compare flight prices

We all like to get the best deal on flights. But one little trick travellers may not know about is to compare flight prices by comparing the ‘through’ fare wtih separate tickets.

Now this doesn’t apply to destinations that offer direct flights (ie. no stopovers/transfers). Quite often the direct flights are the cheapest anyway, especially if there are a number of airlines serving that direct route. More airlines = more competition = cheaper airfares.

Instead, this simple comparison I’m discussing here applies to destinations where you are forced into a connecting flight. Meaning to change planes at a major transit hub city or the gateway city into a country.

It involves:

  • Looking up the cheapest airfare for the ‘through’ fare to your final destination no matter how many connections there are.
  • Taking note of the common connection cities to your destination and then separating the airfares. ie. Departure to connection city, then from the connection city to the final destination.
world map showing airline flight routes

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.

Airfare comparison 1 – gateway city connection


A gateway city is usually a large city that most international flights land in. Then the traveller has to take an internal domestic flight to their final destination within the same country.

My friend in country Victoria needed to book a flight from Melbourne to Nashville. She wanted to find a better deal so I suggested to break the journey in L.A. (the gateway city) and look at two separate tickets.


Through fare calculation:

Firstly, using Skyscanner, we looked for the cheapest Melbourne to Nashville ‘through’ fare for January 2019.

screenshot using Skyscanner website to compare flight prices

As you can see above, the best fare is $2278 but as the return flight is a whopping 42 hours long, we selected the third option at $2434 for the more direct connection.

If you look between the departure and arrival times, you will find the number of stops written in red followed by the city code for that transfer point. If you can’t decipher the city code, just hover the cursor over it to reveal the city name in full. In this example, its Los Angeles.

Separate airfare calculation:

Secondly, we use Skyscanner again to look up the two separate airfares.

screenshot of skyscanner website to show single flight prices
screenshot of skyscanner website to show single flight prices

$1958    Melbourne/L.A/Melbourne with Qantas
$  314    L.A./Nashville/L.A. with American Airlines
---------
$2272  TOTAL COST

Now we compare flight prices side by side, as per below table:

Jan 2019

Feb 2019

Through Fare

$2434

$1421

Separate tickets

$2272

$1288

SAVING

$162

$133

We didn’t select the cheapest deal because those flights went via China and literally doubled the travelling time. So we went with third option with Qantas, for the direct flights.

In addition, I made a quick comparison for February which is low season and the results still showed a saving by booking the tickets separately. That’s one night’s accommodation!

Take Note:  you must also check the flight connecting times at the same time. You’ll negate your saving if you have to pay for overnight accommodation because the timings don’t match or you don’t satisfy the minimum connecting time requirement.

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Airfare comparison 2 – transfer city connection


On long distance flights, you may need to transfer and change planes in a third country. In such situations you can still look at two separate airfares.

Looking at the best return ‘through’ fare from London to Perth, I chose Singapore Airlines for $2038. All the other cheaper fares involved flying via China which basically doubled the travelling time.

screenshot of skyscanner website to compare london to perth airfares

As the connection city is Singapore, we can look at two separate fares:

screenshot of skyscanner webstie to show london to singapore airfares
screenshot of skycanner website to show singapore to perth flight prices

So from London to Singapore, Emirates offer a great deal of $848 however their flights go via Dubai. (In the ‘through’ fare with Singapore Airlines, they fly direct from London to Singapore but the price was higher than Emirates). However, when you combine Emirates with a Scoot fare from Singapore/Perth/Singapore there is a saving of $638 - which means now you can include a stopover in Singapore for the same price of a ‘though’ fare.

Now compare flight prices as below:

Through fare with Singapore Airlines

$2038

Separate fares with Emirates & Scoot - changing flights in Singapore.

$1360

SAVING

$638

Again, you must check the flight timings to ensure you have adequate connecting times. Alternatively, you may want to overnight to break up a long journey – like flying between Europe and Australia in the example above!

TG Tip:  Another quick way to find out the main connecting cities  from point A to point B is to use the useful tool at https://www.flightconnections.com/.  Simply type in your departure city and destination and the results are shown on a map or in words on the left hand side of the web page.

Results disclaimer!

  • Please note that separating tickets will not always give you the best airfare. But you won’t know until you’ve gone through the price comparison process. Although in my experience there have been savings maybe 80% of the time.
  • Purchasing separate tickets means the airlines won’t know that you have a connecting flight. This can cause issues should there be any flight delays which causes missed connections.
  • Plus your luggage may not be checked through to your final destination if there is no agreement between the two airlines. Therefore you may have to collect and re-check your luggage at the gateway/transfer city.

Have a go yourself by typing in the details in the Skyscanner flight search box below:


Compare flight prices summary


Follow the formula below to check if you are getting the best deal:

1.

Check the ‘through fare’ to your destination

2.

Take note of the connection/gateway/transfer city or use the tool at https://www.flightconnections.com/

3.

Now look at separating the airfares at the connection city and combine the prices for a final total.

4.

Compare flight prices between the two options – through fare vs separate tickets.

In addition, you can read the following blog for further tricks in finding and booking cheap flight tickets.

As a former travel agent, I’ve had a lot of experience in doing price comparisons. Do let me know if you have any questions on the above compare flight prices process  by commenting below.

Thank you to Anna Mitchell from Fat Chick Goes Awol who asked me to help her to get the best airfare deal, which inspired me to write this post.

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About the author

Lisa is a travel gypsy by heart, having already been to over 70 countries and still counting. Founder of Travel Groove, to share travel tips, tricks and knowledge with other travellers.

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