Anyone travelling to the USA from abroad should start by deciding which area to explore first; the country is so vast that it makes a huge difference which airport you fly into. Once you’ve chosen whether to hit the swamps of Florida, the frozen tundra of Alaska, the summer heat of the South or the splendour of the Rockies and Southwest, you can then buy a flight to the nearest hub city.
In general, ticket prices are highest from July to September, and around Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Fares drop during the shoulder seasons – April to June, and October – and even more so in low season, from November to March (excluding Easter, Christmas and New Year). Prices depend more on when Americans want to head overseas than on the demand from foreign visitors. Flying at weekends usually costs significantly more; prices quoted in the following sections assume midweek travel and include taxes.
More than twenty US cities are accessible by nonstop flights from the UK. At these gateway cities, you can connect with onward domestic flights. Direct services (which may land once or twice on the way, but are called direct if they keep the same flight number throughout their journey) fly from Britain to nearly every other major US city.
Nonstop flights to Los Angeles from London take eleven or twelve hours; the London to Miami flight takes eight hours; and flying time to New York is seven or so hours. Following winds ensure that return flights take an hour or two less. One-stop direct flights to destinations beyond the East Coast add time to the journey but can work out cheaper than nonstop flights.
Four airlines run nonstop scheduled services to the USA from Ireland. Flights depart from both Dublin and Shannon airports, and the journey times are very similar to those from London.
As for fares, Britain remains one of the best places in Europe to obtain flight bargains, though prices vary widely. In low or shoulder season, you should be able to find a return flight to East Coast destinations such as New York for around £490, or to California for around £580, while high-season rates can easily double. These days the fares available on the airlines’ own websites are often just as good as those you’ll find on more general travel websites.
With an open-jaw ticket, you can fly into one city and out of another, though if you’re renting a car remember that there’s usually a high drop-off fee for returning a rental car in a different state than where you picked it up. An air pass can be a good idea if you want to see a lot of the country. These are available only to non-US residents, and must be bought before reaching the USA.
For passengers travelling from Australasia to the USA, the most expensive time to fly has traditionally been during the northern summer (mid-May to end Aug) and over the Christmas period (Dec to mid-Jan), with shoulder seasons covering March to mid-May and September, and the rest of the year counting as low season. Fares no longer vary as much across the year as they used to, however.
Instead, fares on the regular Air New Zealand, Qantas and United flights from eastern Australian cities to Los Angeles, the main US gateway airport, tend to start at around Aus$1175 in low season, or more like Aus$1900 in summer. Flying from Western Australia can add around Aus$400–500, while throughout the year, flying all the way through to New York tends to cost another Aus$200–250 extra.
From New Zealand, the cost of flying from Auckland or Christchurch to LA or San Francisco ranges from roughly NZ$1800–3200 across the year, or more like NZ$2200–3800 to New York.
From South Africa, transatlantic flights from Cape Town or Johannesburg are fairly pricey, costing around ZAR24,000–28,000 to New York or other East Coast cities and ZAR26,000–31,000 to LA or San Francisco, depending on the time of year.
Various add-on fares and air passes valid in the continental US are available with your main ticket, allowing you to fly to destinations across the States. These must be bought before you go.
Aer Lingus aerlingus.com
Air Canada aircanada.com
Air New Zealand airnewzealand.com
Alaska Airlines alaskaair.com
American Airlines aa.com
British Airways ba.com
Continental Airlines continental.com
Delta Airlines delta.com
Frontier Airlines frontierairlines.com
Hawaiian Airlines hawaiianair.com
JAL (Japan Airlines) jal.com
Kuwait Airways kuwait-airways.com
Qantas Airways qantas.com.au
Singapore Airlines singaporeair.com
United Airlines united.com
US Airways usair.com
Virgin Atlantic virgin-atlantic.com
American Holidays Ireland americanholidays.com
Bon Voyage UK bon-voyage.co.uk
Creative Tours Australia creativeholidays.com
Exodus UK exodus.co.uk
Explore Worldwide UK explore.co.uk
Funway Holidays UK www.vaxvacationaccess.co.uk
Jetsave UK jetsave.com
North America Travel Service UK northamericatravelservice.co.uk
North South Travel UK northsouthtravel.co.uk
Titan HiTours UK titantravel.co.uk
Trailfinders UK & Ireland trailfinders.com
travel.com.au Australia travel.com.au
Travelsphere UK travelsphere.co.uk
TrekAmerica UK trekamerica.co.uk
Virgin Holidays UK virginholidays.co.uk