I travel a lot. Nothing is more fun for me than to explore new places or return to those that I know and love. I also operate on a personal budget, so it is important to find the cheapest airline travel possible. Over the years, I have discovered some tactics to use to get the best prices. Some of them take a little bit of time, but the money you can save is well worth it. Here are a few of those tactics that could end up saving you hundreds of dollars, particularly on international flights.
I usually begin my process with the goal of booking my flights on the day of my search. Yes, prices may go down between now and my departure, but they can just as easily go up. So, I’ll conduct the most thorough search I can today, get the cheapest price, and book. Over time, I save. Fasten your seat belt and delve into this process with a travel junkie.
The first step in your process should be subscribing to all of the websites that feature daily deals and pricing errors. You’ll get a daily email from each travel deal website, and some of them are pretty amazing. While you may not be in a position to take advantage of these deals at the moment, there are times when the deal and your travel plans will be a match, especially if you are flexible. I wanted to go to Vietnam a few months ago, and sure enough a great deal came right into my inbox. Because of my flexibility, I was able to book it. Once I checked other airline prices, the savings was almost $600.
If nothing is showing up in my inbox, I check at some other deal websites. Recently I have also found a really cool flight search engine at Flights.com. I will use the deals I find as my baseline as I continue to search.
My next stop is at ITA Matrix. This is a great tool that lets me conduct a more complex search, especially going through a few different places to get to my final destination for a cheaper price than a more direct route. It also publishes a calendar of prices for an entire month at a time. Buying on the right days can save you a bundle. Again, because I am flexible, this will often work out. One word of caution here: this tool only searches the major carriers, but it will also give you a baseline for price comparison as you continue to search.
The budget carriers are my favorite. They are not found on major travel websites, so you will need to look on sites such as Skyscanner and Momondo for those prices. Recently, I saved $243 dollars on a flight from Sydney, Australia to Hong Kong, just by booking with Scoot Airlines, instead of a major carrier. Great smaller carriers in Asia are Scoot, Cathay Pacific, and Air Asia. In Europe, EasyJet and Ryanair are probably the most well-known, but there are a host of budget airlines all over Europe. For example, Ryanair will travel from London to almost any other major city on the European continent for about $60 USD or less.
I also check out regional fares when I am already on a continent. For example, if I want to go to Paris, it might be cheaper to fly into a different airport first, let’s say Amsterdam, and then fly from there to Paris. While I end up having to book on two different airlines, sometimes the savings can run into hundreds of dollars. That’s a lot of great meals and/or hotel stays. The one thing to take into account here is your time. This is not a reasonable practice if you are saving less than $100, because standing in lines for immigration and check-in are just not worth it. For $200 or more, however, I’ll do it.
I always check the actual airlines’ sites too. Sometimes, to encourage travelers to book directly with them their published fares may be cheaper. In most instances, this is not the case, but occasionally I get a better fare. It doesn’t hurt to check.
Sometimes, if I have the time and am feeling really frugal, I will check back on the flights I booked 23 hours later. (You can change a flight if you do it within 24 hours). To do this, you have to clear all of the cookies out of your browser, so you look like a new traveler to the website. Run a search for what you have already booked, and see if there has been a price drop. If so, change your reservation and save a bit more.
You can also try choosing a “fake” departure city. As one who travels a lot, I have also discovered that prices really vary depending upon the departure location, especially where international flights are concerned. So, if I am booking flights from New York City to Buenos Aires and then to Santiago, I will pay the best fare I can get. However, if I can book a flight from Buenos Aires to Santiago, not from my New York location, but instead as a totally separate transaction from Buenos Aires, I can save a bundle. It’s all based on what is called “point of transaction.” So, if I decide to book this flight with Avianca airlines directly, I can choose my departure location as Buenos Aires and save a lot.
The payment must be made in local currency, however, so be certain that you can pay for it with a credit card that doesn’t charge a large fee for use of other currencies. If your card does charge a fee (usually 3%), just be certain you are saving more than that fee by doing this.
Find ways to boost your credit card miles. There are lots of little tricks to get more miles. One, of course, is to open new credit card accounts that give bonus miles just for that. And, often, you can transfer miles in from other accounts too. I have done this several times. However, you can take a hit on your credit score by opening and closing an account, so carefully evaluate your own credit score and financial needs to make sure this is okay for you.
Another way to do this is with shopping. A lot of airlines give extra points by shopping with certain partner retailers. If I am looking for gifts, I always check to see if I can find something with a participating retailer.
Days of travel can be important. Within the U.S., travel on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday will be the cheapest. That may differ in other countries, but you can find out pretty easily by looking at local and regional fee calendars.
Being flexible can be the biggest factor. Fortunately, my work allows for the flexibility of shaving days at one end or adding days at another, even a stopover that wasn’t originally planned. If you can build in some flexibility, you will not be sorry — there are some great deals to be had by adding or subtracting even one day.
Usually, I give myself a deadline of about 30-minutes to book my airline travel. My time is worth something too. If you try these steps and find yourself spending hours agonizing over just trying for one more cheaper fare, stop. Take the best deal you can find in 40-minutes tops, check back 23 hours later to see if anything has been discounted more, and then relax. Might you have saved a bit more? Yes. But, you did save. And, over the long-term, you will save a lot.