The Australian dollar’s steep decline makes us much more budget conscious about travel. We’re likely to be more thoughtful about if and where we go and how we’ll get there in 2015. We want our bucks to matter more.
My 15 tips for cheap flights 2015
- What’s it to be? A no-frills airline or bells and whistles? Hard little seats and next to no inflight entertainment, or reasonably comfortable seats (hopefully), individual entertainment systems, half-decent regular meals? Make that your starting point to keep expectations realistic. Be aware budget airlines have a lot of add-ons which you pay for.
- Is your capacity to withstand long-distance discomfort limited? Think budget airlines for short hauls but go up a notch for the really long hauls to Europe and destinations such as New York.
- It can be cheaper to book through the airline itself and certainly cheaper to change a flight through the airline. In 2014, Flight Centre tried to charge me $A325 to change one way of a return flight on Etihad. I emailed them in protest, saying they were trying to profiteer. I then went straight to the airline which charged me less than half that $325. No, you do not have to change the ticket at the point of origin.
- Always join airline membership programs. If you travel more than once a year, those air miles do rack up and they almost always ensure you’ll get extra good service. Two years ago I flew Emirates Business Class (at their cost) from Rome-Sydney after Alitalia fouled up my connecting flights Athens-Nice so badly I would have missed my Emirates Economy Class flight from France. I was a member of the Emirates Skywards program and I believe that helped.
- Shop around. I use Skyscanner as a first stop to get options. My preferred stop when seeking flights on a budget around Europe is also Skyscanner and I’ll also go to fare compare.
- Read the fine print on cheapie sites. How long does the trip take compared to slightly more expensive tickets? How many stopovers? Will you spend 12 hours in some shithole airport simply to save $50? Is it cheaper to take carry-on luggage? Budget tickets are often non-refundable and non-changeable. Companies such as CheapOair have a litany of customer service complaints. I’ve been lucky and had very few problems.
- A drop in fuel prices and increased capacity means consumers should see slightly reduced prices to many European and North American and European destinations.
- Airlines I use within Europe which I believe are consistently affordable and reliable: Aegean Air (cramped seating, so-so food but good flight options, and get in early because they never seem to have last-minute cheapies); Brussels Airlines (better legroom than Aegean, no free food or drink, otherwise pleasant, efficient cabin service) Swiss Air (seating cramped, good quality food and super friendly cabin service).
- Trans-Tasman fliers: The competitive trans-Tasman market has become a fight between two allied airline groups comprising Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia, and Qantas and Emirates. Check them all before making a decision. Sydney-Wellington costs up to a third more than Sydney-Auckland, even though the flying time is only 30 minutes more.
- Not a details person? Pressed for time? Stick with a travel agent. But again, shop around. Don’t go with a big name because it’s a big name.
- Buy in advance. Australia-Europe prices for the European summer 2015 are as low as $1687 from January 1-31 but after that, forget it. “Conventional wisdom dictates that, generally, the earlier tickets are purchased, the cheaper the ticket. This has been true for decades, and it’s still true today,” say Expedia and Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) in a new report. According to ARC research, ticket prices remain relatively low between 150 and 225 days prior to departure.
- Last minute bargains can be found on carriers desperate to put bums on seats. Don’t count on it, though.
- Be flexible. A recent study by Expedia of air-ticket price data indicates that for travel booked more than three weeks in advance of the departure date, Tuesday still appears, by the slimmest of margins, to be the best day of the week to buy. Mid week prices are generally cheaper.
- Cheaper to fly off-peak: After mid-January, during September, the first two weeks of November, or the first two weeks of December. Christmas is the most expensive time to travel.