Simon Calder's Holiday Helpdesk: How a 32-hour Christmas Day can save you money flying to LA

 

Q. I want to go to Los Angeles over Christmas and New Year but flights are so expensive. When can I bag a good deal?

Peter May, Romford

A. Top marks for planning ahead, but as you have you discovered, fares to the US West Coast are already painfully high for the end of the year. It’s a consequence of transatlantic airlines cutting down on capacity but demand remaining strong. As a result, everyone is paying more.

The low-season sub-£500 prices for a London-Los Angeles return are drying up, partly as a result of the merger between US Airways and American Airlines. US Airways has long undercut the rest of the market with one-stop flights from Gatwick via North Carolina. Even in November, the lowest of seasons, the cheapest fare at present is £550 return (though there may be “specials” nearer the time).

At the strongest peak of the year, travelling out before Christmas and back after New Year, fares are currently in the mid-£850s for British and US carriers offering non-stop flights. However, there are seats at £780 return from Heathrow on Air New Zealand, which flies daily to LA en route to Auckland. That price will only increase, so if your plans are settled then you should book now.

To make a serious dent in the fare – and reduce it to low-season levels – there’s a simple solution. Fly out to California on Christmas Day, and back overnight on New Year’s Eve. Air NZ has a fare of just £550 return on those dates. These departures are always less popular; long-haul airlines cannot simply cancel them, because (for example) the 31 December departure from LA is needed in London to fly New Zealanders home on New Year’s Day. And looking on the bright side: going west, the time change will stretch your Christmas Day to 32 hours.

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