Can someone point me a list on here or give some guidance for good (cheap) ex-europe departure airports? I know LIN and MXP are two good places to start a CW route, but I'd like to avoid Italy if possible?
Also note that some countries have fare rules that deviate (sometimes substantially) from their neighbours although the routing is very similar. Sometimes this can be worked to your advantage.
One I've come across recently (and hat-tip to angatol for helping me confirm the details before I booked it) that is some fares to NYC ex Italy book you TATL into D (not J) which is substantially cheaper but still full flex (free change, free cancellation in full). You won't find full flex D very often (that's putting it mildly). This could potentially easily save you an extra €500 on top of any ex-EU saving - check out full flex in J[or in this case D] to NYC from AMS, BRU, DUS, and MXP...
IMHO you aren't going to find a "one size fits all" departure point... too many variables (and too many sale fares ... note that there have been three separate market-specific CW sales to NYC - i0sale and two different i7sales) that I have come across in the last few months.
You don't need trial and error, assuming the ITA matrix software route in the sticky still works. It calculates all Euro departure points in one go.
I wouldn't rely on that. ITA assigns your query a limited time to perform the search. If it times out, which it will with multiple airport choices, you'll get the best results it found so far, but not necessarily the best if you tried each airport individually.
It would be helpful if the OP would give specific destinations and dates.
Not sure why Italy is an issue. Rome is actually quite good if you have Hilton points or status as there is a Hilton attached to the airport and you can fly down, do an overnight and come back next day.
If you live in London, flying to Italy (return) during the day is easy enough. YOu can then go home to your own bed and wander across to Heathrow the next day.
Last ex-EU I did was ex-Budapest but that was 2 years ago. Did BUD in a day, slept in my own bed and then pottered down to LCY for the JFK flight next day.
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AMS has quick turn arounds and good prices. It is easy to fly LHR-AMS in Y; get off the plane; get on board again without passing security; sit in J; fly back to LHR.
No risk to miss your AMS connection; the plane flying you to LHR is the same as the plane that brought you to AMS. It may cost 3 or 4 hours extra and will likely save you € 1000 or thereabout (minus the LHR-AMS RT discount fare). On the return flight, make sure your bags do not get labeled through to AMS; you will "have to give something to a colleague in LHR," therefore need to get your checked bags in LHR. And then miss your flight to AMS ... Luckily, LHR was your final destination anyway