Conventional wisdom holds that in times of economic distress, it should be easier than ever to get discounted airfares. However, while there are some good deals to be had, the fundamental strategies for getting cheap flights remain the same as ever.Declines in air passenger numbers and the recent dumping of the fuel tax levy have served as the cue for several articles on the possibilities of bargain air travel. A recent piece in The Australian by aviation writer Steve Creedy highlights the issues:
With the Christmas peak coming to an end, carriers enter one of the quietest periods of the year next month and are desperate to stimulate travel.
A similar piece also ran in the Australian Financial Review last week, although as you might expect given its audience, there was much more emphasis on getting cheap business and premium economy fares. There are certainly discounts to be had in some areas. The imminent arrival of new competitors for the Australia-US route means that there are substantial discounts to be had; Creedy points out that sub-$1200 return flights to the US are available with every carrier servicing that route, and that sub-$2000 fares can be had on the Australia-Europe route if you choose the right carrier. However, what struck me on reading both these pieces is that the basic advice they offered for getting discount travel actually aren't any different to those which applied a year ago, when no-one was talking serious discounts. In short, those rules are:
- If you can be flexible with dates, you'll get better prices. Travelling during peak periods (such as school holidays) always costs a bomb.
- If weather doesn't bother you, you'll do better. Europe is cheap in February because lots of it is grey and miserable.
- Choosing lesser-known carriers will generally (though not invariably) be cheaper than major brands.
- The very cheapest deals are usually found online, but for more complex routings a travel agent will save you money.
- Don't forget to compare like with like: on some fares, the relevant taxes can be higher than the advertised price.
If you follow those rules far enough in advance, you'll almost always save money. Earlier this week, I booked a Qantas return flight to London for $2,000 — a seriously good price for any carrier, and an astonishing one for a brand that generally charges a premium.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman may become a last-minute travel planner one day, but don't hold your breath. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.