Everyone is an expert on airfares and some actually know what they are talking about! Here are my thoughts.
1. Book well in advance – as soon as you have firm dates. The best prices are normally released normally about 9 months in advance, and as your departure date gets closer then prices will increase. Last minute specials occasionally occur but are rare these days.
2. Which days to travel? Generally not Friday, Saturday or even Sunday. To find seat availability for fares at the best prices look at departing your homeland Tuesday or Wednesday – or even Thursday. And if stopping over in Asia on way to Europe or USA the same days apply when you travel onward.
3. Using a travel agent or booking it yourself through an OTA (Online Travel Agent) site? If yours is a simple “point to point” international economy class fare then if you book on-line yourself through an OTA it will probably be cheaper than using a travel agent – you may save, perhaps $50 maximum. But be careful whom you choose. They need to be easily contactable and keep you informed on things like schedule changes. Choosing the very cheapest may be like choosing the cheapest brain surgeon – you may not like the result! Your holiday plans are too important to be entrusted to someone far away about whom you may know nothing! I will say much more in later blogs about the selecting an OTA.
If your itinerary has a number of stops and is more complicated then find yourself a local travel agent who is a real airfares expert (they are around) and let them do it. They have a very sophisticated reservation system and will have fares and techniques at their fingertips that you will never find online and will save you money. I’ll say much more another time.
4. Try to secure a fare which will cover the total flight itinerary. Always look at all the flights that you are going to need and search for a fare which will do the lot – that is normally the cheapest way to go. A “through fare” to your final destination may allow you to stopover where you wish at no extra cost on the fare. Adding a number of sector fares to get to your final destination, even on budget carriers, often works out more expensive and can be fraught with danger if delays occur (as they often do) on the outgoing flight. Miss your connection and you’ve done your money and will be paying for another ticket. And what happens if either fight has time or even day changes after ticket issue so that they fail to connect? I’ll say much more in another blog.
5. Mixing Economy and Premium Economy Classes. If you have an itinerary where you may be using a combination of classes it is always best to have it all on the one ticket – it will probably give you extra baggage allowance and if delays occur and you miss flights then you can claim against the airline or your travel insurance company. The OTAs can do this to a very limited degree on fares that the airlines have already created. A good airfares expert travel agent can create them at will in their system, so consider using them for your special itinerary.
6. Premium Economy Class. A number of airlines now offer this as an option between economy and business class – at additional cost of course. For me the main benefit is extra leg room (and seat width). However the extra leg room in this new class varies greatly between airlines by as much as 6 inches (15 cm) so check carefully before you select your carrier. But don’t kid yourself that the extra room is anything like business class. I’ll say much more later.
7. Some lesser known ways to save money on airfares. Some airlines offer Companion Fares with a reduction of around 20% if two people travel together on the same itinerary throughout.
Open Jaw fares allow you to fly into one city and out of another if they are common rated.
You may find a much cheaper fare by flying into and out of a city near to your final destination – all to do with supply and demand.
And who remembers the British Airways “Fly Free” to Europe? There was no fly free but just a clever use of the rules – fabulous marketing though!
Finally, airlines love you to travel all the way and back on their airline so 100% travel on one airline is often the cheapest way to go.
8. Business Class fares, Combinations and Upgrades. We’d all like to ride up the front where we can stretch out and be treated like a real human being but what is the cost? On a carrier like Qantas or Singapore Airlines a business class fare will normally be about 3 to 4 times the economy fare but there are cheaper carriers (still good airlines) where you will pay, perhaps, just double. They are not easy to find on the internet as they are often combinations of carriers, and you may need a stopover for a night on the way. But a good airfares expert knows them.
The other option is a Combination Fare on a well know carrier where you fly the short sector in economy and the long sector in business class. Again, they are normally about double the economy fare.
Upgrades – we’d all love to get a free upgrade at check-in but those days are gone – business class is often close to full. So what are your options? You can bid at auction as some airlines allow. You can buy with frequent flyer points or points plus cash. And depending on load factor, some airlines will even upgrade your ticket at check-in for a cash supplement. But be warned – your discount economy fare may be booked in a non upgradeable class. Airfares experts understand the ramifications and limitations of all the booking classes that are available, but very few travellers are aware or understand.
I say much more about all aspects of flights and booking them in my book The Happy Holiday Travel Planner.
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Recently a friend and I were both upgraded just for the asking and at no extra charge from Economy to Business class on Etihad. I was dressed casually but smartly, showed my silver loyalty card at check-in and politely (with a smile) asked if there was any chance of an upgrade today. The clerk smiled and issued us with standard Economy boarding passes. However, these were exchanged for Business Class passes in the departure lounge. On the return journey I pushed my luck (nothing to lose) , repeated the above and was again upgraded. So, though rare, it’s worth asking if you are a card holder. As Mike says, the airline wants you to fly with them all the way…and every time.