There are many factors to take into consideration when searching for the best airfare. If you know what to look for, the resources online may not seem as overwhelming and you can feel confident about the price of your airfare and your itinerary.
Here are some key tips to remember when you are fare shopping online.
1. Don’t stop shopping once you see the lowest fare.
Sometimes it might only be a cost of about $10 more to make one connection instead of two or to fly into a nicer airport like Munich (rather than London Heathrow). Even more often, airfare for the same price but a much better route will be available only listed after flights with ugly routes so keep looking.
If I find a cheap fare on a fare-finder site, I always go to that specific carrier’s website to see if they have it listed for cheaper.
2. Look at your connection times.
If you have checked bags that you have to recheck in your connecting city, this, combined with passport control and sometimes a security recheck can often take well over an hour depending on how many people are in line. Many flight itineraries that are produced by fare-search sites will provide you with an hour layover in your connecting but this is often cutting it extremely close to the time you will need and you will feel more comfortable with more time.
On this same note, you might think if you have a layover for more than 6 hours that you could see some of your layover city. This may be possible with cities where the airport is closer to the city center like Amsterdam, but with other airports like Narita Airport, if you would like to go into Tokyo it takes up to an hour and a half with public transportation each way and then you have to remember it is recommended to arrive even up to three hours before your departure. That is already eating up about 6 hours of your layover time. Don’t get too excited about a long layover in a cool city until you research how to get there from the airport.
3. Consider the airline.
Cheaper fare does not always mean cheaper cost to fly. If you see online that Spirit Airlines is $50 cheaper than the same flight with another carrier such as Delta, you could actually end up paying more than $50 for all of Spirit Airline’s added fees.
Spirit adds outrageous fees for things like carry-on luggage, printing your boarding pass, seat assignments, reclining seats and even water! This could cost you well over $50, I would always try to fly with a carrier other than Spirit.
4. So which carrier?
Non-US airline carriers are usually better about providing in-flight amenities and are generally more luxurious overall even in economy class. If it’s the same price there is no question I would turn down an American carrier for a European one especially if there will be free alcohol. If it’s more expensive then there is definitely a point where my cheap self would not like to pay too much more for comfort.
For example, I always recommend Lufthansa, British Airways or Air France over Delta, American or United Airlines. This international over U.S. carrier rule is not universal. For instance I would never fly SriLankan Airlines again because it was a terrifying experience. Some airlines have pilots with less hours in the cockpit or their pilots are held to lower qualification standards than pilots at other airlines. This is because there isn’t one universal standard for airline safety.
Additionally, it’s important to consider airline route schedules. Condor Flugdienst for example is a German airline that only operates its transatlantic flights a few times a week. If a flight on Condor is the same price as another with a larger carrier, I would always buy the flight on a larger carrier. If there is a flight cancellation or delay that makes you miss a connecting flight on Condor, you may be stranded for a few days until the next Condor flight leaves.
5. Be aware of the airport.
Some fare-finder sites incorporate nearby airports but others do not. For example there are two major airports in Paris, and Milan has multiple airports that serve different airlines. If you are using a fare-finder site that only allows you to search one airport, check another site that allows you to see nearby airports just to be sure you have found the best itinerary.
6. Being flexible will help you find lower airfare.
Some fare-finder sites allow you to see if departing a different day near your tentative departure date would be cheaper. There is even a site called Getgoing which allows you to choose two destinations and will award you with one of your choices at a discounted rate. It is also generally more affordable to depart in the middle of the week or a Saturday rather than on a Friday when everyone will be ending their workweek.
7. When to buy your tickets.
You may have heard all of these statistics about purchasing tickets on Tuesdays, 10 weeks in advance etc. The reality however is that you cannot predict what will happen to ticket prices. Apart from Icelandair who typically increases the price of their airfare as seats sell out, most other airlines play the fare game. It’s impossible for any person to predict whether or not a fare will go up or down as you wait to buy your tickets. You could get extremely lucky and score a cheap fare, or that flight could sell out in the time you waited. Kayak (Kayak.com/flights) can help you decide when to make the final gamble and make your flight purchase. You plug in your itinerary and on the left of the page the site offers “Price Trend” advice. You will be advised and shown to what percentage of confidence prices are expected to drop or increase and within what time period. However, planning in advance is always better than last minute in terms of stress and time
Now to start looking for airfare check out some of my favorite fare-finder sites here: http://thestandbyjetsetter.com/2014/02/20/five-favorite-airfare-finder-sites/