Booking a direct routing can save hours of travel time and lots of potential frustration, but there can be benefits to booking a roundabout routing as well, even beyond the cost savings. In this post, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele explains how to use Cleverlayover’s booking tool to find an unusual routing that can both save you cash and take you on an international adventure.
If you’ve read some of my recent posts on booking award flights on Delta, United and American, you may have noticed a common thread. I always search for out-of-the-way routings in order to use my miles to snag extremely scarce award seats. This is also the concept behind a new website called Cleverlayover, which seeks to help travelers save money on revenue tickets to Europe and beyond. So today, I want to take a closer look at this site, to see if the brains behind it have really managed to build a viable alternative booking engine.
The Big Idea
Europe is filled with ultra-low cost budget carriers, including Ryan Air, EasyJet and Wizz Air (really!). These carriers, which inspired the business models of Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier here in the United States, often sell fares for a fraction of what major legacy airlines charge. At the same time, few of these airlines serve the United States (with the exception of WOW Air), are part of major airline alliances or even make their fares accessible to online travel agencies such as Orbitz. That means travelers hoping to take advantage of these fares are left to search individual airline sites.
According to Conde Nast Traveler, five Harvard Business school students started Cleverlayover after finding that budget airlines offered lower fares for European itineraries, but that they were often a hassle to find. They built Cleverlayover as a meta-search engine (a site that searches other search sites), to quickly give you all the flight options you might find if you had spent hours searching every combination of flights from every airline, through every city. Cleverlayover claims that it’s saved travelers more than $1.3 million compared to the lowest prices available on Kayak, and it’s only been around for a couple months.
My Search Results
Denver – Tel Aviv, Israel
On my first search, I looked at a route that I’m very familiar with: a trip between Denver and Tel Aviv, for which there is no non-stop service. For dates just two weeks from now, Cleverlayover found flights that involved flying Frontier to New York – LaGuardia, with an eight-hour layover, followed by Ukraine International from New York – JFK, to Kiev (with a 2:40 layover) and continuing on to Tel Aviv on Ukraine International. The site found this fare for $1,072, which it claims is $163 less expensive than what you’d find using standard online travel agents and search engines such as Kayak, Expedia, Hipmunk, CheapOAir and Orbitz, for which it appeared to offer links. This is also lower than the fares I usually find on this route.
When I clicked through to look at results from other search engines, I was taken to a site I was unfamiliar with called BookingBuddy, which is itself a meta-search engine. There, I found flights on Iberia/American/El Al through a site called Fareboom for $1,157, or just $85 more than what Cleverlayover found. Better yet (if I was going to purchase it) was an itinerary from United with just a single stop in Newark for $1,243.
Ultimately, it would not be worth it to have to have an eight-hour layover in New York, take a cab from LaGuardia to JFK and have another stop in Kiev just to save $85. Furthermore, I know that Frontier will charge extra fees for both checked and carry-on bags, while United will allow one free carry-on and a checked bag for this flight in economy class. For an extra $171, I would fly United, avoid baggage fees and earn some miles that I could use later.
Los Angeles – Athens, Greece
Next, I looked at a longer itinerary to a destination within Europe during the heart of the tourist season. Here, the results did not claim any cost savings over other sites:
The best options Cleverlayover could find were flights on Aeroflot (through Moscow) for $1,364 and up. Since Aeroflot’s a major carrier, though, I could find these options on other search engines.
Miami – Prague, Czech Republic
Once again, Cleverlayover finds Aeroflot has the lowest fares, this time in combination with American discount carrier Spirit.
The next-best fare I found was a so-called Hacker Fare from Kayak, which combines airlines similarly to how Cleverlayover works, but at $1,052, that fare was $173 more.
Good layover opportunities. The best case I can make for this service is the opportunity to enjoy a layover, especially in a city you haven’t visited before. This can be an incredibly fun opportunity, like the time I rented a Porsche in Frankfurt, Germany. While sub 24-hour layovers are possible with traditional airline search engines and online travel agencies, Cleverlayover tries to combine itineraries from different carriers to permit layovers that are even longer.
Effective searches. The searches are exhaustive and often very clever. I would not have considered flying to Tel Aviv via Kiev, or Athens via Moscow. And even when the site did go up against Kayak’s “Hacker Fares,” it did significantly better.
Travel insurance. The first thing that came to mind when I heard that Cleverlayover was suggesting that you combine two separate tickets was that travelers would not be protected in the case of a misconnect due to late or cancelled flights. Thankfully, your credit card will likely have some travel interruption insurance, though it’s not clear whether you’ll always be covered, since some itineraries require booking two entirely different round-trip flights. Additionally, Cleverlayover offers links to Allianz travel insurance, however the fees will likely negate any savings and Allianz may not cover all of your expenses if you misconnect.
Fees. The problem with budget carriers, both in Europe and the United States, is that they lure you in with low base fares, and then wallop you with fees for everything imaginable. You could still end up ahead if the savings are significant enough to cover the airline’s fees, or if you don’t have any luggage to check. Just be prepared to pay extra for meals or seat assignments if you don’t like a middle seat in the back of the plane.
Mileage. There is something to be said for the chance to earn miles on a long international flight. While some Aeroflot fares will earn miles with its Skyteam partner Delta, Ukraine International is not part of any major alliance.
Visa issues. Before ticketing any itinerary, you should always make sure that you will be able to obtain an entry visa, which can be an issue in certain countries, including Russia.
Airport changes. Cleverlayover may suggest connections between flights from different airports, so you’ll need to factor in the cost of ground transportation.
Rechecking bags. When you arrive and depart on separate tickets, you will have to claim your bags and then wait in line to check in and recheck your bags. Not only will this be tedious, but it can also consume precious time if you have a tight connection. Personally, I would never book a connection within three hours if I knew I would have to do this, and even that would be insufficient if you faced lines at immigration, customs, check-in and security.
Time. These itineraries can add many hours to your travel time. While this might not be an issue for a college student on summer break, it could be a deal breaker for someone with a limited number of vacation days.
Website. The website is very simply laid out and not too hard to use, but it still needs some work. It can be difficult to determine which airline and airport it’s suggesting for each leg, and how long each layover is. I was also expecting a greater variety of itineraries involving obscure discount carriers, but the best prices seem to always come from Aeroflot or Ukraine International. Finally, I also received some clearly erroneous results from time to time, such as a 301-hour layover.
If saving every dollar possible on a ticket purchase is your ultimate goal, this site may allow you to do so without wasting too much time. But you might end up paying more in the end due to baggage fees, ground transfers, visa costs and hotel rooms, making Cleverlayover’s suggestions much less of a steal.