One of the top questions I get is how to snag the best airfare for an international trip. I’ve seen good tips and many more myths (at least in my opinion) on the internet about this topic.
So I’m sharing ones I know work consistently over time.
#1 Fly shoulder or off season
When possible, plan your trip during the shoulder season, or for more savings, off season. You’d be surprised how even a 1- 4 week difference can change the fares. It’s all about supply and demand. Airlines want to fill seats. When demand is high, airlines are less apt to discount airfares. When the supply is higher than they’d like, fares will be lower or you might see “flash sales”.
#2 Be flexible
As stated above, airlines price the fare according to demand. This applies to time of year but also time of day and day of the week. Fares tend to be lower at less popular departure times (early morning, late evening, red-eyes) and certain days of the week (ie. Wednesdays, Saturdays). Being flexible with your dates and times can have you finding some good rates. Be sure to use the flexible days (+/- 3-7 days) search option – the results will give you an idea on what days to focus on.
#3 Check alternate airports
If you live close to several hubs or alternate airports, include them in your search parameters. Fares can be drastically different based on where you are departing from or arriving in to. This applies to not only nearby airports, but also other hubs. For example, if you need to get to Paris, check to see what the fare difference is going into Amsterdam. Or check Munich of you need to get to Frankfurt. Not the most convenient, but if the savings are big enough, it might be worth the effort.
#4 Check indirect routes
Direct, non-stop flights are undoubtedly the best. Shortest flight times and no worries about delayed flights missing connections. That said, don’t limit yourself to non-stop flights. Check routes with connections, For example, a few years ago, I needed to get to Copenhagen. There were a few direct flights. However, by routing through Oslo, I saved over $300 per person.
And don’t count out unusual or more out of the way connections. For example, you need to get to Venice. Instead of normal routing through Frankfurt, Paris or London, look at flights routing through Copenhagen or Reykjavik. Some may also offer a stop-over, meaning you can stay in that city for a few days before heading to your final destination.
#5 Check one way tickets
Airlines like to keep you within their network, so when you look for multi-city or round trip tickets, the airlines will almost always be within the same alliance. While generally speaking staying with one alliance saves money, check one way fares on different airlines, especially if the flight times are better for your schedule. One way fares have been far better priced than in the past, so always a possibility of a savings.
#6 Accumulate points
Points are a great way to lower the price of your tickets. Especially when the ticket is almost free. Earn points directly with the airline loyalty program, and be on the lookout of purchasing additional airline points when they go on sale. I wouldn’t purchase points normally, but when airlines offer more points for the same dollar amount, that is worth reviewing.
Check out credit card programs as well. A number of cards have their own point programs that can be used towards travel. Several programs to look at include The Platinum Card with American Express, Venture Rewards from Capital One, the Sapphire Preferred or the Sapphire Reserve card with Chase. Yes, some have fees $450 or more, however the benefits are numerous.
#7 Take advantage of cruise line air packages
Numerous cruises, ocean and river, are offering air included or at a reduced rate in the cruise pricing. This is worth reviewing. Having both the cruise and air in one package can make travel easier. Be sure to understand the details – sometimes you have a choice on the routing, other times you have to take whatever they give you (not always the best option).
#8 Use multiple search sites
I say never stick to one search site, especially in the initial phases. Each search engine has slightly different algorithms. You may get the exact same flights, but other options may pop up you never knew about. Also take advantage of flight alerts so you can get notified when prices change. Several sites to look at include KAYAK, Orbitz, Sky Scanner and the airlines themselves. To book, I always recommend direct with the airline (or with a travel advisor) when possible.
#9 Use a travel advisor
For international flights, especially business and first class, travel advisors have access to great options. Depending on the route and destination, you could save hundreds of dollars over published fares. And working with a professional travel advisor will save you the time of doing all the research yourself.
In my opinion, the sweet spot in purchasing international flight tickets is 3-6 months prior to your trip. Monitor the fares for a period of time as a baseline, then purchase, or wait, based on what the fares are doing.
Are there "deals" to be had? Sure. Are they always the best value? That's up to you to determine.
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Laurie Marschall - Owner and Founder