Flights are probably the most important part of planning a trip and I always consider my trip confirmed once I book my flight. It is a big factor and unless you have suitable flights or transport, things can be very tricky but thanks to modern day technology, there are so many tools available that make life easier (and sometime more complicated).
I think I wouldn’t be able to travel the way I do without some tricks I learnt over the years and I always start planning a trip by checking the flights to any place. I have shared as much info as I can below but give me a shout if you find something new and exciting or something you guys use that I haven’t listed below. I will try to explain what to look for when bookings flights and how to get the best deals.
Clear Your Browser Cache
This is very important. The cookies stored by your browser tell the websites that you have been looking for those flights and the prices go up so always clear your browser cache before checking flights or doing anything that requires bookings.
Use Comparison Websites
Comparison Websites are the best source of good flight options and my favourite is Skyscanner. There are so many websites available and they offer good choices like Skiplagged but I have always found Skyscanner to be the most reliable especially when it comes to adjusting the options.
Tip: If you are not sure where to go within your budget, in the destinations section enter ‘Everywhere’ and then dates and it will show you the flight options starting from the cheapest.
Tip: Similarly if you are sure of the destination but not the dates, you can add ‘Whole Month’ and it shows you the prices for each day.
Book the flight at the Right Time
It is not only about being smart and checking comparison sites but also booking the flight at the right time. Price fluctuations are very common based on demand forecasting by airlines and they take factors like kids holidays and bank holidays into considerations along with factors like festivals and events on the destinations. The best tool for this is Hopper. It is an app for the smart phone that I enter my flights in once I have found them from Skyscanner and when the time is right, Hopper alerts me to buy them and almost every time it is quite accurate. I checked a few times a few days after booking and prices had skyrocketed.
Go slightly Off Season
This is the best option for finding good and affordable flights and it saves you from a lot of other issues like overcrowdings and expensive accommodation. I love travelling in the beginning of the season or towards the end. Tickets are much cheaper at the end of September or mid April compared to June or July for Europe. I love how it gives me the freedom to see more locals and roam freely in a less crowded place be it beach or the city.
Budget vs. Luxury Airlines
This is something of a choice that you make based on your taste. Personally I don’t care and go for the most convenient and affordable option. For short distance flights it doesn’t matter to a large extent which airline you go with but this becomes a bigger concern for long haul flights. I would recommend going with a slightly more expensive but better equipped airline for long haul flights (DUH! Why am I even telling you that, you guys are smart enough!).
Agencies vs. Direct Bookings
This is one of those things that seems harmless but comes back to bite you in the ass when things go bad. I NEVER book flights through Agencies because once you have booked them, you are at their mercy. The smallest change in booking will cost you a fortune and most of the time they will mess you around.
I remember I booked my ticket and put my friend’s middle name as her last name and the agency charged us £120 pounds for correction where the airline would have cost us £23 and the ticket price was £124. I think it provides a good enough picture.
Another reason not to book with agencies is in case they go under administration (or go bankrupt for American folk). The airline may not honour your ticket and this scenario is mostly not covered under Travel Insurance.
Another issue is when you want to cancel flights. For airlines sometimes they might not even charge you a cancellation but agencies admin costs are most of the time bigger than the ticket prices to dissuade your cancellations. Save yourselves a lot of trouble ALWAYS book flights through the official airline booking system.
Tip: If you really must book it through agency, check their reviews first at TrustPilot.
When not to use Search Engines and Comparison Sites
Not all airlines and destinations are listed on search engines like Google Flights or SkyScanner especially when it comes to far off places without a lot of tourist traffic for instance Iran or Laos. In this case you can still find some good deals but you will need to be methodical about it.
The best tool here is Wikipedia and the Airport websites. First, find the airport and then check which airlines go there. Normally you can go and check the airlines website for bookings then.
Another useful thing to do is to call a few local travel agencies and get a quote for the price. It can save you some serious money and you will have some comparison as well but search engines and comparison sites are almost useless in these cases.
If you really want to figure out the details and have a lot of time on your hand to figure out the best time and destinations, use Momondo. It provides a deeper input behind seasonality and factors that drive the ticket price.
I only use it when the tickets are really expensive or for long haul flights, personally.
Keep your Options Open
This is the biggest tool you have when it comes to travelling and booking good flights. Like I mentioned I start my search with an open mind and this strategy has taken me to far flung places that are tourists free and I have had some amazing memories from trips like these.
Most national carriers and non budget airlines offer miles for travelling and most of them are part of some alliance which means if you travel with partner airlines the miles keep pooling. Over the time these miles can end up in a free flight or hotel booking but I generally do not focus on this because you end up spending more in the long run on the loyalty program than you get back. I have added some more details on Air Miles in the Finances Post, Have a look!
Tip: Keep an eye out for the miles option when booking tickets. It always shows the partner airlines in case you don’t have a frequent flyer account with this airline.
Tip: Always create an account when booking flights with airlines. This not only helps you keep track of flights but also the miles.
Package Holidays vs. Self Bookings
At some point every traveller asks him/herself. Are holiday packages better than booking ticket yourself? I would say no although it is a tricky questions. I love being in control of all aspects of my trip including flights, airports, location of hotel and dates but you do have to compromise on some aspect with packaged holidays. I also happen to travel alone quite a lot; a market not focussed on by the package holiday makers but if you are going in a large group or with kids and don’t want the hassle of bookings go for the package holidays but if you like doing things yourself (It is as exciting as travelling for me), book your own tickets.
I always travel light and for good reasons! Luggage is a liability when ti comes to travelling. Yes, it is nice to have your hair straightener and dryer as well as every shade of lipstick and 3 different pairs of shoes for different occasions BUT think about all the check in queues you have to stand in, dragging it around with you on trains and taxis, packing, Unpacking and repacking and most of all you are paying to carry it around. Not bad enough yet/ You need to wait on the other side to claim it back and drag it around and worst case scenario is when you lose it! Now you will be spending half your trip trying to track it down and possibly another useless trip to the airport while you sit in the hotel without a toothbrush!
Still not convinces? Always book your luggage in advance and make sure you weigh it and not rely on your ‘guess weight’ because it can cost you a lot. Also, always check the baggage policy on the ticket because some airlines only allow a maximum weight per passenger no matter how many bags you book.
Also check the allowed cabin luggage bag and make sure you adhere to it. I think it is pretty easy if you don’t fixate yourself on carrying a lot of stuff. I travelled to Argentina and Brazil for 17 days with a single hand carry bag and I consider myself quite high maintenance. Check out the tips here on how to pack lights.