“Ian, which website do you use to book flights”? “How long before flying should I book to get the best deals”? “How do you find cheap deals on those expensive African of South Pacific flights”? “Is it worth making 1 or 2 extra stops in order to pay less”? Those are the questions I most often get from travelers to improve their search on improving their skills in the art of flight deals research.
I keep on saying it over and over: It’s getting easier to travel. Flights are now going almost everywhere in the world and they are getting cheaper every year. Just ask Australians who, just a few years back, would need to throw away around 2000 USD just to get to North America or Europe! Now they can get away with 500-700$ per flights! And with all these cheap airlines flooding the market, it’s getting even trickier to choose the good one. With over 1000 flights done (I never counted, but it’s definitely over 1000) I got to see some patterns that are repeating itself and I have developed some tricks to picking the best flights and journeys for my money. Please note, that these tricks are not oriented for the common traveler going from New York to Boston, or Paris to Hong Kong. Throughout my conquest of reaching every country of the world, I have refined a strategy to find a way to get to the hardest routes out there, flying to “hard to reach” areas of the world such as Africa and the South Pacific where standard websites are not optimized to provide reasonable fees or even list any airline altogether. So usually when I go online and start searching in the order I list them below.
1: Use a typical flights search engines:
I usually use Kayak.com or momondo.com to help me compare websites. I try some others like skyscanner.com or google.com/flights but I’m not a fan of them. Kayak will, in turn, redirect me to booking websites like Expedia, Orbitz, Agoda, and Travelocity for example, which have different deals. Always choose the options “+- 3 days” and select a Wednesday which usually gives the cheaper flights. I can then have an idea how much the route would be and write it down in a note.
2: Choosing the best Flight Date.
When should you book? I usually book my flights around 1 month before flying. That’s as a general rule because it can vary with high seasons and busy routes. 2 weeks before the flight, I usually see an increase of 30% in prices. From 2 weeks to 2 months, it’s usually the same, so booking between that frame is wise. (high seasons and for special events, I would add 1 month extra)
Picture taken from my window over Asmara, Capital of Eritrea
3: Best times to fly:
This is one of the most important factors for me and very often underlooked by travelers, and getting a good flight time is worth paying as much as 30% more in my opinion. My ideal flight would leave around 1 pm, just the perfect time to reach the airport after checking out a hotel. I also try to reach destination around 6 or 7 ideally! Most cheap flights will usually have horrible schedules that can make it much worst… The worst flights leave for example around 7 am… having to get to the airport 2 to 3 hours before, that will make your night very short and also make it much more expensive to get to the airport as shuttles and public transport to your hotel don’t usually work at night, you will need to spend on Taxis which adds up quick… Night flights are usually to avoid as I hate losing a night of sleep on a plane, especially short flights. Arriving later than 12:00 am is also horrible for the same reasons. In my opinion, try to arrive after 1 pm, perfect for arriving after check-in time in hotels so you don’t have to wait in the lobby and carry-on with your day. So I usually won’t mind paying more for a good schedule.
4: Chose fewer connections.
Connections are not worth it for me if it doesn’t make me save more than 20% to 30% on the ticket. They are tiresome and make you lose precious time on your holiday. It doesn’t feel like this when you book the flight to save 20%, but when you get one of those flights which the transit requires you to board a bus to the terminal, get in line, wait, get through security again, get in line, wait, even more, board another bus to the plane, wait, etc… its just not worth it! If it’s a long distance flight and I can spare 300$, I would consider it. Or else, I try to avoid them and pay extra. A short direct flight is just so much healthier for you and your holiday.
5. Look out for extra fees, luggage fees!
Some of those cheap airlines have converted themselves in real thieves and scammers! They have lawyers that make sure they can legally get around the rules and marketing regulations and charge us insane amounts of for luggage, hidden fees, check in fees, etc. There are websites that help see what luggage regulation every airline has such as this one. Watch out for cheap airlines which charge as much as 100$ for check in luggage (like spirit.com in the US…). I recently switched to a more minimalist style, traveling on a “carry on only” luggage, helping avoid these fees. I’m just sick of those rules that change all the time from airline to airline. I would highly recommend you shrink your luggage to a carry on only, it just makes you feel much freer.
6 Watch out for One-way routes regulations
I love one-way routes as it can help avoid backtracking. I prefer going always forward. But in recent years, many governments require you that you have an ongoing flight. I have been stopped at the airport and restrained from boarding on at least 5 flights because of that! Just research on thorntree.lonelyplanet.com for more info if your destination requires that. A solution I have done in the past is to but a cheap refundable flight out of the country. Many people also buy a cheap bus ticket out of the country to get around that rule. Others have had success to print a fake ticket, but that’s at your own risk.
Picture taken from my window over Northern Iraq
7 Look on local websites
When you travel to unusual destinations like in Africa or the South Pacific, standard search engines will usually list you an insanely expensive flight with several stopovers on several continents. This is just how the algorithm works if they don’t have any solutions or airlines covering the country. That doesn’t mean there is not airlines going there, it just means they don’t have it in their database. So you have to make sure you find the local airlines that are not listed in search engines. To find out, the strategy I developed is to search on Wikipedia for the airport I am going and they usually list the airlines that connect to that airport. So I will check their websites one by one to see if there are cheaper routes available. That can save me as much as 50% to 75% of the flight in some places!
So the moral of the story is, make sure you don’t get duped by lower prices on travel websites. Make sure you follow these 7 tips to get the best journey for your money. Flights can take a big chunk of your budget when traveling so saving on them is important! Also, consider not flying… I see way too many people just flying around a country just because “it’s cheap”. I usually don’t enjoy flying as much as an overland trip, I feel like I don’t see the country enough and miss out on the adventure factor. Adding a bit of overland and less comfort is usually better for short segments in my opinion to have a feel of where I’m going! It will also make it much cheaper and add to interesting stories!