So, now that you’ve chosen a destination, you need to find the best way to get there. “Best” considers cost, time, and convenience. Depending on your destination, it may be possible for you to find transportation by way of trains, buses, car, bicycle, or foot. However, the largest expense for most travelers is airfare. Here are some of the tools I use to find the “best” flights:
- When to Search – Remember that the day you do your search will affect your results as much as the days that you are actually traveling. Start your search early, but not too early. Huh? Many people assume that the earlier they search, the cheaper their results. While you might find a fantastic deal up to a year before your trip, unless you are one of those super organized, plan a year in advance types (or are coordinating with large groups of people), it really isn’t necessary to begin your search more than two months in advance. In fact, if you book prior to this, you may miss out on some last minute deals. But don’t wait too long! Purchasing flights is a bit like gambling. Deciding when to buy is always a risk. The optimal time to book your flights is around one month to two weeks before you want to fly. After the two week mark, flights tend to go up, and up…and up.
In my experience, searching on a Thursday, Friday, or Sunday will often yield lower fares than on other days of the week, but it depends on the airline. Many airlines begin increasing their weekly fares after midnight on Sunday, and continue to do so on Monday and Tuesday.
What about time of day? No, you don’t need to lose sleep to get a discount flight, but you do need to be strategic. For the most part, you will find cheaper prices on searches that you do first thing in the morning, before the work day begins. If, however, this is not convenient for you, wait until later afternoon, just before the end of the work day. You will need to adjust your search times according to the local times of the airlines you are looking at.
If you have the time, remember to search often (keep refreshing your search) and book in if you find a deal, as it may not last long. Many airlines are consolidated searches will offer airfare alerts that you can sign up for if you’d prefer to simply be notified when prices change.
- When to Fly – If you have flexibility in your travels, leaving on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday will often be cheaper than on other days of the week. Unfortunately for educators, like myself, our holiday schedule is tied to peak seasons, and you may need to forego the “cheapest” deals.
An easy way to “maximize” your travel time (and possibly save a night of accommodation) is to book an overnight flight. If you don’t mind sleeping on the plane, red-eye flights are often cheaper, and allow you to squeeze in an extra half day or so at the beginning and end of your trip.
Sometimes the cheapest flights are not the most convenient. Remember to check things like multiple, or tight connections (anything less than 40 minutes may be a problem for your luggage to connect), change of airports, or change of terminals. In some of the larger airports (such as London Heathrow), it can take up to a half hour to get from one terminal to the next, even walking briskly. Also consider if you need to cross passport control or security multiple times. Fewer, but longer, connections might offer a chance to explore an extra city (in general, do not try to leave the airport for layovers less than 4 hours), or simply provide less hassle for those who find it difficult to sit for long periods, or are traveling with young children.
- How to Search –
- Know Your Hubs – Every airline has a “hub”. If you look at the route map of an airline, you will see that they have hub cities in which they have major fleets flying in and out of. If you can find routes along these hubs, you will also find cheaper flights. For example, a return flight from Calgary (Canada) to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) in July will cost approximately $2200. More than likely, you will have a layover in Toronto, or London. However, adding a lag to go from Calgary to Addis Ababa to Frankfurt, and back to Calgary, will yield you a fare of around $1800. What? How can adding a flight save you money? If you can strategically look for airline hubs along your route, you can choose a cheaper flight path (while also gaining an extra holiday). Your additional lag doesn’t need to be very long. Even one day in your extra city could save you hundreds of dollars on a return trip. Be sure to factor in additional costs, however, such as accommodations or other activities.
- Break It Down – sometimes it is cheaper to buy separate lags and piece it together yourself. This is particularly true if you can find a sale fare or special deal on one or multiple lags. Many people think that one way flights will cost more than return flights, but this is not always the case, particularly with short haul flights.
- Where to Search –
- Google Flight Search – I often begin my search using Google Flight Search. With integrated features such as their interactive map, you can easily see how much it will cost to fly to various parts of the world in one click. (The map is only displayed when you search for return flights, however, you can still use it to estimate one way or multiple destination flights). My favourite part about using Google Flight Search is that it allows me to see multiple destinations at once, instead of searching for each location one at a time. Study the map carefully. You might find that flying into an airport only an hour away from your final destination can save you a few hundred dollars. You can also actually purchase the flights that are shown by clicking on the direct airline links at the bottom of your search. If you can’t find the same fares on a direct link website, try calling a travel agent, or airline directly and ask for the specific flight numbers and quoted price. More often than not, these will be lower than what the airline sees.
- Expedia, Travelocity, SkyScanner, eBookers, and other meta flight search engines – once I have an idea of the cheapest airport destinations (search multiple airports within your area if you have the flexibility), I move on to meta search sites. I personally use Expedia, SkyScanner, or Hotwire to compare and gain a ballpark range for prices within the dates I am searching for.
- Travel Company Websites – There are many travel companies that have search engines on their website, allowing you to essentially do the same or similar search as their own travel agents. I find that they will often yield routes that are not found on meta flight search engines (such as Expedia) and are often cheaper. Travel companies specifically geared for students usually show discounted rates that you can book, even if you’re not a student. Some travel company sites that I search are: TravelCuts, Flight Centre, UniGlobe
- Airline Websites – Sometimes the lowest fares are those found directly on the airline websites. Once I have found a possible suitable route using one of the online search engines listed above, I will usually go directly to the airline websites. Sometimes they are cheaper simply because they don’t charge a small search fee (built in to other search engine fares), or they may have promotions that only apply when booking directly with them. The other benefit of booking directly with an airline is that there are usually more flexible cancellation/change options than when dealing with third-party agencies (such as Expedia). Many airlines will allow free cancellation or changes within 24 hours of booking, so you can keep searching for better options after you’ve booked.
- What about Travel Agents? Let’s face it. Who has time to sit around all day and search for flights? Well, travel agents. And they get paid to do it, so they’re good at it. In fact, using a travel agent can be really handy when you need to book multiple fares (such as for large groups), or also need excursions (ie. tours, or accommodation packages). If you can build a good relationship with a quality travel agent, you might find that the time you save by having someone else search for you, outweighs the minimal fee for using their service. For the most part, these fees are built into the fares that they find for you, and range from about $25-$50. I like to play a game in which I first search for the lowest possible Internet fares, and then challenge my travel agent to “beat them”. At any rate, it is a good idea to have done a bit of homework before turning over the task. The more you know, the more your travel agent will be able to support your search.
At the end of the day, your best flights are those that fit within your personal comfort zone. Finding the best flights can take a lot of time and effort, but the money, time, and energy you save to use upon your travels can help to create a much better experience.
Have a travel or healthy lifestyle question? I’d love to hear from you! Just leave a comment below!