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Flying from Cleveland, Ohio in the US Midwest to see a supplier in Chongqing, central China is now a lot easier —and less expensive -- than it has been in the past.
Thanks to the increasing interconnectivity of carriers across the globe through air alliances such as Oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance, travellers can now use a second hub city, such as London, Atlanta, Hong Kong or Singapore, to make a bewildering number of connections to major business cities across the world, usually with one ticket, one purchase and one check-in.
The hub and spoke model -- where travellers change planes to reach an airport not served by a direct flight -- is booming. Take the Middle East’s hubs for instance. The combined population of Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi is less than five million people, yet their airports will see a combined annual capacity of 190 million passengers in the next three years. The region’s passenger traffic was up more than 16% in April on last year alone, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
In Asia, Jakarta, Bangkok and Beijing are among the fastest growing high-volume airports globally, according to Airports Council International.
What this means for travellers is that there are new growing hubs to consider, and greater opportunities to save on the cost of a ticket. Indirect itineraries will always be priced competitively, and direct routes tend to be more expensive due to the higher demand, more convenient schedule and shorter flying times.
Less expensive fairs are also sometimes released on new routes, as airlines offer special introductory fares to coax passengers to fly with them. And the more obscure the routing, the more competitive the pricing can be. For instance flying from London to New Delhi via Almaty Airport in Kazakhstan can sometimes be cheaper than connecting through Oman or Munich. The trick is to know which routes are opening up from which hub airports.
To find the most affordable non-direct flights, keep your searches on travel aggregator websites such as Expedia, Opodo or Orbitz as wide as possible; don’t narrow them down to direct flights. Likewise, tell your travel agent that you will consider all indirect routes if they offer value for money.
Many of the largest carriers also have extensive global networks using the hub and spoke model, including British Airways, Air France and Lufthansa in Europe; Emirates, Qatar and Etihad Airways in the Middle East; Delta Air Lines, American and United Airlines in the US; and Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines in Asia. Online route maps show that many are expanding into Africa and South America; Asian carriers are connecting through Europe to get to the Americas; and some of the Middle Eastern airlines offer some of the world’s best connectivity via their hubs.
For example, travelling from Perth in Western Australia to Erbil in Northern Iraq is now possible on Qatar Airways via Doha. Lagos, Nigeria can be reached from Honolulu in the US if you drop in at Houston on United Airlines. In this case you only have to use one airline – and one ticket -- respectively.
For complex itineraries, you may need to fly more than one airline in more than one alliance, and this is when you may have to book flights separately. Sometimes an itinerary won't always be found as one ticket. You may need to search for separate flights on an aggregator or airline website, and you may have to purchase the two sectors separately.
Travellers also need to think about connection times for indirect flights to ensure they have enough time to get from one aircraft to the next. It's always worth speaking to an airlines’ call centre or a travel agent to ensure that the time gap really works.