Travelling is a process that involves a lot of planning and careful attention to detail.
A major part of this process is related to choosing an airline to fly with. Some travellers have a lot of experience when it comes to choosing the right platforms to do this; some others not so much.
Regardless of whether we buy our flights from search engines or a travel agency, at one point or another, we booked to realize a week later that the airline had dropped their prices. It is a waiting game and, in this game, the one who wins is not always the wisest but sometimes the luckiest.
There seems to be no science attached to this booking process. We really don’t know much about airlines tactics for increasing or reducing prices. We can predict certain price behaviours for specific busy times of the year. Apart from this, it makes no sense for most of the people out there.
However unpredictable this process is, there are some steps you could follow should you wish to save some bucks when it comes to paying for your airfare.
1. Use monthly search tools to spot cheapest days to travel
Skyscanner is one of those search engines I hugely recommend. In most of the cases when I need to buy a flight, they produce the cheapest airfares and most suitable schedules to fly.
They also have a very powerful and flexible date flight search tool which allows users to see the cheapest flights per month. As long as you are flexible with the dates when you want to travel, the opportunities you will find are very rewarding.
For this example, I will search a flight from London Heathrow to Dubai.
First thing, enter city of departure and arrival to the relevant boxes:
Then, click on departure date:
From the drop-down menu, you can see “whole month” right next to “specific date” on the top right corner. Once you click on “whole month” you will see this:
Pick the month you want to see prices from or even better choose “Cheapest month”
On the screenshot above you can see prices for the departure and the return flights. Prices in green are the cheapest and prices in red are the most expensive ones. The cheapest option to fly out (depart) is June 3 at £86. The cheapest options to fly in (return) are June 18 at £106, June 4 at £123 and June 5-9 at £124. Having flexibility for this trip and the freedom to choose the cheapest options from the above calendar will help you save some decent money.
2. Use your miles points wisely
Accumulating miles to exchange for free air fares can be done in several ways: purchasing eligible flights, using your credit card, renting a car, buying your groceries at a supermarket, staying at your favourite hotel or going out for dinner.
2.1 How to earn miles points and how to spend them
In my case, I accumulate miles through British Airways Avios points system. Every time I choose to fly with British Airways, I earn Avios points. Avios points are earned according to the cabin class you are flying in, the place where you are flying to and the type of membership you have within that rewards scheme. The higher your status, the higher the total points you can earn.
Looking at the table below, someone flying from London to Bogota can earn, if travelling on Economy lowest, 1324 Avios points per each way. However, if travelling on First flexible, the same person can earn a staggering 15885 Avios points per leg of the journey, so for the entire trip a total of 31770 Avios points will be granted.
Now, from the www.ba.com website, let’s have a look at how far can these Avios points go when it comes to redeeming them : a flight from London to Rome will cost 6500 Avios points + £58.94 (off-peak day prices) or 7500 Avios points + £58.94 (peak day prices).
Additionally, if you have collected any Avios in the past 12 months you qualify for the lower Reward Flight Saver price. The cheapest standard reward flight price is 6500 Avios plus £58.94. But with a Reward Flight Saver, you pay a lower flat fee, in this case, £17.50 instead of £58.94 (off-peak day prices).
2.2 Travel Credit Cards
Another way to collect Avios is with my Premium Plus American Express British Airways rewards credit card. With this card I accumulate 1.5 Avios points for every £1 I spend on any purchases and for every £1 I spend on British Airways or BA Holidays I accumulate 3 Avios points. I use my credit card to buy everything I can. I use it as my debit card. At the end of the month I pay for my monthly purchases, so I don’t have to pay any interest, and, in this way, I am getting miles for free.
2.2.1 Premium Plus American Express British Airways
If you don’t have a credit card, I can only recommend the one I use, and these are some of the benefits you get when you apply for your first card:
- Welcome offer: 25,000 bonus Avios welcome offer, if you spend £3,000 in your first three months of Card membership
- Collect 1.5 Avios for virtually every £1 spent, and 3 Avios for every £1 spent with British Airways or BA Holidays
- Get 2-for-1 travel with a Companion Voucher when you spend £10,000 each year
- Travel accident and Travel inconvenience insurance
- Refer friends and earn 9,000 bonus Avios if they are approved – up to 90,000 Avios a year
- Annual membership fee is £195 = £16.25 per month
- This is what you can get
for your 25000 bonus Avios welcome offer (Taxes, fees and carrier charges apply):
- One return flight from London to Athens or other great locations in Europe and Africa for 20000 Avios
- One return flight from London to Rome or other great locations in Europe for 15000 Avios
- One return flight from London to Berlin or other great locations in Europe for 9000 Avios
On the other hand, and according to www.forbes.com, these are some of the best travel credit cards out there:
- Overall Best Travel Credit Card ($625+ Bonus): Chase Sapphire Preferred
- Best Premium Travel Credit Card: Sapphire Reserve
- No Annual Fee Rewards Travel Card: Wells Fargo Propel
- Chip & Pin Travel Rewards Card: Barclays Arrival Plus
- Best Hotel Rewards Credit Card: Hilton Honors Ascend
2.2.2 Chase Sapphire Preferred
I did some research, and these are some of the benefits offered by this card:
- Once your application has been approved, you will receive 50.000 Ultimate Rewards points which are worth US$625 in travel redemptions. One little catch: to earn the 50.000 points you will have to spend US$4000 in 3 months.
- You can earn points for every purchase: 2 points for travel and dining and 1 point for everything else.
- Reward points are worth 1.25 cents each when redeemed for travel
- You can transfer your earned points on a 1:1 basis to many of the leading airline & hotel partners. Some of the partners you can transfer to are Southwest, United, Hyatt, and Marriott. This is one of the greatest advantages of this card: the flexibility offered to its customers
- There is an annual fee of US$95. No fee applies for the first year of subscription
- Reward points never expire unless your card has been left inactive.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred was also chosen by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance issue from June 2018 as the “Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption”. (Kiplinger’s Personal Finance is published since 1947).
2.3 Alliances and Avios points
A great thing about the miles rewards schemes is the existence of the air alliances. In my case, British Airways belongs to ONE WORLD Alliance. 15 air carriers from all around the world where you can purchase flights from and still accumulate miles. These airlines are: American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Fiji Airlines, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, Latam, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian, S7 Airlines and Sri Lankan Airlines.
2.3.1 An example of how these alliances can work on your favour
British Airways does not operate within Colombian territory. However, Latam which is a member of the ONE World alliance does. When I try to book flights from Bogota to Cali, I start from the BA website and I choose “spend my Avios points”. The Avios tool calculator will tell me how many of them and how much money I need to pay for the chosen journey based on the dates and class I want to fly in.
In this case:
The cheapest option I have in terms of the money I must pay is £7.80 plus 9000 Avios points.
The same flight, time and date, on the Skyscanner website is worth £101
The difference in prices: regular air fare and paying with Avios, is £93.2.
There have been budget airlines flying passengers since the 1960’s. Southwest Airlines is the world’s largest low-cost carrier, flying to more than 99 destinations in the US alone and to 10 other countries in the world. Operating since 1967, currently Southwest carries the largest number of domestic passengers of any United States airline.
Based on this model, some other airlines started trading on the other side of the world. In the UK and Ireland, EasyJet and Ryanair were introduced in 1995 and in 1984 respectively. And thus, the opportunity for many European customers to fly cheaply was born.
Many years have passed since then and in fact, long gone are the days when you could fly from London to Barcelona for as little as £10 return. Airport taxes and luggage charges have changed the panorama of budget flying but still, despite these annoying but compulsory costs, flying with any of these budget companies is sometimes the cheapest option.
Some of the things you need to look after before you book:
3.1 Airport transport fees
Before you book your flights with any budget airline, make sure you double check the airports you are flying from and to. One of the reasons why budget airlines offer cheaper fares is because they use smaller airports which charge lower taxes. Make sure you know how much you will pay for the airport transfers and add these costs to the price of your flight. Sometimes, when you consider these two amounts together, the total paid offsets the price you would have paid if flown with a regular airline.
3.2 Boarding pass
Printing your boarding pass in advance can help you save some decent cash too. If you haven’t done it and realized you arrived at the airport without it, you can be charged up to £30 per boarding pass.
3.3 Hold luggage
Another cost, and perhaps the steepest one, to be considered when flying with a budget airline is the one linked to your hold luggage.
With EasyJet for example, and depending on the route selected, flight and time of booking, you can pay from £6.99 to £34.99 for a piece of hold luggage of up to 15 kg. If you are checking up to 23 kg, you will pay from £9.49 to £37.49 also depending on route, flight and time of booking. Excess baggage fees also apply, to online bookings, and are done in £12 per 3 kilo increments up to 32 kg.
Ryanair charges from £10 to £12 for hold luggage of up to 10 kg, booked online or not. For one piece of hold luggage of up to 20 kg they charge £25 with online bookings and £40 if it is done after the initial online booking. There is a 10-euro supplement on price during peak travel periods such as Christmas, Easter and the summer.
Below is a table for first and second checked bags for some US domestic carriers:
|Airline||First checked bag||Second checked bag|
Source: www.money.com. Figures in US dollars
3.4 Table of Budget Airlines
And here is a list of the biggest budget airlines in the world. If you want to see a more complete list, country by country, click here.
- Norwegian Air
- Pegasus Airline
- West Air
- AirIndia Express
- Cebu Pacific
- Air Seoul
- HK Express
- 9 Air
- HK Express
- Azul Brazilian Airlines
- Air Canada Rouge
- Flair Airlines
- Sky Airline
- Viva Colombia
- Allegiant Air
- Frontier Airlines
- Spirit Airlines
- Sun Country Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- Jet Star Airways
- Tigerair Australia
- Nile Air
- Air Arabia Maroc
- Fast jet
Something else to keep in mind before you pay for your flights: See if parts of your upcoming trip can be covered by local airlines (different to low budget carriers) and check their availability and prices. Areas with difficult accessibility may not be covered by major air carriers or they may offer prices much higher than the prices offered by small localized companies. Sometimes these local businesses are not even listed on most of the main flight search engines.
Finally, make sure you checked properly what you are paying for when booking your flight. There is a dozen of other things these budget airlines can charge you for to compensate for a low budget airfare. Keep your eyes peeled throughout the whole checkout process to avoid any unnecessary surprises when it comes to reaching for your credit card.
4. Set up price alerts
Skyscanner and most of the flight search engines have a great feature which will help you get the best deals, but you will need to be flexible with your travel dates. A “price alert” will track the cost of a specific route or flight and let you know by email or notification when the price has gone up or down and when it is the most appropriate time to buy.
For Skyscanner’s feature, follow the steps below:
From the main page, enter the city of departure and arrival, dates and you will see the following screen:
Once you click on “Get Price Alerts” you will be prompted to enter your details:
You can continue through your Google account, Facebook profile or your email address.
Once you have done that, you will see this pop-up window:
If the price of your flight goes up or down, Skyscanner will send you an email to let you know of the change. This service is totally free of charge, and you can change your alerts or unsubscribe at any time.
Another way to stay on the loop and never miss the opportunity to buy at the most convenient time is by using the app Hopper
Download the app from the apple store (Google Play for android users) and just follow some simple steps to set up the alerts for your next trip.
Enter the cities where you are flying from and to:
Then check the monthly calendar you see on the next screen and look for the dates when is cheaper to fly.
According to the screenshot above, May seems to be the month when is cheaper to fly between Bogota-London return. Also, November displays a lot of green squares. Prices work following the traffic light system: green is the cheapest and red is the most expensive one.
Tap on the month you see with the cheapest options and select the dates that you are interested in. In this case we will choose to fly between 6 May and 23 May.
Then you can see the final price for those dates that you have selected. Price should be above US$750 but below US$800. For this example, the final price was US$764.
Then you have the option to watch this trip which means you will receive emails every time the prices go up or down. The app will also tell you when they believe it is the best time to buy. They will also give you the option to look at the prices for direct flights which tend to cost more but save you precious time.
Remember the prices you see on the monthly calendar are the prices the app predicts the flight will have during those months on the date when you first checked. Based on statistics, Hopper claims to predict prices with 95% accuracy up to 1 year in advance.
According to the app, prices for the flight we are after will not get any cheaper until 20 March and most likely they will get more expensive between 21 March and 6 May which is the departure date. Hence the recommendation from the app to buy the tickets now.
5. Search incognito
Before we start talking about this, it is necessary to explain about web cookies and how they may be getting in your way to find the cheapest flight deals.
A cookie is a small text file which your browser sends to a website so this website can remember who you are, and you don’t have to enter the same information about you repeatedly. Think of a cookie as it were a loyalty card. If you went to a supermarket and you went there very often, they will know how often you went and what you usually bought from them. From time to time, based on the information stored by the loyalty card, this supermarket can offer you discounts and rewards. The cookie works in a similar way.
Once you have searched for the same trip a few times, the cookies stored in your web browser will somehow send information to the site you are using and voila: prices for that journey you are looking for will increase. Basically, the site wants to trick you into buying before allegedly the prices go any higher.
To avoid this, all you need to do is to search incognito.
For PC users:
Internet Explorer and Firefox: Click the wrench icon at the top right corner of the screen
Then select “New in private window”. Alternatively, you can use Ctrl + Shift + P
Google Chrome, Safari and Opera: You can also use the wrench icon and then select “New in Private Window” or similar. Alternatively, you can use Ctrl + Shift + N
You will have a new browser which will look like this:
Once you open a new incognito window, cookies will be deleted. Every time you want to start a new search, open fresh from a new incognito window. In this way, your old searches can’t be tracked down and there shouldn’t be any increase in prices.
For Mac Users:
Hold down Ctrl + Shift + N
6. Consider flying using stopovers as opposed to flying direct
Last November I tried booking a direct flight from London to Nairobi using either British Airways or Kenyan Airlines as these were the only airlines doing the direct trip. The search showed cheapest flights were £600 and £500 respectively. Then I searched the same flight but with one stop-over and this made a huge difference in the final price.
Flying with Qatar Airways through Doha meant I could save almost £200 (compared against the British Airways direct flight) which was enough for me to pay for 2-day entrance fees to the Masai Mara reserve (tickets are worth US$80 per day). That’s a decent save!
For this article, I have searched the same route and the results were not much different:
The fastest option to fly between London and Nairobi is under 9 hours and it costs £529 with Kenyan Airlines. For an extra £4 I could fly with British Airways. If I had been pressured for time, I would have chosen BA because I could accumulate Avios points through their rewards scheme.
Now, let’s have a look at the results when I add a stop-over to this flight:
For £414 and flying with Turkish Airlines I can save for the same trip £115. Not as good as the savings from my trip in November but still decent enough. £115 can go a long way in a country like Kenya.
In other occasions, you can find stop-overs which are long enough for you to get out of the airport and do a small tour of the city where you are stopping by. For example, on a return trip from Sydney to London with Japanese Airlines I chose a stop-over at the Narita airport of almost 20 hours. This was plenty of time for me to go down to Tokyo and explore it. I have to say it was hectic as I stayed up all night until the following morning when I went back to the airport, but it was more than worth it. The price for the flight back to London with the stopover at Narita did not involve any extra costs to my pocket.
7. Be adventurous: fly somewhere cheap just because is cheap
I often use Skyscanner for everything related to flight searching. I do use other meta search tools but in the end Skyscanner almost undoubtedly provides the best and cheapest results.
One of its greatest yet unknown features is the “flight comparison interactive map”. With this tool, you get a summary of all available flight prices to anywhere in the world. This amazing mapping technology will surely get your wanderlust going and will help you choose your next destination. Let’s see how it works.
To start, click on the map link as shown below:
From there, enter the airport you want to fly from and the month when you want to travel:
In this case we have chosen London and March 2019. A world of opportunities is about to unfold before your very eyes:
The map above shows all the cities you can fly to from London direct (green dots) and with 1 or more 2 stop-overs (red dots). Prices for some of these cities are also displayed making it easier for you to choose the cheapest and most interesting choice.
But if you want extra help deciding, there is an option to narrow down the prices. Just click the “Price any” option below the name of the city you are flying from. You can filter by price range and exclude indirect flights to narrow your search even more. You are in control of what you want to see on the screen.
On the picture above, I have narrowed down the search to flights cheaper than £50.
Another feature from this flight comparison interactive map is that when you click on a dot, a line connecting the destinations will be displayed and the information for the route you have selected will be displayed on the right-hand side. You can view prices for the flight and identify the cheapest dates to fly across the whole month.
You can also change the number of nights you prefer to stay.
The prices displayed on the map correspond to the last 15 days. For current ones, click on the green button and this will redirect you to the page with live information. In this case, there was no difference between what is displayed on the monthly chart from Skyscanner and the prices on the website of the airline promising the cheapest fare of £25
8. The sooner you book, the better
If you are planning a trip and you are certain that you can commit to specific dates to travel, the best option you have is to book in advance.
I usually fly home (Colombia) from London for Christmas. I know for sure that the prices for the flights will only rise as the festive season approaches. I have booked these flights almost a year in advance to save money.
For example, in February, a flight back from London to Bogotá for Christmas costs about £ 650 on Skyscanner (the cheapest option usually flies through a city in the United States). The same flight purchased in November or early December would cost no less than £ 1000. I have done this at least 10 times and each time I did it I saved more than £ 300; enough to pay for some of my expenses during a 15-day visit to my family in Colombia
9. Fly off-peak
Everyone knows that flying during peak season is not convenient for your pocket. Airlines work under the offer and demand model like any other business in the market. If you have a product and this product is in high demand, prices will go through the roof. On the contrary, products which don’t sell will become cheaper. Businesses will prefer you to have these low selling products at a lower price than having to lose these products altogether and not getting any financial benefit from them.
Flying during the weeks leading up to Christmas, Easter, summer or any school holidays will always be more expensive. Certain touristic destinations will have a clear calendar of high and low seasons in terms of visitor’s rates. Take for example any of the Greek Islands such as Santorini or Mykonos. In a couple of occasions, I chose to fly there after the end of August because that coincided with the end of the high season. The weather was still hot enough. However, hotel occupancy was not as high and therefore not only did the prices for accommodation dropped but also for the flights.
10. Fly with hand-luggage only
Hand luggage restrictions vary by airline but usually a piece to carry on board shouldn’t be bigger than 56cm by 45cm by 25cm, including wheels and handles. Some airlines are extremely strict, and they wouldn’t allow additional laptop cases, smaller bags or even a purse as they are also considered luggage. They will need to be inside the main hand luggage.
Airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet charge, depending on the route selected, flight and time of booking, up to £35-£40 per checked bag per each leg of the journey. The same applies for domestic airlines in the USA where fares for hold luggage vary between US$25-US$50.
When you think about it, packing all our belongings within such a small item seems a difficult task to achieve. However, there are benefits associated to travelling light and saving money should be the biggest one.
Other benefits associated to travelling light:
- No need to waste time waiting for bags at the airport
- Easy for you to commute in remote places where bikes are the main transport. You can’t carry on your back a heavy suitcase and be someone’s pigeon at the same time
- Easier to keep control of
- Quicker to pack
- Fits everywhere
- We feel light ourselves and more connected to our surroundings
- Become detached of unnecessary material possessions we usually travel with and never use
- Your back will be grateful, and you will feel rested and full of energy to enjoy your trip
I hope you have enjoyed reading this post about flight booking hacks. It will be awesome to hear about your recent and past experiences with this fascinating topic. Use the box below to do so and once again, please don’t forget to share it with your friends through any of the social media links displayed.