Booking flights is nearly always a pain. You are constantly trying to weigh the pros and cons of when to book, how to book and how much to book for. Last minute can mean super inflated prices or an unbelievable deal. Unlike Ariel, I’ve only used a travel agent once when booking flights, and that was for my round the world trip. I used a UK branch of STA-Travel and they managed to find me a great deal. If memory serves, I think I paid £1000 for London -> Beijing (overland) Hong Kong -> Sydney (overland) Brisbane -> Tokyo -> London. This was in 2008 so I don’t think I’d be able to find it that cheap now! STA do great open-jaw tickets and you can buy passes so you can rearrange flights without fees. That’s a great option for if you don’t want to be tied down but need a rough plan.
But what if you aren’t backpacking across multiple continents and just want to visit home, or pop away for a month. Unfortunately, there’s no fool proof list on how to get a cheap deal (some of it is just booking at the right time) but here are the top websites and steps that I follow to get the best deal.
Tip 1: Cross-Reference
I always use multiple websites when looking up flight options. Some of these websites are comparison sites in themselves. My two favourite comparison sites include:
- Statravel.co.uk/com (also useful for under 26 deals, student deals and so on)
- This site is country specific which becomes important (see Tip 3).
Both Kayak and Sky-scanner offer flight alerts for your specific dates, times and preferences. This can be useful to know when prices are on the rise but as always, take it with a pinch of salt. Websites often make use of matrixes too. If you select that you are flexible (normally up to 3+ days), you can see a list of options depending on what day and what time you go. It is very rare that I’m set on an exact day to leave so I’ve saved a lot of money but switching things up.
Sidenote: Skyscanner has a nifty feature which lets you search flights from a location to ANYWHERE. Not sure where to go and fancy a cheap weekend away? You can see your options based on country. I must admit, this little option is much better in Europe where Low Cost Carrier (LCC) airlines mean you can sometimes get flights for £50 or so. Nonetheless, it is still useful if you are travelling on a budget and you’re not fussy on locations.
Tip 2: Check the Airline’s Own Website
Once you have a specific flight in mind, head to the actual website of the flight company i.e. British Airway, Virgin etc. It is nearly always cheaper to go via whatever search engine you have used, but it is worth double checking. Sometimes you get extra benefits booking directly or have increased options. Most airlines also give you an idea of how many seats are left (or at least if there’s limited availability) – this gives you an idea on how long this particular flight will be available for and that price. If you are booking way in advance, it is unlikely that the flight will fill up completely but the particular tier of seat price will likely change. There are normally a certain amount of tickets at each price level – the cheapest obviously go first.
Tip 3: Country Specific Websites
They make a difference. When I was flying back to the UK last Christmas, it was cheaper to book flights on the UK STA website than the US/Canada one. Kayak and Skyscanner also have the option of regional websites so it’s worth double-checking the same flight on both. You might even have to hide your ISP but this isn’t normally the case. Essentially, whatever country you are landing in – use THEIR website. Flying to the US? Use a .com. UK? .co.uk.
Side-note: In the above case, I actually had to use my UK address to get the tickets. I don’t think all sites are this strict but this may be a limitation on this sneaky tip.
Tip 4: Insurance
If you’ve gone rogue and found an amazing deal on a little known site, be smart about it. Check their guarantees and insurances. Look for the acronyms at the bottom of the page to see what insurance you’ll have in case the company goes bust and your ticket disappears. STA, for example, is a member of ABTA in the UK. Naturally, this doesn’t replace your travel insurance but is an extra security. Not all travel companies subscribe to the same schemes (if any) so it’s worth reading the fine print. Hopefully you’ll never need to use it butttt, worth knowing about. Companies with this option may be $5-10 more but it’s normally worth the security.
Tip 5/Step 5: The Waiting Game
I can’t describe this as a tip – it’s more of the last step. Once you know what day is the cheapest, who you want to fly with and what time you are going, it’s the waiting game. If everything looks great – book there and then. You never know what is going to happen by the end of the day. The more that you research, the more you’ll have a rough idea of what is a good deal. If you know that you’ve brought said flight for $600 in the past, it might be worth waiting. If you’ve been playing with the dates for the past few weeks and suddenly it’s dropped by $100 – go for it. I normally research a fair few months before I travel and end up watching the flights go up and down. You get an idea of what is a good deal that way. There is a caveat here though – if you are going home over a major holiday, it will normally be the case (in my experience) that flights will only go up. Book those flights as soon as you can! Everyone will always be travelling around Christmas…those flight are never going to be a bargain.
Sidenote: LCC are generally a different boardgame altogether. In my experience, they will only get more expensive. The first price is nearly always the cheapest. There’s no waiting game here! Book book book!
LCC in the UK:
LCC in Canada:
- LOL just kidding.
- BUT: AirTransat are the cheapest international airline at the moment.
- Air Iceland
Next time on ‘Getting There’ – making sure you get there in one piece – I’ll be writing about things to look out for when choosing an airline. Sometimes budget can mean better but mostly…not the case.