When you are at the planning and budgeting stage of your round the world trip, flight prices are almost always one of the biggest expenses. With rocketing fuel prices, insanely punitive taxes (from the British government at least), many of the major airlines slashing routes and capacity and many of the smaller carriers even going bust, ticket prices are being pushed up all of the time and it can seem like airlines have gone completely insane at the moment. The big problem is that perception isn’t exactly wrong either. The era of cheap flights is now well and truly over.
But don’t worry, even in this age of austerity, recession and sky rocketing flight prices, there are still some things you can do to keep costs down and ensure that getting to your destination doesn’t swallow your entire budget.
1. Shop around.
One of the best ways to ensure you get the best price for any given flight is to shop around. By all means get quotes from travel agents, but use them as a baseline for comparing with as many different quotes as you can get. Check as many comparison websites as you can, remembering of course that each website will not have flights from all carriers, and consider budget as well as major airlines. Prices from one airline to the next, one website to the next can vary as much as hundreds of pounds, so it is best to get as many different quotes as you can.
2. Check airlines own websites.
When looking for flights, why limit yourself to comparison websites or travel agencies? Why not go straight to the source? It is often the case that agencies or aggregates may have the best deals, but not always. Sometimes the airlines themselves have the best prices advertised on their own website. It doesn’t happen all of the time of course, but it never hurts to check.
3. Sign up for airline loyalty programmes.
There are a variety of airline reward and loyalty programmes you can sign up for which will allow you to earn air miles or loyalty points with every purchase that you can then exchange for upgrades or even free flights. It may take some time, but with airline partnerships and promotions, flying a number of different airlines can still accrue you bonuses on the same scheme.
Signing up for airline or travel related credit cards can also be a great idea if you are careful. Most have annual fees or other such problems which negate any benefits, but if you get the right one you can get air miles with every purchase you make, with extra bonuses for specific loyalty purchases without any of the fees.
4. Sign up for email alerts.
Most airline websites will have email alerts. I know no one really wants to volunteer for extra junk mail, but signing up for as many of these as you can is a great idea. Seriously. By doing this you will not only be signing up to hear about flash sales as soon as they occur, but also airline specific bargains or sales that may not always show upon comparison websites, aggregates or agencies.
5. Be flexible.
This is perhaps one of the best pieces of advice when it comes to bagging yourself a bargain airfare. Being flexible with the dates and times you fly can net you some seriously big savings, and this goes way beyond not limiting yourself to flying at peak periods when prices triple. By changing your departure date by a day or two can quite literally knock hundreds of pounds off your flight price. The best way to get an idea of this is to tick the flexible dates box when you are looking for flight prices online. So instead of flying on a Saturday for example, try choosing the Friday or Thursday before instead. You really can save hundreds.
6. Try not to fly at peak times.
This may seem obvious, and I do understand that not everyone has the opportunity to do this, but try not to fly at peak times such as August in Europe (for the summer holidays) or going to China for Chinese New Year in February or the USA during Thanksgiving. It is something that really annoys me, but the laws of supply and demand mean that the airlines will double or sometimes even triple their rates because they know people have no other choice but to fly then. If you can, then always try to fly outside of these times, even just a week or so can make all the difference. Flights out of the UK at the beginning of July can be half the cost of the exact same flight at the end of July when the damned summer holidays start.
7. Watch for the hidden charges.
These annoying extra charges can be a real nightmare for budget travellers. In the past these generally used to be limited to the ultra budget airlines, for the large part anyway. But now every airline is cashing in on the trick, and the biggest problems are that some of the ‘extras’ aren’t optional, from booking fees, security fees, administration fees, fuel surcharges, taxes or whatever other criteria they decide to start charging for, and the main fact that the original prices aren’t coming down, but they are still charging for the ‘extras’! These hidden charges and extras are becoming increasingly the norm, with ‘premium economy’ now seemingly a mainstay of booking a flight (basically you now have to pay a huge premium for those seats by the emergency exit or at the front row that you used to get for free if you turned up early enough or were lucky), extra charges for smaller amounts of baggage and any other spurious charge they deem fit to squeeze out of us, and this is only going to get worse as the airline industry gears up to fight for individualised air fares. So when you get a quote, remember to research all those hidden extra fees first and be sure of exactly what you are paying for. Sometimes that slightly dearer airline quote can work out cheaper if it doesn’t have any of the fees the ‘cheaper’ airline does.
8. Break up your flights.
When shopping around for your flights, the obvious options aren’t always the best ones. Most people will simply opt for a simple return ticket, perhaps with a stopover somewhere, or even get an RTW ticket for a pre planned route. Sometimes these can be the best option, but not always. If you are flexible and aren’t too worried about a little extra time in transit, then breaking up your flights can be a good option. This means that instead of flying direct from one place to another (stopover not included), you buy three or even four separate tickets with a mixture of primary and budget airlines that will get you to your destination in stages. Basically, instead of flying direct to Sydney from Manchester, try flying into Bangkok then getting a budget airline to Sydney. Sometimes it can be a little dearer to do this, but other times it can save you hundreds of pounds. At the very least it is worth trying.
9. Change your routes.
This works on a very similar principle to breaking up your flights and can work in two ways. When looking at a series of tickets to get to your primary destination, don’t just consider the obvious places. Try different airports in neighbouring countries too. Flying long haul from Manchester, England for example, usually comes with massive premiums and heavy, punitive taxes, but a cheap budget air fare to Europe can net massive savings on long haul flights. The same is often true flying into Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur instead of Singapore, then getting a budget flight over to your destination.
It can also work by considering which airport you fly into. Low cost carriers often fly into smaller airports that are a fair distance from the main airport or city, because they have cheaper landing fees. This can mean big savings for you and all it takes to get to your final destination is a bus or train ride that will usually cost you a fraction of the money you saved. (Although this isn’t always the case, if the difference between the two airports is negligible in somewhere like Europe or the USA, then extra transport costs can be more expensive, this is something worth considering).
10. Book early.
The rules of booking flights have changed, and the era of cheap flights is gone. It is important to remember this when you are booking your ticket. You used to be able to hold on till the last minute and wait for a great deal or a last minute fare, and whilst this does still occasionally happen, more often than not now the price will just continue to rise. So booking as soon as you know when you want to fly is now the best option. I know it’s heartbreaking knowing that there may be a flash sale in a month or two, but if the ticket is at a reasonable price now, then book it now, because unless the economy has a drastic turnaround, waiting will now almost always mean you will pay more.
I hope that by reading this you have gained from the benefit of my experience and learned a few tricks and tips to bag yourself a good deal on a flight. I have been travelling the world on short haul, long haul, backpacking and flashpacking trips for over a decade now, and I have learned these tricks from experience, by making the mistakes myself so that you don’t have to. What do you think? Do you have any more money saving tips yourself? Please feel free to comment below.