The sheer number of websites dedicated to booking flights can leave you with that lingering feeling that there is always a better deal just one more click away. But where and when to book? A search for ‘Cheap flights’ in Google brings up more options than most people could be bothered searching through, and many people still end up booking with the big names like Expedia and Webjet, which are not the cheapest options.
While there is no magic formula to finding the cheapest flights online (despite your mates claims they always get bargain seats), there are plenty of resources you can use to better your chances of finding the cheapest flights available.
When looking for cheap flights keep in mind the following no matter how you decide to book..
General tips on finding cheap flights:
- Use the pricing alerts listed below to get you informed on the latest specials.
- Be realistic with the price you are willing to pay. Holding out too long for the type of specials that send airlines broke won’t usually work, and you might end up paying more the longer you leave it. If you have a price in mind and can find a seat for that price or less consider just booking it then and there. Barely two people on the same flight will have paid the same amount; the price will always be going up and down (usually up) so at least if you have a price in mind and find it you won’t be disappointed.
- Be flexible with dates and book early! If you can avoid peak times like Christmas and June July you will be flying cheaper. If you can’t then choosing weekdays over weekends and even less convenient times of day you should get on a cheaper flight. Try to book at least three weeks in advance (6-8 weeks is better) and search different days around the time you want to fly.
- The major airlines often release their cheapest seats 11 months in advance, with the discount cycle usually at its peak in January. This is a great time to book for later in the year if you can.
- Always check the airlines own website before you book. The airlines will sometimes have the same price or cheaper and often without the hefty booking fees charged by some sites.
- Don’t just stick to Webjet, Expedia and the Flight Centre site, there are cheaper options (see below).
- For round the world tickets check out the pages on this site before you see an agent. These pages will help you sift through your options and avoid paying too much.
Steps to finding that cheap flight online
Sign up for pricing alerts
One of Australia’s most used travel bargain resources is the site Travel Zoo (http://au.travelzoo.com/). It’s a weekly online subscription service that notifies you of 20 of the week’s best travel bargains. The best current deals are sifted through by a team of researchers to make sure any offer they list is genuine.
For serious bargain hunters there is Yapta (http://www.yapta.com/). This site tacks pricing changes in airfares and other travel products. You can sign up for email alerts which will inform you when flights to your chosen destination fall within your set budget.
Also signing up to the major agencies’ newsletters can keep you up to date with the latest specials, and might be more attuned to your needs than Travel Zoo (Student Flights or STA focus on the younger market for example).
Finding the best deal
Try starting off with a search on Sky Scanner (http://www.skyscanner.net/). You just put in the departure point and arrival and a bunch of flight options will come up for you. You can then compare the cost of the same flights on the airlines own website and a few of the comparison sites listed below. Sky Scanner makes its money from advertising rather than commission so is not biased towards any particular airline.
Kayak (http://www.kayak.com/) A similar site to Sky Scanner that will give you a good idea of current pricing without nessacarliy being the cheapest. One of the better and easier sites to use for complicated itineraries (easy to search for flights with lots of stopovers). This is also a good place to start your search.
If you need another resource to find out what airlines fly to particular destinations and the route they take, check out the destination tips on this site, or have a look at The Official Aviation Guide (first published in 1929) website at (www.oag.com/travel-guides/air-route-info/). It’s a comprehensive guide that might get you thinking about alternative (and possibly cheaper) routes to your destination.
Once you have an idea of current pricing the following sites are worth a look for the cheapest seats.
Jetabroad (www.jetabroad.com.au) A quick and straight forward website to use. Recently this site has had great cash back deals for using PayPal on top of already cheap seats. The first price you see is what you pay so no hidden charges like on some other major sites. This site consistently comes up with the cheapest fares. Highly recommended!
Airflights (www.airfaresflights.com.au) is a great site to compare, though not book, airfares from the major agencies and sites in Australia. This is not a booking site; you will need to get onto the retailers site once you have found the cheapest fare.
Travel (www.travel.com.au) has also consistently provided cheap fares, though this site charges a booking fee.
Webjet (www.webjet.com.au) with their massive advertising budget Webjet seems to be most people’s first stop. Added charges at the time of booking and general lack of clarity in pricing makes it a less attractive option than the newer competition. Recent attempts to keep the site competitive have led to the upcoming introduction of “Home Brand Airfares”, which means that the identity of the airline is not revealed to the user until the time of booking. This may be a way to score a cheap fare in future as airlines will be able to shield the price of their discount fares from competitors.
I want that flight (www.iwantthatflight.com.au) a fairly new site that lets you search for domestic fares for Qantas, Tiger, Jetstar and Virgin. A quick and easy way to find cheap domestic fares (maybe for a cheap connection to your international flight).
Last Minute (http://www.lastminute.com.au/). Always popular site for spur of the moment or late notice flights. Worth a look.
Once you have found the cheapest price from these sites it’s worth checking the airlines own site for comparision as well.
If you want to use an agency without stepping into a store these sites are popular.
Flight Centre (www.flightcentre.com.au) This site continues to be the most used in Australia for travel products. You can’t book directly on the site, instead you’ll be directed to call or be called by an agent. Don’t use this first; check out the other sites first to avoid being talked into booking on the spot (and paying for other things you might not want) as that’s why they get you on the phone. Want fries with that?
Expedia (www.expedia.com.au). Always growing thanks to a spend world wide of over 100 million dollars annually on their services. The site can be a good resource for booking package deals but they have developed a reputation for extremely poor customer service should something go wrong with your flights, and seem to be more on the expensive side with flights.
Budget airlines – also check out destination tips for lists of budget carriers abroad
Whilst fares from the major airlines will usually come up in the comparison sites the budget carriers below might not be included. Newer airlines operating out of Australia like Tiger and Air Asia have had some really great fares lately.
Jetstar (www.jetstar.com.au) With a growing list of destinations and some great last minute deals they are always worth a check for trips around Oz/Asia/Hawaii.
Air Asia (www.airasia.com) Uses Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia as a hub and has some really cheap fares from Oz to heaps of destinations in Asia, and for onward flights to London. A current fare from KL to London one way is just $350AUD.
Tiger Airways (www.tigerairways.com) has cheap fares into Singapore from various Aussie capitals. Really cheap!
If you are comfortable booking online and think you have found a great deal that suits your budget then it’s worth booking on the spot as prices/availability really do change very quickly.
Just be sure that you are aware of the conditions of the ticket; the cheapest tickets are often non refundable or non changeable. This is especially the case in 09/10, with the insanely cheap prices going around airlines can make up the difference by charging through the nose for date changes or cancellations.
Also consider the airline and stopover times; a few extra dollars for a better airline and smoother connections can be worth it. There’s only so much time in the airport that makes saving $50 dollars worthwhile: you will probably spend the difference on food and drinks while you wait.
So, be flexible, check Sky Scanner and Kayak for options and have a look on a site like Jet Abroad for comparison. Do it as early as possible and consider booking if you are happy with the price.
If you plan use a travel agent to book or price match check the using travel agents page for advice on getting the most out of an agent.
Good luck and safe travels!!