How to score cheap flights
Spend your cash when you’re there, not getting there
It’s a fact – Aussies love to travel. (Almost six million of us went OS last year). And many of us, by way of pure necessity, will probably have to catch a big old jet plane once in a while to get us where we want to go.
But flights can really obliterate the budget – especially if you’re looking to travel on the cheap. However, if you’re web-savvy, it’s easy to bag a cheapo airfare quicker than you can say ‘Bon Voyage’.
Consult the experts
Business Insider magazine lists a number of sites that can cut down on research time and help fine-tune your travel priorities, including TheFlightDeal.com, which posts ‘mistake fares’ that last for a limited amount of time (often only a few hours). Flexibility is the key here, so if you’re not fussy about the exact destination you’d like to travel to, you could get lucky.
Skiplagged focuses on ‘point beyond’ tickets, which basically means fares to more ‘unpopular’ (but in no way no-go) destinations. The only downsides are that you (a) can’t buy round trips and (b) check in any bags, as they’ll arrive at your ‘throwaway’ city rather than your actual destination.
The Lifehacker website touts a number of sites as beneficial, including Google Flights which allows you to tweak your options according to things like multi-trip tickets, preferred airlines, ticket type and specific departure dates and ITA Matrix, which also has a host of flexible search options that do a lot of the hard work for you.
Hipmunk will send you fare alerts on price drops and pioneered the ‘agony’ filter, which lets you know if you’re likely to encounter gate changes or long layovers and Skyscanner will source ticket/airline combinations that are often tricky to find if you’re flying solo (pun!) on the research front.
Apps also worth checking out include Hopper, which monitors flight price fluctuations on an hourly basis, Bravofly, which lists real-time prices for over 350 different carriers and CheapOair, which adds an additional layer of customisation, allowing you to select meal and seat preferences. And if you’re a fan of Google Flights, OnTheFly should be your go-to app of choice.
Webjet spruiks itself as the ‘leading online travel agency in Australia’ and compares flight deals from some of the world’s leading carriers. Offering a ‘compare, combine and book’ service, it can also sort out hotel accommodation, car hire and insurance if you’re after the whole package. And of course there’s also the option of receiving timely sales alerts directly from airlines – Qantas and Virgin Australia do this via their apps, whilst Jetstar will send you a lovely little email.
At this point, it’s worth noting a few things. Firstly, this list is in no way exhaustive (surf away!) and secondly, some of the above websites and apps won’t allow you to book directly (and those that do may charge a hefty fee) – they’ll basically re-direct you to the relevant carrier’s website. But they’re a handy ‘sussing out’ point to get you started. They can also help you get a feel for what sort of cash you’re likely to be forking out once you’ve nailed the details of what you’re after.
Flexibility and vigilance are the keys to bagging bargain flights. If you’re not fussy about alternative routes, stopovers or airports (think Avalon in Melbourne instead of Tullamarine), the sacrifice of convenience can reap fabbo financial benefits. Same goes for airlines – if you’re happy to sit in the arse end of a not-so-fancy aircraft next to the galley and pay for your own snacks, you can save heaps.
According to Expedia and data sourced from the Airlines Reporting Corporation, lowest priced domestic fares are typically found within 50 to 100 days pre-departure, whilst for international routes, it’s between 150 and 225 days (171 days to be exact).
The best time to travel is in November (forget December, it’s the worst), and Tuesdays are the ideal day to find the best fares (particularly for advanced purchases). And totally swerve before and after public holidays if you can help it, as they are renowned as ‘panic return’ periods.
Flying mid-week is also recommended (leave on a Thursday and return late on a Monday, for example) as interstate commuters and short-break travellers alike are keen to return home on Sundays. Basically, avoid peak times like Friday arvos, Sunday nights and Monday mornings. Saturday afternoons also see less demand (although often fewer flights as well). And if you’re super-keen to be price savvy, consider late night and red-eye departures – you can always snooze your way through the trip.
Other tips and tricks
Booking packages (all your airfares, accommodation, insurances and transport options in the one hit) can save you money and this is where travel agents are beneficial. They have access to inside- industry knowledge, have often travelled extensively themselves and can use processes and supplier contacts to your advantage. If you’re a pre-planner and know where and when you want to travel, they can help you score you big savings.
If you’re able to travel light and can take all your luggage on board with you (the net’s chockers with handy tips), you’ll not only save on baggage fees, you won’t have to be a carousel loiterer at the other end.
Make sure you choose the most economical payment method, as often credit cards will charge you for the privilege. BPay, PayPal and POLi are options worth considering, although you should check your airline’s website just to be sure.
Some web experts also recommend wiping your browser’s cache, opening in an incognito window, using another browser or downloading a VPN (a Virtual Private Network), if you’re consistently searching the same sites, as some carrier sites allegedly increase their prices if you’ve looked at the same fare more than once.
And finally, think about joining Frequent Flyer programs or nabbing a credit card that offers bonus points (or free travel vouchers) for certain purchases. Online forums on travel-related websites can also give you the inside skinny on what’s happening in the industry and tips and tricks on how to get the most out of your reward points. With a bit of factual cross-checking (another pun!), you’ll be soaring off into the wide, blue yonder (for a bargain price) in no time.