Is it better to book my river cruise airfare independently, or should I let the river cruise line handle it?

Airfare is something we write about frequently. Because of its relatively high cost and numerous moving parts, airfare has the ability to dramatically affect your river cruise vacation. Done properly, you’ll never think twice about it. But when things go wrong, they go wrong in a hurry – and that starts right at the booking stage.

Onboard our Bangkok Airways Airbus A320, as boarding continued. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Come fly with me – independently or through your river cruise line. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Why Would You Want To Book Your Own River Cruise Airfare?

Unless the river cruise line has a special promotion – like free economy-class airfare – we recommend that cruise passengers book their airfare independently, or use an experienced travel agent. It’s not that the cruise lines do a bad job of it; far from it. Rather, we recommend booking it separately from the cruise line because it puts you in the driver’s seat in terms of which airline you choose, what aircraft you fly on, what airports you connect through, and even what seats you pick.

We practice what we preach by booking our own air, and while it can be a time-consuming process, we appreciate the ability to choose the airline we prefer, the seat we want and the airports we want (to endure). But there is a caveat to all of this. We are experienced travelers, nerds to some degree when it comes to studying routes and aircrafts, so gauge your own skills, and if you’re not comfortable with booking your own air, use the travel agent who booked your cruise for you.

Here’s why we want to be in control of our airfare: Take a look at the below screenshot that we took off the Air Canada website, for flights between Vancouver and Budapest, which we randomly chose departing on February 28.

river cruise airfare

That’s a lot of choice. And not all flights are created equal. Screenshot from

There’s a lot going on here: The first two sets flights are operated by Star Alliance codeshare partner Lufthansa. The last two pairings are operated by Air Canada in conjunction with Lufthansa. Some route you through Toronto and Franfkfurt with two connections, while others fly you direct to Frankfurt with only one connection. One of the Toronto-bound flights is operated on a narrow-body Airbus A320; the other has a better aircraft (a widebody 777-300ER, noted here by the code 77W) and a later departure time.

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