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For about six months now, it seems that flights to Iceland, where I live, from very many places in the US, including where I go to visit my family, just don't show up in any search engine I've tried (Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia, SkyScanner, etc.).

When I try to book a flight, it only finds flights that go through the UK or mainland Europe for $3,000 and up. However, there are dozens of flights from the east coast of the US to Reykjavik (out of IAD, BOS, JFK, and several others), and those flights tend to cost about $3-500 and depart late at night. And there are of course thousands of ways to get to any of those cities by early afternoon with many hours to make the connection, but the search engines just can't find them.

For example, I'm trying to fly from Little Rock (LIT) to Reykjavik (KEF) on December 28. Putting that into Orbitz directly finds the cheapest flight as $3450 going LIT-DFW->LHR->KEF.

Ideally, I'd fly though DC, but it turns out not to matter. I'll use IAD in DC for the following examples though.

If I try a multi-city search (LIT->IAD, IAD->KEF), it comes up with a $3700 fare that goes (LIT->IAH->IAD->LHR->KEF).

OK, so let's just try getting to DC only. Searching for LIT->IAD comes up with a quite reasonable LIT->DFW->IAD itinerary for $230, landing at IAD at 12:15 PM.

Now let's try IAD->KEF (for which I know there's a direct Icelandair flight). Sure enough, it finds that direct flight for $363 departing IAD at 7:45 PM.

Even if I try to explicitly specify exactly which flights to take (LIT->DFW->IAD->KEF), it still routes the last leg through Heathrow and rings up a total of $5500.

I can just book two entirely separate trips, and if nothing goes wrong, it costs about $600. But this means that I'm on the hook for the connecting flight if something goes wrong and they strand me somewhere. And of course I won't be able to just check my bag all the way through, avoid going through security a second time, etc.

Does anyone have any advice? I'm not sure who to contact -- is it Icelandair, Orbitz, someone else? If I wade through phone support somewhere, is this a thing they can fix either before or after I buy tickets? Or do I just suck it up and book separate flights?

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    My best guess is that the cheap Iceland air flights from KEF to the US don't combine with the cheap onward US domestic flights, and it's only the very expensive fare classes that can be put together on one itinerary. Can you pull up the fare details of the ones that do and don't go together, to see about that? – Gagravarr Oct 19 '14 at 20:57
  • Hmm. It does seem that all the Icelandair flights from Heathrow are coming up business class, and obviously, the direct flight I'd rather have is economy. Anything that can be done about that, or am I just buying separate tickets? – deong Oct 19 '14 at 21:18
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    Did you try booking directly through the airline? Not all airlines are searchable by travel search engines. – Flimzy Oct 19 '14 at 22:36
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    Good question, there are a few airlines like Icelandair, Air Transat I have encountered that do not combine with other airlines in GDS (i.e. in search engines). I have long been wondering why this is the case, my hints were that they are not part of an alliance, and Gagravarr and Flimzy add good arguments. For your issue, I think booking separate tickets is definitely the best option with an airline like Icelandair (which offers reasonably priced one-way flights, unlike many other airlines). – Vince Oct 20 '14 at 0:31
  • I used the multiple city option and it worked, it yielded good prices ($700+), check it out. Not sure if this will be in one ticket or not.. – Nean Der Thal Oct 20 '14 at 0:33
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The basic problem here is threefold:

  1. you're traveling at a very busy time of year (between Christmas and New Year),
  2. you're asking for a one-way flight (almost always proportionally much more expensive than a return), and the kicker,
  3. you're asking for a guaranteed connection, which is all flight search engines will ever return you; otherwise they can't sell you the ticket!

That is, if you fly one of those $3000+ fares via Heathrow, it's a single ticket and all airlines involved guarantee the connection: if one of their flights is late or cancelled, you'll be put on the next plane for free. Since you're unable to find any guaranteed connections on Icelandair from the US, I'd wager a guess that they don't have any interlining agreements with any American airlines for flights from the US. (Which isn't particularly surprising: Icelandair is a semi-LCC not affiliated with any alliance, plus a major competitor with US airlines on the lucrative trans-Atlantic sector.)

If you buy separate flights, it'll be cheaper, but if you have any problems with your flights, you're on your own. Personally, I'd still go for this option: the price difference is vast and you've got 7.5 hours in IAD, which is a pretty healthy buffer, plus your LIT-IAD connection is guaranteed so you're quite likely to get there in time even if there's a bit of trouble. But you're still screwed if there's a major blizzard or something, so YMMV.

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    Yeah, I'll definitely just buy separate tickets. It's just strange that I've lived in Iceland for over four years, and until this summer, I never had this problem. Since then, I've never not had it. – deong Oct 20 '14 at 1:38
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Most air travel websites do not look for a “connection” in the same way than mapping apps look for an itinerary on the road or train search engines look for train connections. They look for a connection that can be priced and booked (either directly or through a third party or travel agent). This adds a lot of complexity and many non-trivial constraints that are not always easy to understand for outsiders like you and me.

If for some technical or business reason a particular combination cannot be booked (no cooperation or “interlining agreement” between different airlines, one flight is fully booked, incompatible fares, connection under the minimum transfer time, etc.) there is no connection as far as those search engines are concerned, even if there are planes leaving and arriving from the relevant airports.

One exception I am aware of is rome2rio. It can show connections between different transportation modes and find tickets that cannot be booked together from one provider. Sure enough, it does find many Icelandair-domestic US flight combinations for your route. But you would need to buy tickets for each leg of the journey separately, which can have many unpleasant consequences (see other questions on this site for more on this).

I don't know what the problem is in this particular case (Icelandair does have partnerships with United or Air Canada…) but since your question suggests those connections disappeared from most search engines at the same time and Rome2Rio can still find them, it's likely to be related to changes in commercial agreements between Icelandair and other airlines.

But even for “regular” connections, the complexity is such that no website can exhaustively search all combinations and it's often possible to find some connection that does not show up in a given website's results.

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    But note that even Rome2Rio is unable to find a better route than $4000 via Heathrow for a one-way on Dec 28: rome2rio.com/de/s/Little-Rock-Airport-LIT-USA/… – jpatokal Oct 20 '14 at 0:00
  • @jpatokal Maybe but the OP suggested they did not want to go through Heathrow… In any case, it seems very relevant. – Relaxed Oct 20 '14 at 5:34
  • Sure, my point was just that you can't trust any engine to provide you all options. – jpatokal Oct 20 '14 at 6:35
  • @jpatokal True, I was just confused because this also applies to regular search engines and airlines and did not seem related to the issue at hand. I added a note about that to my answer. – Relaxed Oct 20 '14 at 8:42
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I've done the 'international connection through JFK that I couldn't book online'. I managed to get the flights booked over the phone, and the agent said that he was surprised that it couldn't be done either.

(I was specifically going through JFK to meet a friend and then fly the rest of the way)

I was lucky that I had two hours for my connection, as the problem was that they were going through two different terminals, and they didn't have a shuttle between them. Luckily, it wasn't that far of a walk, I didn't have a checked bag to worry about, and I managed to get through security in a reasonable amount of time. (and that the person behind me told me that I dropped my passport out of my shirt pocket when security insisted that I remove the shirt)

So, if you ever decide to force the booking through, be aware that you might have to collect your checked bag and then re-check it, be re-scanned through security, and possibly need a taxi or similar to get from one gate to the other ... and you have no guarantee if you miss the connection because the first leg came in too late to be able to check your bag and such.

  • I'm a little confused by the "they didn't have a shuttle between them". Couldn't you use the AirTrain? – martin.koeberl Oct 26 '17 at 0:35
  • @martin.koeberl : I could find no signage to lead me to the terminal that I needed to get to. When I asked one of the staff, they told me to leave the security area, go out the door and turn left. Maybe there was some other way (it's not an airport that I typically travel through). It didn't seem absurd to me, as I've been in a few foreign airports that kept local & international flights separate (although, I believe in all of them, the international flights just required you to go through a second round of screening ... or maybe it was just because I was flying to the US) – Joe Oct 26 '17 at 3:50

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