Help with creative flight searches
May 9, 2022 8:16 AM   Subscribe

I am trying to book a multi-city trip from the US where my destination city is Paris and I will be flying back from Barcelona. I live in New Orleans but would consider almost any US city as my departure/return city, given I can get there via Southwest (I have oodles of vouchers and points) and the flights to/from Europe are direct. I cannot seem to find a site that will allow me to search flight prices based on a date and arrival city only. Help?

Essentially, there are no direct flights from New Orleans to Europe, but I can get myself to virtually any city in the US for free, which should open up some options for me. The city I depart the US from and return to do not need to be the same - so I could go New Orleans - Atlanta - Paris and then return Barcelona - Miami - New Orleans. I would book the connecting New Orleans flights separately, so I only want to price-shop the international legs. My dates are set. Is there a site where I can accomplish this that isn't Google Travel Explore (tried it) and that doesn't require me to search each major city individually and track it via a massive spreadsheet? Thanks!
posted by tryniti to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: there's a (+) you can do in google flights to add multiple cities to your search. you should be able to find a list of cities that fly directly to paris or barcelona: Dallas, New York, Boston, DC, Chicago, Charlotte, Miami, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Houston (would be my guesses)

I would do each leg at a time.
posted by sandmanwv at 9:00 AM on May 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

Looks like google maps has a max of 4 cities, so you might need need to do three searches.
posted by sandmanwv at 9:02 AM on May 9, 2022

Best answer: ITA Matrix will let you search for an origin within 2000 miles of any airport, which will cover the whole lower 48. A 1100 mile circle around Louisville, for example, will get you all the reasonable options, though you may have to ignore flights from Canada.
posted by ssg at 9:26 AM on May 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

Are you completely opposed to using a travel agent? This is what they do.
posted by Dolley at 9:32 AM on May 9, 2022

Best answer: This ends up not being as difficult as it sounds. I happen to find booking air travel enjoyable, so I did some digging. As it turns out, there are only two airports on the East Coast with both direct flights to and from MSY and direct flights to and from CDG and/or BCN, and they're actually the two airports you mentioned in your post: ATL and MIA. I don't see much point in flying west to then fly over the Atlantic, so I crossed off options like LAS or SFO - flying to the West Coast takes forever anyway, and flying transatlantic really takes forever, so doing both on the same day seems torturous. Flying out of Chicago maybe wouldn't be as bad, but that hits the second knockout criteria. Southwest only services MDW, which doesn't offer any European flights. If you flew Southwest to MDW, you'd then have to find a way to get to ORD for your flight to Paris, and that's too much work. This knocks out a couple of other options like LGA and DCA. I also crossed off options that aren't direct on Southwest from MSY, because a three-legged flight would be a lot, so no BOS. That leaves ATL and MIA. You can fly to Paris (CDG) on either Air France or Delta from ATL, and on American from MIA. On the way back, you can fly to MIA from BCN on American, or seasonally on Delta to ATL. Air France is part of SkyTeam, which also includes Delta, so from the points/loyalty perspective, it doesn't really matter which airline you choose out of ATL. At ATL, there is a theoretically chance that you could arrive and depart in the same terminal, as Southwest (AirTran) and Delta international both operate out of Terminal C. I believe you would not have to go through security again when changing flights at ATL, regardless of terminal; I believe you do at MIA. That probably gives a slight edge to ATL unless there's a big price difference.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:41 AM on May 9, 2022 [11 favorites]

Best answer: I was working on a response that would have said what kevinbelt figured out, so, seconding that entire comment. I would add, however, that your "free" flight from MSY to another airport might not be worth the trouble. Airlines commonly price a domestic connection into the cost of an international itinerary, so booking a single open jaw ticket (MSY-CDG/BCN-MSY) may be only nominally more expensive than booking a "free" round trip from MSY and a separate international ticket, and would save you the trouble of claiming bags from one airline to recheck them on another. In fact, for the sample dates I just tried, it would be significantly cheaper to book a single open jaw ticket from MSY ($967 booked through Iberia, cheaper than AA on a codeshare flight) than it would be to fly through Atlanta ($1539 on Delta).

I found these fares using ITA Matrix, as mentioned above.
posted by fedward at 10:32 AM on May 9, 2022 [8 favorites]

I believe you would not have to go through security again when changing flights at ATL, regardless of terminal; I believe you do at MIA.

On an international-US-US trip (such as Barcelona-Atlanta-New Orleans or Barcelona-Miami-New Orleans) there will be an unavoidable security check at the first US airport -- i.e. Atlanta or Miami -- regardless of terminal layout or airline/alliance.*

This is because you have to clear US immigration and customs at your first point of entry when coming back to the US always --> to clear customs you need to physically pass through baggage claim, pick up any checked bags and take it through customs --> and therefore you need to be re-screened prior to the domestic connecting flight, as you may have had access to items that are permitted in checked bags but not in carry-ons (e.g. knives).

Note this isn't (necessarily) true for US-US-international -- in this case it does in fact depend on terminal layout or airline/alliance whether a check is required.

*The only exception, which is not relevant in this particular question, is when the last departing flight back to the US is from an airport with US preclearance, such as most major Canadian airports, some Caribbean airports, or Dublin.
posted by andrewesque at 10:40 AM on May 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

If you're willing to fly a very low-frills airline, French bee has very low-cost direct flights from Newark to Paris. It looks like you can also fly direct from New Orleans to Newark.
posted by pinochiette at 10:45 AM on May 9, 2022

Southwest doesn't serve EWR. French Bee does fly out of MIA though.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:49 AM on May 9, 2022

I would anti-recommend transiting Miami unless the two legs are on the same itinerary so that you are protected in case immigration & customs or security takes forever unless you have Global Entry (you may still be able to use Mobile Entry, but I don't know if it's still a thing or saves time like it used to). While the security line after customs is usually better than the rest, you can't count on it and it's pretty common for the normal line to be well in excess of an hour.

As far as immigration goes, it once took so long to get through the immigration line that customs said fuck it and went home and just left the doors open and I suddenly found myself at the departures curb. Happily, on that particular occasion I didn't have a connecting flight so it didn't matter that it took 2+ hours.
posted by wierdo at 12:09 PM on May 9, 2022

Best answer: I've done a few open-jaw trips to Europe (i. e. fly into one airport and out of another) and they're almost always priced similarly to a round trip. Kayak is usually good at this - search for "multi-city" flights.

For comparison, I priced MSY-CDG, BCN-MSY at Kayak, out on 8/11, back on 8/21. I'm seeing $1180-$1200 with stops at:
- IAD (Washington Dulles) both ways, on United
- YYZ (Toronto) out on Air Canada, IAD back on United
- EWR (Newark) out, IAD back on United.
and on the same dates some itineraries with one stop on the way out and two stops on the way back, around $1100.

If you do the same search from Atlanta, you can get:
- ATL-CDG nonstop, BCN-ATL nonstop for $1120 on Delta;
- ATL-CDG, BCN-CDG-ATL for $1112 on Delta
... on the same flights you'd take if you flew Delta out of New Orleans. But now you had to pay to get yourself to Atlanta and be worried about the connection. I imagine the same happens if you try to fly through any other hub that's dominated by a single airline (Charlotte, Philly, Dallas...)

Flights from New York (which can often be cheaper) seem to be in the $900-$1000 range on those dates, but you still have to get there from New Orleans.

This all might be different on your actual travel dates!

But my point is that in general it's not actually going to save you money to get yourself to a hub airport, because now you don't have to connect as far as the airline you're flying transatlantic is concerned, and that's more convenient, so they can charge you a premium.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:36 PM on May 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

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