Saturday, May 5, 2012

How to Find a Cheap Flight

The world is in an economic crisis, and tourism is down all over the world. Airlines have slashed fees and costs in order to fill some of the empty seats. Yet flights — especially on the major airlines — are still expensive. Rising oil costs, increased personal costs, and material costs have all added to rising ticket fares. Bankruptcy has also meant that airlines, which are under pressure to make a profit, can’t reduce fares that much.
The era of dirt-cheap travel is over, and, when the flight can represent the biggest part of your trip expenses, finding that hidden cheap deal can be just as important as finding the right location, the right tour company, the right backpack, or the right place to stay. While deals are not as abundant as in the past, there are still many ways to avoid being the person on the flight who paid the most.
Here are a few tips that can help you find cheap flights and flight deals:
Be Flexible with Your Travel Dates
Airline ticket prices vary depending on the day of the week, time of year, and upcoming holiday such as Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, or Fourth of July. Overseas, August is a big month for traveling around Europe as many Europeans go on vacation then so airline tickets tend to be higher.
It’s always cheaper to fly during the middle of the week than on a weekend because most people travel on the weekends and airlines hike up their prices then. If you fly after a major holiday, prices are also a bit cheaper. Early morning or late night flights are cheaper because fewer people want to travel then. Before you commit to your departure, make sure you check other dates to pick the cheapest day. If you are not flexible in the dates you want to fly, you will never be able to find a cheap flight. Even the difference of a day can mean hundreds of dollars in savings.
Fly to Secondary Airports with Low-Cost Carriers
Most major cities have a smaller, secondary airport. This is the airport most low-cost carriers (LCC) fly into because it’s cheaper and helps keep costs down. Airports charge landing fees, and smaller airports charge smaller fees, which helps keep prices down for you. Check out which airlines fly into these smaller airports. For example, you can take JetBlue to Long Beach, an airport close to Los Angeles, instead of flying into LAX, and save some money. In America, there are over 20 different LCCs. In Europe, there are even more, and competition has kept prices there very low. In Asia, Air Asia has led to a huge drop in fares and is a great budget airline to fly. For example, you can find tickets from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur for $40 USD. Many times, these low-cost airlines offer no-fare tickets — you pay just the taxes. Flying the budget airlines is a good alternative to flying the “majors” whenever possible. You get fewer “perks” but you can save a bundle in ticket costs. But be sure to check out how far the airports are from the city center — sometimes transportation from the airport to the city can actually make a budget airline more expensive. However, in general, these low cost budget airlines are a good deal.
Try Alternative Routes
Not only does it help to be flexible with dates, but try being flexible with the route you take, too. Sometimes it’s cheaper to fly to London and take a LCC to Amsterdam rather than flying direct to Amsterdam. There are so many low-cost carriers around the world that taking advantage of a good deal to another city and then hopping on a LCC to your destination is sometimes the best way to go. Moreover, direct flights are always more expensive than connecting ones. Just by picking a connecting flight route, you will save money. If you do the infamous Saturday night stay, you’ll also save money. (This is where you have to stay at your destination over a Saturday night.) By working various airlines and special offers, you can save a lot. This method is not for everyone, however. It is more work, as you have to figure out lots of different routes and check different airlines. But it will shave some money off your flight, giving you more to spend at your destination.
Know What You Want to Pay for a Flight
People always try to get the lowest price online, wait too long, and then pay too much. We all know airline prices always bounce up and down, yet in our quest to hold out just a little longer, most of us miss the lowest price. Therefore, it’s important to know what you want to pay, not what you hope to pay. What’s the lowest price for YOU? Is $200 from NY to Miami what you want? Don’t want to pay more than $900 to go from LA to Tokyo? Then don’t. Don’t wait for the perfect price — wait for YOUR price. Wait until prices get close to, at, or lower than your desired price, and then buy. Then you will never have buyer’s remorse. Prices always fluctuate, so you’ll never know if you could have done better or worse. No two people on a flight pay the same price, so all you can do is hope you get the price you are comfortable paying. Sites like Farecast can help you predict when to buy.
Remember Not All Search Engines are Equal
Whenever most Americans do a Web search for airline tickets, they search Expedia or Orbitz. As this post shows, that’s a big mistake. These sites either work with or are owned by the airline companies and don’t offer unbiased fares. You need to search as many flight search websites as you can in order to ensure you are leaving no stone unturned. Moreover, many sites don’t list budget carriers because those airlines don’t want to pay a booking commission. The best search engines are the ones that have no affiliation with any airline and make their money via advertising, not bookings.
It’s important to check a few sites before you book as you’ll often see variations in prices and don’t want to miss a deal. All of these websites have their weaknesses and do not include every airline. You aren’t going to find Air Asia, Ryan Air, or other budget airlines on large sites like Kayak, Expedia, or Obritz. US booking engines tend to not have the obscure foreign airlines that you see on international sites like Skyscanner. Booking sites have blind spots since they don’t cover every region of the world and every airline equally. If you want to find a cheap ticket, you must look at multiple booking sites as well as compare to the airlines website before clicking the buy button.
I generally use Vayama to book my flights (their banner is below) as they tend to have the lowest prices but always make sure you check other sites just in case. There’s no perfect airline search engine. Even the best have their faults.
Search an Airline’s International Websites
Don’t forget to search the international websites of all major airlines, too. You might think that prices will be the same across the board, but remember that all sites and prices are not the same. I have found Air New Zealand tickets from Tokyo to LA hundreds of dollars cheaper when searching the NZ version of the website instead of the US. I found tickets to and from Europe cheaper by searching the Canadian version of the British Airways website. Many times, these tickets are also priced in foreign denominations, which can also make the prices slightly cheaper depending on your currency. You are allowed to book your flight from a website located in a different country. You will just be charged in the local currency. (Note: The recent fall of the US dollar has made this hard to work for Americans, but easier for people on the Euro, Pound, or Yen!)
Take Advantage of Student Discounts
If you are a student, there are many, many discounts available to you. Check out STA Travel and their search engine. You can find flexible student tickets on their website and at agency stores. I used them for a $400 ticket from Athens to Bangkok. That wasn’t even the cheapest flight, either, just the cheapest direct flight. There are many student codes out there, and many of the tourist agencies in backpacker areas can help find you a cheap ticket.
Sign Up for a Frequent Flier Program
Airline rewards programs are a great way to get free flights, free upgrades, and free companion tickets. No matter how often you fly, you should be signed up for the airline’s reward program. I stick to the US airlines since they are involved in all the major alliances and you can earn miles on their partner flights. For example, if I fly Singapore Airlines, I can earn United Airlines miles because they are partners. I similarly do the same if I fly Air France and use my Delta rewards account. This way I am always earning miles when I fly. click here to know more