We’ve previously written about booking the cheapest flights on the web and tips on flying deeply discounted European carriers. For more in-depth specific information, consult these previous posts. This post is a general overview of how to save on booking plane tickets worldwide, broken down in a simplified manner.
1) Don’t focus on websites that spend loads on TV advertisements like Expedia, Travelocity, Kayak and Orbitz. Somebody has to pay for those advertising fees, and guess who that is? The consumer. We never find the best deals on those sites anymore.
2) Aggregate sites like Momondo, Matrix Airfare Search and Skyscanner search many sites at once (including most discount European carriers like Ryanair), and are generally the best places to find the cheapest tickets online. They spend more advertising on the web and less advertising on TV, which is less expensive for them and you.
3) Not every airline offers their fares on aggregate websites, a good example is Southwest. If you’re booking plane tickets within the USA, always check the Southwest website along with Momondo, Skyscanner and the Matrix.
4) If you’re a casual traveller, throw out your allegiance to any one airline because the industry has generally diluted the value of miles. But it’s always worth signing up for frequent flier programs because they’re free and miles don’t expire with many carriers, so there’s nothing to lose there.
5) Despite all the internet hoopla, sometimes it’s a good idea to just pick up the phone and call a travel agent. We know many of us out there have developed an aversion to speaking to real humans, but travel agencies sometimes have promotional deals with certain airlines and can have a special on your desired route not offered anywhere on the internet. For longer journeys, it might be worth contacting multiple travel agencies.
6) 6-10 weeks in advance is usually the best time to book plane tickets when flying in off peak season, because airlines are usually not desperate to unload seats before then.
7) If you’re flying in peak season (like Europe in summer), or going to a major festival or event, book as far in advance as you can. The tickets will generally only get more expensive otherwise.
8) Always check which discount airlines service your route of choice, and check neighbouring airports. But be sure to read the fine print carefully. Deeply discounted airlines like Ryanair make a lot of money off the penalties passengers must pay for not following the rules. Ryanair turns a big profit, but they save a lot of people money too. They revolutionized flying in Europe and many airlines have followed their model, making flying in Europe more egalitarian than flying in the US.
9) The cheapest day to fly is usually Wednesday, it’s typically the slowest day of air travel because fewer business and leisure travellers are flying mid week.
10) Along with ringing multiple travel agents for long distance trips, search separate roundtrip fares on aggregate search sites. Let’s again use Europe to Australia as an example. Search from your home European location to the most common stopovers in Asia. On the Australia route these would be Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Then make a separate roundtrip search from one of these Asian cities to the Australian city of your choosing. You could save quite a bit of money, and you can experience a bonus country while breaking up an exhausting trip. This last tip can work on many other routes, find out where the major stopovers are by checking the connecting cities on your initial aggregate search.
Please let us know any additional tips or websites you’d like to share to save us all money and keep the industry competitive!
UPDATE: July 15th, 2014- In addition to the sites listed in tip 4, we’ve found recently established Google Flights to be a great source for conveniently searching for cheap fares. It’s really user friendly and shows you which dates are cheapest to fly if you’re a little flexible dates.