If you have ever bought airplane tickets online, you know it can be a serious headache! But, as in everything else in life, sometimes your headache and hard work can pay off in the end. In this case it can literally pay, financially to search out the best prices on airfare. But where do you start? There are so many different website that promise to collect all of the best data to help you get your dream ticket prices, but so few that actually deliver.
Travis and I have been looking for tickets to fly from Athens to LAX once our new bundle arrives, and we have had some interesting search experiences on various websites. We were able to knock off $1,000 USD total (in theory… we can’t technically buy tickets until after baby #3 is born) from the cheapest price we found for all five of us using some creative searching, my new favorite travel search engine, and flexibility.
Here are 5 things to keep in mind when searching for airfare online.
1. Do your research! As in all other things in life, research and good information can make a world of difference. We were recently looking at tickets from Athens to LAX, and we realized by searching through other major European airports, that Athens is really expensive. When asking a Greek friend about this, she pointed out that the Athens airport charges way more for taxes on incoming flights, and this is why it is more expensive than other European airports. Around the same time we found out that Aegean Airlines is offering discounted prices to fly to their newest destination, Budapest, Hungary! We have a lot of friends there, and we had been thinking of stopping by there anyway. Once we did the math, we figured out that one way tickets for our family to fly to Budapest would cost around $400, and it would take $1,000 off the cost of our round trip tickets because we would be changing them from Budapest to LAX, returning from LAX to Athens instead of Athens to LAX both ways. This brings me to the second thing to keep in mind when searching for airfare online…
2. Be flexible and creative! Instead of looking at an extra stop in your travel plans as a total pain and waste of time, figure out a way to get the most out of your traveling experience. You might find much cheaper airfare through another city, and take a bus or train there instead of flying from point to point. A great example of this is the 10 euro Orangeways bus ride from Budapest to Vienna. The bonus of this hypothetical situation is you get to experience Vienna, or any other city/country you are thinking about traveling through in order to save money. Of course, you could experience a HUGE setback like this, that costs extra money and leaves you stranded.
3. Use an airfare search engine that won’t make you want to beat up your computer and throw it out the window. You know what kind of airfare search engines I’m referring to… the ones that make you retype all of your information every time you push the “back” button just to change one small detail. And of course there are also those search engines that allow you to purchase tickets, only for you to find once you’ve gotten to the airport that your reservation never actually went through (cough, cough, Orbitz!). I used to recommend Bing’s travel search engine, but they got rid of it for some reason. Bummer… But you can still check out sites like CheapOAir and Expedia.
4. Search every possible option. Make sure you let the search engine determine the cheapest flights for you based on flexible dates (if you can), and remember that Tuesdays are typically the cheapest day to fly. If you have kids, you also need to do TWO searches (at least) with their tickets as children, and their tickets as normal adult tickets. Why? Well, if the cheapest airline doesn’t offer children’s tickets, their flight won’t show up at all on a search that includes children’s tickets, and you may end up paying a lot more for tickets just because they are labeled as children. It’s also important to remember that a lot of airlines don’t offer children’s fares anymore, so you are paying an adult price anyway. For example, Alitalia may have the cheapest flights from LAX to Athens, but their flights will not show up on any search having to do with children’s tickets, because they only offer adult tickets. You can still buy adult tickets for your children. It honestly doesn’t matter in the least. They don’t ban children from flying on their airline, they simply don’t have tickets specifically for children. By using these methods, we were able to find a flight that is $400 USD cheaper than other flights we had found, bringing out savings to a total of $1,000 USD. The only catch is that there is a 12 hour layover in Rome, but the kids and I have never been to Italy (Travis has been most places, lol), so 12 hours in Rome really triggers my spirit of adventure! And maybe I’ll finally be able to use some of that year of Italian I studied in university.
5. Clear your history and cookies before you actually buy your tickets. Unfortunately there are some airlines that use your number of searches on their site against you. Travis and I learned this the hard way by paying 44,000 extra Hungarian Forints on a Malev flight we had been checking every day. The more we checked it, the higher the cost went, and in panic we went ahead and bought the tickets before they could go up again. After telling this to a friend, he told us if we had cleared our internet history, the prices would have gone back down to the first, lower price. Sure enough we cleared the history and he was right. After a formal complaint to the airline, they basically told us to suck it up and deal with the fact they exploited us out of $200 USD. A few months ago Malev went bankrupt. I’m not saying it’s because they tricked us… I would never imply such a thing. Ryan Air is another airline that uses this unfair practice. So make sure you always remember to clear your history and cookies before your final purchase!
Well there you have it. If you are leaving and returning to the United States, you should really find a reliable travel agent, but for the rest of us that no longer live in the US, these are the tricks and tips that can help to save as much money as possible.
What are your favorite airfare search engines? How do you find good deals on airfare for your family?