While the cost of air travel is continuously decreasing, it still is a major chunk of travel budget for most people. It is no wonder that there are so many search aggregators (Kayak, Hipmunk, Skyscanner, etc) as well as booking engines (Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity, etc) out there. Many are familiar with these sites, and use them regularly to simply find and compare airfare prices.
An experienced traveler, however, has a few more tricks up their sleeve for finding even better deals out there!
How To Find Low Cost Carriers
Everyone knows the famous Low Cost Carriers (or LCCs) out there – from Southwest Airlines in the US to Ryanair and EasyJet in Europe. But what if you find yourself in South Africa? Or Asia? Or Australia? While there are many LCCs out there, they tend to have two things in common. First – most will nickel and dime you for everything from checking in at the airport to food and drinks on board (you really do get what you pay for). Second – most of them are not included in the flight search aggregators or booking engines such as Kayak and Orbitz, so you have to figure out what LCCs operate in the region you want to fly to and then go to their website directly to search for the airfare.
So how do you search for LCCs? Wikipedia has a good list to start with, but many new airlines are started each year while others get bought out or die out on their own. Instead, I found it easier to do a quick google search for the airport website of the city you are traveling to and then look for arrival or departure flight information. That should quickly give you an idea of what airlines operate there and from which cities then find the airline website. Keep in mind that at many destinations some flights may operate only a few days a week so it is always a good idea to look through a couple days worth of info on the airport website.
Compare Apples to Apples
Whenever searching for best deals on your airfare, keep in mind that different countries have different rules with respect to how transparent the carriers have to be when advertising their fares. While in the US carriers must now clearly display the total price (including all taxes and fees) right away, in many other parts of the world the price you initially see can be less than half of what that ticket will actually end up costing you!
I really struggled with that in the Philippines where one airline was transparent about their pricing, while others had me jump through a bunch of screens before finally showing all taxes and fees. Yet another one had me actually fill out all my personal information before displaying the totals. It was a painfully long and frustrating experience to get to the final pricing from three or four carriers and choose which one to book with.
Read the Rules
Many airlines charge various fees on top of the ticket price – extra legroom, priority boarding, assigned seating, checked bag, food, drinks, and so on. Transparency of these fees, especially for checking in your bags varies widely between the airlines so make sure to check the rules to avoid getting a nasty surprise at the airport! As an example, flights in the Philippines between Manilla and Caticlan/Boracay have severe weight restrictions and every kilogram counts. I have met many people that had to pay hundreds of dollars in baggage fees on a $50 ticket to get there. Welcome to paradise!
Utilize These Awesome FREE Services
Airfarewatchdog alerts you about great deals for city pairs you specify as well as any flights from your home airport (and any other airport). You specify how frequently you want to get those alerts and they email you whenever good deals are found, including instructions on where to book. I have utilized these alerts to book amazing (under $100 roundtrip) weekend trips on a Thursday night as well as flights well in advance when they were on sale. It is only available in the US & Canada.
Drungli “Adventure generator for spontaneous people” is a very minimalistic interface for searching out cheap flight options from any given city. Just put in where you are at and see the cheapest destination where you can go tomorrow or two weeks later. You can even narrow down the results by places with museums, beaches, snow sports, etc. Great for those that do not plan their route in advance. This service is only available in Europe.
What are your favourite flight hacking tips?