Bored at the office, you decide to plan your next trip… This year you wanna fly overseas. So, let’s find a flight ticket!
And it’s not as easy as it seems… In spite of the tough competition between airlines, the cost of a long-haul flight is still very high, and can drastically affect your travel budget.
There is no magic trick to find a cheap flight. However, you can optimize your search.
Between different tariff classes, time of the year, date of purchase, region, cookies, hidden costs, etc. it’s easy to get confused and end up spending more money than expected.
So I’ll share my tips to find the best-priced flight ticket. I’ll start with some general advice, and will conclude by some references continent by continent.
So let’s get started with general tips:
- Use a flight comparator: I always use them to start my search. I like Skyscanner. It has a great database and allows you to compare prices over longer periods of time (display per month). There are many other flight comparators, including (but not limited to): Kayak, Hopper. Hopper has the advantage of issuing a statistical price forecast and you’ll receive notifications when there’s a price change for your destination. It’s advised to use various flight comparators at the same time. This will give you a first idea of the options available for your destination.
- Buy the ticket on the company website: whenever possible, I try to purchase my flight ticket directly on the airline’s website (after having chosen the best fares through flight comparators). Why? First, because no intermediaries mean no commission (intermediaries are online agencies like Edreams, Opodo, Lastminute, Travelgenio, Budgetair, etc). And you’ll avoid issues if you need to change to your reservation. Indeed, if you booked on the airline’s website, you’ll only have to pay one penalty fee (any online intermediary will charge you twice). Online check-in is also made easier. Finally, in case you face any kind of issues, you’ll have to deal with the intermediary that issued the ticket. And you’ll feel lonely while trying to reach a contact person. But yeah, sometimes you don’t have the choice but to buy through an online agency (e.g. airlines combination). You’ll be alright in most cases.
- Check regional setting: if foreign languages are not a big deal for you, it may be useful to use the company’s local site (refuse geo-location). It happened to me to pay almost 5% less using local website and local currency (with the Colombian company Avianca).
- Cookies: These small files are sent to your device and record data. It provides information about your searches and would allow airline companies to suddenly raise their fares to persuade you to buy the ticket. This has never happened to me, but I regularly delete files in the cache on my computer/smartphone.
- Purchase date: last-minute trips used to be much cheaper. That is no longer the case. Airlines are now trying to induce well-anticipated purchase. Policies vary widely, but the following rule is always to be followed as regards to low-cost airlines: the sooner, the best. For regular flights, within 2 to 3 months before the travel date should be enough. Remember: if you can, avoid travelling during high season (from 15 June to 15 September, Easter, Christmas and New Year, etc.). And if you must, buy your flight way in advance.
- Luggage: Always check what is included or not. This item is usually shown on the flight ticket. General luggage policy is available on the airline’s website, but not always easy to understand. Long-haul flights usually include 23kg as baggage hold and 10kg as hand baggage.
- Modalities of change/cancellation: It is always worth knowing the modification/cancellation policy. Its cost is highly variable. And special fares don’t allow any change/cancellation.
- Become a member of an airline alliance to earn miles: there are so many airlines, but they have formed alliances allowing you to earn miles on each trip with one of the network’s companies (these miles can also be used flying with any alliance airline). If you often travel, get a credit card to earn more miles at each purchase. The main alliances are Star Alliance, OneWorld and SkyTeam.
- Subscribe to your favorite companies’ newsletters and learn about speacial offer: You can subscribe to the companies you usually travel with.
After these general tips, I’ll like to give you some specific recommendations continent by continent, according to my experience up to date.
The old continent is probably the best place to find cheap flights. It is actually the birthplace of the low-cost industry. Ryanair was the first one, but nowadays, almost all companies offer “light” options (with luggage restrictions). However, beware hidden costs: a promo flight listed at €9 may end up costing you €100 after adding all charges (taxes, luggage, insurance, credit card payment, etc.). Remember to book your flights well in advance (if possible 3 to 4 months). If you are going on a city-trip, carry-on luggage should be sufficient (you are entitled to a carry-on baggage corresponding to the standard size of a small suitcase (total sum of dimensions not exceeding 115cm (55*35*25) and weighing up to 8kg/10kg). Extra luggage costs between €20 to €50 depending on the airline and the destination. Be careful with overweight: Most companies check scrupulously the luggage weight and penalties are excessive (from €10 to €20 per kg extra!).
Here is a list of some European low-cost companies: Ryanair, Vueling, Wizz Air, Easy Jet, Eurowings.
For example, a round trip from Paris to Barcelona can cost as less as €40 (carry-on luggage only), Brussels-Budapest around €30. Flights are to be taken from/to a capital city or a popular holiday destination in order to get the best rates.
Asia is certainly the continent with the most affordable flights after Europe. Here, the star of the Low-cost is AirAsia. This company, based in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), is among the most reliable and flies to many destinations, mainly in Southeast Asia, but also to India, Nepal, South Korea, China, Japan, Australia and Iran.
The deals range from $35 (price paid from Kuala Lumpur to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, including 20kg on hold luggage) to $200 (from Kuala Lumpur to Melbourne).
Other known companies are Tiger Airlines, Jetstar Asia, Nok Air, Cebu Pacific and Scoot.
You’ll get the best offer for Southeast Asia flying from/to the main hubs of Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, since its the head office of most airlines. It is therefore recommended to always include these airports in your search. Even with a stopover, they’ll remain advantageous.
As regards South Asia (India, Nepal), prices are less friendly (especially in Nepal where the offer is very limited). In India, Indigo has some decent offers, starting from $50 (Delhi – Ladakh / the south of the country. Spicejet, Airindia Express and GoAir are other low-cost Indian companies.
If you travel to India and Nepal, consider the extreme slowness of ground transportation, and even if they’ll ask you 100$ for a 1h-flight (common price in Nepal), it will save you 2 days of a painful journey.
Flights in Africa are not known to be the cheapest, and flying to some destinations as Malawi can be ridiculously expensive.
There are, however, cheap alternatives in the following countries (mainly for domestic flights, but interregional flights are booming):
- South Africa: Kulula, Flyafrica, Mango
- Tanzania: Fastjet
- Kenya: JamboJet, Fly540
As far as West Africa is concerned, I’ve had no experience in the region. So if you have any information, please share it!
America has among the most expensive flights in the world. My experience refers only to Latin America, but apparently, it is not much better in Canada and the U.S.
Some areas are just way overpriced (as e.g. Ecuador and Bolivia with 1000$ for a 3-hour flight).
As a general advice, national flights are much cheaper, and South American countries are huge so it is worth buying a national flight to fly across most of the country, and then travel through land borders.
Here are a few low-cost airlines by country:
- Peru: Viva Air
- Brazil: Gol Areolineas
- Mexico: Interjet, Vivairbus, Volaris
- Chile: Sky Airlines
- Colombia: Viva Air
Traditional companies (Latam, Avianca, Mexicana, Aerolineas Argentinas, etc.) sometimes have great offers on national flights, but be careful with some dubious policies (economic rates from Latam and Avianca on Lima/Cusco flights in Peru are only accessible to national residents, and you may have to pay a $200 penalty if you don’t respect this! Same story in Argentina with Aerolineas Argentinas. Even if these rules are not really enforced.
As far as international flights are concerned, low-cost is starting very slowly. Here are some (rare) offers:
- Peru/Mexico: I found a Lima/Cancun flight for $200 (hold luggage included) with Interjet
- Chile/Peru: return flights from $100 (with Sky Airlines)
- Peru/Colombia: “promo” return flights from $200 with Latam
Flights in Oceania are quite expensive due to large distances.
A Sydney-Auckland return flight costs around $200 (Jetstar).
Flights in Australia are not cheap. You’ll spend around $75 to fly from Sydney to Melbourne; $250 for Sydney-Darwin or Sydney-Perth.
Obviously, the distant and exotic islands like French Polynesia are very expensive.
What about Intercontinental flights?
In general, it is better to focus on main airports as departure and destination place (for example there are one-way tickets Bangkok-Paris starting at €150). Do not hesitate to include airports a bit further from your departure/destination, even if you need to take public transport to get there. The price difference can be significant.
Between Europe and Africa, I found a one-way flight from Brussels to Johannesburg at €300 with Ethiopian Airlines.
Between Europe and America, Tuifly offers great deals from Brussels to Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica (from as little as €150 for a one-way ticket, plus €20 for on hold baggage). Their fleet was recently renewed so it’s comfy. Be sure to check prices almost every day: changes are recurrent. If you fly from Brussels and are flexible, best offers are found from a few weeks to a few days before your departure (off-season).
Also, try to use charters flights: if you wanna discover Mexico, you’d rather fly to Cancun than Mexico D.F since charter flights are cheaper. Other charter destinations are Varadero (Cuba), Krabi (Thailand), Zanzibar (Tanzania), Charm-el-Cheik (Egypt), etc. Sometimes what you save on the ticket will be enough to cover a few days spent on the beach sipping mojitos.
Round-trip tickets are usually cheaper, but for flexibility reasons, long-term travelers will rather opt for a one-way ticket. Yes, you may have trouble with immigration by doing that, but don’t worry there are solutions… That I’ll be happy to share with you in an upcoming article 😉
Last thing: the airlines pricing system is complex but not perfect. Sometimes there are some bugs resulting in super cheap flights. You’ll have to be fast and won’t be able to choose your destination. But who could refuse a 150$ return ticket between Europe and the U.S.? For more info, check sites as travel pirates.
Have a pleasant flight! 😉