Flight prices have skyrocketed since the pandemic thanks to high demand and airlines without crew and planes to deliver their full pre-Covid routes and schedules. So if you want to find a cheaper fare, how do you do it?
When to book
Special deals often require a certain reservation period, which can be three or six months in advance. However, if you see a sale like Black Friday before that point, there’s no harm in booking early. Get an idea of the best airfares on the route you want, so you know you’ll get a good deal when you see one.
You can also use Google Flights to track flight prices for specific dates.
Day of the week
There are a lot of tips about booking on certain days of the week etc that only work occasionally. However, it’s definitely worth considering the day you travel. Most airlines’ discounted fares are for midweek travel, which usually includes Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but sometimes Thursdays. There can be a significant savings on some of these rates that offset any extra hotel nights you have to add.
Some fares still require you to stay on a Saturday night to get the cheapest deal, so it’s worth trying to include one to see if that reduces the price.
Which airport are you flying from?
The most significant savings are often from flying from a different airport and within Europe, in particular, flying from another country. For example, if you fly from Dublin to many destinations in the US, you can save up to £2,000 on a business class ticket compared to flying from the UK.
Direct vs Indirect
Although a direct flight may be more convenient, indirect flights can be significantly cheaper. Also, with some airlines, this extra stop will earn you extra miles and status credits, which are worth considering if you’re collecting them.
Some airlines such as TAP, Qatar and Emirates often have stopover programs that can be free or discounted to stay a night or two in their home country to encourage tourism there. This way you get two destinations for the price of one.
When booking connecting flights, make sure they are on one ticket as some agencies will sell separate tickets but on one booking. If you have everything on one ticket, you’ll be protected if you miss the connection due to a delayed flight. However, check how much time you need for a connection, as airlines sometimes sell tickets that provide a very tight connection. For example, when you fly to the US, you must go through customs and immigration, including collecting and rechecking your luggage if connecting to another US destination. This can take a significant amount of time, although major airports at least have a drop-off point for connections instead of going back to check-in.
When is it profitable and not profitable?
Make sure you research what you’re actually getting for your money. For example, on a domestic US flight, you may not get a meal included on much shorter first class flights. Check what type of plane you’ll be flying and then look for reviews and photos to see what kind of seat you’ll get and things like Wi-Fi and in-seat power. You should also check what’s included in your ticket, as many airlines now offer light fares that may not include things like lounges or baggage. Seats are also important.
The flight time endpoint that an airline will place on a long-haul airliner can vary widely. So what looks like a great price may mean you end up with a European short-haul seat that’s like economy but with a spare middle seat, not the in-flight seat you want.
If there’s only a small saving between two airlines, but one offers a significantly worse product where you have to pay extra for baggage, the savings probably won’t be worth it.
Using search engines to find fares
Although many websites are supposed to offer the best airline tickets, the best option to start your search is usually Google Flights. It’s worth paying a bit more to book directly with the airline rather than an online travel agency. This is because if something goes wrong, such as a cancellation or missed connections, in many situations the airline will not talk to you and insist that you contact the travel agent. Then you find you can’t get through to a person, or they want to charge you extra to get a refund. The other problem is that notifications such as delays and cancellations are often not transmitted through the online agency. It is common for someone to show up at the airport to find that the flight was canceled hours or days ago and the agent never told them.
The best feature of using Google Flights is that you can search a wide range of departure points and destinations to compare prices between different airports quickly. For example, you might want to fly to Los Angeles but plan to visit Palm Springs. There may be a much cheaper offer to Palm Springs so you can work your plans around that. The best way to search is to enter a range of departure points and then under destination enter the country, such as Italy or the continent, to see all airports in that area.
If you are flexible about the dates, you can choose the flexible dates in the next six months and choose how long you want to continue. Another option is to search by a specific month. Otherwise, you can select specific dates. If you’re a little flexible, you can see a bar chart or grid of dates with prices if you initially use a specific date.
You will then be shown a map of all the cheapest fares available for that time period. You can filter by various other options such as airline alliance and flight times.
If you don’t find what you want, you can also use Google to track prices for you, so you’ll be alerted if the price drops or starts to rise.
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