How Much Would You Pay to Avoid Connecting? And How Long is Too Long to Wait in an Airport?

If you’ve never missed a flight you’re spending too much time in airports. Non-stops are nearly always better than connecting, though on the longest flights the time a connection adds to your overall journey is relatively smaller (if everything goes as planned).

Passengers prefer non-stop travel over connections, but at what margin? How much are people willing to spend to avoid a connection and does it depend on how long of a connection they’d have to take?

A new study suggests that US passengers are willing to pay a $115 premium for a non-stop flight rather than connecting when traveling internationally.


Shanghai Pudong Airport

They’re willing to accept a 1 hour 13 minute connection on average, and millennials aren’t willing to wait as long as baby boomers. More than anything this tells me that travelers have an unrealistic sense of connecting times, given that international travel often involves re-clearing transit security even if there’s no passport control involved, that the downside of a misconnection due to delay is often greater for international travel than domestic, and that navigating unfamiliar airports often makes longer connecting times desirable.

Only 16.1% of passengers say that they like layovers. After all everyone wants to get where they’re going. An extra takeoff and landing means doubling the chances something will go wrong. And most airports aren’t that comfortable to wait in.


To Lounges, Tokyo Narita Airport

Just because you can book a 60 minute inline British Airways connection wholly within London Heathrow terminal 5 doesn’t mean that everyone should.

Interestingly British passengers are willing to wait longer on a connection, and aren’t willing to spend as much to avoid one.

Overall Asian airports are passengers’ preference for connecting experiences (with Tokyo Narita, Singapore Changi, and Seoul-Incheon scoring especially well). Honolulu and then Seattle are the top scoring US airports, and quite reasonably Munich scores best in Europe though all things equal I might prefer Vienna myself.


London Heathrow Terminal 5

How much will you pay to avoid a connection, and where’s your favorite place to connect if you can’t avoid it?

(HT: Blue Swan Daily)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Comments

  1. Gary
    its a very subjective question to answer
    There are so many factors and moving parts in this
    Chicago in winter? (I would pay a lot to avoid it)
    12 hrs layover in major european city landing in the morning and connecting flight in the evening? I might purposely do that
    Arrivng to la guardia 4 hrs before the flight? never
    arriving to singapore airport 6 hrs before the flight? absolutely
    Flying american airlines back from buenos aires with one stop or latam with 2 stops? LATAM always to avoid the cows that act as crew in american airlines

    very difficult question to answer

  2. 2-3 hour is perfect. Any less and you stress over missing it. Any longer and it drags your journey out too much.

    And I would take almost any connection over ultra-long hauls (like the proposed 20-hour Sydney to London nightmare). That’s a dead-air claustrophobic hell for me.

    Unless I’m in the Etihad Apartment, of course.

  3. Agree this question has a lot of “IFs” to it. If I am traveling domestically, I would always avoid a layover assuming the price is only slightly more, but I woudn’t fly, say Allegiant or Spirit cross country for less money to save a layover. Going international, if I have to stop in MIA or JFK, I would pay a lot to avoid it or fly a couple extra hours to a different hub. DFW no problem. Overseas, I would work hard to avoid LHR at all costs, but if the choice is non-stop for more money or stopping at AMS or MUC or ZHR I’m fine. So the question isn’t just about money or time, it’s really about the airport first, then money, then time, at least for me

  4. As a Southwest Companion Pass holder, and someone who frequently changes plans, I usually choose a connecting WN flight over a nonstop on another carrier. But, as I get older, my preference is gradually moving toward the nonstop.

  5. Gary, I rarely consider a decision weighing connecting v. non-stop options based only on price and my ability to get to the destination on time or how long the trip is. All things considered, the difference in cost is part of the deal.

    1. Having a connection on a long journey gives an opportunity to get out of the tube, eat, shop, relax at a lounge or visit the city (I enjoyed a day trip to and from Shanghai on a MagLev train from PVG for a few hours on trips from the US to other Asian destinations via Shanghai; similarly, Amsterdam is easy to get to from AMS by train and… well you may just put one more pin on your travel map!). I may be in the minority of the travelers but when I am not “on the clock” – I think of it as a nice perk rather than a deterrent. The same could be said for having a nice layover in Iceland and enjoying a glass of champagne and a soak in the hot pools in Blue Lagoon (near the airport).

    2. Flying non-stop v. flying to a hub nearby and doing a short hop (under 500 miles) to the final destination often results in 1,000 extra qualifying and bonus miles – when considered alone this may not seem much but may be a great strategy for frequent travelers participating in programs that allow roll-over for qualifying miles not to mention that the bonus miles may be worth $70-80, depending on the carrier, too. Do it a few times a year and you may need fewer trips to maintain privileges, spend less and earn more bonus miles.

    3. If I am on a red eye – I choose non-stop over connecting itinerary even if it is $200+ more.

    4. Earlier this week I booked a connecting itinerary on AeroMexico from NYC to Sao Paolo, Brazil (via Mexico City) in business for 2020 Carnival (Gol for intra-Brazilian hop). Only MEX-GRU are in lie-flats (similar flight duration as NYC-GRU non-stop), and JFK-MEX is in recliner biz on a 737 but the ticket was ~$1.7k roundtrip, just $600 more than economy on non-stop. May I add that, because AeroMexico is a SkyTeam partner, Delta will award approx. $500 value in bonus miles (assuming 100 SkyMiles = $1 if used for “pay with miles”) flying this far, and admittedly out of the way via MEX , the price works out to be almost the same as non-stop in coach and is absolutely worth it to me. As the added bonus, Delta will also award $5.3k MQDs for what essentially is $1.2 spend ($1.7k actual fare – $500 in SkyMiles earned). Make three trips like this (or other SkyTeam carriers with similar MQD arbitrage opportunities) in one year and you may very well qualify for Diamond (MQD-wise) with a lot less spend than you might first think.

    5. Some connections require hotel stay – I am sure there will be a lot of “for” and “against” votes, depending on preferences.

    6. Some connections are via state-of-the-art airports (perhaps you could share a list of your top 10 restaurants at airports while we are on this topic, I know you have some!) and others are less remarkable…

    This is a great question and all I wanted to contribute was a broader point of view and share some tricks and tips that I have used in planning my travel.

    Thank you for keeping this blog going, I enjoy it!

    Roman

  6. International flights are one thing; domestic flights are another. A random check of *both* AS and WN show that, at both airlines, nonstops are LESS expensive than flights with connections. (This is in line with my long-standing experience with both airlines, as well.) Obviously I receive some benefit from living near major urban airports/hubs — in my case, SFO and OAK — and my situation would be different were I to live in a smaller town with limited flights (e.g.: Burlington, Vermont; Nashville, Tennessee; Moab, Utah; etc.), but rarely are domestic nonstop flights more costly than domestic connecting flights.

    International flights vary. Personally, I love the idea of (e.g.) a free layover in Lisbon or Porto, etc., etc., and I’ll often deliberately break up a long flight into shorter hops (e.g.: SFO-JFK, spend a few days in New York, then JFK-MAD, or CDG, or…).

  7. @ Gary — You’re asking the wrong crowd. I am sure many here are willing to pay MORE for connections on a mile run! 🙂

  8. Well, on this topic I have a 5+ hour layover in HND. I have PP select too but funny thing about HND: no such lounges. And I am in economy this time. However, I plan to show up hungry at HND. I don’t mind a long layover as I am never in a rush — typically going between residences, sometimes alone and sometimes, like next week, with my better half, who likes a break between long flights.

  9. On domestic flights, I’d pay up to $50 extra for a nonstop vs a connection; up to $100 to avoid a connection on international flights. I’ll pay even more to avoid connecting in ORD in winter, any NYC airport, SFO, LHR, EZE, and mainland China.

    For domestic connections, 1 hour is absolute minimum and 1.5 hours optimal. 2-3 hours is my optimal time for international connections.

  10. @Billy Bob – clear security at HND. On the 4th floor above departures is the AMAZING Edo Market with awesome restaurants. Very good quality tonkatsu, udon – famous places from Tokyo. There are tons of delicious dessert cafes, snack shops, really cool souvenir and craft shops. High quality experience. Above said Edo Market is also the observation deck and even a mini Don Quixote to get all your random Japanese cheap goodies too!

  11. I prefer more segments to a trip. Not only does the itinerary often price out cheaper, but I’ll score more EQMs and EQSs for the same A to B journey. Once from BUF-PHL, I found I could add a segment on AA with a connection in MIA. That one took a bit longer but since first class scored a free meal on flights over 2.5 hours, I enjoyed the free dinner. Before Priority Pass restaurants, I had to get my free meals where I could. 🙂

  12. Domestic- if it’s not direct, well, I’m not going. Living in a hub will spoil you.

  13. For me its overnighting at any western airport. Better to layover all day if you have to not all night. Non western airports are much better to overnight if you have to because the availability of cheaper transport and cheap hotels. Just last night in Qingdao there was a hotel within walking distance of the terminal. Doing that lay over made me not have to layover at LAX for 11 hours HA HA

  14. According to Amex: ZERO WAITING TIME IS PERFECT! GET THE HELL OUT OF OUR LOUNGES!

    I couldn’t help myself. Given that you have to board 30-40 minutes early and they don’t let you in more than a minute before 3 hours prior to departure, it feels like a rather hasty situation in there.

  15. As Gary will discover, nonstops become more expensive x3 tickets (or in my case x4) for family trips. So while a one-way nonstop might be worth +$100 that adds up to $400 more on a family trip. Or $800 roundtrip.

    That being said every time I buy a connection to save $$ I always regret it even when things go right. Connections waste my time & with delays can easily add a few hours at the end of a leisure trip – never fun with kids. Plus I much prefer international arrivals at SFO where I know I will be through customs in <5 minutes.

    If I must connect in the USA I prefer ORD, IAH or possibly DEN or LAX. Avoid East Coast like the plague. In Europe I concur with MUC and VIE, though I've never missed a connection at FRA or ZRH. In Asia I like NRT or SIN though HKG is tolerable.

  16. I’m intrigued and puzzled by the survey. It seemed quite small (I suppose inevitably) with only 932 respondents. I was especially puzzled by the statement that British people were prepared to pay a lower premium than US people to avoid a connection – my personal survey of a similar number of British people to those surveyed would yield a complete anathema to taking a connection, whereas my personal survey of a similar number of US people would reveal a surprising tolerance of connections.

    Which leads to the fatal flaw – the survey excluded people who don’t take connections. If you are British and live within striking distance of London (the great majority of the population), there is simply no need to take a connection unless you are going somewhere very obscure. People simply don’t take connections – it doesn’t even enter the consciousness. Americans are not so lucky.

    Which shows you should be careful when interpreting these surveys

  17. to further NBs point – many brits from the non-london parts of the country actively prefer connecting in Amsterdam/Paris/Munich/Frankfurt/ZRH than the 2-4hr drive to Heathrow to take that direct flight

  18. As someone who stresses out over being late and missing connections, I prefer longer connection times. Even domestically I’m not willing to take a 45 minute connection at Charlotte if my ticket is in first class since I’m afraid the next flight won’t have the same seat available and I’ll be stuck in coach for 4+ hours.

    Heathrow is a mess. A few years ago we were flying back to the US but our early morning BA flight from Brussels was delayed for hours due to Belgian airport police being late to do a security inspection on the plane (it was left over night but in the morning one of the doors was found opened).

    Anyhow, on landing we were rushing to change terminals (to catch an AA flight) only to find out that flight had problems and we were rebooked on BA back at the original terminal and had to clear customs to catch the shuttle bus back to the original terminal. It was a mess.

    Our last trip back from Europe also had delays due to snow and airport problems at Brussels. We only caught our flight back (on United) due to it being delayed for hours. Fortunately we were in business class and could relax after the airport running.

    Anytime I can get a non-stop flight, I will do it. I’d much rather catch a train in Europe and relax going to the final destination than dealing with airports, security, crowds, etc.

  19. >They’re willing to accept a 1 hour 13 minute

    My last International connection was coming home through PEK, 90 minute connection, but between runway taxiing and immigration got to gate 15 minutes before boarding closed! Worse I did not have time to grab any chicken wings at that Irish bar restaurant in the terminal!

    This millenial gets nervous at any sub 2 hour connection, domestic or international.

    The way I look at it, if I get there early I can always ask to be moved to an earlier flight, and if it is a short hop I really don’t even care what seat it is!

  20. I avoid connecting domestic US. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a price difference that made me do otherwise.

    International, my priority is to be in J over the ocean and back at a RT price of $2K-$3K. If I can get that direct, I’ll take that, but if I have to connect to get it, I will. And I try to make connections not too short to avoid misconnecting. I don’t mind a few hours in a nice international lounge.

  21. I don’t like connecting, but will accept one if if required. Never really thought of the premium price involved, usually I just look at the total travel time involved and what airlines I need to take.
    Don’t travel frequently enough to have a favorite/non favorite place to connect.

    I’m not the fittest person around and like to take my time going through airports… usually end up looking at models, dioramas, and mini museum displays if the airport has them. In those kinds of airports, I like to have 3-4 hours, least the first time through. Otherwise I leave myself with around 2 hours to make sure I can get through check in, security, and walking or bus/train between the terminals.

    A lot of places I go only has 1x flight a day, so the layover length ends up being whatever the difference is between the incoming flight and the set time for the outgoing connecting flight. A past trip, I had CRP-HOU-BOS via Southwest and Jetblue, B6 only has one flight from HOU-BOS at 6:30pm so took the 10AM WN flight from CRP and had a 7 hour layover.

  22. @Andrew

    The 3 hour rule for Centurion Lounges does not apply to layovers. Learn to read before you post.

  23. My most common route is 3.5 hours direct and 7-8 hours connecting. When available, the difference is $100.00 more to fly direct. Not a problem.

  24. As long as silly airlines “reward” me with EQMs for distance travelled and I need these rewards to get status, then I will fly connecting because usually my travel is short haul domestic.

    NOW, if they would be logical and reward me status just based on spend alone, then I would fly direct and pay more for the convenience.

  25. Reading all of the responses above, it seems to me that the true answer to your question, Gary, is the same as the answer to the question “boxers or briefs?” Answer: Depends.

  26. I average only one international trip per year so most of my flying is domestic U.S.

    With that said, I prefer a 1 1/2 – 2 hour layover to decrease stress over missing a flight connection. I will pay $100-$125 more to fly direct. Since I primarily fly AA, my preferred airport for connections is DFW. Regardless of what some say, I find the airport layout to be efficient and easy to navigate. The airport I try to avoid like the plague is CLT. In my opinion, CLT represents a combination of the worst of ORD and LGA.

  27. One factor is the timing of the connecting flight. If it arrives at a bad time, then a longer connection might improve it (or shorter). For example, a LAX-JFK is preferred but JFK-LAX is usually less critical and could be substituted with a JFK-STL-LAX.

    Another factor is my schedule at the destination.

    Yet another factor is how nice the airport is. For example, Dulles IAD is not so great but the architecture is worth seeing since I have seen it in a few years. Therefore, I would accept a 3 hour layover there. In contrast, BWI is boring and ATL isn’t so great.

  28. Stops cost more because you pay airport fees for each take off. We have encountered problems with lay overs a couple of time. One time I was scheduled on a flight (because of airline problems)
    5 hours later and my husband 7 hours later. Another time we booked a non-stop and the flight was cancelled and we were booked on a flight with a stop. Because of weather we missed our flight to Europe by several hours. We did arrive on a different airline about the same time however our luggage did not arrive until 24 hours later and delayed our beginning of our itinerary. We would always book a non-stop if possible.

  29. @Alice
    “Stops cost more because you pay airport fees for each take off”

    Respectfully, it does not seem you fly a lot and it certainly does not seem that you know what you are talking about….as usually it is cheaper to fly with stop since non hub companies want to compete…
    too long to explain it….

  30. The ruling question for if I will pay a premium for a non-stop flight is if I think it is reasonable that a certain flight itinerary will get me to my destination when I need to arrive? What I’m weighing is how much time is there between the time I need to arrive and when the connecting itinerary arrives? Are there alternative options where I am connecting to get me to my destination (even on a different airline)? What is the on-time percentage of the flights involved in the itinerary? Honestly, I have been significantly delayed at origin of a nonstop flight MORE times than I have missed a connecting flight, so I often will not pay a premium.

  31. My first priority is which airline I like to fly with

    I do not mind an extra stopover if I am flying my preferred airline

    I love to explore airports, its architecture, design, lounges, and facilities

    I love plane-spotting, so a nice long stopover will be enjoyed

    I do not like to be stressed due to a short connecting flight

  32. On our BOS to Dublin trip we had a 8 hour layover in Munich, this was a $25 flight so do not knock it. We left the airport and saw the city center.. On a LAX 4 hr layover I rented a car to see friends for lunch.

  33. I spend a lot of time in Bali, but my home is in Seattle. If I fly business class and go through SIN, I often use a discount airline for the flight to SIN. In that case, I prefer about a 12 to 14 hour layover. Most of the flights out of SIN are early morning. I hate get up up early. I arrive SIN late afternoon, spend a few hours drinking and eating wonderful food in the SIN Airline business class lounge, which I can use as a Star Alliance member, then check into the transit hotel to sleep, and find my gate usually at the bottom of the escalator when I check out in the morning. I do not clear customs. For domestic flights, I prefer about 2 hours. That way I am never rushed, and do not need to worry if my plane is a bit late. For regular international, I am fine with 4 hours. Time to go to the lounge and pull myself together, check flight stsatus, etc.. I don’t like less than 1 hour domestic or two hours international. Very scary worrying about catching the connecting flight. For a domestic flight, I would probably only pay about $50 to avoid a connection. For most of my international flights, non stop is not a possibility. I am a baby boomer ….

  34. Depends on many situations. I would take the short connection risks if there’s another flights within a few hours.

  35. A great deal of spots I go just has 1x flight multi day, so the delay length winds up being whatever the thing that matters is between the approaching flight and the set time for the active corresponding flight.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *