We have just booked the first flight of our big trip. Before buying we did just enough due diligence to make sure we got a reasonable deal without wasting weeks agonizing and double checking everything. I feel pretty happy with the price we paid for our flight to New Zealand and Hawaii so thought I’d share the flight booking tips I’ve discovered over the years so others can feel the warm glow of a good deal too – without spending weeks hunting.
Research your routes
Understand the routes available to your destination. Find out which airlines fly which routes. I’m a United Mileage Plus member so tend to use the Star Alliance route map but there are a few more (like FlightRoutes.net) online to help you do this quickly. Make sure flying to your destination makes sense. It could be that flying into somewhere else and traveling overland would be a more affordable option for you.
Get an idea for price
Use flight comparison sites to understand what the typical prices are for your route. I like to use Kayak and Hipmunk as they check a whole bunch of airlines and other comparison sites at the same time. They also allow you to compare flights using a variety of criteria all at once which helps you understand the options quickly and efficiently. If you have extra time sign up for the daily price alert emails they provide so you can see the prices of your flights over time.
If you don’t have to land in a specific place at a specific time think about all your options. Look at a map and see if there are other cities you could fly to instead. Check the prices on those routes. Use the flight comparison websites flexible date and nearby airports options to help you find the best deals in the area you plan to go to.
Again if you only have a vague destination or experience (for example beach, hiking, city break) in mind be open to go to places you hadn’t considered. Or if you do know where you want to go be thoughtful about what routes you could take to get there. For our trip we knew we wanted to go to New Zealand but we didn’t care where we landed or which route we took to get there. As we looked at the flight options we realised that a flight with a stop would give us opportunity to visit another country on the way there or back. By opening ourselves to the possibility of a stopover we were able to discover more opportunities and eventually decided on a couple of weeks in Hawaii as well as New Zealand. The additional flight costs to include Hawaii as well New Zealand were less than $30 more than the original flight costs to New Zealand would have been.
Consider an airpass
If you plan to fly around in a region a lot check out whether there are flight passes available and consider buying one of those. We will very likely get the Lantam South America pass when we hit South America.
Fly “off peak”
This can mean a variety of things depending on where you are going. If there is an odd flight time that lands or departs late at night or early morning or arrives after midnight it’s usually cheaper than flights that get you in for tea time. Likewise if you are flying somewhere with a decent amount of business travel don’t fly when everyone else wants fly (usually Thursday and Fridays or Sundays and Mondays). Finally be aware of peak travel periods to and from your destination. Avoiding school vacations and national holidays can greatly increase your chances of a cheaper flight. In our case we realized we’d need to fly fairly close to Thanksgiving and Christmas. By checking a few dates around the holidays we were about to save $1000 per person by flying back a day earlier than we had originally pencilled in. On a month long trip one day either way was not a problem for us. You can use Kayak’s fare charts to see when the best times to fly each month are.
Add legs and layovers
Direct flights may be cheaper on some routes but don’t automatically avoid a stopover because you think it’s time consuming and annoying. Consider it an opportunity to stay somewhere else on your way to your destination. In our case direct flights to New Zealand were more expensive than those with at least one stop. Layovers were in multiple different locations giving us plenty of options to discover new places. We chose to maximize the layover and make it into a full stop in a new destination.
Go direct to the airlines
After using all the flight comparison websites to assess the options try going directly to the airline to see if they have a better price if you buy directly from them. Some airlines like Virgin America guarantee that their site’s prices will be the best available.
Don’t forget discount vouchers and promo codes
A quick Google search when you’re presented with the promo code box on checkout can lead to an extra discount. Even if you don’t find one for your flight you’ll see what’s out there and that might help you when planning your next trip.
Finally, pick a day you must book by, do your homework and then book. Once you book, stop looking. There is no point checking to see if you could have got a better deal once you’ve booked and paid. Move on and plan the next trip!