For all the bad press that airports and airlines receive, I’m still the girl who gets butterflies of excitement when I fly. I love the smell of disinfectant, fast food grease, and duty free French perfume in the air. I love going through security (in part to show off my light packing skills, of which I’m shamefully smug!) And I love squeezing myself into a tiny plane with hundreds of quasi-hygienic strangers. If you love flying as much as I do, you’ll want to get the best possible price every time you fly.
If you are flexible with your dates and the region, you can get great deals. Stockholm for Christmas will cost you a lot more than a Northern Europe winter excursion. Los Angeles on the 4th of July will be much more expensive than the Pacific Coast in the summer.
Of course, we can’t all be that flexible. The demands of work and family life often limit when we can travel and where we can go. If you can’t be as flexible as you’d like, there are still great ways to get a good deal.
Tricks of Timing
It’s long been said that the cheapest time to buy airfare is late on a Tuesday evening or early on a Wednesday morning. Historically, there has been some truth in this and it’s worth checking at those times. Just don’t book blindly with the expectation that this time will give you the best price – shopping around is the key to success.
Compare, Compare, Compare
Take the time check the price on airline websites as well as every travel aggregator site you can think of. Periodically reset your browser so you will be getting the best “new customer” price. Make sure you take note of booking fees, internet booking surcharges, and convenience fees. Some aggregator sites offer price adjustments if the price falls by a certain amount, while others might be able to offer you lounge access – it’s worth looking at perks as well as price.
Taxes, Fees, Fuel, and More Taxes!
Did you know that Toronto’s Pearson and London’s Heathrow are two of the most expensive airports in the world? They have high landing fees, which the airlines pass on to the customers. If you’re just passing through, consider taking an alternative route to bypass these costly airports.
Taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges can vary tremendously. Be sure to read the fine print and not be seduced by an ultra-low “pre-tax” base fare. What matters most is the bottom line.
A Deal of a Deal!
If you like a deal, you’ll love AirfareWatchdog.com. They are an independent, non-sales site and they report on the best of the best of airline sales. Unadvertised hidden deals, red eye bargains, and the plain dirt cheap can be found here – and it’s up to you to take the info and then book with the airline. In the past, I’ve seen round flights to Hong Kong and Johannesburg for as little as a few hundred dollars (including tax!)
Taxis, Trains, and Transportation
Early and late flights might be less expensive, but public transportation and helpful friends might not be able to help you with your 6:00am departure time. Remember, your flight cost has to include getting to and from the airport!
Consider secondary airports to save on flight costs, but do a little research in advance. Some are located in the heart of the city and you’ll have the double bonus on saving time and money once you’re on the ground. Others are located hours away, requiring a lengthy and expensive connection by train or bus. Bargain priced airlines such as Ryan Air often use secondary airports. Be open to all times and airports, but be sure to look at the big picture.
Avoid Add Ons
Nothing is free when you fly. Selecting a seat, checking a suitcase, watching a movie, eating a candy bar are just a few of the many things an airline can charge you for. All the more reason to pack light and plan ahead! And if you know you’ll be packing two suitcases and drinking three beers, consider the cost of flying first class. It might be cheaper in the long run!
If you are flying to take part in a volunteer project or a research assignment you have absolutely nothing to lose by contacting the airline, explaining your situation, and asking them to help. Sure, they might say no. Most will. But some might respond to a professional, polished, friendly letter explaining your work, when and where you need to go, and asking for them to help. There is tremendous leeway in setting ticket prices and you never know when you might get lucky!