Top Tips For Finding The Best Value Flights
Best Value Flights - What Do I Mean?
Flying is something that some of us enjoy, others see as it as a necessity. However, there is one thing that unites all travelers, the question of getting to where you are going. Not only do I travel a lot myself anyway, but I am also in the beneficial position of working for an airline so hope to be able to share some of my hints and tips on how to find the best value flights! We won't be looking at trying to utilise any dirty tricks, this is just a list of hints and tips to think about before booking those tickets.
The main thing to remember throughout this article is that whilst price is important, good value does not necessarily mean the cheapest option. As an example: Last year I had to attend a wedding in North East Romania. I had two options open to me, fly to a city about 2hrs away with a low cost carrier or fly via Vienna with Austrian Airlines. The flights with Austrian cost almost twice as much but when I looked at what was important to me (good flight times to minimise time away from my newborn son/easy transfers once in Romania/my personal concerns about the financial future of the LCC in question) then I went for the more expensive, but in my eyes, better value option.
It should be noted that almost all of my travels and work occurs in Europe so there will be a bias towards websites etc. that help over here. However, I have also used the same tips when travelling in the US to get the best value flights as well.
REMEMBER, GOOD VALUE DOESN'T JUST MEAN CHEAP!!
What Matters To You!
Before we continue the first thing to think about is what really matters to you when booking your flight. Everyone is different and will have different requirements, even for different trips so before searching for fares, it is best to spend a couple of minutes thinking about what you want.
- Location - Do you know where you want to go? I would imagine you generally will but if you want inspiration then I would suggest either going to SkyScanner.net and selecting from your local airport to "Everywhere" or for a specific airline I particularly like easyJet's Inspire Me tool that I would expect other airlines to start using similar versions soon!
- Dates - How flexible are you with dates? Often by moving just a couple of days you may find that you can get much better value fares. However, if you need to be there for an event this may be less flexible.
- Distance - How far are you willing to travel at either end of journey? if you are only spending a weekend in a city, do you really want to travel from an airport 100km away when there is one a lot closer?
- Timings - How important to you are the times of the flights? In my example above the times of the flights for the cheap options were in my eyes awful! How important is your beauty sleep?
- Airline - Does it matter to you who the airline flying the route is? Are there carriers you wouldn't touch with a barge pole?
Where Are You Going? - Beware Of The Distant Airport
So you have now settled on your destination but before diving in, do you really know which airports are close to your destination? Often airlines, particularly low cost ones, will publicise an airport which is some way from the actual destination. This is fine but if your time is limited, maybe it is better value to pay more to get to the destination. I have added a list below of some of my favourite airports named for a city a long way away and you can immediately see the risk of diving in for a cheap fare and ending up potentially even in a different country! Therefore, I would suggest firstly looking for the transportation options for you destination, either look on wikipedia as most cities have a travel sub-section, or I like this tool that allows you to find the closest airports to a given city: http://www.travelmath.com/nearest-airport/
Now you have an idea of which airports are nearby, have a look at the page for that airport on wikipedia as there is almost always a list of airlines that operate to the airport and the destinations to which they fly. This is important for two reasons. Number one you can see if there are direct flights back to where you live but also, you can get an idea of which airlines may offer transfer flights when you start digging a bit further in to what options are really open to you.
The Best Named Airports - How far Is It?
These are some of my personal favourite "mis-named" airports that I have come across over the years!
- Paris-Vatry (Disney) - 150km from central Paris (and 112km from Disneyland)
- Munich West (Memmingen) - 112km from central Munich (and almost as close to both Stuttgart and Zurich!)
- Oslo (Torp) - 110km from central Oslo
- Frankfurt (Hahn) - 110km from central Frankfurt
- Stockholm (Västerås) & Stockholm (Skavsta) - Both 99km from central Stockholm
- Vienna (Bratislava) - May only be 61km as crow flies but Bratislava is the Capital City of a different country!
Finding The Fares
The next thing that you need to do when finding a good value flight ticket is to actually search for an idea on what you various flight options may cost. Now unfortunately there isn't one single place that you can go to find all flight options, especially as some airlines refuse to be listed on external websites (similar to what you find sometimes with Insurance companies etc.)
Below I have listed some of the sites that I think are best for finding ideas on prices between your destinations. However, based on your research in the previous step around the airport, also go directly to the airlines that aren't listed and get their fares. I would suggest at this time to search for flight fares only as they may try to wrap them up with a good/bad hotel and I would assume that you would look for this separately as in my experience it is almost always best to book each part of your trip separately.
It is best to have several browser windows open at this stage in my opinion as you will shortly want to refer back to the fares as quickly as possible to start comparing them and to find which is best value for you!
Which Airline To Choose
Do You Know Who You Are Flying With?
Due to the world economic climate in recent years many airlines have gone bust (check out this wikipedia article just for an example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defunct_airlines). Every time an airline goes under hundreds or thousands of people end up stranded or unable to travel. If you are booking an important trip, the last thing you want is to find a few days before your trip that the airline no longer exists. This part of the guide isn't meant to scare-monger and some airlines can go bust at the drop of a hat but in some cases there have been rumours of financial difficulties long before the airline stops flying. In the example I gave in the introduction, I had real reservations about the low cost airline still being in business a few months later when I made the booking. As it is they are still flying today so I was mistaken but given I was going for a wedding, it was important to me to fly with an airline I believed to be more robust!
Even if the airline is financially sound, there are still things to consider when looking at the fares on offer. For example, what are they like to fly with? Sometimes the best thing to do is Google the airline name and read a few blogs or alternatively try a site like SkyTrax who have reviews on hundreds of airlines and they even give out industry awards to those that are good. For me personally I am 6'4 so know that whilst I might happily fly with an airline like Ryanair on a flight of 1 or 2 hours, anything longer than this and I would be considering airlines I know to have bigger seats as I would be willing to pay more for comfort. Also, if I am flying transatlantic, there are some airlines I would no longer choose as I have flown with them historically and really not enjoyed the all round comfort and in-flight entertainment offerings.
Finally, talk to friends and family and see what they think if they have flown with various airlines. For example I have never flown with several European carriers but have a picture in my mind over various benefits/failings based on experience of those I trust!
Making Your Decision - You have the facts, now what?
So you have spent your time researching airports, airlines, routes and fares, now is the hard bit, making that final decision of which flights to book. Hopefully following the earlier step you have a good idea in your mind about what is important to you which will make this easier.
It may seem old fashioned but write down a list of pros and cons of each flight as this will make your decision easier, believe me! make notes on price, flight times, quality of airline, closeness of the airport and also what extra benefits you get. For example, if you have a frequent flyer account then perhaps it is worth spending that extra little bit as the equivalent value of miles or points is higher. Also, make sure you double check what the ticket price includes. Many airlines now charge extra for baggage, checking in at the airport etc. The last thing you want is to suddenly find that you are shelling out lots of additional charges that negate the benefit of a lower fare!
Having made your decision the next most important thing is to double check you are paying the best price. Earlier I showed some of the best price comparison sites but you need to remember that each one may or may not have special deals with the airline in question. Before you book check two or three comparison sites and the airline themselves to see who will give you the best price for the same value product!
Finally, one simple trick to remember once you have made your booking is that some airlines have deals that if the price drops you can reclaim the difference in price. This can be a hidden gem so keep an eye out as you could save even more money.
For The More Advanced Traveller
The above tips are valid no matter who is travelling and where. However, if you are happier travelling in a more complex manner and one of your big drivers is saving money, there are additional tips that you could try:
- Look for complex routings - If you want to get to somewhere like South America for example then you may find that a lot of sites will suggest routings via countries like Spain. However, the whole flight will be with the same carrier or alliance of carriers. You could consider flying with a low cost airline to Spain, then booking your onward flights from Spain only, saving you money
- Think about taxes - A lot of the time governments will charge you certain taxes for flying to certain destinations and here in the UK we have some of the highest. The airlines collect this in your ticket price but sometimes you can save some money going via a closer location. For example if flying from UK to the Dubai you currently pay £65 in tax. However, if you choose to fly with easyJet to Budapest and then onwards with Wizzair to Dubai, you will find yourself paying just £13 in tax.
- Always Sign Up For Frequent Flyer Schemes - Almost all Frequent flyer schemes are free to join so I will always join if flying with an airline that has one. Even if I don't expect to fly with that airline again, you can never say never and also, quite often you can find ways of trading various schemes points.
- Check to see if you can get cashback - There are many good cashback sites out there (my personal favourite is Quidco). You can get cashback on almost anything, including in some occasions flights. If you have made your decision and then you can get cashback as well, why wouldn't you?
- Check out this 'Expert' - I recently stumbled across this blog piece. The writer managed to do a round the world trip for just $418 in flight costs and has outlined some of how he managed that which really is quite interesting and I would suggest checking out! How to Travel Around the World for $418
Do you have suggestions on further things to consider when looking for a Value flight fare? I'd love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!