If I could have any superpower, it would be the power of flight. But I can't. So I have to fly in a plane like a regular human being and sadly, that costs money! But it doesn't always have to burn a hole in your pocket. Here are five of the best ways to find cheap flights.
In the last six months, I’ve had to do quite a lot of air travel so I’ve become quite aware of the various tactics you can use to score yourself cheap flights around Australia. I also operate on a fairly tight budget, so I want to be able to maximise my travelling while minimising my spend. While this generally means I’ve been flying on the budget airlines, if you’re smart about it, you can find some great deals, even on the more premium airlines.
#1 Sign Up For Airline Newsletters
Airline newsletters belong to the class of promo emails that are actually worth subscribing to. Major airlines will always advertise their latest deals through their various newsletters and you often have to be fairly quick to snag a good deal. The first thing to do to save cash on your flights is make sure that you’ve signed up to Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar and Tiger’s email service.
Another tip: If you’re about to head interstate or overseas, it pays to set up email push notifications to your phone. Thousands of people fill out these mailing lists and when the great deals come through, they don’t always last long. Some email clients, like Google’s Inbox, bundle promos together and they get lost in the mire of cluttered inboxes so keep an eye out for them.
#2 Choose The Best Time To Fly
Most relevant if you’re doing a lot of flying domestically. A cursory glance at the pricing for flights on Australia's major airlines will tell you that Friday evenings, Sunday afternoons and Monday mornings are not great times to fly unless you’re willing to fork out a few hundred dollars extra.
There are also certain times of year where prices to travel are usually higher. In Australia, it’s usually around Christmas times and school holidays where prices will skyrocket. If you can, try and avoid these peak travelling times. If you’re looking more international, you have to consider the time of year – for instance, spring in Japan generally costs a little more because cherry blossoms are in full bloom and everyone wants to see those glorious trees.
#3 Book Your Flights In Advance
One of the Golden Rules of cheap flight travel is to ensure that you are booking as far in advance as possible. It doesn’t apply to everyone, especially the more adventurous types who like to set off without a destination in mind, but if you know where you need to be and when you need to be there, get straight to booking. There are some suggestions that booking further ahead than two months out doesn't shave much off the price. Just remember, the closer it gets to the day you want to fly, the more likely it becomes you’ll be paying premium for a seat.
An interesting sidenote: Travel agencies are able to hold seats for their clients. In the off chance that their client changes their travel plans, those seats then are available for purchase again. You may sneak in and snag a deal right at the end, but this is certainly not Best Practice for finding a cheap flight – just an interesting point you should consider if you ever have to undertake any emergency travel.
#4 Use Flight Comparison Sites, They Are Your Friend
Every time I have ever booked a flight, the first place I go to is Webjet, Kayak, Zuji and Skyscanner. Not just one, I go through all of them. Sure, that takes a little bit of time, but it’s worth getting as much information as you can before booking. Comparison sites such as those are the best places to get a quick breakdown of what’s available at what times and how much you’re likely looking at spending.
Comparison sites are your friend, but they aren’t your best friend. Don’t book with them – go straight to the airlines website and book directly. For domestic flights in Australia it’s pretty easy – we only have five airlines that are routinely flying passengers from one city to another, so it’s a simple process. For international flights, you’re options expand a little (depending where you’re flying from) so just jot down the flights you’re looking at and head to the respective websites. You might get lucky and find they're even cheaper direct and it pays to shop around, especially for international flights.
#5 Use Google Flight Search
Google Flights is an online search engine for comparing and booking airfares. The service instantly serves up the best flight options and prices based on your destination and travel dates. It provides searches via a series of tabs including airports, departure/return dates and travel class. There's also an option to simply see the cheapest prices for all destinations - handy for indecisive travellers.
The 'Best Flights' list is based on both price and convenience. There's also a notification bar with tips and suggestions for cheaper flights. (Examples include recommendations for alternate airports, suggested dates that are cheaper to fly on and potential price drops based on historic prices for that route.)
#6 Avoid Optional Extras On Budget Airlines
Most online booking processes for budget airlines are bloated, cumbersome affairs because they run you through screen after screen of extras. Extra meals, extra legroom, extra insurance, extra carbon offset payments. Selecting food or your seat or travel insurance is obviously going to drive the price up and because the flight is so cheap, generally these options aren’t. For instance, seat selection on Jetstar, for a standard seat is $6, but if you want to sit up front it’ll cost you $12 and how about if you need some extra legroom? $25 please.
Always be careful here. Sometimes you will find that the website’s selection has defaulted to a more expensive option. Ensure that you’re checking each screen as you go, instead of blindly clicking ‘next, next, next’ until you arrive at the final payment and confirmation.
How do you make sure you get the cheapest flights? Let us know in the comments!