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.