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How To Find Affordable Flights Without Going Broke: The Ultimate Guide To Finding Low Airfares

How To Find Affordable Airfares: The Ultimate Guide To Finding Low Airfares
How To Find Affordable Airfares: The Ultimate Guide To Finding Low Airfares

I’ve been meaning to write this post about “how to find affordable flights without going broke” for a few years now and then Tonya over on The Traveling Mom’s facebook page asked:

“I need to buy tickets for some upcoming flights but need some advice from the travel experts. I’m looking for tips on finding the best prices on flights and how far in advance one should book. Thanks for any advice you can offer.”

So I wrote the very long response you see on the Facebook page and realized I needed to make it into a blog post, so here it is with even more details.

First a little background so as you read this it will make more sense. Like any business, the airline tries to maximize the revenue it can from the services it provides. So they use a system called revenue management to do this. I believe it was developed by American Airlines a long time ago. You may hear people talk about bucket and fare basis and availability, so here are some definitions to help you:

  • Availability. This is the term used to say that a particular fare is available; an easy one.
  • Buckets. This is the letters you see on your ticket when you buy it. It usually looks like AA1234Y. That “Y” is the bucket. There are 26 of those possible per airline, but not all airline will use every letter and some will also use two letters; so you may see “AN”. Don’t get hung up on this, just know that is how its done. If you are looking at an availability display in the older systems or displays offered by select airlines, you may see “Y4 H2 T0” which means there are at least 4 seats available in the “Y” bucket and at least 2 in the “H” bucket and no seats left in the “T” bucket. You will see this as “2 seats left at this price” when you are making a booking online. The “Y” bucket is at the top of the Economy class/cabin funnel so if “Y” is zero, then the flight is sold out.Some airlines overbook their flights, which means they sell more seats than the plane can hold. They base this on booking trends and how many people have shown up for that particular flight in the past. Sometimes they get it right and the flight goes out perfect other times they get it wrong and you hear the agent say “We are in an oversale situation and we are looking for volunteers.” Note that not all airlines do overbooking though, but those airlines have stricter refund and change rules; typically if you don’t show the ticket is null and void.Usually, frequent fliers know which bucket to book to ensure they get the maximum miles for a particular promotion. The bucket concept is important as this is the crux of the system. It’s the reason why you pay change fees and pay a different fare when you try to change your ticket. You may sometimes hear the agent say, “I’m sorry, but that fare is no longer available, so I have to re-rice your ticket at the current available fare and charge you the difference plus the change fee.”
  • Change Fee. This is the fee you pay to change your ticket if the rules of your ticket calls for one. Always ensure you are aware of this before you buy your ticket.
  • Korean Air SeatsClass/Cabin of Service. This is the actual place where you sit in the airplane. Typically the classes/cabins are First, Business and Economy. Airlines will have many variations and names for these, but at the end of the day it boils down to these three basic cabins. The buckets are tied to these class/cabins of service.For example, “C” bucket is used for Business class to the Caribbean and South America, but you may also see “J” bucket used depending on which country you are going and the airline you are flying. “Z” is used as a discount business class bucket. “Y” is full fare (fare without any discounts) in Economy class. You may also hear the words “Extra Legroom.” This is just a subset of the Economy class and is sometimes called Comfort Class or Premium Economy or other names depending on the airline. Yes, it gets complicated too. Especially now that Etihad has something called The Residence, which is not to be confused with The Suite on Singapore Airlines and Emirates or also The First Apartment on Etihad. And yes, there’s usually a bucket for those as well.
  • Market. The route you want to fly; say Los Angeles, CA (LAX) to New York City, NY (NYC).
  • Fare Basis. This is the codes for the ticket price you purchased and the rules that governs your ticket. So you may see something like this on your ticket and/or receipt if you ever look closely: YIP, H21E, etc. its gets complicated. Typically, the first letter tells you what bucket you’ve paid for.
  • Codeshare. This one is a little harder to explain, but here goes. Think of it as a partnership between two or more airlines. I’ll use an example to explain it. American Airlines and British Airways have a codeshare partnership on several flights. As an example, between New York and London, you may purchase a ticket from American Airlines, but the plane used is one from British Airways. This saves American Airlines from flying one of their planes at the same time as their partner British Airways.
    This relationship extends into what is called an Alliance where a group of airlines get together to provide seamless connection service around the world. Currently there are three major Alliances; oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance. It gets more complicated, but this is the simplified version.

O.K. enough of the definitions, onto the meat of it all.

Is There Really A Magic Day To Book?

Despite what you may hear, there’s no magic day to book your fares. In my airline days, what we did find though is that for some reason, if a fare sale was done on a Tuesday it did better than other days, so guess what the fare sales were usually done on a Tuesday.

If the folks who wrote these articles did the booking tests over another time period it would give different results as that’s how revenue management (figuring out how much to charge you for your ticket) works. Prices are dependent on demand, just like any other thing. Low demand, low prices and vice versa. So which day should you buy the ticket then?

Well, the day you find a price you can afford, there’s really no secret sauce here. Although, here’s something to consider. Some airlines will give you until midnight the next day to cancel without a penalty. If you are just holding the fare, then it will automatically cancel at the it stated in your receipt. Once the reservation cancels, that particular fare bucket (U, S, T, etc.) will now usually have a seat available at that lower fare and you can book it. Unless the airline has setup the revenue management program to no longer have any seats available in the lower fare buckets or someone snapped it up before you got there. You just have to try it.

SriLankan Airlines Economy Class Seats Aisle and Window
SriLankan Airlines Economy Class Seats Aisle and Window

One other thing to remember: Let’s say you are making a booking for two people and there is only one ticket left at the lower fare, the system won’t give you one at the lowest fare and another at the next lowest fare. Instead, it will find the fare bucket that has two seats available. This is happens due to how the systems make your bookings. It has to book the entire reservation in the same fare bucket. For example: There is one seat available in the “T” bucket at $60 and another in the “S” bucket at $55 and two available in the “V” bucket at $80. If you ask for two tickets, you will get two at $80 in the “V” bucket as opposed to one at $60 in the “T” bucket and another at $55 in the “S” bucket.

So how do you get the lowest fare then? You have to make separate reservations so you can take advantage of the “T” and the “S” fares described above. Of course, there is no guarantee that once you are done booking the low “S” fare, that the “T” fare will still be there since you are using a dynamic system that millions of people are accessing at the same time, but you just have to try your luck.

Now, there’s always something right? And in this case, its that since your reservations are not together, it makes it more tricky to get seats together since you have to manage more than one reservations. But you just have to be mindful of that and be quick about it.

Finding That Low Fare

How To Book Low Fares - Using The ITA Software MatrixI suggest starting at ITA (http://matrix.itasoftware.com). This site which was bought by Google a few years back looks at all the airlines (for which they have data and they have a lot of data) on your route and pulls the fares and availability and places them in a matrix so you can see it all at a glance.

It also shows you alternate days by way of a calendar and you can change the number of days you are staying as well. Then when you find the flights you want, you go to the airline’s web site or an online travel agency such as (Ebookers.com, Expedia.com, FomoTravel, Kayak.com, Momondo.com, Opodo.com, Orbitz.com, Priceline.com, SkyScanners.com, STATravel.com, Travelocity.com, Vayama.com) and place the same dates and destination and look for the flights you saw on ITA.

You more than likely will have to use the “Multi-city” or “Multiple Destinations” options on the airlines’ Web site so you can get the right flights. Then you can book them there. Not the easiest of processes, but it will ensure you get the lowest available fare at the time it is checked. So your time will be worth it.

How To Book Low Fares - American Airlines Multi-City Screen

Not all airlines availability are on ITA, however, Google continues to add more from time to time. So what you do is go to the website for the airport you are flying into, look under airlines and it will tell you which airlines fly there. Then if they are not one of the ones listed by ITA, go to that airline Web site and check fares there. Also, sometimes the airlines will have links to sales on the airport’s Web sites. Here’s an example – http://www.metz-nancy-lorraine.aeroport.fr/.

Helpful Tips for using ITA

  • Use metro airport codes instead of the actual airport from which you prefer to leave, for example; use NYC for the New York City Area instead of EWR, LGA, JFK which are the individual airports. The system is pretty sophisticated so you can also just type “New” and select the “New York, NY – All airports” option as it will give you the same results as entering “NYC”. Here’s a list to help you individual airports are in parentheses:
    • BER – Berlin, Germany (TXL, THF)
    • CHI – (MDW, ORD)
    • Los Angeles – (BUR, LAX, LGB, ONT, SNA)
    • LON – London, England (LCY, LGW, LHR, LTN, STN)
    • Miami – (FLL, MIA, PBI)
    • NYC – New York City Area (EWR, JFK, LGA – this may also include ISP and HPN)
    • PAR – Paris, France (CDG, ORY)
    • RIO – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (GIG, SDU)
    • SAO – Sao Paolo, Brazil (Congonhas, GRU)
    • San Francisco – (OAK, SFO, SJC)
    • TYO – Tokyo, Japan (HND, NRT)
    • WAS – Washington, D.C. (DCA, IAD)
  • If you are looking for alternate airports; i.e. other airports that are close to your origination or destination and it won’t cost a fortune to drive there plus park just to get the lower fare, then enter each airport code from which you can leave separated by a comma. Do this in the “Departing from” and “Destination” boxes. An example would be PHL, ABE if you are in the Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton/Philadelphia, PA area. And say you are traveling to Manchester, U.K., you could enter MAN, BHX as they are close enough to each other and you can possibly be picked up at either airport. SFO, OAK, SJC is another example.Note, if you have a large family this may be worth it. If you are flying to the U.K., I have a Kindle book with a list of the U.K. Airports and how to get between each of them. Check it out on Amazon.
  • Use “See calendar of lowest fares” option under the Dates field. This way you can see what others dates are available. It may be necessary to re-schedule your vacation to the times when the fares are lower.How To Book Low Fares - Using The ITA Software Matrix Calendar
  • Now choose the Cabin of service in which you wish to fly.
  • You may also choose the number of stops you’d like, usually the more stops the cheaper the fare.
  • You even have more options than you can imagine; you can choose to see itineraries that allow you to change airports; e.g. you could fly into La Guardia (LGA) and leave from John F. Kennedy (JFK), a bus or taxi ride is necessary to get between the airports here. There’s also an option to only shows flights that you can actually purchase as opposed to seeing all flights.You may want to see all flights as sometimes you just want to know what the schedule is like so you can standby for another flight even if its full (some airlines allow no charge same day standby if you are an Elite member of their frequent flyer program). Or sometimes some airports are only served on one day of the week and if you ask for flights only with availability open and the flights are full you won’t see them. Remember that availability changes all the times as there are lots of travelers like yourself booking flights all day long.
  • If booking for multiple passengers, try for one adult first. This will allow you to see if the fare is different than say two or three adults. This means that you will have to book different reservations in order to maximize the savings.
  • Once you get your results, the lowest fare dates will be shown in red. Just click on the date you wish to depart and the system will use your number of dates you are staying to figure out the flights that match your criteria.How To Book Low Fares - Using The ITA Software Matrix Calendar Fare Display
  • Now comes the fun part as you will see all the results for your search in a nice readable arrangement. The airlines and and prices are listed across the top. Clicking on any combination will give you your desired results. Try it for size.
    How To Book Low Fares - Using The ITA Software Matrix Calendar Itinerary and Fare Display
  • Clicking on the price button on the left of each choice will give you the details of the trip. This is where you get to see what makes up the pricing. You’ll be surprised at how much of your fare is government taxes.How To Book Low Fares - Using The ITA Software Matrix Calendar Itinerary with Taxes, Fees and Fare Breakdown

General Tips

    1. Join the frequent flyer program for the airline. I can’t stress this one enough. The more loyal you are the more perks you receive. For example, you may get to book the extra legroom seats well in advance and not have to pay for them. Also, not having to pay for that first bag or being allowed to check an extra bag over the normal allowance. Plus you get a little extra treatment plus a different phone number to use in case you have to call. Some frequent flier elite tiers give you bonus miles when you book which ensure you get a free flight quicker than your average traveler. And you get to board before others when you fly. People always say that they only fly once a year so why bother? It does not matter, join the program anyways.
      Also, ensure that you purchase the fares that are eligible for frequent flier miles. Yes, the airlines have really locked this down now as there’s been quite a bit of stuff going on in the past. So typically, if you buy the cheaper buckets, you get less miles for your ticket. This will change from partner to partner. For example, you may fly on Turkish Airlines in a lower bucket and Lufthansa or United both in the Star Alliance may not give you 100% of the miles for that particular bucket. Just read the rules before you buy. Same thing with say Cathay Pacific and American Airlines in the oneworld Alliance.
    2. Try to travel on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. These days are when the least number of people fly. So there are more open seats even though the capacity (number of seats on the market) is usually lower. As a result, you may not be able to leave as early or as late as you’d like. Of course, sometimes a destination is only served once a week, so you have no choice. But usually you’ll find some good/better deals.How To Book Low Fares - Tuesday/Wednesday Fares
    3. Look out for new service. When an airline starts a new route, they try to drum up business lowering the fares. That makes it a great time to snap up a deal. They will also do this when they are initiating a new aircraft into the fleet. So be on the look out for airlines getting the Boeing 787s or the Airbus A350s.
    4. Consider alternate airports.
      Sometimes flying into an airport that is close to your destination make work better. Especially if you can take public transportation from that airport to where you really want to go. Some airline have a check box for just this purpose.
      Check out my Kindle book on Alternate Airports in the U.K. here.
    5. Check all the fare rules and additional charges. You may see a cheap fare, but you have to pay for bags, a meal, checking in, extra legroom, etc. Read, read, read. Sometimes by the time you are done, you would have paid the same fare on a full service carrier and received frequent flier miles on the deal to boot.
    6. Do try to book with at least 21 days in advance. Typically the fares are cheaper since most of the times there are plenty of seats available. I must say though, that I’ve book at the last minute and got some good fares, but it really is usually cheaper the further ahead you book especially on the Low Cost Carriers.
    7. Travel at times of the year when others are not flying. For example, shoulder seasons (low seasons) outside of Holidays. So go to Australia during their summer, not yours. Since the flights leaving will be fuller than the flights going in. Go to a skiing destination in the summer to enjoy the mountains instead of during the winter, unless you really want to ski. Although some of these destinations can be full year round. Another time is just after any Holidays and when the children are in school.
    8. Take red-eye flights (flights that leave late at night and arrive first thing in the morning). Some markets are naturally like that such as to/from the U.S. and South America, U.S. West Coast to the East Coast and U.S. to Europe to name a few. They are called red-eye flights as when you arrive your eyes are red from lack of adequate sleep. As people hate these flights sometimes you will get some great deals.
    9. Fly early Saturday morning instead of Friday p.m. Fridays is the day when the flights are more busy since the business travelers are returning home and the weekend travelers are trying to get an early start on the weekend. Same for Mondays and Sunday p.m.; these are busy times and usually more expensive to travel.
    10. Give yourself some breathing room. Don’t book the flights too close to each other. In case of delays you may not make your connecting flight or you may make the flight, but your bags won’t. Or if you are flying different airlines as the fare is cheaper, if one is delayed or cancels, the other may not care and you have to buy a new ticket.
    11. Sign up for the airline’s newsletter. This will ensure that you get notification of the promotional offers as well as new routes I was talking about above.
    12. Check Facebook and twitter. Airlines routinely put information about sales on their social media feeds, so this is a great place to keep up with it all. There is a hashtag #flightdeals that is a good one to follow.
    13. Consider stopovers. A stopover is where the airline and sometimes the city give you a chance to spend time in a connecting city on your way to your final destination. They do this to promote the stopover city. Usually, if your connecting flight is over six hours, it will cost you more. Places such as  Iceland, if traveling with Icelandair will allow a free stopover on say their flights from the U.S. to Europe connecting in Reykjavik, Iceland (KEF). I think Istanbul, Turkey and Turkish Airlines also offer the same. And here’s an example from Etihad and Abu Dhabi in the UAE – http://www.etihad.com/en-us/plan-and-book/book-stopovers/. This is a great opportunity to see another city for no extra airfare cost.How To Book Low Fares - Icelandair Multi-City Screen
    14. Consider connecting flights instead of nonstop flights. I know you want to get to your destination as quickly as possible, but typically nonstop flights are more expensive than connecting ones. If you are flying internationally, there are a few options to consider. Basically, connect via the hub of the international airline to destinations they serve on either side of their hubs. As an example, if you are going to Warsaw, Poland (WAW) from New York, try connecting via Istanbul on Turkish Airlines (TK) as opposed to taking the nonstop flight on LOT Polish (LO). Another example, if you are flying to say Istanbul, Turkey, check if the fare on LOT Polish (LO) is cheaper if you connect via Warsaw. Just one more; I was flying to Sydney, Australia about a year ago and found that I could fly via Guangzhou, PROC (CAN) on China Southern (CZ) for less than taking any of the airlines that flew nonstop from the U.S. And, if I wanted to, I could stopover in Guangzhou for free and no visa is required for China if my stay is under 72 hours. Here are a few options to consider:
      • Aer Lingus (EI) via Dublin (DUB)/Shannon (SNN), Ireland
      • Air Berlin (AB) via Berlin, Germany (TXL)
      • Air France (AF) via Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG)
      • Alitalia (AZ) via Milan-Malpensa (MXP)/Rome-Fumichino (FCO), Italy
      • British Airways (BA) via London-Heathrow (LHR)
      • Emirates (EK) via Dubai, UAE (DXB)
      • Etihad (EY) via Manchester, England (MAN)/Abu Dhabi, UAE (AUH)
      • Lufthansa (LH) via Berlin (TXL)/Frankfurt (FRA)/Munich (MUC), Germany
      • Qatar Airways (QR) via Doha, Qatar (DOH)
      • TAM (JJ) via Rio de Janeiro (GIG)/Sao Paolo (GRU), Brazil
      • TAP Portugal (TP) via Lisbon, Portugal (LIS)
      • Turkish Airlines (TK) via Istanbul, Turkey (IST)
      • Ukraine International via Kiev, Ukraine (KBP)
    15. Choose little known/visited destinations. Everyone wants to travel to New York, London, Paris, Tokyo; the big destinations. As a result, its pretty expensive to get to these places. But if you think of other places that are not tourist hot spots or are up and coming hotspots you can save quite a bit of money on the airfare.
    16. Consider a codeshare flight. Sometimes the fare on a ccodeshared flight is less that the flight being sold by the airline operating the flight. e.g. If American Airlines and British Airways codeshares on the New York-JFK to London-Heathrow flight; the price may be different if you book the British Airways-operated flight on the American Airlines Web site as a codeshared flight as opposed to booking the same flight on the British Airways Web site. The reason for this is that each airline has their own pricing structure and revenue management systems and cannot collude on pricing. Also, the availability may be different for each airline.
    17. Get a credit card that offers some kind of incentive to book that airline. Many airlines will give you a sign up bonus miles and then ask that you spend a certain amount of money within a certain time period to get additional bonus miles. Plus each time you use the card you get additional miles. There are all kinds of deals out there that are constantly changing; American Express and Chase are two of the larger issuers of these cards. Start at the airlines’ Web sites to see what they have to offer. I’ve also included a few sites that solely specializes in these kind of deals:
    18. If you see a good fare; buy it. Don’t delay. Don’t wonder why its so low, buy it. Most airlines and online travel Web sites give you 24 hours to make a change without a charge, just check the rules before you buy.
    19. Mistake fares. Yes, these do exists. This happens when an airline posts an incorrect fare. Due to the age of the systems they use to store the fares, it sometimes takes anywhere from 4 hours to a day or two to fix the issue. Meanwhile, the fares are available for sale. Don’t be alarmed though if the airline decides not to honor these fares. This has happened in the past and I’m sure will happen in the future. Get in on the deal and hope the fares are honored. Otherwise, don’t whine about how you lost out on the deal. Karma willing get you eventually. Remember that the airlines is a business and they have employees to pay and charging fares that maximize their revenue is how they do this.
    20. Consider a package deal. If you book via a travel agency, you can sometimes get a really good deal as sometimes they are trying to sell a charter flight or have a special relationship with the airline/hotel/destination. This usually happens to the Caribbean or other exotic destinations. But there are good deals abound.
    21. Consider a cruise. If all you want to do is just to go somewhere, cruises are great deals. You get everything, food, accommodations and destinations for all one price. If the cruise does not leave from your hometown, you usually have to buy an airline ticket to get to the port, but usually the cruise company have deals they can offer you. I did a Greek islands cruise by Celestyal Cruises that made five stops including a stop in Turkey and was completely pleased by the experience.
    22. If you can, try to buy combos. Try to book flight and hotels or flight and car or flight, car and hotels together. You can do this at sites such as Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, etc. You see the agencies have deals with the airlines and hotels so they can do this. I once saw a hotel and air deal to Australia that was less than the airfare itself.
    23. Don’t be afraid to get bumped. During busy times, early morning, evening and Holidays, flights are overbooked. The airlines have to offer compensation for you to volunteer to give up your seat. They ask you to volunteer as if you volunteer it does not count against them, but if you are denied a seat on the plane without having volunteered, they get a bad check mark from the Department of Transportation in the U.S. Not sure if other countries have a similar rule. So if your plans are flexible, go on a later flight. Typically, you get a coupon for use in the future, sometimes meals and hotel vouchers depending on when is the replacement flight. So don’t totally discount that idea. I know people who do this all the time and almost never buy a ticket. Its a win-win for you and the airline. Don’t be unreasonable though when it comes to accepting the compensation.
    24. Travel Insurance. Get it! I can’t stress this enough. Check if the credit card you are using to make the purchase has travel insurance; many credit cards do. Also read the policy to understand your coverage and under what circumstance you are covered as this is most important. If you don’t have a card that carries coverage, get external travel insurance. Most airlines will have an option or you can buy from my Affiliate partner, WorldNomads.com just as I do. The peace of mind is completely worth it.

 

Other Transportation Modes

I know this post is about flights, but you should think about a combination of transportation modes in order to get the most out of your dollars. For example, maybe you can fly into a nearby airport and take a local bus, ferry or train to your final destination. This is very popular. or maybe just taking a train for the entire journey is much better than getting to the airport and going through the mess that is airport security.
As an example, you may have to fly into Washington-Dulles, VA (IAD) as the fares are much cheaper than flying into Washington-Reagan Airport, D.C. (DCA) at times. Or maybe you can only get to one airport or the other from your origin. Then once you get to either airport, you can take a shuttle bus to the train or just take a local bus between the airports.
In places like Europe, trains are very common and sometimes more affordable than flying if you shop early. I’ll be doing entire posts on buses and trains in the future, so watch out for those.
Some words of caution

You will see the term “travel hacking” used a lot all over the Internet. I’m not a fan of that term, although what I’ve told you here can be termed travel hacks as well. Some travel hacks will look at ways of bypassing systems or using other methods of saving money. This post is to educate you so you can use that knowledge to get better deals.

You are looking for legitimate ways to get a cheaper fare, not ways that are questionable. The airlines do monitor what travelers do and can approach you at the airport if they have good reason to think you are up to no good. Now this does not happen very often, actually very rarely, but that’s no reason to try something stupid that will get you embarrassed or pulled from their frequent flyer program; which the terms and conditions says they can do with appropriate notice.

Buyer beware.

Low Cost Carriers (LCC)

There are many of these airlines out there offering different levels of service. Nothing wrong with them, though some have customer service and safety issues, but you must be aware of their rules and abide by them. I’ve flown on the likes of Lionair from Singapore to Bali,  Indonesia; AirAsia, from Bali to Singapore; SpiceJet, between Delhi, India and Katmandu, Nepal; Norwegian, between Oslo and Ft. Lauderdale and Ryanair between Girona, Spain and Madrid, Spain to name a few. They all have different levels of service and different rules. The best of these is Norwegian; they fly 787s and have a decent service despite having to pay for food and your luggage. Here are some things to think about before you decide on taking a LCC:

  • Agreements With Other Airlines. So this one trips travelers up all the time. Let me explain; some airlines have agreements with others that says if you fly on one carrier and is connecting to another, they will transfer your bags for you on the airside of the airport terminal. With most low cost carriers, this arrangement is not in place with other carriers. So what does that mean? It means if you have a connecting flight, you have to collect your bags at the arrivals baggage re-claim, then check-in with the next carrier. In airports like Singapore, this is a major deal as it means you have to enter the country, which for some may require a visa, then head to the baggage claim carousel, pick up your bag, then head upstairs or to another Terminal to check-in for your next flight. If you don’t have enough time, you will miss the next flight and have no recourse as you are late. While some airlines may re-book you on another flight free of charge, others may not. To be fair, this interline agreement, that’s the airline term, is not only with LCCs, it could be with major airlines to major airlines as well. It just depends; you MUST check this before buying any ticket and/or ensure you have plenty of connecting time. You check this by contacting the airlines in question.
  • Airport Procedures. Some LCCs have specific procedures for you to follow at the airport and before you get to the airport. Please ensure that you follow these procedures as if you don’t they may result in your having to pay fines. For example, you may save money if you check your bag online as opposed to the airport. Or you may be required to print out your boarding pass beforehand or pay extra at the airport if you don’t. Just check the rules before you buy.
  • Baggage Rules. You may have a limited amount of bag you can check-in for free and/or carry on the airplane. There is usually size and weight restriction so please bear all these things in mind.
  • Onboard Meal/Drink Costs. Although the ticket is cheaper, you may have to pay for meals and drinks. Sometimes even water. I flew Scoot out of Singapore and you cannot even bring your own food on the plane to eat as they sell their own food. Luckily its not so pricey. Note that this is not only a LCC thing as some major airlines do the same or similar.
  • Getting To/From The Airport. Not many people think of this one. Some of the LCC airports are not near the city so as to save on landing fees, etc. This means you may have to pay extra to reach them. Not all are accessible by trains or have public transportation. So you really have to do your home work.
  • Onboard Entertainment Cost. You may have to pay to use the system, so check that as well.

To round out this section, here’s a partial list of discount schedule service carriers (low cost carriers) around the world for your convenience:

Africa

Asia and Australia

Canada

Caribbean

Central America and Mexico

Europe                                                           

Middle East

South America

United States

So that’s it, I hope that these travel tips will help you find a fare that will fit your budget. If you have any comments, questions or tips of your own, please don’t hesitate to leave them below.

Does all this sound complex? Don’t want to bother with it? Then let me take care of it for you. Check out the options I have to offer by dropping me a line.

Have a great trip!

42 thoughts on “How To Find Affordable Flights Without Going Broke: The Ultimate Guide To Finding Low Airfares

  1. Hello. I just found your site/blog. Unfortunately it was after I made my res from PHL-HNL (9/24-10/8) for a surprise wedding anniversary. PHL was the cheapest to fly out of.
    2 tix were $637 each coach. So far I can’t find any MCE’s on AA. Needed as I am a Disabled Vet (SCI) and better 1/2 disabled as well. But for the RT flight there are tix for $546 in 1st Class.
    I have 3 questions please. 1) Do MCE’s count for elite qualifying status miles and 2) is it worth it to upgrade and pay the $546 X 2 for the RT? Or should I wait?
    I’m trying to stay well under $3K so I was hoping to wait for MCE’s to open up during the departing but upgrade for the RT (and pray that they work w/ me on the fees. Out of this I would like to gain some status for the 1st time. I am hoping to stay mostly on pts and only in HNL for 4 days to avoid most of the fees.

    1. Hi KH,

      Thank you for your note.
      You could contact AA and see if they have any bulkhead seats available. They normally show as blocked or assigned as they are only assigned when someone with a disability requests them or on day of travel.
      To answer your questions:

      1). It’s the booking class that you purchase which determines the elite qualifying miles you receive not purchasing MCE. You can check the rules of MCE at https://www.aa.com/i18n/urls/mainCabinExtra.jsp.
      2). If you can’t fit in the regular seats and an upgrade to 1st class will make you more comfortable, then its worth it. That’s pretty long haul so it will be worth it. Plus you’ll get better Elite qualifying miles and bonus for traveling First Class domestically.
      3). Deciding whether or not to wait is a tough decision, but right now you are stressing about it and that is not good. Think about if nothing opens up? Then you are stuck where you are in a site that you do not want.

      MCEs may open up, but that is not a surety.

      I hope this helps you to make the right decision for you.

      Kerwin
      http://www.Passrider.com
      http://www.Facebook.com/Passrider

  2. What an awesome, post, I’m totally new to ITA and now will be my main source for all my flights. We live in Guatemala, so it’s not easy to get great rates from here, but just checking out the ITA site it’s already literally saving me $100 – more to enjoy on our travels 🙂

    Thank you

  3. Kerwin what a read! My wife finds pretty sweet deals popping on a few travel sites. This is some kind of resource though! We flew from NYC to Singapore for $480 on Eva Airlines, and the flight rocked because it’s not a budget carrier. Keep on inspiring and keep it up with the AWESOME long form content, Google loves this Kerwin 😉

    Ryan

    1. Hi Ryan,
      Thank you. I tried to be thorough and will keep adding more as time goes by.
      That’s an incredible fare indeed and EVA Air is a fantastic airline with great service.

      Kerwin.

  4. Alright then! You are not playing around with this being a guide. This is more complete than some guidebooks. I’m going to print this out for reference. Thanks Kerwin!

  5. Wow, great post! So much information, this must have taken a ton of time to research. I’ll definitely be referencing it next time I need to book a flight! Thanks!

  6. Wow! Loads of great tips here. I need to start travel hacking better and using ITA etc. I have booked flights through local websites (Spanish site for a flight to Ibiza) and it gives a different price as if you are a local. Turning off your location on searches can also help or buying domestic flights in the country when you arrive can make it cheaper.
    Thanks for so many links and ideas!

  7. I’m never 100% positive if I secured myself the best deal when I purchase my airline tickets. I will be using your work as a template as a “how to” next time I book. Thank you.

    1. You are welcome Brenda.
      None of us are, but you know it in your stomach when you do.
      Just buy and move on :-). We tend to second guess ourselves for no reason really.

      Thanks for reading and considering using the template in the future.

  8. This is a VERY detailed post and first of all: I must say THANK YOU! I’ve definitely bookmarked this for future reference.

    You really did a good job explaining the terminologies too; and the illustrations really help! We’re not planning on hopping to another country anytime soon since we just arrived here in Belgium, but this will always come in handy. Again: thank you!

  9. THIS is very useful. We have the “unfair” advantage of getting group rates for our crew of eleven, but we anticipate having to do a few smaller runs in the year to come. We’ll point our single friends to this thorough article. Thank you.

  10. I think the best advice in this is that when you see a good fare, you buy it. You can drive yourself nuts wondering if you might beat it by $50 – and you also might lose the deal as you go back and forth. If something comes up that feels like a bargain based on your expectations, you take it!

  11. Hi Kerwin,
    Wow! I think the bible is shorter than this comprehensive, excellent post. 🙂
    I have a post online as well, where I recommend Momondo and Orbitz. The most powerful flight search page at the moment seems to be Kayak. What do you think about these three?
    Next time I search for flight, which is soon, I will give Matrix airfare search a try.

    Thanks a lot for this one, Charles

    1. Hiya Charles,

      Thanks for your comment and you are welcome.

      I wanted to give you an insight into how it all works so you can make a better decision when trying to find a fare. There are so many post out there and so many myths, so I wanted to dispel them.

      I still have to add more and go into details about the online travel agencies. But basically, they all go to the same pool, they just have different algorithms they use to return flight choices. Also, the results may differ based on the relationship the site has with a particular airline. This is why you have to try different ones to see what they have available and availability changes by the second.

      Yeah, its really complicated.

      If you really want to see how they work and what they are offering. You have to do the search on each, but you have to release the inventory on each site in order to know if they are giving you similar results.

      May I ask why you think kayak is the most powerful?

      Stay tuned as I add more about the OTAs and what they have to offer. As there’s a long answer to your short question Charles.

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