One of the ways I manage to travel so much has been by figuring out the best way to get cheap flights. In this post I am opening up and sharing just how I manage to do that.
I get a lot of questions about how I manage to travel so much. People assume I must be either irresponsible with money and high in debt, or have everything paid for by my parents. Neither of these things are true, but I understand why people think like this. After all, over these last few years I have been studying full time with no full time job, yet I travel internationally several times a year. I do have savings too, with which I’m planning to buy a house soon. How do I manage all that? A lot of the time when I’m travelling, I actually spend less than I would at home, when you take into consideration the price of rent, food, and petrol there. I also spend a lot of time looking for the best deals on travel, including cheap flights.
This year, I want to help show you guys that travel doesn’t have to be expensive. So I will be writing a series of 3 posts about how to travel cheap. Part one: the best way to get cheap flights.
Note: Part 2 is out now and you can check it out here.
Best ways to get cheap flights
There are two main ways to buy flights: online or through a travel agent. If it’s a big trip, it’s a good idea to check the prices through both of these methods to see which works out better.
Use flight searchers
When you are looking for a flight somewhere, the best way to find the cheapest flight is to use not one, but multiple flight search engines. This way, you can be sure when you have found the cheapest flight. My favourites are:
My process for finding the cheapest flights is the following:
- Check 3 or more flight search engines and find the cheapest flights
- Go to the website of the airline which is offering the cheapest flight and see if the price is the same there. If it is, congratulations! Make your purchase directly through the airline website if possible, as it is generally more secure. If you can’t find the cheap flight on the airline website, go to step 3.
- Click on the link on the flight search engine. Even if it takes you to the airline website again, you should have access to the lower price. This is because there will be a promotion encoded in the affiliate link of the flight search engine. However, often it will be a third party travel agent you are buying from. In this step, you should ensure the website you are buying the flight from is trustworthy and legitimate. If you notice any red flags, you should close the page and look for the next cheapest flights. Red flags include pages not loading incorrectly or asking you for the same information more than once, incorrect English, extra charges popping up without notice, and no contact details listed. Basically anything that makes it seem unprofessional probably means that it is, and it’s best to avoid it. Another thing it is good to do when using a booking agent for the first time is to look for their reviews and read about other people’s experiences with them.
Use a travel agent
Some people think that travel agents are becoming obsolete due to the accessibility of buying cheap flights online nowadays. The truth is, travel agents have partnerships with most major airlines, so they still have access to special deals and discounts that can’t necessarily be found through a simple internet search. I would recommend contacting a variety of travel agencies to see where you get the best price. The only problem with this method is that often travel agents can be slow to respond and/or unwilling to put the work in to truly get you the lowest price. If you do find a good one, it’s a good idea to keep their details and contact them every time you need a price for flights.
Travel agents are particularly useful when you need a variety of flights for a particular trip. They are also good to use due to the added security and point of contact you will have if anything goes wrong. They can also allow you to customise your trip more, for example changing the length of stopovers or adding a stop.
Cheap flight hacks
Make use of stopovers
Many people try to avoid stopovers and will pay extra to go directly to their final destination. Of course, airlines are aware of this and they generally make it more expensive to go direct. But travelling with stopovers isn’t necessarily a bad thing! In my post reviewing Fiji Airways, I mentioned how we got a four-day stopover in Fiji for the same price as a stopover of a few hours would have been. We got to enjoy two destinations on this trip for the same price as flying to one. So if you can get an extra-long stopover in a cool place, it’s even better than flying direct, not to mention cheaper.
Not sure? Buy a cancellable ticket
If you want to ensure you get a good deal but you’re not 100% sure about your flight dates or whether you can go, a good idea is to pay a little bit extra for the fully refundable ticket. That way, if you do go, you still got a pretty good deal, and if you don’t, you don’t lose anything.
Go carry-on only
Most airlines now are offering the option to take carry-on baggage only, especially for short-haul flights. Honestly, if you’re only going for a short holiday, I don’t know why you wouldn’t take up this option and save some money. Carry-on baggage is generally between 7-10kg, which is plenty enough for your essentials, plus extra room for souvenirs, if you’re savvy!
If you do need to check in luggage, check if there is a difference between buying the carry-on flight and then purchasing the baggage as an extra and buying the all-inclusive flight. Sometimes it is cheaper to get the baggage as an add-on, rather than buying the more expensive flight outright.
Sign up for loyalty programmes
It’s usually free to become a member of airline points programmes, so why wouldn’t you? That way, every time you fly, you will be getting a little bit back which can eventually go towards another flight. I used to not bother with loyalty programmes as I thought it would be too much work, but about two years ago, I decided to start paying attention to that and get something back from all the flights I was taking. It’s really pretty easy, you just have to sign up once, and then ensure your Airpoints number is included in the form every time you buy a flight. Since I started that, I’ve accumulated more than 200 airpoints (equivalent to more than $200NZD). This programme also allows you to share points with other people. Felipe and I put ours together, so that altogether, we have nearly $400, enough for a return flight from Auckland to Melbourne. This is all from spending no extra money thatn we would have anyway.
There are usually a lot of other ways you can earn points for flying in your everyday life. The Air New Zealand Airpoints programme is great as you can earn airpoints by buying fuel, paying your energy bills, or on any purchase using a debit or credit card.
Make use of points and credit card programmes
Another thing I did when I decided to take points-earning seriously was to get an airpoints-earning debit card. With this card, I earn one Airpoint for every $250 I spend. Shortly after, I found the fees-free American Express credit card. While I’m not a fan of credit cards, this card is completely fees-free and interest-free. With this card, I earn $1 for every $100 I spend. So with these two cards, every time I spend money, I’m getting a little something back. And these kinds of credit cards exist in most countries with most major airline loyalty programmes.
When to get cheap flights
Buy in advance
Start keeping your eye on the flights you are after as soon as they are available, if possible. Check them regularly so you can get an understanding of what the average price is. Airlines will have sales, so just make sure you are in the loop so you will be one of the first to know. If the price is well below the average price you have seen and within your budget, just go for it. It’s always a bit of a gamble as to whether the flight will be cheaper later on, but you don’t want to leave it too late and risk missing out altogether. So if you see a reasonable deal, just lock it in.
Avoid peak times
The most expensive times to travel are, of course, when everyone is most likely to travel. So around public holidays, weekends, and popular events, you’re likely to be worse off. If you need to be somewhere during a peak time, a good trick is to extend your trip a bit. This will mean you are travelling to the region well before the peak time, and leaving well after, so you can still get a good price.
Think about the environment when you fly: offset carbon emissions
As citizens of a changing world, it is important to recognise the impact that flights have on the environment. While ultimately we should be putting pressure on airlines to become carbon neutral, we can also take individual responsibility. There are many carbon emission calculators out there which allow you to calculate the carbon footprint of your flights, and then give you an amount which you can donate to support green projects, essentially bringing your footprint back down to 0 for that flight.
I hope that in sharing with you the best way to get cheap flights, you’re able to save some money and start travelling more often! Let me know if you have any other hacks for cheap flights that work for you in the comments below.