I think that I think too much, maybe it’s my outlet for being so frustrated at our unjust world, that taking away a few dollars from huge multinational corporations feels like a little victory- and that it somehow assuages my carbon footprint guilt, even if at the back of my mind I know that they will still short-change their workers, the planet is still going to shit, and those fat cats will still get their huge year-end bonuses. But hey, let’s all try to save and learn how to get cheap airfare.
*note that these tips are probably best for Canadians
Target a wide range of options:
You may have heard of Ikigai, it was probably explained to you by a friend whose life completely changed after watching “Eat, Pray, Love.” If not, maybe you saw it on Etsy or Tumblr, while looking for inspirational quotes you can embroider on your knitted wall decor. And if you still have absolutely no idea what Ikigai is, just imagine a multicoloured Venn Diagram, on steroids, then fill the empty spaces with your hopes and aspirations. Ikigai is meant to give you purpose- that it is possible to marry your passion, vocation, mission, and profession into one polygon.
I am telling you now that Ikigai is only a conspiracy by Japanese conglomerates to overwork and underpay their staff.
Life is simply much simpler if we work with less variables, so like Newton’s three laws of motion, there’s also three forces at work in determining how much your airfare will cost. It’s just Price- of course, Date- when you buy + when you fly, and Location- where you’ll land, and that hopefully it’s in your pre-determined location.
Ok, put yourself in my shoes- I am pretty much willing to go anywhere from the tropics to the tundra- a fact that became easier after getting a real passport (don’t ask, won’t tell) but I can’t go anywhen since I have school most of the year. I also can’t pay a lot for the privilege of flying, because after spending most of the year in school, I didn’t get to have a job nor earn any money. It’s the cheap>fast>quality school of thought, and why be so verbose when I could have condensed all this in a single sentence and dropped a screenshot of Kayak’s Explore feature- it lets you see multiple destinations for your preferred date range, then you can use the toggle bars to set a price ceiling. If you live in a city with more than one airport (lucky) check the nearby box, and don’t limit yourself to non-stop flights! This method can lead to some pretty interesting vacation options that you otherwise might not have thought of– sometimes there are even new routes offered by major airlines and you can get some really nice introductory prices on them.
P.S. Because you’ve wickedly improved your Geography skills by staring at that map, you can choose to take open-jaw flights (meaning you don’t fly out of the same airport you landed in) as it gives you a wider range of places to explore and it helps avoid backtracking!
I’m a great big fan of budget airlines, and even if all of them are inundated with horrible reviews, it doesn’t deter me much from booking with them as I always take those rants with a grain of salt. Low-cost carriers have democratized international travel, some legacy airlines (old companies with unionized staff and offer a free beverage service without making you feel bad about it) have diversified by owning and managing budget brands. Examples are: Air Canada and Air Canada Rouge; Cathay Pacific and Dragon Air; Quantas and Jetstar; also recently, Westjet and Swoop- although they are mired in allegations of wide employee dissatisfaction.
Flying with an LCC should always be considered if you want to save a lot of money, especially when they hold promotions like 0$ base fares, making a round-trip ticket to New York cost a crazy $86- even cheaper than taking a Greyhound! A lot of low-cost carriers function like a bus service by doing short routes, so they’re a great option for doing multi-city trips. I like booking my tickets well in advance as LCC prices are quite predictable, and they always tend to rise closer to departure.
Low-cost carriers are very popular in Europe and Asia, but they’re considered as an emerging industry in North America (something to do with population density, but Australia has them so-). Often, people feel like they are nickel and dimed by budget airlines, and a lot of the extra charges feel unwarranted- trust me, they are counting on you not following their terms and conditions! But they do explicitly state everything you need to know to make sure it is legally binding, so the onus is on the consumers to abide by their rules.
Remember: No self-respecting business wants to intentionally sabotage you!
Believe me, airlines, especially the cheap ones, hate delays more than their customers- being late cuts into their revenue! Variables like; runway traffic, or weather (considered as force majeure in legalese) shouldn’t be blamed on overworked gate agents. Chances are your low-cost carrier is not the only airline that’s going to be grounded.
Meanwhile, problems like oversold flights, re-routed planes, and schedule shifts are very annoying, given that these issues can disrupt your entire trip. Although in these scenarios, you would have the upper hand to negotiate so it should result in you getting some justifiable compensation.
Every traveller should be aware of their rights, and luckily, in Canada, most businesses are somewhat transparent. There is a public document called the Air Carrier’s Tariff and it is mandatory for every commercial airline operating on Canadian soil to follow the rules lest they want to be fined and lose their license- so I highly recommend every passenger to read it.
Pick the right airports:
The choice between flying to and from the right airport could make a huge difference in your ticket price. I’ve saved a lot of money by flying into smaller regional hubs like the Don Mueang International Airport in Thailand, and Berlin’s Schönefeld Airport. They may even be more convenient- as older airports are often built closer to the city, like the time I flew from Hong Kong (HKG) to Shanghai’s Hongqiao International Airport (SHA) that is connected to their metro system, unlike the bigger but farther away Pudong Airport (PVG). Most LCCs choose to operate with them because they have lower landing fees, but expect most regional airports to have bare-bones service and they may not even be open at certain times. Oftentimes, you’ll have to walk on the tarmac and use those roll-away stairs. Great photo opportunity though!
Now, there are airports within a major city than can still give you amazing deals, for instance, the YEG Airport (Edmonton) may be Alberta’s capital, but it is still cheaper to buy a YEG ticket over YYC (Calgary)- generally. Flair Airlines uses YEG Airport as its hub, so it may be a good idea to fly there as you’ll have a bit of comfort in knowing your flights are less likely to be cancelled or diverted. It always helps to know the specific airports that airlines use as a hub, often Delta will offer discounted fares for layovers in ATL (Atlanta) since they have to stop there anyway for refuels or change the service crew. Following this logic explains why a direct flight will usually cost more than if you choose one with layovers, except if they are offering a promotion.
Sometimes, you have no option because a city will only have a single major international airport and it’s exclusively serviced by expensive airlines. This means you’ll have to take the advice second airport literally, by cutting your trip and planning an extended layover to one destination then move to the other. For example, using IcelandAir or WowAir (an LCC) to transit in Reykjavik for free and then flying to your onward destination, they offer this service for free (although you’re paying for multi-way tickets so it does come out with a higher price) but it’s like you have two vacations in one!
Fun exercise would be to test your memory- which city is closest to your destination and are you able to travel from there through alternative ways? It’s very enjoyable to do this when planning a trip to Europe as you have a plethora of options, with rail travel being my personal favourite. So we flew from YUL (Montreal) to KEF (Iceland) then to SXF (Berlin) with WowAir, then from SXF again to BUD (Budapest) using RyanAir, and taking the Autobusowy to Poland and Czech Republic then finally, the train back to SXF- KEF- YUL. Seems complicated? Look at a map! It forms a logical loop. Airfares from YUL- PRG (Prague) hovers at $1000 with connections, and more for flying direct- but our route costed only about half that price so we saved money and had the opportunity to explore more places.
But what if you are dead-set on a specific destination and will not accept anything less? Try Skiplagged.com, but be aware that airlines DEPLORE this so much that they sued the guy who founded the site. Remember when I said that airlines have to go through their hubs no matter what? This is how you end up with cheaper airfare for farther destinations than closer ones, since they’re already plying that route, might as well make money off it by ferrying passengers. Say you really want to go to TEX (Texas), so you’re looking at flight prices from YYZ (Toronto) but they are so expensive. Reason for high airfares could range from: because there is not a huge demand for this route, or airlines just feel like charging predatory prices. So even if you don’t use Skiplagged (and I don’t) you can check the trends for outgoing flights from YYZ, and then you’ll see that AeroMexico is selling YYZ- MEX (transiting at TEX) for a bargain, and assuming you have a compelling enough reason, like wanting Tex-Mex instead of just Mex food, you can simply choose to miss the plane to your final destination. Note that this is my least favourite way of getting cheap airfares as it comes with severe conditions: 1. You can only book 1-way flights as you’ll forfeit your return ticket, 2. You are very vulnerable to re-routes and schedule changes, 3. Absolutely no baggages, 4. I feel like it’s usually more trouble that what it’s worth- or maybe I’m just lazy. Seriously though, only consider hidden city tickets if you’ve already exhausted all your options.
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My favourite way of getting unicorn air ticket prices are with mistake fares- unfortunately, they are far and few in between. While bribing or black-mailing back-end developers for booking websites should be the best option, I still have minor compunctions about the legalities of it.
So, I just let smarter people figure out the algorithms and do the legwork for me-
How do they do it? I can speculate insider information; maybe they are travel agents, they can create bots to track fluctuations, or they have preferred customer status and can know when sales happen before plebs like me know it. All in all, I don’t worry myself too much about it.
My favourite sites include, but are not limited to: YULdeals.com, Airfarewatchdog.com, and TheFlightDeal.com- ALWAYS be careful to not conflate $CAD with $USD when making your final booking! (sorry about that, Alex)
Aggregator sites: Be wary- not all of them are created to help you save money! Some of them may even make you spend more than you should, and most don’t show low-cost carriers as flight options, also, it’s always much better to book direct instead of through a third-party site so you’ll get priority and you can earn miles! That said, I generally trust ca.Kayak.com, Google Flights, and Momondo.ca, and even if they’re technically aggregators, booking sites like Expedia (+subsidiaries like Orbitz, Hotwire, Travelocity, etc.) and Priceline sometimes make mistake fares themselves, or offer discounted prices, so they are still worth a gander. Also, make sure to save money and earn some cashback by using Ebates.ca which I always do before buying anything online.
Forums or Groups are the BEST resource for really good mistake fares, as by the time dedicated websites publish those deals they could be either sold-out or already fixed by the IT department. But, doing this requires you to invest some time as they are dedicated communities, I personally don’t lurk around much but the FlyerTalk forum is the best place to start, while the subreddit /r/Flyer is also a good resource.
I hope that with these T.I.P.S. you now know how to get cheap airfare!