I n this article we take a look at a few basic tips to help lower your airfare. We will consider the vital importance of flexibility when tracking down cheaper flights - this includes time and season of departure and varying your origin and destination cities.
1. The golden rule for airfares is the more flexible you are, the higher the chance you will find a lower fare. Flexibility can mean a number of things - date and time of travel as well as which airports you travel to/from. So for example, flying mid-week (especially Wednesdays) will generally be cheaper than flying on a Monday or Friday. Early morning, late evening and overnight flights may be cheaper due to slightly less demand.
If you are restricted to a specific date then at least check fares 1 or 2 days around your date to see if anything cheaper is available.
If you are really flexible you can search over multiple weeks to hunt down the cheapest fare; if you don't have a specific date or destination in mind then monitor the market for bargain sale fares and book when you see something you like.
2. Take care with the time of year you fly. There are 3 airfare seasons - off-peak (cheapest), shoulder and peak. which vary by destination for international flights. For example, peak season for flights to Australia will be December, with maximum demand around the Christmas and New Year season. If you wish to head Down Under for the southern summer then you are better off flying in November or February. Or for the cheapest fares of the year to Australia (off peak in late autumn/early winter) then fly between April and June.
In general you should also avoid flying
just before or after a major public holiday or at the start of the school holidays.
3. Be flexible with your destination and arrival airports - check prices from all surrounding airports in a big city - some flight search engines allow this option. Consider using the full city search string "LON", "NYC" and "TYO" for London, New York and Tokyo respectively - rather than just "LHR" (Heathrow), "JFK" and "NRT" (Narita).
When departing Europe, check prices for flights from nearby countries - this can mean significant savings in business class. If flying to UAE check prices to/from both Dubai (DXB) and Abu Dhabi (AUH) - just 1 hour by road from each other; when flying in/out of south-east Asia then consider Bangkok (BKK), Kuala Lumpur (KUL), Singapore (SIN) and Jakarta (JKT) - it's quite cheap to fly between these cities when you are there.
Also remember that routes through a connecting airport are often cheaper than a non-stop flight. Airlines have to cut prices to entice passengers to take a more inconvenient journey.
4. How Can I Do a Flexible Airfare Search? We used to always start with ITA Software which had a month long search facility to track down the lowest published airfares. However ITA (now owned by Google) has become a little hit and miss of late. Fare aggregator Kayak has introduced a "flex month" search which is useful - though note that such sites rely on data from affiliate partners, rather than being a dedicated database. Other aggregators include Hipmunk, Skyscanner, Momondo.
Some of the main online agents have more limited flexible search facility - usually a +/- 3 day search (Orbitz/CheapTickets, Travelocity). Opodo in UK/Europe only allows +/-1 day. Many airlines (examples: American Airlines, British Airways, KLM-Air France, Lufthansa, Qantas) will bring back search results in a matrix which can help you find the lowest fare day for flights with that particular airline.
Use a combination of fare aggregators, online agents and airlines to hunt down your airfare - you may have to make numerous trial-and-error searches before you find the best result. Note that many booking engines are biased and can exclude certain airlines, so keep your search as broad as possible. Consider also getting a quote from a local travel agent and a destination specialist agent as well.
We normally recommend booking directly with the airline whenever possible, unless an agent is significantly cheaper. Do take careful note of the ticket restrictions and any difference between airline-issued and agent-issued tickets. Are tickets refundable or changeable? How much is the cost of changing dates before/after departure?
5. If travelling short-haul then compare prices between "full service" carriers and "low-cost" airlines. Note the distinction between the two has become blurred in recent times with legacy carriers now charging for some extras. Low cost airlines are often excluded from online flight search engines.
Consider the "all-in" fare to take account of any extra costs for checked baggage, meals and booking fees. Major low-costs are JetBlue, Southwest and Virgin America in the US; Easyjet and Ryanair in Europe and Air Asia, Scoot and Jetstar in south east Asia.
6. Get a feel for prices on your desired route by watching the market for a few weeks. Airfares can go up and down but generally will start to rise the closer to departure. It is generally optimal to book something like 4-12 weeks before travel. Beware of any possible ticket restrictions such as Saturday night stays or 30 day maximum stay.
Stay connected to get a head up on any possible airfare sales by following your favourite airlines on Twitter/Facebook or getting on their email lists. Also monitor frequent flyer blogs and forums to keep up to date. Sale fares should be booked quickly although consider that competitors can match sale fares within a day as well (British Airways sale fares are always matched by Virgin Atlantic).
7. If you have to book a flight on very short notice (usually expensive) and you have a stash of frequent flyer miles then consider making a redemption booking. British Airways Avios points look very good value when redeeming for domestic US flights and US to South America trips, with no fuel surcharges. For example, a New York-Miami one-way flight in economy (coach) costs just 7,500 points. Many rewards and airline credit cards come with significant bonus points. Note however, our preferred way to spend miles or points is on long-haul premium cabins.