based on customer preference. Having got frustrated by most of the individual airline websites we can see the appeal of such services!