Flying to London

London’s airports are among the busiest in the world, with direct or connecting flights from all over the globe. Finding a flight won’t be difficult, but choosing one from the many that are offered may require some research and comparison shopping for the lowest fare.

Finding out which airlines fly to London

Most regularly scheduled international flights from the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand arrive at London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Flights from the Continent land at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, or London City. London Luton, the smallest of London’s five airports, is a destination for charter flights from the Continent.

Here’s a brief description of each of the London airports and who flies to them:

Heathrow, the main international airport, is 24km (15 miles) west of Central London. It’s served by Air Canada (Canadian flights from Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, St. John’s, Toronto, and Vancouver); Air New Zealand (Australian flights from Sydney; New Zealand flights from Auckland); American (U.S. flights from Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York JFK); British Airways (U.S. flights from Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York JFK, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington Dulles; Australian flights from Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney; New Zealand flights from Auckland); Continental (U.S. flights from Los Angeles, Newark, New York JFK, San Francisco, and Washington Dulles); Icelandair (U.S. flights from Baltimore, Boston, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and New York JFK); Qantas (Australian flights from Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney; New Zealand flights from Auckland); United (U.S. flights from Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Newark, New York JFK, San Francisco, and Washington Dulles); and Virgin Atlantic (U.S. flights from Chicago, Newark, New York JFK, San Francisco, and Washington Dulles). For more information see Heathrow official website.

Gatwick is a smaller airport about 40km (25 miles) south of London. It’s served by American (U.S. flights from Boston, Dallas/Ft. Worth, and Raleigh/Durham); British Airways (U.S. flights from Atlanta, Baltimore, Charlotte, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Denver, Houston, Miami, New York JFK, Orlando, Phoenix, and Tampa); Continental (U.S. flights from Boston, Cleveland, Houston, Miami, Newark, and Orlando); Delta (U.S. flights from Atlanta and Cincinnati); Northwest (U.S. flights from Detroit and Minneapolis/St. Paul); Qantas (Australian flights from Sydney); and Virgin Atlantic (U.S. flights from Boston, Las Vegas, Miami, Newark, Orlando, and San Francisco). For more information see Gatwick official website.

Stansted, 80km (50 miles) north east of London, handles national and European flights. For more information see Stansted official website.

London City, only 10km (6 miles) east of Central London, services European destinations. For more information see London City airport official website.

London Luton, 45km (28 miles) north west of London, services mostly charter flights. For more information see Luton airport official website.

Getting the best deal on your airfare

Competition among the major U.S. airlines is unlike that of any other industry. Every airline offers virtually the same product (basically, a coach seat is a coach seat is a . . .), yet prices can vary by hundreds of dollars.

Business travelers who need the flexibility to buy their tickets at the last minute and change their itineraries at a moment’s notice — and who want to get home before the weekend — pay the premium rate, known as the full fare.

If you can book your ticket far in advance, stay over Saturday night, and travel midweek (Tues, Wed, or Thurs), you can qualify for the least expen- sive price — usually a fraction of the full fare. Obviously, planning ahead and being flexible with your travel dates pays off.

The airlines also periodically hold sales, in which they lower the prices on their most popular routes. These fares have advance-purchase requirements and date-of-travel restrictions, but you can’t beat the prices. As you plan your vacation, keep your eyes open for these sales, which tend to take place in seasons of low travel volume — in England, that’s basically October through March. You almost never see a sale around the peak summer vacation months of July and August, or around Thanksgiving or Christmas, when many people fly, regardless of the fare they have to pay.