Digging out some bucket list items and deciding, "Where to next?".
Maybe looking how to find a cheap flight anywhere!
Since Covid flight prices have soared way beyond inflation. Fuelled by the pandemic, reduced number of flights and the spiralling cost of fuel. It's now more important than ever to try and find the lowest price.
Most of the online booking tricks of past years don't work anymore. Travel companies have merged. Technology has improved, and loopholes closed while ticket prices have soared.
But there are still deals, and with a plan and a bit of luck, you can find them.
For example, I recently managed to find a Business Class ticket from Johannesburg to Oviedo in Spain (the start of the Primitivo Camino 15-day walk) and return from Madrid for $2 500.
The next cheapest was $3 600)
Prices of airline tickets vary depending on many factors. These include public holidays, the season, day of the week or the month, time of day, errors in booking systems and minute by minute changing flight loads.
In the past, travellers have used many of the following criteria or so-called "tricks" to find cheap or cheaper flights:
- Flying at certain times.
- Flying on certain weekdays.
- Taking the flight on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, or a Thursday.
- Flying after a major holiday.
- Taking early-morning or late-night flights because fewer people want to travel then.
Now these are all elements of dynamic AI systems manipulating the prices second by second. These changes have resulted in unbelievable intraday and day-by-day differences.
On our recent one-way flight from Johannesburg to Lisbon (Portugal), the price of a ticket on Monday was $645 and on Tuesday and Wednesday $1 096!!
A few weeks ago, I went to London from Faro for the weekend - the price on Wednesday was €53 and on Thursday €90!
So today, to find bargains, you must be much sharper!
During the turbulent Covid times many people resorted to using travel agents. As with different and changing rules, it became riskier and riskier to go it alone.
There is now a new normal, and with some guile and effort, you can find your own best deals.
Here's how you can find the best deals online.
The booking sites are basically the same but differ in the details. Some include certain airlines, and others don't. Some charge a premium based on the payment method. Some have direct booking within the site or airline, whereas others redirect to other booking sites.
Firstly, this can be confusing with added confusion and concern about the trustworthiness of the external booking sites.
How to Book a Cheap Flight Ticket?
First, you must find a ticket that suits you and here's the step-by-step process I follow.
Step 1: Consider the Factors Influencing the Costs of Flight Tickets
The main issues that can influence the ultimate flight ticket price are:
- How flexible are your dates? From the examples above, you can see that even one day can make an enormous difference.
- Do you have to travel during a peak period or season? A few days on either side can make a significant difference to the price.
- How far ahead are you booking? If this is a long way ahead, you can set alerts with sites like Google, Skyscanner or Kayak, where you'll get notifications if there is a better deal. Many studies (or unscientific opinions?) contradict each other in looking at how far ahead to book. You must make your own decision based on your circumstances. As with your flexibility and tolerance for risk (FOMO.), you must decide whether you need to book a few days or 6 to 9 months before your trip. For example, in cases where there is strong seasonal demand (Summer/Christmas), it will be best to book as early as possible. Or as soon as the airline opens bookings on that route.
- Do you want a flexible ticket? Are your dates, especially the return date, fixed? Changes can be costly after confirming the ticket.
- Are you prepared to endure some stops and a longer total journey? Some of the cheaper prices may involve en-route self-transfers. If you're not an experienced traveller, this can be daunting.
- Do you need insurance? What type of insurance? What is provided by your credit card company?
- Finally, how much effort are you prepared to put into searching for the best options?
Once you have your answers to these questions note them down (a Google doc or Excel spreadsheet work well). Then start the next task which is to troll through the booking sites.
Step 2 – Finding the Best Cheap Flight Ticket
Once I've completed step 1, I'll check which popular airlines operate the route and see if they have any special prices or deals.
Looking at some of the flights offered, I'll also think about whether there are other route options.
Check what's included in the price.
During that time, I'll make sure I understand the details of the various prices. All booking sites, Skyscanner, Google, Kayak, Momondo, Kiwi, Expedia, CheapFlights, etc., are not created equal. Some will inflate prices to earn a commission. Others charge fees for using certain credit cards. While some include certain airlines; others don't.
Beware: The advertised price you see is only the starting point!
Compare all the prices and conditions from a few quotes, including budget airlines, and add this information to the summary.
Today most tickets are sold in parts – the seat – the baggage – the meal – the boarding priority – and whatever else. Some prices include a 23 kg hold bag. Others include two bags. And then some low-cost airline prices only include a single carry-on bag.
After adding all the add-on options (and essentials), they can sometimes be more than the cost of the original ticket!
So, understand what you're buying.
During Covid using travel agents became more popular. It became more and more confusing with rules and regulations during this period. So, their fees are a worthwhile price to pay at certain unusual times compared to a hefty cancellation or change fee.
Sites like Kiwi.com offer travel hacks. These are lower fares that combine airlines and often involve self-transfers en-route. If you have the travel time and are prepared to endure the added stress, this may be a cost-saving option.
These travel hacks also show possible other route options. Illogically flying back to fly forward can be the cheapest option! Using this route information, you can take advantage of these options. Having a stopover in the first city and then booking the second flight a few days later.
At this stage, I'll also consider the cost, the time, and the hassles of the complete journey. From getting to the airport, the flight and getting to the destination. Knowing that the extra transport costs can exceed the flight cost in some cases!
Step 3: Selecting the Best Flight Option
Once I have included all the costs, I'll rank the lowest few that meet my requirements.
Then follow a process of elimination by looking at the different flight price offers, making sure that I'm comparing like with like:
1. First, I compare the lowest flight ticket price with the direct airline price. If this is close, I'll pick the airline offer. If it's not
2. I'll look through the remaining offers and make my selection.
As you make the booking, you will face a myriad of up sells and down sells. These make this stage both frustrating and complicated. But it will be a lot less painful if these issues have been thought through earlier in the process.
Once I see a fare that suits my situation, I book it and never go back to see whether there is a cheaper option. I may miss small discounts with companies that offer "best price" matching. But I've found them more hassle than they're worth.
Some Other Options on How to Book a Cheap Flight Ticket
Flight Deal Sites
There are sites that scan the internet for deals. You pay a small subscription and get whopping discounts to get these best deals. Even one flight can more than pay for the subscription.
If you're based in the UK or Europe, it's well worth subscribing to Jacks Flights for flights from the UK or Europe. They now also have specials from the USA. Another site catering to the UK and Ireland is Secret Flight Club.
Scotts Cheap Flights should work for you if you're based in the USA.
Secret Flying is a popular site for finding worldwide flight pricing errors. They post current mistake fares each day and update subscribers about when tickets sell out or become defunct. You can subscribe via e-mail, get their app, or follow them on Facebook or Twitter to get hot deals.
Over the years, I have used Jacks Flights and saved a lot of money!
Other sites where you can find error fares and deals are:
You do not have to worry about the airline cancelling an error fare booking. If you manage to make a confirmed booking of an error fare, all airlines honour them.
If you decide to cancel for any reason, regulations require a 24-hour free hold in some countries. In other countries, you can get free cancellations if you book your ticket well in advance of your travel date.
Using a VPN or different country versions of a site.
Most of these sites will default to the country you are booking from unless you use a VPN.
In the past, I found that using different versions of the same site gave different prices for the same flight. For example, a quote in skyscanner.com/ph/ rather than skyscanner.com.
Looking for and Using Local Airlines
Local airlines are often not included on these booking sites and maybe the cheapest and best choice. Budget and local does not mean inferior. Like with any ticket, you must understand what you are buying.
For example, in South America, I've used services like Andes Aerolineas and SKY, which were excellent.
Airlines like Air Asia and Cebu Pacific have extensive local coverage in Asia. We also flew on VietAir, which was fine.
Be very careful.
Being at the airport and finding out you have a problem is seriously stressful and can be awfully expensive! Even more so if you could have avoided it.
- After getting confirmation - read it carefully. Read and understand the ticket conditions. What are you covered for and what not?
- Get out a calendar - check the ticket against the calendar.
- Check name spellings.
- Examine conditions like luggage and insurance.
- Check-in online - usually 24 to 48 hours before the flight. The earlier you find a problem, the more time there is to sort out any hassles.
Warning: Be careful if you use your computer to autofill fields as sometimes, they can be filled in incorrectly. Especially if you must make a correction to a field. I had an incredibly stressful incident at Shanghai airport with an autofill error.