Simple strategies to find cheap flights

In the last part of the series we debunked some common myths about airfare pricing. In this part we’ll look at simple strategies you can use to find the best airfare deals for your travel.

First of all, you need to understand how airfare pricing works. Let’s take the example of a flight that has two fare buckets: discount price and full price. The flight has 200 seats available on a certain day for a certain destination, for example a holiday, Christmas Day. The flight should easily be able to sell off all seats at a discounted price, but it understands that an increasing number of customers will be willing to pay full price for seats as Christmas gets closer.

The airline would sell certain seats at a discount, while saving a number of seats for people who would pay full price. If the airline ends up saving too many seats, it faces the risk of flying with empty seats. On the other hand, the airline would want to sell as many seats as possible at full price to maximise its revenue.

In reality there are more than two fare buckets, but rather a range fare buckets, sold at different times through different channels. And the cheapest fare bucket isn’t necessarily sold the furthest away from the travel date. The first step in getting a good airfare is getting a fare from the fare bucket that is as close to fully discounted as possible.

Unfortunately, nobody knows exactly what fare segments an airline will offer, how it will sell the different fare segments, and when – this information is tightly held by airlines as if competing airlines knew they would use it to undercut their competition.

However, there are a few tools you can use to help you find discounted fares.

Google Flights Explorer

Google offers a great tool for not only keeping track of airfares but also exploring possibilities for your travel. If you don’t necessary have a specific travel plan in mind but simply want to explore your options in terms of both dates and destinations then Google Flights Explorer is a good starting point.

This doesn’t tell you when the best time to buy a ticket on a certain date is. However, it tells you what flights in advance are cheap to buy now.

To get started, visit https://www.google.com/flights/explore/. From there, enter where you are departing from and where you want to go. The best part is that you don’t have to enter a specific destination, and you can enter something as broad as a continent or geographic region.

In the example searching for flights from Seattle to the Caribbean for a trip length between 3-5 days Google Flight Explorer shows us a flight to San Juan for $432 in April – May.

Once you’ve honed down where you want to go, you’ll want to book the flight. What Google doesn’t do for you however, is book your travel. To do this, you’ll still need to use a travel agent or book directly with the airline.

Airfare  Forecasts

If you aren’t so flexible with dates and need to fly on a different job, look for the Hopper app. The Hopper app tells you when the best time to purchase a fare is. You enter a specific date, and it’ll tell you whether it expects the price to increase or decrease in the future. It uses historical data of airfares for flights to forecast the price trends of your desired itinerary in the future. If the prices are expected to go up, then you’ll want to book in your flight ASAP, and if it forecasts the prices going down, then you can just hold off on making a booking until a little later.

Airfare Consolidators

How you book your flight matters as much as when you book your flight. First of all, try searching getting a quote from an airfare consolidator. Airfare consolidators would purchase tickets in bulk, and resell tickets cheaper than what the airline is selling them for. These tickets generally come with more restrictions than if you buy from the airline itself. For example you may not be eligible for frequent flier points and you might changing an itinerary might be impossible. Airfare.com and CheapTickets are just a couple of examples of consolidators. Don’t stop your search here however – as airlines are becoming more efficient at managing their yield as well as reducing their cost through online and other channels, there’s lower and lower incentive for airlines to sell tickets to consolidators at deep discounts – meaning you won’t always get the best price through a consolidator.

Online Travel Agencies

You’ll also want to look at online travel agencies – Expedia, CheapoAir, Priceline, just to name a few. Online travel agencies can offer good prices as they operate on low margins without having to maintain retail shopfronts or sales agents. There are literally dozens of online travel agencies. Thankfully, you don’t have to search through them – there is a tool for that as well! Sites like SkyScanner provide a comparison service which searches through different online travel agencies as well as booking directly through airlines. This means that you can compare prices of multiple booking sites in one go.

However, the real winner is CheapFlightFinders. CheapFightsFinders not only searches through different online travel agencies, it also search through sites that search through comparison sites. Some are better on particular routes whilst others could have better filtering capabilities. No single comparison site would necessarily search all the booking sites, so CheapFlightFinders casts the widest net – by searching through comparison sites and online agencies. You could call it, the search of flight searches.

Beware of Hidden Fees

If you do find significant savings by using different airlines, check that they are offering the same inclusions. A common strategy with low cost airlines is to offer cheap base fares, but have additional fees for various “add-ons” such as checked baggage, seat selection and meals. Check to see what’s included and make the comparison based on what level of service you require.

Depending on who you book with some may have additional fees based on how you pay. It’s not unheard of for there to be surcharges for paying by credit card. Potentially this could mean missing out of reward points or an interest free period. You should consider any fees that may apply against the benefits of your payment method.

In summary

Airfares fluctuate as part of airlines yield management strategies. Variation in prices between two particular locations occur largely between when you book, when the flight is for, and how you book. So use the various online tools available to help you explore and book your flight. Happy hunting!

We’ve covered the basics in this part – in the next part, we’ll explore some more advanced strategies for finding cheap airfares – these strategies will find you even better prices, but are a bit more difficult to apply and also have certain disadvantages that you need to understand and work around.