Due to the invention of the internet, travellers can now book the cheapest flight themselves, without the need of a travel agent. Consequently, it has allowed people to become self-made travel agents. So how does one get started without any travel knowledge?
I could see that my role as a travel agent was starting to become obsolete. I was starting to lose clients to the internet. Even I started booking my own flights on the internet. Then I found I was helping others to book their own flights online.
It's easy for me because I still have implanted in my brain which airlines fly to major destinations. So I know instantly which airline websites to go to get prices. This is just one of many ways to book cheap flight tickets.
Here’s an example..
..of a trip I did back in 2009:
- Perth to London with Air Asia
- London to Thessaloniki (Greece) with Easyjet
- Athens to Cairo with Olympic Airways
- Cairo to Singapore with Singapore Airlines
- Singapore to Perth with Qantas
That’s right, I made five separate bookings on five different airline websites and had five separate tickets. All up I paid AU$1800, a saving of AU$1000 when compared to the best travel agent quote I got. I share on another blog this little hack of comparing through airfares with separate tickets.
But what if you don’t have airline route knowledge? Don' worry, so many new airlines are popping up every year that even I can’t keep up with all the changes! So it doesn’t matter. You can follow exactly what I do below.
1. Scan for the best deal
Firstly, use any of the third party travel booking websites (flight search engines) to find which airlines fly to your chosen destination. For example, Skyscanner, Webjet, Expedia, Momondo, Kayak. Simply add the following details:
- departure & arrivals cities,
- the dates and
- whether you want one-way or return ticket
You may need to use two or three third party websites to get the full spectrum of airlines. Because there is no one website that has listed every airline in the world.
Previously I used Webjet. Below is an example between Sydney and Delhi:
The flight times and travel duration is on the left column and the airlines that offer airfares are on the top row. You’ll find the prices listed in the grid below it.
These days I tend to use Skyscanner because it includes an airline that I regularly use that don't appear on Webjet searches. Plus I notice that when you click on your choice, you are given a list of airline booking websites with their individual prices. Including a link to the airlines own website to complete the booking.
If you haven’t already guessed, Air Asia is included on Skyscanner searches but not Webjet. Skyscanner shows the results in a list form rather than a table format like Webjet.
Have a go yourself by typing in the details in Skyscanners flight search box below.
However both websites enable you to make your choice based on what is most important to you when travelling:
- Minimal number of stops
- Shortest flying time
- Cheapest price
Both these searches were made for the same dates and yet the prices were different between Webjet and Skyscanner. So be aware that the price you see on their screen may not necessarily be what you get at the end of the booking process. Some don't include the taxes to make their price 'appear' cheaper.
2. Select your preferred options and find the final price
Once you have selected the airlines you are interested in, now get the final price of the ticket (including taxes).
Annoyingly, I always find I have to go through the whole booking process, but stop at payment page, to be able to see what the final cost will be. I don’t know about you groovers, but I would find it ever so helpful if they included all taxes and fees upfront – on the first page – as we have to pay them anyway.
Next, get a piece of paper and jot the airline prices down.
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3. Cancellation/amendment fees
Firstly, I want to begin with buyer beware caution. Please read the blog How to avoid high cancellation/amendment fees. However, I’ll give you a brief overview now.
Basically it describes to be aware of the third party travel booking websites (as discussed in section 1). People are often unaware that they can come with a hefty amendment and cancellation fees. So in the blog I give you two real life examples, which one person was left out of pocket and the other was inconvenienced by a 10 hour train ride.
As a result, the solution I provided was to book the cheapest flight direct with the airlines own website (after completing your research on the third party websites). Then you will have the flexibility to make changes at reasonable fees (providing the airfare conditions allow amendments) and have the security knowing the airline will help you fix any issues you may encounter.
So check the cancellation and amendment fees. For some websites it easy to find, for others it’s like a maze! This is an interesting exercise because you can then compare it to the airlines own cancellation and amendment fees.
4. Go to the airlines own website
Now go to each airline’s own website and enter the same flight details (dates and times) and jot down the final price (including taxes) and cancellation/amendment fees.
It’s handy that some third party travel booking sites give you the option to click straight through to the airlines own website. Likewise, I notice that Skyscanner is now offering that option as well as displaying options to other third party travel booking sites.
5. Now compare!
Sometimes I find the airfares cheaper direct on the airlines own website, which makes it easy as I can then book it straight away. However, if the airfare is slightly higher on the airlines own website – no problem, I still book direct with the airline for the simple reason of ease and convenience to make changes and problem solving should I need to later down the track.
Furthermore, if there was a huge price difference, well the choice is yours. Personally, I still book direct with the airline direct because I know how difficult it is to deal with third party travel website agents – they can be so unhelpful or expensive when you need help with an issue.
Nevertheless, if you’re tight for cash and prefer the third party travel websites price, then before you book the cheapest flight please please please read the cancellation/amendment fees first so you are aware what you’re up for in case you need to make any changes. You don’t want any nasty surprises.
Also, check that you are comparing the price in the same currency – the $ symbol can be used for USD, CAD, NZD and AUD.
Book the cheapest flight - example of comparing
To sum up, lets do a quick exercise now to show you how easy it is to book the cheapest flight that suits your requirements.
On Skyscanner, I looked up Sydney to Singapore one way on 1 October. Skyscanner showed me the cheapest price for each flight departure. So I chose the 3pm departure with Singapore Airlines.
When I clicked on Select, it took me to a page listing the prices from many different flight booking engines.
Now I did a comparison of the price and conditions between the cheapest price and direct with the airline.
Third Party Website
$262 per date change only
$70 per any change plus any airfare difference
To help you with your comparing, download the Airfare Comparison Table by clicking on the button below. I've made it for you in excel where you can add the details, as in the above table, from multiple airlines and third party websites. Then you can compare all your findings on the one page. It makes your selection process so much easier.
Therefore, if you think there might be a chance of making a flight change or cancelling, go for the higher price with less restrictions.
Helpful tips to book the cheapest flight
- Check for airline choices on a couple of websites. I haven’t found a website that lists all available airlines on each flight segment.
- Always check the amendment and cancellation fees.
- Always compare the price directly with the airlines own website – I have at times found cheaper fares!
- For multiple destination itineraries, follow the same steps for each flight segment separately. Sometimes buying each flight segment separately can work out cheaper.
- For Round-the-World fares, unfortunately I still rely on travel agents for this one. Numerous times I have tried to book the Qantas RTW fares on their RTW website but find it very slow, cumbersome and annoying to use. It doesn’t give me the correct information and then wants to charge an outrageous fare. So much easier to deal with a travel agent.
In conclusion, as Julie from Perth, who has travelled to over 100 countries said:
“I usually start checking flight options with expedia.com to check the most efficient flights and to look at various options, but I always book with the airline directly.”
Are there any websites that you like that helps you book the cheapest flight for your holiday?