Finding Cheaper Fares

I recently booked a fare from Australia to the USA. How much would you pay from Australia to the USA?:
  • Option One:  $847
  • Option Two: $1992
Choice is easy!
Now, if I told you Option One included an upgrade to Premium Economy (with extra leg room and special check in), which would you choose?
Still easy. Hands up if you would have picked Option One each time?!
But how can this be? Easy! Delta Airlines  arrived on the route a year ago and is discounting like crazy to get people to fly them. Now I would never fly Delta in a million years but on key markets, United and Qantas are matching Delta's fares. The question is finding the right key market. What is key for Qantas can be quite different for United. It means searching between airfares. And the search was worth it! $1005 to be exact.

Let me give you another scenario!
Australia to the USA via New Zealand
  • Option One:  $2099
  • Option Two: $2399
  • Option Three: $4065
All in economy. In fact, these three fares are ALL in the same class on the same flights via the same airline on the same dates. Just priced at three different sources.

Option One is a do it yourself on line option
Option Two is via the airline booking system
Option Three is via a Travel agency

How would you feel if you had bought the $4065 fare and chatted casually to the person next to you to find out they had paid half your fare? You will probably guess I didnt pay $4065 on this occasion.....In fact, I often wont talk about my fares when flying because I know how cheaply I have paid.

I want you to save money on fares so here are my cheaper airfare search tips for you:

  1. Limit the time spent searching. There is no point spending eight hours trawling through the web to find a $5 saving! How many hours will I put in to save money and at what point will I just give it to an agent.
  2. Remember fares change quickly and sales come and go by the hour sometimes-book early. It is rarely true that there are last minute specials.
  3. Once booked, dont look for fares again! If a cheaper one comes out, its too late! No point beating yourself up. No regrets
  4. Travel agents may hate me but I have found that I usually find better fares than many agents. Many times I have taken a fare to an agent and had them ticket it for me. Having said that there are some agents who are very good at finding amazing fares and will help you with them. There may be other reasons for using an agent like their support for you on other areas or their access to other specials. (i am looking for a good agent ever since mine left to have babies!)
  5. Compare fares at different sites. Never ever rely on one fare source. I use the Airlines sites PLUS online aggregators such as,,, These compare fares from multiple sites and airlines. If its a straight forward routing, then look at online agents such as House of Travel in NZ, Best flights and in Australia, Expedia in  USA and in UK: Remember though make sure you are comparing apples with apples. A fare might be $199 on one site and $149 on another. While the same airline, you find out later one price includes baggage and the other doesn't!
  6. Consider seasons for international fares. Every airline and every market has slightly different seasons but generally the most expensive fares are the ones sold in "High Season".  This table  above gives me a good rule of thumb. Flying one day before an original choice can save you hundreds because you are in a less popular season. Eg June 13 and June 15 can be $100s different on a fare.
  7. I try and have a range of dates -three days before and two days after my intended travel and I instruct my agent or airline to look for the cheapest fare over those days. Or I search myself. Many search engines allow you to extend your search NB There is no point saving $60 if you then have to pay for two nights in a hotel but if you are happy to extend your vacation or holiday go for it.
  8. The sneaky stop rule. Flights can be non stop or you can have one stop  or even two stops. The airlines and airports may not want me to tell you this but I discovered with Ansett (RIP) that I could fly from Sydney to Melbourne. I could do it non stop or I could choose a one stop option with a stop in Canberra. Now Ansett (and many other airlines) did not care how long I stopped for (as long as it was not over night then its a "stopover").  Sometimes  I would fly an early flight Sydney to Canberra, STOP to "change planes" and book the latest connecting  Canberra -Melbourne flight as possible. Now I could sit in the airport while waiting for the "connecting" flight or I could leave the airport and have a day of sightseeing or business! Guess what I did? Technically you are not supposed to leave the airport but I found as long as was back in time for security and boarding, it worked fine. Interestingly enough, the trip to Melbourne with the stop in Canberra was cheaper than just a trip from Sydney to Canberra. Now the airlines have tightened up on the length of stops but I have used it sucessfully in a few places (NB does  not work on international flights).
  9. Related to that is a similar practice with Stopovers. Sometimes its cheaper to fly to another destination and add where you actually want to go as a stopover!.  Sounds stupid?  it is.  But it has saved me a lot of money in the USA particularly. eg One time I had to fly from St Louis to Pittsburgh. It was cheaper to fly St Louis- Philadelphia with a stopover in Pittsburgh than it was  to fly St Louis-Pittsburgh!! On that flight because it was a one way, I did not complete the second portion of the ticket. I have found fares when it was cheaper to fly to Paris with a stopover in London than just flying to either London or Paris. NB Not all stopovers are free. Compare carefully!
  1. Next is what I call the round trip Bonus. I once had a conversation that went like this
                            Me: I would like to book a one way fare  please on 15th January
Agent: Sir, you would like a  round trip fare on that date
Me: no, I want a one way
Agent: Sir, I think you may be saying you want a round trip
Me: No I want...,, How much is a one way on that date?
Agent: $300
Me: and a round trip?
Agent: $180
Me: $180 both ways ie $90 each way?
Agent: Uh Yes sir
Me: When do I need to book to come back?
Agent: You can make your return date anytime for a year-
Me: do I have to use the return portion
Agent: Up to you sir - you don't need to ever use it of course sir

Nice agent! He saved me $120!
Some airlines have now eliminated these fares but they pop up a lot! British railways use these type of fares a lot! So type in one way and round trip and you may be pleasantly surprised!

11 If you have more time, the cheaper airport option may work well. In cities with multiple airports nearby, one may be cheaper. Eg Oakland and San Jose in the Bay area often have cheaper fares than San Francisco (but not always!). Long Beach can be cheaper than Los Angeles. In Europe I had a friend flying to LIverpool, England. Fare was 90 euro. We found an alternate fare flying into Manchester for 9 euro-from there he caught the train into Liverpool Lime Street for about eleven pounds.  It was an additional one hour seven minutes but consider the bus from Liverpool airport to downtown takes 30 minutes anyway! And he saved around 70 euro! NB Warning,. Ryanair are notorious for flying to cheaper airports that are nowhere near the city you are going to eg Stockholm Skavsta Airport is Nowhere Near The Swedish Capital, Girona is 100km from Barcelona with limited transport and Paris Beauvais is  80km outside of Paris with a 13euro ride!

12. Check carefully the fare class. You will be aware that there are different Travel classes in an aeroplane:

  • First
  • Business
  • Premium Economy
  • Economy
But within each travel class there are different fare classes, relating to the  restrictions attached to that fare. You may be seated in the same section but find that you pay very different fares and get very different benefits depending on your fare class. The major things that will impact a passenger depending on fare class:

  • luggage- cheaper fare classes may restrict your luggage eg Full economy may get two free bags and the cheapest discount economy may get none
  • Frequent flyer points-lower fare classes get fewer points or even no points!
  • Cancellation- lower fare classes may not allow a refund when you cancel a flight
  • Booking Changes-the cheaper the fare and the lower the class, the more restrictive the change conditions- Don t buy non refundable non changeable tickets if you need to change them. It is no use yelling at an airport check in clerk if you bought tickets that cannot be changed without a hefty fee!
  • Upgrades-you often cannot upgrade to a higher Travel Class with certain fare types-if you want to upgrade on a sector, get a higher fare class
The classes vary slightly from airline to airline but the list I have here seems very representative (NB I have seen S and E used in Premium Economy and Discounted Economy). I usually ask the agent for the cheapest upgradeable fare. I may not want to upgrade (though I do like to) but its the simplest way of finding a fare which gives me the cancellation penalties I can live with.

13. After one Conference I went to, I was waiting with a group of delegates for our flight. When the boarding announcement was made, I boarded and made my way to my favourite seat (1A)..right at front of first class. The other delegates were stunned, amused and some jealous. What I did not tell them was that when I had searched for a fare, I had selected first class as a search option and found a First Class seat for $30 less than an economy seat! This has now happened on three occasions. On another three occasions, I have found the difference between economy and Business or first to be so negligible that I have treated myself!

Good Luck
2 Responses
  1. Tony Goodow Says:

    These are very helpful tips Martin. Thanks. The shoulder season chart might be good information for volunteer sector national conference planners.

  2. Yeah, the difference in my fare from moving the NCVS from early June to late July a couple of years ago was $1200!

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