HOW TO FIND THE BEST FLIGHTS AND FLY LIKE A ROCKSTAR*
*Let's pretend rockstars fly commercial for the sake of this post
How to show proof of onward travel if you don't have an outbound ticket? Where to score the best flight deals? Is it really possible to fly for free with frequent flyer programmes? Having been travelling like a complete nutcase for the past 4 years, I figured it is about time I shared some of my tricks for booking flights and making flying as smooth an experience as possible.
CREATE ALERTS FOR YOUR FAVOURITE DESTINATIONS
Waiting for the airfare to London to drop so you can visit a friend? You can spend a lifetime browsing travel search engines and looking for special deals. Instead of wasting all this valuable time, you might as well set up an alert for your favourite destinations and let the aggregators do the work for you. They will send you notifications when the price drops or goes up free of charge. Different search engines offer different alerts: Kayak allows you to set the maximum price and be flexible with dates, Cheaptickets can focus on weekend fares only or include nearby airports, while Skyscanner offers a simple alert for a selected date.
RENT PROOF OF ONWARD TRAVEL
Have you ever travelled to a country where you had to present proof of onward travel on arrival? Was it when you were travelling with an open itinerary? For a situation like this, there is a solution other than booking the cheapest outbound ticket that you are probably not even going to use. FlyOnward is aservice that provides you with international flight tickets that you can use for up to 48 hours, so you can show them to the immigration officer and airline personnel when crossing the border. Behind the scenes, the FlyOnward staff buy a refundable ticket on your name, but they also are handling the hassle of getting the money back. I've consulted travel forums and groups to check reviews of this service and good news, it actually works flawlessly!
BROWSE SKYSCANNER RELIGIOUSLY
If you’re in the mood for discovering places that might not have been on your list just yet, the best way to find real bargains is by using ‘Everywhere’ search function on Skyscanner, Adioso or OneTwoTrip. This is how you can explore what destinations are the cheapest to travel to at a given period of time. All you need to know is the airport you want to depart from. I'd specifically recommend this for people who have flexible schedules or work remotely, as you can select ‘whole month’ or ‘whole year’ from the departure date box as well.
You really never know what kind of bargain you can discover. Last year, I stumbled across some amazing deals from Amsterdam: for example, a round trip to Buenos Aires in May-June for €350 and a return ticket to Hong Kong in December for €250. I'm still kicking myself for not taking advantage of them. Give it a try:
USE DIFFERENT LOCATIONS OF FARE SEARCHES
Flights tend to be cheaper when you book either in the country of departure or of final destination. Changing your location manually, like you can do on Momondo and other aggregators or via VPN services, does the trick as well.
Just take a look at the example above for a flight from Sydney to London in May (click on pictures to enlarge). You can save €21 by switching from the Dutch page of the website to the Australian one. Of course, it's not much, but hey, that can get you a couple of pints in London town!
SUBSCRIBE TO AIRFARE WATCHES
Airfare watches are location-specific newsletters that monitor all flight deals. In a way, it is like setting an alert, except that in this case you might get a pretty random destination. The best two that I am familiar with are Ydeals for Canada and AirfareSpot for the US. I've been subscribed for the Ydeals'' Vancouver newsletter for years and even though I don't live in Canada anymore, I still read every other email. Their findings are quite impressive: right now, you can book a trip from Vancouver to Rarotonga, Cook Islands for $691 CAD roundtrip including taxes. AirfareSpot operates in a similar way and also has decent offers: how about Boston to San Juan, Puerto Rico for $175 R/T or Boston to Barcelona or Madrid, Spain from $363 R/T?
ENROL IN FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAMMES
The best part about frequent flyer programmes (FFP) is that you do not need to fly frequently to enrol and you do not even need to fly to earn air miles. Reasons to join vary from getting free upgrades and/or free flights and hotel rooms to material goods.
My general rule of thumb is to join an FFP of every airline I get to fly with: many of them have special conditions or perks that aren't available elsewhere. Sure, I will only use about 5-6 of them on a regular basis, but I always have an appropriate loyalty card when necessary. A while ago, I decided to prioritise flying with one airline alliance over the other two as it enables me to get and spend most of my miles within one system. One of the best ways to earn miles for me has been an airline credit card which converts online and offline purchases into air miles. The easiest way to build up miles is to use it for everyday expenses like grocery shopping, paying bills or going out. As all these payments add up, you are likely to have a sufficient amount of miles for a free flight in no time! As of today, the best flight deal that I have ever redeemed my miles with is a Los Angeles - Moscow round trip.
PLAY AROUND WITH BOOKINGS
A lot has changed in commercial aviation in the past decade, and there aren't so many hard and fast rules anymore. One general recommendation is: always check the alternatives. Say, you are travelling with a few other people. Instead of searching tickets for the whole group at once, try looking up a single seat fare. That's a peculiarity of airline online booking systems and a perk for solo travellers - special deals might be available for single tickets but not for group ones. It is possible to ask an airline assistant to combine individual bookings into one afterwards.
This one is also a no-brainer, but often overlooked: it might be cheaper to book two separate one-way tickets with different airlines than a round trip with the same airline. In certain cases, however, a return fare might be lower than a one-way fare!
VERIFY YOUR TICKET IS GENUINE
When there are so many travel agents out there, sometimes you might book a ticket on an unfamiliar website. While most of them are perfectly fine, it is ok to be a bit apprehensive. In order to make sure that your e-ticket is legitimate, you can go to the airline's website and enter your details. The airline might take a bit longer to process your ticket, so don't worry if the booking does not show up right away. Otherwise, try CheckMyTrip - it is a company affiliated with the Amadeus booking system that can also retrieve your booking if you have a 6-digit reference code. If you see a 13-digit ticket number, your ticket is confirmed.
CHECK TRAVEL AGENCIES FOR LAST-MINUTE DEALS
Remember that one time I booked my first trip to Africa less than 40 hours before departure? Unlike airlines, travel agencies are more willing to lower prices on their last-minute offers. For instance, the company I booked said trip with is currently offering a 9-day/7-night trip from Amsterdam to Zanzibar for €468 if you depart two weeks from today. A return flight ticket for the exact same dates (and even the same flights!) is available for €414 on Skyscanner. In other words, you pay only €50 more for the package that covers accommodation, transfer, and breakfast rather than just flights. Not too shabby if you fancy an impromptu escape to another country.
BOOK A MULTI-CONTINENTAL TRIP AS A SINGLE TICKET
The most budget-friendly way to is to build and buy a 'single' round-the-world air ticket with an airline alliance. There are 3 major ones: Star Alliance (includes Lufthansa, Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, etc), SkyTeam (KLM, Delta, Aeroflot, etc), and Oneworld (British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, etc). Each of them offers multi-continental and RTW deals which can save you a fortune, as opposed to booking all flights separately. Conditions vary, but there are three basic rules: you must follow one global direction, i.e. east or west (no backtracking); you must start and finish in the same country; you must book all your flights before departure, but you might change them later (probably at extra charge).
I used this option for booking flights of my round-the-world trip. To read about how much I actually saved by booking a single RTW ticket, click here.
GO ON A FREE LAYOVER TOUR
Long layovers are rarely a desirable addition to a trip, but why not explore the transit city if possible? A few airports around the world now offer free mini-tours so that passing travellers can the most of the time between flights. For example, if you have more than six hours at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport, consider going on the Touristanbul, which is a brief tour of the city including some of its most iconic landmarks such as the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace. In Seoul, you only need as little as one hour and can choose either a temple-focused or city-focused tour from the Incheon Airport.
This March, KLM launched the Layover with a local programme. If you were flying the airline with a connection of six hours or longer in Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, KLM could pair you up with a local resident with similar interests, provide you with bus tickets, and even pay for the first round of drinks when you meet your new Dutch friend at a bar in town. (And you ask me why The Netherlands is my favourite place in the world!) The program has since ended, but it was originally inspired by Icelandair's ongoing "stopover buddy" service. This airline also matches travellers with Icelanders who will show you around or join you on an activity.
Qatar Airways offer a tour of Doha if you have a layover of six or more hours. If you have at least eight hours in Taipei, you can join one of two free city tours organised by the airport. Singapore's Changi airport has so much to offer you might want to just hang out there, but in case you want to go out, it offers two free city tours if you have six or more hours to spare. Tokyo's Narita Airport also runs sightseeing and shopping tours. Has a long layover looked more appealing to you?
ACCESS AIRPORT LOUNGES WITH PRIORITY PASS
Are you a business traveller who spends a substantial amount of time at airports? Or are you a frequent flyer who needs a quality rest between flights? Assuming you've answered 'yes', this might be right up your street. Priority Pass is the largest independent airport lounge access program in the world. Irrespective of the class of travel or choice of airline, PP members enjoy over 1,000 lounges in more than 500 cities worldwide where they can stretch out, freshen up, and have complimentary pre-flight bites and drinks that help you revive. These quiet, comfortable spaces make a perfect environment for snoozing or working away from the hustle and bustle of the airport life. So far, I have visited one lounge in St Petersburg's Pulkovo Airport: it was a relaxing place with multiple choices of lunch and dinner dishes, snacks, and all kinds of drinks.
PP membership is available in three different plans, with annual prices ranging from $99 to $399. Which membership is best suitable for your travel needs depends on how often you expect to visit their lounges. You can also obtain a Priority Pass membership with credit cards from certain banks, in which case in comes free of charge (that's how I got mine). If you are interested in purchasing a membership directly, send me a message so I can forward you a personalised referral with a 10% discount.
FLIGHT DELAYED/CANCELLED? ASK FOR COMPENSATION
Nobody likes when their travel arrangements get delayed or cancelled, but few people know what they are entitled to by law in such cases. This is when AirHelp comes to help. The company provides legal services to airline passengers who have experienced problems with their flights. You submit an issue on the websire or the app (mentioned in this blog post), they save you all the hassle and process the complaint on your behalf. The law does not apply to circumstances outside the airline's control (e.g., bad weather or airport strikes), but you can submit a claim for a flight from as far back as 5 years.
DON'T SHARE YOUR BOARDING PASS ON SOCIAL MEDIA
It's completely understandable why one would want to share a picture of their boarding pass on social media - you want to share the excitement of going on a trip. It is also perfect Instagram material: there are a whole 78,000 #boardingpass posts on the platform. However, I highly encourage to stop doing this because boarding passes contain information that can enable ill-intended people to retrieve your personal information. Remember what I said earlier about the 13-digit ticket number? This code is printed on boarding pass, so if it is visible in the picture along with your name (or your frequent flyer card number), it is easy to access your booking as well as payment information. To read about all the possible consequences of your photo-sharing and get a healthy dose of paranoia, click here and here. You can also try and scan the barcode of a recent boarding pass with this tool to see just how much information will be disclosed.
Do you have any tips to add to the list? Share them in the comments below!
Happy travels x
Disclosure: This post is not sponsored, but it contains affiliate links. This means that if you book flights through some links on this page, I will get paid a small commission at no extra cost for you!