Continuing with the travel theme for the advice section, here is a Guide to Airfare Search Engines.
In case you missed the previous article, here it is: Advice: Flying and Airports – A beginners guide to a stress-free air journey
- Use ITA Matrix, Google Flights, Skyscanner, and Kayak for aggregation. Others: Hipmunk, Adioso, Routehappy, Momondo, Skiplagged, Hopper, Dohop.
- See WikiVoyage for discount airline info. Examples: RyanAir, AirAsia, EasyJet, JetStar, Tiger Airways, Southwest, Frontier, Peach, Jeju Air, Vanilla Air, Scoot.
- Don’t know when and where to go? Use Kayak Explore or the “Everywhere” destination in Skyscanner or Google Flights Explore to get an idea. Try the Hopper Explorer.
- For students: Try STA Travel or Student Universe.
- Book the flights on the official airline site or on a 3rd party booking site (e.g. expedia/orbitz) – whichever one is able to replicate the flights you found in Step #1. If not, call your local travel agent.
- Booking separate tickets can be cheaper than booking it all on one ticket – especially if you can use discount airlines. Caution: If your initial flights are delayed, your next flights are not protected – it will be considered missed – so do not book tight connections on separate tickets.
- Consider departing from a major hub (and driving there) instead of your regional airport.
- Open-ended searching: try ITA matrix if you want to search using multiple origins or destinations. Use Google Flights Explore or Kayak Explore or Skyscanner if you have a fixed origin but are interested in exploring multiple destinations. You can enter multiple airport codes in origin or destination fields in Google Flights and ITA matrix.
- Need to book around country-based travel restrictions or country-based pricing? Try Expedia Japan for Yen pricing or Expedia Canada for CAD pricing. Most airlines also offer country-specific sites. See here for more details. This is called Point of Sale.
- Be careful booking from 3rd party travel agencies. Larger ones including expedia, orbitz, priceline, Travelocity. All provide limited customer service and would present some difficulty if you ever need to change anything. Smaller ‘discount’ ones you find on Kayak and Skyscanner, including cheapoair, flighthub, etc. also have similar problems. I want to avoid writing anything libelous so this is just a warning based on Google results.
Timing, Price Information, When to Buy
- This study done by ARC shows that prices start dropping at the 3-month mark, with the cheapest tickets ranging from 3 weeks to 10 weeks in advance.
- Start searching more than 3 months in advance and monitor your flight prices every day until it drops to a level you’re comfortable with. If the price rises, you have to commit to a maximum price you’re willing to pay. This isn’t a science. This stackexchange post reinforces this advice.
- Book when you are comfortable with the price! We generally cannot speculate airfare prices!
- Holiday airfare. I recommend you start looking around 5 months prior to departure and buying approximately 10-16 weeks prior. Example: The best prices for flights over US Thanksgiving near the end of November is before Labour Day (first week of September).
- Price Alerts. Kayak Price Alerts or Airfare WatchDog.
- Tracking Prices. Use Google Flights, you can save your favorite itinerary and Google will produce a graph tracking the price over time. More information here.
- Flying last minute is vastly more expensive than planning ahead. Airlines typically close down the “discount economy” ticket sale window around 1-2 days before departure. Always plan ahead if you know you need/want to fly somewhere.
- “Flexible” tickets: There are tickets which are flexible, where they allow the passenger to change the dates with fewer or no fees or even change the city of departure/arrival (within same region). However, these are often vastly more expensive and for Economy class usually called “full fare economy”. Different airlines have different names to them: “Flexible”, “Full”. Air Canada calls them “Latitude” fare. Other airlines simply use the booking class / code “Y” or “B” to denote full fare economy. They can be 3-5x more expensive than the most restrictive/cheapest economy class ticket. So you should weigh your options: cheapest round-trip + change fees + fare difference vs. two one-ways when you need them vs. full fare/flexible economy.
Other Tips, Tricks, and Information
- Use some other tricks to airline booking. Caution: If the airline finds out, you can be charged the fare difference or your status/award miles earned can be invalidated as it can be considered a breach of the fare rules (“contract”) that most people don’t read. Use Skiplagged if you want to search for these types of tickets.
- Extending your stay in a connecting city: Try looking for a flight with a connection, and book a multi-city version of that itinerary, but making the layover 3 days instead of 3 hours.
- Can I buy a flight (A-B-C) and only fly the B-C leg? NO. This is not allowed. Caveat: Buying A-B-C-B-A and skipping any segment such as A-B or B-C will invalidate/cancel the subsequent segments.
Just for clarification since so many people get this wrong:
- Immigration is the control measure that prevents/allows you from entering or leaving the country.
- Customs is the control measure that prevents/allows from bringing stuff into or out of the country (i.e. “imports” or “exports”).
Region Specific Sites
- Need frequent-flyer information or mileage accrual information? Go visit FlyerTalk.
- Hipmunk busting Flight Myths
- Bloomberg: flying on Tuesdays is supposedly the cheapest
- Tips from Bloomberg BusinessWeek. They mostly re-iterated tip #9 above.
- How to Choose an Air Travel Search Site
- Confessions of an Airline Revenue Manager