Flights typically form the biggest part of your travel expenditure, after hotels. While you’re spending big money on flights, they only form a small part of your travel experience. With smart planning and research, you can book the right flights for your journey.
First of all let’s debunk a few myths:
Myth 1: You will always the best price by buying it last minute, at the airport
It used to be the case 30 years ago… where they had a thing called ‘waiting lists’… The thing was to arrive at the airport earlier enough to be first on the list, and airlines would sell you a ticket to fill up the empty seats. This would have been the way to get the lowest price if you didn’t care if you would be travelling on that day or not.
Passengers soon caught on, and weren’t booking flights until the last moment. Soon there were flights that weren’t filled until the last minute, and at a discount price. This wasn’t great for the airline, not only did they get as revenue as they could, it meant that they had no idea how many passengers there would be travelling until the day, making it difficult to plan, such as how which planes to use and how much food to carry.
So sadly, this practice has generally been discontinued on major airlines. You may still be able to ‘nab’ a cheap fare at the last minute, especially with smaller operators, more likely than not it will be more expensive. This is because there are business travellers who are happy to pay top dollar to buy a last minute ticket as their travel requirements might not be apparent until the last minute, and the revenue of these travellers will generally surpass any revenue lost from unfilled seats.
Though ‘Waiting lists’ and fares are sometimes still available to airline staff and family, but it’s a perk that you get for working for the airline. It’s great if you’re already working for the airline, but switching jobs so you can save a bit? Not really a practical idea.
Myth 2: Airlines will generally price match each other’s fares
In the traditional sense, where you can call up one airline and show them an airfare of another airline, airlines generally do not price match. The decision to match or not has already been made by the time you see the price. If Airline A drops their price at 8am, others may follow by noon, or may not. It all depends on their inventory and dozens of other factors.
There are some exceptions to the rules however. For example, Jetstar in Australia advertises that it will match fares from other airlines, and will in fact beat another carrier’s price by 10%, simply by calling up. However this is a unique case that is part of their specific strategy, so while you could always call and ask, don’t be too disappointed if the answer is no.
Myth 3: Booking Direct with Airline Websites Always Gets You the Best Fares
It’s true that many airline’s offer a ‘best fare guarantee’. That is, if you find a better fare than what you paid, usually within a time limit of the purchase, then the airline will refund you with the difference. However, if you start digging into the fine print, not all fares are applicable for this guarantee. Typically, only publicly advertised fares would be matched. Firstly, there are fares that may be available non-publicly, for example corporate rates from an employer that is also extended for leisure travel or group rates made to members to particular professional or trade organisations. This also does not consider any additional benefits you may receive from booking elsewhere, such as rewards programs or other additional benefits a travel agent could offer. Lastly, also consider the method of payment as travel agents could offer more flexible payment terms or allow you to pay using discounted gift cards. You should consider all these factors in choosing where you book your flight.
Myths around airfares arise either anecdotally or through clever marketing by airlines. You shouldn’t rely on these myths to make your travel booking decisions as it probably won’t translate too much benefit. In the next part of the article, we take a look at simple strategies you can use to find the best fare.