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By Sea or By Air: Comparing the Costs of Transatlantic Travel Today

May 19, 2014 at 5:06 PM | by | ()

In one day, approximately 8,100 travelers fly one-way between New York and London. The journey from one airport to the other, with the stretch of the Atlantic Ocean between, takes 7 hours, during which time the luckiest passengers will manage to squeeze in a nap between tiny meals. In one year, that's nearly 3 million winging their way, one-way, through the clouds between continents.

In one week, 2,620 travelers sail between New York and London onboard Cunard's ocean liner, the Queen Mary 2. In 2014, as she celebrates her 10th Anniversary, she'll transport 23,580 via 9 westbound transatlantic crossings full of black tie evenings, three lavish meals daily, proper afternoon teas, splashes in pools, Canyon Ranch spa treatments, lectures by notable personalities, walks around deck in the sea breeze, and stargazing nightcaps on balconies before tucking into bed.

That's 3 million in the sky versus 23,500 on the seas, and you can double those totals to approximate roundtrip travel. Crossing the Atlantic by ship is indeed a niche option these days, and it's a rarefied experience in more ways than one. Still, it is first and foremost a mode of transportation—the QM2 is a real ocean liner, not a cruise ship, after all—and the small self-selecting group to chose an ocean liner over an airplane are actually getting the deal of their lives.

Let's break it down. Booking a transatlantic trip on the Queen Mary 2 is one way on the ship, and one way flying on Cunard's airline partner, British Airways. Roundtrip voyages and cruise-only fares are available, but the split ship/plane trip is the most popular choice by far. It's what we just returned from, having flown on a BA 747 from New York to London and returned to New York from Southampton (1.5 hours south of London) on the QM2.


Price: $5,975. That's for roundtrip flights in Club World/Business Class on British Airways. (There are occasional deals like this, which drops the price to $3500 roundtrip per person and includes a couple nights hotel).
Duration: 7 hours on the plane, plus transit and airport waiting time
Status consideration: Standard upgrade, miles, and extras that correspond with your frequent flyer status.
Service: Brief interactions with flight attendants, and maybe a goodbye from your captain on the way off.
Perks and entertainment: Airport lounge access, 1.5 meals each way, select alcohol drinks, whatever is loaded onto the aircraft's in-flight entertainment, and a few hours of sleep in the lie-flat Club World seat if you're lucky.


Price: $2,500. That's for roundtrip travel, one-way in a balcony cabin on the QM2 and one-way in coach on British Airways (paid upgrade available). Also includes airport transfers and some onboard credit. (Cruise Only average balcony fare is $1,900). Want to bring your dog along? The QM2 has 12 kennels, a kennel master who provides 24-hour care, a doggie playroom and an outdoor deck play area, and charges $500-$700 per voyage, per pup.
Duration: 7 days/nights
Status consideration: The BA flight reservation is standard enough to credit like a normal flight to your Oneworld airline loyalty account and provide you with whatever perks are due to your frequent flyer status. Past travelers on Cunard are eligible for stateroom upgrades, onboard spending credit, complimentary internet packages, and invitations to special events.
Service: Personalized service from your stateroom steward, dining room maître d', waiter, waiter assistant, ship's concierge, pursers, dance hosts, tour desk, shop sales assistants, photo staff, and even official cocktail parties or informational sessions with the ship's captain and officers.
Perks and entertainment: All meals every day, complimentary room service, full afternoon tea every day, some beverages, all entertainment (orchestra, bands, jazz quartets, a harpist at tea time, opera performances, a magician, educational classes, shows in the Planetarium (the only Planetarium at sea), lectures by famous and notable personalities (Wes Anderson and George Takei are on the docket for upcoming voyages), deck games, trivia in the pub, access to 5 pools/hot tubs and the gym, and so much more.

The intangible perks of a transatlantic crossing by ship are perhaps the real selling point; there's new friendships, knowledge, renewed creativity, quiet, relaxation, awe at the starriest nights, and freedom from the restrictions and stress of air travel. Granted, you must have one week of time to dedicate to the voyage, but the QM2 reigns supreme in all other areas excepting speed.

During our dawn arrival on the Queen Mary 2 into New York Harbor, passing the Statue of Liberty and saying goodbyes, few passengers had dry eyes. When was the last time you cried after a flight, for the simple joy of it?

Whereas the thought of spending more than one day in transit to a new destination could seem ridiculous, spend a little time on the QM2 and you'll soon be nodding in agreement with Cunard's old advertising line:

"Should you be fortunate enough to make a voyage on this magnificent ship, you doubtless will, as others have done, regret its conclusion."

We traveled as a guest of Cunard, but all photos and opinions are completely our own.

[Photos: Cynthia Drescher/Jaunted]

Archived Comments:

Wonderful Article

This is a wonderful article. I especially like how you point out the difference in cost, as people often look at the price of the voyage and say it is too much but they don't factor in the cost saving from the flight. I am doing a crossing this summer, coming home from my Europe trip via the QM2, and since I'm using credit card points to get home from NY to San Francisco, the cost of the voyage is not much more than the price of a flight. Also, this article does an excellent job of explaining just how relaxing and enjoyable a crossing is on this amazing ship.

I will be there

Bucket List updated . x. Southampton to New York QM2