Let’s be honest, we’ve all spent a little too much time searching for cheap airfare. It really shouldn’t be a surprise, the cost of flights makes up a significant part of our travel expenses so why wouldn’t we want to save, right?
The issue is that airlines have so much data available, so they price things based on supply and demand. Sales still happen, but old tricks such as going into an incognito browser or booking at 3 am on a Wednesday during a full moon simply won’t work.
The good news is that there are still some practical things you can do to ensure you’re getting the best price possible on your flights.
1. Think about your timing
The easiest way to save money on airfare is to travel during the shoulder or off-season. July and August are typically the most expensive times to travel so if you can vacation in the spring or fall, you could easily save a few hundred dollars on your flights.
Keep in mind the day of the week or even the time of day can also make a difference. Traveling between Tuesday to Thursday or in the late morning to early afternoon typically has less demand which could mean lower prices.
2. Consider a layover or stopover
Direct flights are almost always more expensive than taking a layover. The question is, how much do you value your time? If you’re traveling as a family of four where a 3-hour layover will save you each $250, then that’s worth considering. However, if it’s just you and someone else, I’m not sure a 12-hour layover is worth saving $200.
That being said, long layovers allow you to see another destination which is definitely appealing to some people. There are even a few airlines that allow you to take a multi-day stopover at no extra charge. For example, if you flew with Cathay Pacific, you could stop in Hong Kong for a couple of days before you continue your journey with them to your final destination. Getting a few days in a different city without having to pay extra for flights is a great way to maximize your vacation time.
3. Take a look at the discount airlines
Budget airlines such as EasyJet and Ryanair have been around for two decades now and have become quite popular in Europe. The concept is simple, offer low priced seats but charge for all the extras such as checking a bag, food, priority boarding etc. I regularly find flights between Amsterdam and London between $80 – $120 Canadian and that includes luggage!
Asia has also seen the popularity of low-cost carriers rise in the last decade, but it’s still a relatively new model in Canada. New players such as Swoop and Flair are making the push here at home which is great for travelers since that means more options at a lower price.
4. Use a travel metasearch engine
One mistake people make is that they’ll search dozens of different websites in hopes that one will be lower than the other. Generally speaking, flights don’t change price depending on what website you use, but why go to the trouble of searching dozens of different sites when you search them all at once?
Travel metasearch engines such as Google Flights search all of their partners at once which includes all of the major airlines. You’re literally getting access to hundreds of sites at the same time so you can quickly find the lowest price possible.
5. Set up a price alert
Speaking of Google Flights, they have a track prices feature that allows you to receive price alerts by email. All you need to do is enter your search criteria and then turn on the switch next to “Track prices.” You can track routes or even specific flights.
This feature is handy for people who are in no real rush to book their airfare or are pretty flexible with their destinations. Once those price alerts are set up, you can just wait until you see a price you like before booking it.
6. Sign up for every mailing list
No one likes getting a bunch of marketing e-mails, but when it comes to flights, I recommend signing up. Airlines, wholesalers, and vacation clubs always alert their mailing list first when there are any sales or promotions going on. Even Nextdeparture.ca who finds insanely cheap flights departing from 8 Canadian destinations lets their mailing list know about the latest deal before they share it on social media. Keep in mind that many of these sales or deals tend to have limited quantities, so you’ll want to jump on any deal that you like.
7. Use any points that you have
If you’ve been collecting loyalty points for an airline, see if you can cash them in. You might be tempted to save them up for a more significant redemption later, but that could take years, and your points could be devalued at any time so why not use them (or some) if you can now?
Don’t forget about any credit card points that you may have accumulated. The nice thing about credit card rewards programs is that you can often use your points on any type of travel purchase with no worries about blackout dates. A lot of programs also allow you to use points on retroactive purchases up to a specific time limit (usually 9 to 12 months).
8. Use an airline co-branded credit card
If you happen to fly WestJet or Alaska Airlines, you get some serious perks when you sign up for their credit cards. The WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard gives the primary cardholder on WestJet flights and, up to 8 guests, their first checked bag free. For a family of four, that’s $240 they could save on baggage alone. The credit card also comes with an annual companion voucher that starts at $99 CAD which could save you and your guest a few hundred dollars.
Although Alaska Airlines only services a handful of Western Canada airports, there’s no denying that their credit card can help you save. You get one checked bag per passenger on the same itinerary, up to a maximum of six people. You also get an annual companion fare of $121 USD on Alaska Airlines with no blackout dates. Both cards do have an annual fee, but the perks you get are worth it.
Unfortunately, there are no credit cards that give you such generous benefits on Air Canada or any of their partners.
9. Think about alternative airports
Depending on where you’re departing from or where you’re traveling to, what airport you leave from could save you big. For example, if you live in Oakville or Burlington, it may be cheaper for you to fly out of Hamilton or Buffalo. Vancouver residents may find lower airfare when departing from Abbotsford or Bellingham. If you’re flying into London, typically landing in Gatwick is cheaper than Heathrow. In Tokyo, both Narita and Haneda airports are about the same when it comes to price, but the latter is much closer to the city so you’ll save time.
With airports, you don’t always have control since it really depends on where airlines fly to, but it’s worth investigating to see if there’s a considerable price difference. Of course, some of these alternative airports may require more travel time, so you need to factor that in as well as any additional transportation costs to find out if it’s worth your trouble.
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