Choosing the best airfare has so many components, the cost being an obvious one but other factors can be equally as important. Some times the cheapest fares have the worst schedules and also have hidden extra charges at the very end of the booking process.
The golden rules of research, book early and travel in off peak periods are obvious enough but some other things to consider include the following:
- Book as early as possible. Generally speaking, the best prices are either a few weeks before departure or several months before. The further in advance will also offer greater choice of schedules, connections and seating. Some airlines have regular specials during certain months – eg SQ in November and March.
- I always book directly with an airline, rather than via a booking site. This gives me seat selection, online check-in and direct contact with the airline, should there be any changes or problems.
- Airfare comparison websites (eg SkyScanner) may cover only the airlines that have an agreement with the website. These sites can be a useful guide but it always pay to check the airlines own website and those of carriers not listed.
- Several airlines have systems that allow you to register, to be notified on special and sale airfares. This can be useful although, at times, cheaper fares can be booked outside of the date range being promoted – always pays to check and compare.
- Most airlines have ‘multi – city’ booking searches that allow you to arrive into one country/airport and return from another country/airport, often at the same cost as a straight return fare to either country/airport.
- Connecting flight times are very important – who wants to wait in an airport for 6 or 8 hours, or rush to catch another flight leaving in 40 minutes. Remember, duty free sales often close 1 hour before departure, if delivery to departure gate is needed.
- Departure and arrival times are also important. Arriving in the early morning (before hotel check-in time) and having to wander around, tired and grubby after a long flight is not that comfortable. Midday or early afternoon arrivals are great but not always possible.
- Heading in the right direction? Flights that head to a larger city, away from you final destination, may still offer good value but the frustration of longer flight times due to transit times may be undesirable.
- When exploring airfare costs, don’t forget to progress a booking to the second to last stage – that’s where any fees or charges, hidden in advertised promotional fares will show up.
- Direct flights from you home town to first international destination are highly desirable, avoiding the need for connecting flights.
- If using a point to point budget airline, and connecting with another carrier, be prepared for schedule changes and arrive the day before any onward travel. A 6 hour gap between scheduled arrival and onward departure can disappear if either airline changes its schedule.
- Who is the airline operating the flight? Airlines code share, or combine services so that you book with one airline but another airline operates the flight. Not necessarily a problem but its good to know who the operating airline is.
- Different carriers have different levels of comfort and sometimes it is worth paying more for a fare that has entertainment, seat selection, good luggage allowance and in-flight food and beverages included.
- Belonging to a frequent flyer programme can be an influencing factor but some airlines allow points to be transferred to other carriers.
- Which credit cards are accepted? My American Express card gets me 3 reward points, my MasterCard gets me 1 1/2 points. A small thing but one that adds up.
- Check the arrival airport. Some large cities have more than one airport and getting from the arrival airport to your hotel can be at a significant cost.