Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Finding cheap flights

People always complain that they can't travel because airfare is too expensive. But, as long as your plans are somewhat flexible, you should never have to pay much for airfare. The thought of paying over $1,000 for a trans-Atlantic flight makes me cringe - and unless I'm planning to spend several months there, I'd rather go somewhere else and go for free. In Choosing where to go I briefly introduced a few good flight search engines. Some things to note:

1. If you're going to actually pay for your flight, you better make sure you're getting the cheapest airfare available. In this regard, it's really important to use multiple search engines, as well as check the price on the airline's website. Some good search engines are:

Kayak is usually quite accurate and doesn't suddenly change the price on you. Google flights requires your starting destination to be either in the US or a major international city (such as Paris, Madrid, etc.), but has a great visual tool for those who can't decide where to go. Skyscanner has a lot of date flexibility but if your destinations are uncommon it may come up with a lot of empty results, asking you to "click here to see prices"... and I like to see all the prices immediately. Momondo is new to me but seems pretty good so far.

2. Be sure to look up the national, low-cost airlines of the country you are traveling in

The first time I flew domestically in South Africa, my flight searches only came up with expensive British Airways and South African Airways flights, and so I bought a suspiciously pricey ticket for a two-hour flight across the country. Little did I know of the existence of Mango Airlines, Kulula, and 1time Airline (no longer in operation but may re-open in the near future), offering deals such as $70 flights from Cape Town to Durban. Most people know about the low-cost Ryanair and Eastyjet in Europe, but fail to realize that low-cost airlines exist throughout the world, and often don't come up in searches on Kayak or other search engines. To avoid missing out, one can simply search on Google for "national airline of _ country" which will often take you to a Wikipedia page of all the national airlines operating in that country. Then, you can look up flights on the individual pages of these airlines.

Who wouldn't want to fly with such a happy looking airline?

3. Think about timing

Things are always cheaper off-season. Not surprisingly, flights to Europe are much more expensive in summer than in winter. On the other hand, flying on big holidays such as Christmas or New Year's can be extremely cheap because most people would rather be at home than on a plane. Also, think about what's going on at your destination. Maybe flying around Easter isn't such a big deal in the States, but flights and accommodation prices will definitely go up during Easter in Latin America.

That being said, if you're like me and prefer to fly for free, check out my post on Managing your Frequent Flyer Miles!