Flights are probably going to be your number-one cost for almost any sort of trip outside of your country. There are many options to choose from: a round-the-world ticket, point-to-point flights, or avoiding flying altogether and going by boat, bus or foot.
If you do decide to fly (and let’s face it, most of us will if only because it’s so much faster) it’s important to do your research before forking out. There are some awesome deals out there if you know where to look.
Starting with a travel agent’s website will give you an idea of the ballpark figure you can expect to pay, as well as giving you a challenge to beat. STA Travel is a great choice because they are trustworthy and international, and offer a lot of fantastic deals. Students and under-26s sometimes get cheaper flights than the rest of us, but there’s plenty for the older crowd too.
We often start by visiting the STA website and revisit it periodically to check for deals (you can also sign up to their mailing list). And more than once, we’ve found a deal that’s better than anything we could find online, like return flights from Auckland to Buenos Aires for NZ$999.
Booking through a travel agent adds an extra layer of security as the staff are on hand to answer any questions that come up, and smooth over any problems you may have with the airline.
Next, visit a flight aggregator. Different sites are better in different locations; we tend to use Skyscanner in Europe, Webjet in Oceania, and Despegar in South America. There’s also Momondo and Kayak among others, have a play with all of them and see what deals come up. Most of these sites will give a fair indication of the flights available, but some budget airlines aren’t listed or promotions aren’t taken into account, so it can also be worth visiting the websites of the individual airlines.
Wikipedia has a great article on budget airlines that can provide valuable information about what companies operate where you’re going. Head to the individual airlines’ websites and look for a “where we fly” page to get an idea of their destinations. Look for hubs, where a lot of flights pass through, as you might be able to string together two flights through a hub for a lot cheaper than buying a direct flight from point A to point B.
A few years ago, we bought flights from Christchurch to London with Air Asia. This was listed as an option on the Air Asia website but a booking enquiry for this route ended with the message that all seats were sold out. Knowing that Air Asia’s hub is Kuala Lumpur, I did two separate searches, from Christchurch to KL and from KL to London, and found flights available for the dates I wanted, at a total cost of about NZ$520 per person — ludicrously cheap. Sure, we’d have preferred to fly from Auckland, but it’s only NZ$50 to get down to Christchurch, and anyway the in-laws always want us to visit!
Sometimes flying into a nearby airport instead of into your first choice can save you a lot of money in flights. But it’s worth knowing where that airport is, how far away it is from your target destination. Use Google Maps’ “get directions” feature to calculate the distances.
We once saved $200 per ticket on a flight from Australia to New Zealand by flying from the Gold Coast instead of from Brisbane. We caught a train down from the city and spent a couple of days on the beach before flying out. We made sure to check that the price of transport was less than what we saved on flight costs, by visiting the local tourist website and doing a Google search for “transport Brisbane Gold Coast”.
Before you book your flight, make sure to visit toandfromthrairport.com. It’s incredible how varied the prices can be to get from the airport to the central city in different locations. Some airports are part of the public transport network and you can buy a regular ticket for a couple of bucks; in other cases your only option is an expensive taxi ride or transfer. Factor the cost of getting into town from the airport into the cost of your ticket, it might not seem like such a good deal after all.
When searching, you might not be able to view prices in your preferred currency; keep xe.com open in a tab and copy and paste in the prices you discover. I found this extremely useful recently when looking at flights from Colombia and I had no idea what 1,600,000 pesos meant (too much, it turned out, but it was good to know).
If you’re flexible in location and dates, or starting to look for flights well in advance of your travel dates, check out Secret Flying for error fares and special deals.
Don’t forget you don’t have to do all the work for yourself. Ask questions on Facebook and Twitter — someone might have the answer for you!
There are lots of resources out there to help you save money on your flights. Just remember to be flexible and look at a few options before committing, even if you do end up back in the travel agent’s where you started.