There are hidden costs involved in airline tickets these days, and we’re not just talking about carry on fees. If “low cost” airlines have pulled off a miracle, it’s convincing the budget conscious travellers that they are always the lowest priced option, or at the very least, the best.
In reality, it’s rare that one airline is always the cheapest, and in fact, there are dates where low cost competitors are exponentially more expensive than the airlines we arbitrarily believe to be luxury, premium, or expensive. Here’s how to get an accurate picture, and make the best flight booking decision for you, every time. It’s more than just what you’re paying for in the moment…
Ultimately, booking an airline ticket is like any major purchase, and to be sure you’re getting the best deal for you, it’s healthy to approach things with doubt, caution and comparison. Never press “book” until you’ve asked yourself…
- What’s the reliability and schedule flexibility of the cheaper ticket?
- Have I price compared on multiple websites?
- Will I need to pay for “extras” like a carry on, seat assignment, etc?
- Do I lose out on a rebate, by not earning miles with budget airline?
- Is it cheaper to fly a day before, or after, or break it up into one ways?
- Do any travel benefits I have outweigh cost difference between two options?
- Have I price compared with other cabins on the same dates for better value?
- Is the flight into and out of my preferred airport, and if not, what’s the extra cost?
- Have I looked at the best cash back offers, to increase my purchase rebate?
- Is it worth the hassle of flying from a nearby airport or city, or is it negated?
- Am I paying with something that will protect my trip the most efficiently?
What’s the reliability and schedule flexibility of the cheaper ticket?
A great deal is great, but missing a wedding, birthday or crucial business meeting is priceless, in the wrong way. An underrated consideration in any ticket purchase is how you’ll be taken care of, if things were to go wrong. It’s great to look at whether the airline, or their partners (if they have any) can get you where you need to be on the same day, rather than needing to wait days for the next flight.
Have I price compared on multiple websites?
It sounds basic enough, but no one resource will always dig up the lowest price, every time. Some may not display certain airlines, others may not show exclusive fares, and it’s imperative to try at least one online travel agency or metasearch site, Google Flights and then any discount airlines you enjoy, which don’t show up on other sites.
Will I need to pay for extras like a carry on, seat assignment, etc?
Like with any purchase, our eyes dart to the lowest “sticker” price, but it’s crucial to look into the nuts and bolts, before pressing book. In practicality, that $100 ticket may end up costing $20 or more in carry on fees, $50 in round trip checked baggage fees, and another $10-$100 in seat assignments, so the $130 ticket which included all of those things, or at least the ones you need might have been a better move.
Beyond what you actually pay, there’s always “opportunity cost”, the cost of missing out on things. Sadly, most budget airlines don’t offer miles or benefits in any deeply meaningful way, so if prices are competitive between an airline where you stand to earn miles or benefits, and one that you wouldn’t it’s an important consideration.
Is it cheaper to fly a day before, or after, or break it up into one ways?
Everyone loves having it their way, but sometimes it’s worth a bit of compromise, when the price is right. Never go through with a purchase until you’ve at least priced out departures a day before, after or whenever. Google Flights, Kayak and airline “flexible date” calendars on their own websites can be excellent resources for easy comparison.
Do any travel benefits I have outweigh cost difference between two options?
Some people value points and miles, other’s don’t. But everyone would always take a better travel experience over another, assuming prices are within a certain range. If you happen to be a frequent flyer, or have benefits via a credit card that make a journey more comfortable with one airport, or airline versus another, it’s great to consider how much you value that group of benefits into the purchase decision.
Overpaying hurts, but hopping on a flight and finding out that someone paid less for premium or business class than you paid for economy is worse. Never, ever finalise an airline ticket without at least glancing across the cabin columns to see what type of pricing is offered. You can even combine cabins to customise a trip to your liking. Sometimes business class is half the price of economy.
Is the flight into and out of my preferred airport, and if not, what’s the extra cost?
Fly into one airport, find yourself with easy mass transit options, or a 30 minute car ride. Fly into another, and you’re looking at over an hour, without any great mass transit. It’s imperative to factor in the cost of getting between the airport and your final destination, and in some cities, like Milan, or San Francisco, it can absolutely justify paying more upfront for another option, since it will save in the long run.
Have I looked at cash back offers to increase my purchase rebate?
True story: you can earn cash back, in addition to miles on most airline purchases. How much you’ll earn depends where you book, and how much the current rebate is. Rakuten, TopCashBack and Quidco are a few of the main players in this game, so sign up for an account and then see which online travel agency or airline is offering the most cash back at the time of purchase!
Too many travellers become fixated with sticker price, and the problem with that is that the sticker price is almost better from a nearby city, than where you’re presently located. If you’ve got points and flexibility, the savings can often be justified, but if you need to buy a ticket to get there, or overnight to ensure a safe connection, you can end up entirely negating any savings, while also going into the red, while simultaneously wasting your own time.
Am I paying with something that will protect my trip the most efficiently?
Sadly, this has been a year of airline shutdowns, leaving passengers stranded. Amongst those with their travel plans turned upside down, there’s two distinct groups: those who paid with credit cards and will be getting their money back, and those who paid with debit cards – who likely won’t. Only credit cards offer chargeback protection, and in the best cases, premium cards also offer perks like money to spend on necessities for delays, or lost luggage.
If you’ve asked yourself these questions, there’s no doubt you can board confidently, knowing that you’ve avoided most of the pitfalls and “wish I’d thought of that” elements of travel. If you want to become a wizard at finding the cheapest flight deals, we’ve got a resource on that too.