You know great deals on flights are out there, so use our top tips to find and book them for yourself
Travel hacks are a popular topic and a lot of articles will suggest things like rolling your clothes to save room in your bag for that extra pair of shoes or taking a portable phone charger for when you inevitably get caught with a dying phone just when you need Google Maps the most. But here at Iseenew.com we are primarily concerned with propelling you out into the world where life can take hold.
For that reason, this tip sheet is all about getting the best deal you can on air travel. Of course, not every new experience requires a flight to somewhere but when you really want to break out of your comfort zone, a foreign country or just a destination far from home can be an easy portal to novelty and adventure.
Finding cheap deals on flights can be a daunting and confusing task and one that is ripe with the fear of locking in a booking only to be see a better deal soon after. The tips that follow will make sure you have the smarts to grab those tickets with confidence and can mark the flights in your calendar with a big smiley face.
1. Don’t let them know it’s you
Anyone who has felt stalked around the internet by ads that seem to eerily echo their browsing activity knows that the merchants are keeping tabs on them. This is primarily due to the cookies they are dropping into your web browser to identify your computer. When it comes to searching for flights this can be a major disadvantage because if you carry out the same search more than once, the flight search engine’s cookie will kick into gear and hike the price on you in an attempt to scare you into buying before prices rise again.
To fight back you can clear your web browser’s cache of cookies before each search or, more effectively, search in incognito or private browsing mode. All the big browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer offer this mode where your information is not tracked.
To be sure you start each new search with a clean slate, first close all open incognito windows and begin again with a new window. A bug (or perhaps it’s a feature) of some browsers is that even in incognito mode, cookies will be shared across windows and tabs until you quit out of the mode and they are destroyed.
2. Make sure you’re playing the whole field
There seem to be more flight search engines by the day, all claiming to have the lowest prices 100 percent of the time. Skyscanner, Expedia, Kayak, Jetradar, Webjet, Priceline, the list goes on. It’s hard to choose which one to use but the fact is, you should be using all of them, or at least a good few because the simple fact is that prices vary despite what the search engines claim. Skyscanner might get you the lowest price on one flight but Expedia or another competitor will have a better deal on another.
A good step to take if you have plenty of lead time is to set price alerts for your desired flights with a number of the search engines, this way you can keep track of fares over time and will know a good deal when it pops up.
Unfortunately, just keeping tabs on the search engines won’t always get you the best price because the airlines’ own websites run sales and special offers, too. You can understand why they would do this, it saves them from having to pay commissions for flights booked through search engines and so increases their profits. These special deals will often not be listed with the search engines.
One possible advantage of booking directly with an airline is that in the event of a cancellation it can be easier dealing with the airline to get rebooked instead of having to go through a third party like a search engine.
But, if you take out travel insurance you’ll be covered for cancelled flights and the slim chance of a cancellation is not really a reason not to go for the best deal you can find on any platform.
3. Search flights for one person even if you want to book for two or more
This one is down to a quirk in airline reservation systems that requires that multiple tickets sold in a single transaction must be the same price. You might find one ticket left for $200 while all the rest are $250. Buy both tickets in a single transaction and you’ll pay $250 for both. Buy the one for $200 and then the other for $250 and you’ll have saved $50. In some cases, when you may be booking last minute, the price difference can be as much as double.
A second reason to search this way is simply that if your first search is for multiple seats, the airline might see this as an opportunity to raise the prices. Better to do the single traveller search and then look into booking for multiple people later in the booking process or in separate transactions.
As a side note here, if you do book individually you will most likely not be seated with your friends or relatives. Although, many airlines do now allow you to choose your seat for an additional fee, or when checking in online. As a last resort you could ask at the check-in desk.
4. Be flexible about what day you will fly
When setting up a flight search you should look at prices across a whole month to see what days are the cheapest to fly. The simple fact is that fares are cheapest when fewer people are travelling. This usually means mid-week when commuters and weekend-breakers aren’t flying, in off-peak seasons and away from times like school holidays.
Also, don’t rule out flying on actual public holidays. I have flown a number of times on Christmas Day. The flight is not only cheaper, but the planes are largely empty and flight attendants in a festive mood have offered free champagne even in Economy.
5. If you know where you want to go and when, book well ahead
Despite the lure of that last-minute deal, airline tickets rarely get cheaper the closer you get to your departure date. Book well in advance and you’ll most likely be making the biggest saving. Airlines tend to issue their baseline fares months in advance on set schedules and a suggested rule of thumb is to book domestic flights between 3 months and 1 month in advance, and international flights between 5 and 1.5 months in advance.
6. Book an early flight when you can
Nobody likes traipsing out to the airport for a flight at the crack of dawn but it can be worth it for a couple of reasons.
If that early flight is cancelled, you can easily be moved to the next available flight and still make your destination. Or, if the flight is oversold, you can volunteer to be bumped and rebooked on a later flight while also bagging compensation like flight vouchers, upgrades, lounge access, or even cash.
7. Consider booking one-way tickets instead of a return
Booking a round trip ticket with the same airline can seem like the logical way to go but on many routes, especially busy ones with numerous flights per day, it is certainly not always the cheapest. If there is plenty of competition between airlines on a route, there will be a wide range of ticket prices, and as long as you are flexible with departure times you can easily bag two cheaper (or at least one) one-way tickets.
You should also consider flying into and out of different cities or locations. In densely populated regions like Europe, airports can be less than an hour apart so you might find that it is cheaper to fly into one and out of another with little inconvenience.
On longer holidays where you cover a lot of ground, it can make a lot of sense to return home from a second city or location rather than back-tracking to your arrival destination.
8. Embrace stopovers
Yes, sometimes you just want to get there but direct flights are typically more expensive than ones with stopovers. Consider also that long-haul flights will invariably stop somewhere, but usually just leave you hanging around a boring airport for a number of hours. Open yourself up to the idea of a longer stopover and you also expand your options.
Not only will you be adding another destination to your trip to explore but you can also investigate booking each leg of your trip separately. Say, for instance, that you wanted to fly from Melbourne in Australia to a destination in the continental USA . You could book the local budget airline Jetstar to get you to Honolulu in Hawaii, and then book the second leg with one of the big American carriers like Delta or United. Any money you save you can put toward a few relaxing days on the beach.
The search engines Kiwi.com and AirWander are very good at putting together these kinds of routes using multiple airlines. They also include budget airlines that some of the other search engines don’t.
9. Don’t ignore budget airlines
In Australia,you’d be crazy to ignore Jetstar – the budget arm of the national carrier, Qantas. It flies most of the major domestic routes and internationally. Often, it is easily the cheapest option despite baggage restrictions, a lack of legroom, reduced service on the planes and frequent delays (mostly because when its tight turnaround times aren’t met it creates knock-on effects for the flights that follow). If you can put up with all that, and it’s far less of a big deal on shorter flights, it is the way to go and you are still flying with a carrier that has the reputation of Qantas behind it.
The USA and Europe are also very well serviced by budget airlines that are both independent and budget arms of major carriers. In Europe I have flown on HOP! (the budget arm of Air France), Easyjet and Vueling and they have all been very efficient. Wikipedia has a global list of low-cost airlines that is quite comprehensive.
However, with budget airlines it is very important to know what you are buying. Almost everything, including baggage, is an extra and there can be hefty fees if you want to change anything. Also, don’t ever be late to the gate because fast turnaround times mean they will not wait for stragglers.
Also, many budget carriers fly to smaller airports than the main carriers that can be further out of town.
10. Pretend you are searching from another country
It is a fact that flight prices are different in different countries. Cheaper fares may be offered in countries with lower living standards and level of income, or prices may go up just because airlines think they can get away with it where there is less competition.
Up until quite recently you could have achieved this by simply going to one of an airline’s country-specific sites but these days, many airlines have a global site that automatically detects which country you are coming to it from.
That means the only real way to do it now is to spoof your country of origin with a VPN (Virtual Private Network). However, that usually involves downloading and configuring software so if you’re not comfortable with that, maybe skip this tip.
As a couple of side notes, you need to be aware that if you buy a ticket this way you will be paying in the local currency so make sure the exchange rate is favourable and that your credit card issuer does not charge foreign currency transaction fees.
Also, on domestic routes there may be what are called resident-only fares that are subsidised by the government. Buy one of these by accident and you run the risk of being asked to pay the difference at the check-in desk when you can’t prove your residency.
11. Begin your planning by finding the cheapest place to fly into
Instead of deciding where you will start your journey first and them proceeding from there, why not find out where you can fly to for the least and then make your plans.
To do this, the search engine Kiwi.com is once again your best friend. Maybe you want to go from Australia to Europe for an extended holiday of a number of weeks. Just plug your departure city and date into the search engine and leave the destination as the default setting, Anywhere. Kiwi.com will then show you the prices to get to destinations all around the world. For example, if I plug in Melbourne as my departure city and the date of December 12, I discover that it is cheapest for me to fly to Frankfurt for $801. When I click on the price I find that the route requires four flights in total. If that doesn’t suit, I can move on to London at $917, and so on.
The other good thing about Kiwi.com is that because it is mixing and matching a range of airlines and flights to get you to your destination, it offers its own guarantee to cover schedule changes, flight delays, and cancellations.
12. Pounce on airline mistakes
Even in this digital age, mistakes do happen. A computer glitch, fat fingers or a currency mix-up can all lead to seriously cheap flights popping up in airline schedules. If you know how to find these fares you can save big bucks.
One way is to simply set a search engine to survey an entire month for flights. By comparing fares over the dates you’ll easily be able to see any glaring discounts.
If this doesn’t work for you, AirFare Watchdog and Secret Flying are there to help. Both services aggregate cheap fares in the one place. AirFare Watchdog tends to be focused on the American market but Secret Flying will find deals to get you all around the globe. It pays, however, to be very flexible with dates when searching.
By Ted Gibbons
Featured image thanks to Jakob Owens on Unsplash