10 Best Tactics For Finding Cheap Flights In Australia

The future for Tiger Airways in Australia looks anything but certain, but that doesn't mean that you have to suddenly cough up hundreds of dollars more to fly. Here are our 10 best time-honoured tactics for ensuring you can hit the skies for less.

Picture by lukasbenc

As regular Lifehacker readers know, I'm a ludicrously frequent flier, and also a notorious cheapskate, so most of these tips have been tested with hard-won experience. The focus is on flying with the four major domestic carriers — Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar and (for this week anyway) Tiger — but the general strategies should work equally well with smaller regional carriers and on international journeys.

10. Book as far in advance as you possibly can

This is actually the most important tip of all and should be #1, but I'm mentioning it first up because it really does outweigh everything else and will influence many of your other strategies. The further in advance you can book your flights, the better the chance you'll have of getting a decent fare. If you wait until the last minute, you'll have much less choice and might not even get a seat. I routinely fly between Sydney and Melbourne with sub-$100 fares on Qantas, but if I made those bookings at the last minute, it would never happen.

You can't book flights more than 12 months in advance, but if you're planning a holiday, getting in as early as possible remains the best bet. Yes, there are very occasionally last-minute specials that might undercut what you've paid — but that's the exception, not the rule. (If you really want that kind of bargain, you're better off not having a fixed destination in mind.)

9. Choose the right day of the week to fly

In periods of peak demand, it's harder to get cheap flights. Flying domestically, the periods I always try to avoid are Friday afternoons, Sunday nights and Monday mornings. Flights on these days tend to fill up with business types returning home (there's a surprising number of people who work in one capital city during the week and live in another on the weekend), and price isn't always their main concern. Conversely, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturday afternoons see less demand (though Saturdays also often see less flights).

8. Sign up for sale emails

Each of the major airlines offers regular email updates when fares are on sale. Jetstar is the most regular with its weekly Friday sale, but Qantas, Virgin and Tiger also have lists you can sign up to.

7. Weigh up the train as an alternative

Compared to Europe, there aren't anywhere near the number of train services connecting the major cities, so avoiding flying isn't easy. You're looking at a 10-hour drive between most capital cities (aside from Canberra), which means that driving isn't often a realistic option. The potential train pairings that can occasionally work are Brisbane-Sydney, Melbourne-Sydney, Sydney-Canberra and Melbourne-Adelaide. (I'm not counting entirely leisure-oriented trips such as the Indian Pacific from Sydney to Perth, which takes several days). Apart from Canberra, each of these takes at least a day, however, and the fare is only likely to be cheaper if you're booking at the very last minute. Canberra-Sydney on the XPT can be worth considering, though Sydney residents with a car will probably be tempted to drive instead.

6. Work out luggage needs well ahead of time

Aside from Qantas, every major domestic airline charges if you want to check any baggage. Travelling with only hand luggage has lots of advantages, but if you do need to check baggage, paying for it in advance is much cheaper than doing it when you hit the airport. As we established recently, making the wrong decision could see you pay hundreds of dollars more. Check out our recent Road Worrier guide to saving on domestic baggage fees for more information.

5. Identify the cheapest payment method

It's obvious but worth repeating: book online rather than through a call centre or travel agent, since otherwise you'll get hit with extra charges that are entirely avoidable. If you book using a credit card, you'll normally end up slogged with a fee for the privilege, but you can often avoid this. Qantas lets you pay using BPAY from a debit account, as do Virgin and Jetstar through the POLi system.

4. Play around with the time of day

If you can't control the day of the week you're flying (see point 9), then try and be flexible with the time of the day. The most expensive times of day to fly tend to be between roughly 0630 and 0930, and again between 1600 and 1900. If you have a choice, choose outside those times. With that said . . .

3. Make sure that you've considered the total cost

The big disadvantage of flying at 6am is that you have to be at the airport early, and that can be expensive if you can't con a friend or relative into dropping you off. Our guide to airport public transport options can help you save money in this area. If you're paying $100 for the taxi to the airport and could catch a cheaper bus with a later flight, then it might be worth paying a little more for a later flight.

2. Save your frequent flyer points for emergencies

Sometimes you have no choice but to jump on a flight (family emergencies and funerals, for example). I keep a stash of frequent flyer points for just this kind of situation, and I've always been able to get a flight without having to spend a fortune. (Note you normally can't book same-day frequent flyer flights, but it's a good option for anything urgent but not same-day urgent.) This obviously won't work if you aren't a relatively regular flier, but if you are racking up points it can be a good money-saving options.

1. Use comparison sites but don't book through them

If you're not trying to stick with one airline to earn points, comparison sites like Webjet and Zuji let you quickly compare prices from different airlines for a given route. That can be helpful, but don't make the mistake of actually booking through them, as you'll get hit with additional charges. Note down the flight you want and book it through the airline's own site. Those sites go heavy on the "you might lose the seat if you delay", but what else would you expect them to say? Save yourself the money and go direct.

What strategies do you use to fly for less? Tell us all in the comments.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman has a frankly unhealthy obsession with saving money on airline fares. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.


Comments

    Check out http://adioso.com - it's a pretty awesome way to find the cheap fares.

      I prefer http://www.skyscanner.com.au/

        I used skyscanner a bit in years gone by, but often found the app would find better deals than the website!

        One sneaky way airlines attempt to make the most profit is by charging different fares for people in different countries. For example, booking domestic flights from outside the country will often be more expensive than booking inside the country. Prices may change based on where the transaction is completed, or the “point-of-sale”.

        However you can beat them at their game using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to hide your location or pretend to be somewhere else. I use HideMyAss VPN https://www.hidemyass.com/vpn/r20533/ .

        Last edited 26/04/16 2:36 pm

    Note, paying method POLi does only work on Windows... A pain.

      You got it to work? I wasted half an hour trying to get the POLI system happening on my PC, gave up and had to pay the ridiculous CC surcharge. $25 for a $600 fare! Maybe the ACCC should look at these chardes.

    I holeheartedly agree with the point that getting the cheapest fare is only part of reducing the cost. While the trip fell through, I was looking a couple of weeks ago at returning to Sydney for a few days to visit family. A few things I observed:

    - Mid-week fares were cheaper, however the more expensive Friday/Monday fares became far cheaper once loss of wages were accounted form, for a midweek trip vs an extended weekend.

    - Car rental is sometimes the cheaper solution. After landing in Sydney (travelling as a party of 4 including 2 children) I discovered that 4 days of car hire was cheaper than train fare from domestic to outer suburban Sydney and return.

    - Sale fares can make flights dramatically cheaper (sale fares I had been considering were $49 base rate, normally upwards $89), but are often short lived. If you need to plan out your whole trip, utilising sale fares are sometimes very awkward.

    Also, on the point regarding rail travel; I can't speak for other than CountryLink - but if you are a student or concession card holder, train travel can be SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper than flying. Unfortunately as Gus pointed out; non-concession card holders are doomed to pay rates similar to flying.

    If you're looking to fly at the lowest price, my general rule is: Let Adioso figure it out for you, then hope that it's still on the Airline's website by the time you've chosen it.
    And yeah, sale emails.
    Adioso now have email alerts too, so you can tell it to (for instance) tell me when I can get from Sydney to London for under $900, and it'll send you an email if that fare combo comes up.

    THE EASIEST WAY TO GET CHEAPER FLIGHTS IN TO:

    PRICE MATCH A COMPETITOR CHEAP FLIGHT WITH JETSTAR, WHO BEAT ANYTHING BY 10%....

      Not quite anything: anything that's available online and is cheaper as a one-way fare.

    Recently I've discovered that comparison sites no longer show ALL available flights.

    While booking flights to NZ last month I found that Webjet did not display flights with Air NZ and Emirates. After checking Air NZ I found that their prices were cheaper than JetStar.

    My biggest tip for flying cheap is: expect HUGE delays.

      "My biggest tip for flying cheap is: expect HUGE delays."

      A delayed flight affects everyone equally, not just the people who scored a cheap fare. Perhaps you mean huge delays for flying on a cheap (budget) airline?

      I think it's actually the case that delays are more likely later in the day. One little hiccup earlier in the day can have a runoff effect for subsequent flights. I've never had a pre 9am flight that was delayed. Most of the delayed flights I've encountered have been for afternoon and evening flights. But that's just my experience - not necessarily reality for everyone else, though.

        Now that you mention it, yes the delays I've experienced have all been afternoon/evening flights. And yeah you're right - cheap airlines, rather than cheap flights.

    No mention of Virgin's Happy Hour? Go to www.virginaustralia.com between 4pm-5pm and you'll find Sydney>Melbourne flights for as low as $59...

      Is that eastern time of 4-5 pm???

    #7 isn't really a valid tactic for a cheap flight, as per the headline, is it?

    This is a very helpful post, Angus. However, one or two of the principles don't always apply to booking long-haul international travel. In particular, the best fares for multi-leg flights, like Melbourne to Paris or Sydney to New York, often result from combining two or more carriers. Airline websites won't deliver these options. Through proprietary technology, www.jetabroad.com often provides flight combinations that are unavailable from other travel agents (online and offline), often at lower prices than booking the various legs on the airlines' own sites.

    Comparison sites like http://iwantthatflight.com.au allow you to compare all airlines, and then send you through to the airline site to book (so there are no extra charges).

    One thing I found is that prices can vary on a minute by minute basis. I once had to book a flight to the Maldives on SIA via Zuji - and the prices actually fluctuated $500 - $1000 by pressing the refresh button. Everything was the same, the flight, the date, except the price. Eventually I managed to press that F5 button until I got the 2nd lowest price. I would like to agree with you about booking the tickets as far in advance as possible - but I noticed that sometimes that prices actually drop coming nearer to the flight date. I have to book a flight to Auckland - flying in 3 months time. But Jetstar is dropping its flights for next 2.5 months - but I miss out because my flight doesn't fall within that earlier time frame. My friend told me to wait a couple of weeks more when it would push forward the travel promos. I fly Sept 23 - Oct 2- Did you mention to avoid flying on school holidays?

    My tip would be dont underestimate the value of a good travel agent. You think going online is always cheapest but I recently went through sta travel and got an awesome deal for a round the world ticket. Perth to singapore to dubai to london to la to auckland to perth for $1950. He took the time to go through different options and seemed genuinely interested in my trip. I was bit skeptical of who it would be flying with at that price but it was emirates and air new zealand, he also gave me a discount of my contiki!

    I think people need to weigh up reliability vs cost. It's great having a $69 fare, but if the flight is cancelled, then you dont really save anything.

    Also, as per #7, Canberra-Sydney is quicker by bus. Takes 3.5hrs, where the train takes at least an hour longer.

    I still think that expedia.com.au is the best travel site I have ever used. Although it doesn't use the budget airlines (which suits me perfectly) and they charge no fees, and payment is simple and it took no time to book a flight, especially being registered and my details are pre-filled.

    Airline website wouldn't take my cc, for an unknown reason - literally the error message I got when I finished - Couldn't submit form - 'Reason - Unknown'

    Regarding point 8, instead of signing up to 20+ airlines email newsletters, I would recommend checking deals sites as someone else will have shared the deal on these sites.

    http://www.topbargains.com.au/travel

    I used to subscribe to emails from Jetstar but they started getting too frequent.

    Thanks

    Please bring back Tiger to regional aust.Now only have 2 airlines prices have skyrocketted again

    The last few times I've booked Jetstar in the past few months they have changed my flight time significantly. On one occasion it gave me one less day in New Zealand which was only a 3day weekend when originally booked. It was only the cheap fare that lured me into going in the first places and then I ended up with only 2 days instead of 3. It seems to me they advertise (some) flight schedules they have no intention of running, then when they have enough people booked, they group them altogether and jam them onto a flight/time that suits the airline with no regard to the passenger's original booked schedule. As of yesterday it is a long term Easter flight booked to Hobart at 8.50pm on Wednesday 4 April - now cancelled and only offering 5pm (what about work?), or the next day. Of course now Virgin is incredibly expensive. Never again Jetstar! I will only book Virgin from now on - even if it costs me a few more dollars. (P.S. Pity Tassie is so poorly regarded by the airlines!)

    i just found lastminute.com.au..there are a lot of cheaper flights on there

    Trying to organise next year about 20 people on a day trip which flight place should i choose

    I use www.cheapflights.com.au

    Another good Australian flight comparison site is
    http://www.airfaresflights.com.au

    Some other useful airfare search sites are Helloworld.com.au and Kayak.

    Does anyone have any comment on Club Jetstar?

    Apparently offering member only sales?

    Look for cancellation holidays. Some package holiday companies sell off last minute trips for a huge discount when their customers can no longer travel.

    Caught the XPT Sydney to Albury a few years ago. Never again. It was soooo slow crawling through winding tracks in NSW that were probably laid down when steam engines first came to Australia. Sydney to Melbourne AND back by train? Forget it.

    I disagree with point 5. If you can find a good travel agent it will save you heaps and make the whole process completely painless. I used to work for a company who used a guy in Ringwood but even though I live in Sydney, Sam still books all my travel and when I've checked I've rarely been able to do better myself and, even when I could, it was only a few bucks.

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