Airfare; the cheap, the bad and the ugly

Flying and cheap usually don’t mix too well together, but just a couple of simple tricks might save you some hard earned cash.

The first tip might sound like money 101 but most will easily forget it in favour of comfort;

Offer and demand.

Plane tickets are like any commodity in our beautiful capital-oriented world, they go up and down in prices as people ask for more or less and as there are more flights available or less. All in all, it is all about finding and comparing with other time frames. Don’t leave Canada for Cuba in the middle of the Christmas vacations if you are on the lookout for a deal. Pull the trigger when there are a lot of tickets available, and little demand for them. But the airliners have algorithms that project theses trends to avoid flying around empty planes. So keep an eye out.

Advertised price vs value

Another big mistake is that people often mistake what people pay for something and what it’s actually worth. 1500$ for a flight to Venezuela in summer ? No way. The fact that they sell it doesn’t mean you should buy it. The minimum advertised price for the same product should be your target. Never the median price. It is possible to find e-ticket for 500$ flights at crazy prices such as tens of thousands dollars, just because the system automatically attributes prices.

Be American

It might sound stupid, but, sometimes being from the US helps. I’m not, I’m from Canada. When flying international, it’s always a good thing to try to use a US vpn provider or proxy server as many international airliners offer inflated prices to international IP addresses and just ”being from the US” gets you cheaper airfare. On the bright side, even if it doesn’t, it only takes a few minutes to check with or without and it’s nice to have private navigation.

Right place, right time

It is important to understand airliners to be able to score a good deal. Most people will fly in the weekend or early in the week rather than in the middle, most will try to avoid multiple layovers and odd hours flights. The people who do not mind flying on a Tuesday evening at 4:30 pm and arriving at destination around lunch time or in the middle of the night are the ones that are going to save the most. Multiple studies and websites suggest buying on a Sunday evening before the airliners refresh their prices and take off the last seats discounts from their listings and recommend flying on a Tuesday, Wednesday and for some flights, Thursdays to score the best deals. Always buy in advance, but not too much as it suggests you needing a specific date and airliners will charge for it, don’t buy too late for the same reason. It is advised to purchase about 8 weeks before your flight to score the best deals.

Beware, cheap is cheap for a reason

Bought a 2000$ ticket across the ocean and I got the same for 500$, well chances are you will get more service than me, even if we are both in economy class on the same plane. You will get the opportunity of changing your seat or get a refund, or change dates with minimal fees. I, on the other hand, will get the classic ”I’m sorry but I cannot do anything to help you sir as you purchased discounted tickets”.

Shop at more than one place

You know that BestBuy pricematch policy, well it doesn’t exist in airfare. But you can always shop around instead of getting screwed over. Beautifully coded websites do all the work for you. One really nice one is kayak. It searches other airfare ”aggregators” so you don’t need to look them all up. It basically is a Google of plane tickets Googles. Basically it searches other flight search engines and gets you good prices.

Another few good ones are skyscanner which lets you be ”flexible” on dates in your search, easily indicating you what are the best dates for your destination. Finally farecompare is pretty good too. All three use other engines and resellers to make sure you get the best of prices without too much of a headache.

Say no to the middle man

Now that you know what time, date and company you want, how about skipping the middle man. Companies like the above mentioned often have partnerships with resellers that buy bulk plane tickets, so sometimes you are better off just getting your tickets there, but most of the time the reseller doesn’t get to buy out a whole plane. Say you use kayak, it offers you a ticket that you want on, say, flighthub (which sells many flights with many companies) you can always look up their dates and times and go straight to the airliner website to buy, such as aircanada or westjet etc (basically the company that owns the plane, pays the pilots etc) effectively cutting out the middle man and going straight to the purveyor.

Read the fine print

Very important especially when being cheap, to read the fine print. Most tickets are not transferable, not refundable, partially creditable and most warranties or guarantees are bullcrap. But some are not. Say for example, I purchased a 20$ guarantee from flighthub on two of my flights as it was called ”best purchase guarantee” and offered to protect my plane ticket investment by allowing a refund (with fees). In the end, the refund is only within 24 hours. Of course you loose the 20$ of the guarantee (so they pocket the 20$ and sell the ticket back) or  you are out of luck and stuck with a ticket. Want to get rid of it ? Well you need to dish out 75$ to flighthub, 75$ to the airline and you will *NOT* get a refund, but only cancel that ticket. The airline will credit you part of the ticket, towards another flight, AFTER the first one (so can’t leave early) and only a flight with the same origin, destination and sometimes even layovers have to be the same. Rendering the process next to useless. Note that in their mind they are generous as normally, companies just sell tickets as a ”final sale”. Some companies offer their discount tickets with a policy that is pretty bad such as cancelling the flight if not enough tickets are purchased by a certain date etc. Shop wisely.

Two way is not the best way; de-constructing the myth

There is the myth that round trip tickets are systematically cheaper than one way tickets, however for most ”non beach vacation” trips, it is far from always true. Especially if you are planing on travelling a bit and taking your return trip from another airport. Companies love to ”seal the deal” by selling you multiple tickets at once, but as a general rule, shop shop shop. I am going to Germany for a little less than a year and wanted to take that opportunity to leave a month earlier, and visit Ireland, England and France beforehand. A friend is coming with me but we wanted to avoid going back to Dublin from France to come back. He started shopping for tickets that would drop him in Dublin, Ireland and leave a month later from Marseilles, France. Not exactly the typical flight. Well just by shopping a few minutes online was he able to get the flexibility he desired and saving a few hundred dollars better spend on a pint in Bushmills, Ireland or a bottle of wine on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, France.

 Admit defeat

Sometimes it’s not worth fighting over a few bucks and wasting days upon days wrapping your head around the best way to save a few bucks. I wanted to leave a week earlier from British Columbia to go back home. Ended up buying another cheap ticket and letting one go. I now have a credit with Air Canada of about 180$ usable on a flight that does Vancouver-Calgary-Montreal, and have until June 2015 to do so. Might come in handy right…..? riiiiiiiiighhhttt……

Don’t hate the player; Hate the game

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