Editor’s Note: This article was originally published November 2014 and has been updated to reflect the most current information.
Are you just looking for the best fare to get from point A to B? Booking a cheap flight shouldn’t be hard but it often is. Here, we break down everything there is to know about getting the best fare on a flight.
“10% of life is what happens to you, the other 90% is how you react”
That includes buying airline tickets. So, let’s start by looking at the 10% – the factors out of your control when booking a flight, then we can assess how to react. Some of these are probably obvious to most, but they are important to take into consideration when booking your next flight.
From time to time, you may notice an extra charge on your ticket, whether it is part of an air/hotel package or booked on its own. The cost of fuel accounts for up to 40% of an airline’s operating cost, and if there’s a sudden spike in their cost for fuel, you better believe that they will pass the increase on down to the traveller in the form of a fuel surcharge.
Unless you can predict the fluctuations in global oil prices, this one is hard to avoid. If you find a fare you are comfortable with that does not include a fuel surcharge, buy it. Fares are more likely to increase the closer you get to departure, and can even be hit with an additional fuel surcharge, too.
For Canadians, it costs more to fly to Europe in July and August than it does in the dead of winter. In turn, it will always be more expensive to take an all-inclusive Caribbean holiday in our winter months when everyone wants a week of sun. Low and high seasons for travel are based on supply and demand and prices reflect seasonality.
Demand isn’t only driven by weather though, and local holidays or culturally important celebrations can also play a role in the cost to get somewhere. Are you looking at flying into Beijing the week before Chinese New Year? Are you visiting Tel Aviv on a Jewish holiday? Is the food festival on in New Orleans the week you are planning to go?
Thoroughly research your destination to make sure you are avoiding major local events or holidays if you are looking to keep the cost of your ticket to a minimum. To avoid high season pricing, consider travelling off-season or during ‘shoulder season’, typically spring and fall.
Time of Flight
If you are prepared to be at the airport at 4 am or to fly overnight, you may end up saving some money. As these flights are typically less desirable, they may be the most available, thus cheaper. If you are looking at a Friday evening flight from Toronto to New York City, returning on Sunday evening, understand that everyone considering a weekend in New York is also looking at those flights, driving up the cost.
When planning a weekend getaway, by leaving on a Thursday and/or returning on a Monday, sometimes significant savings can be had. It pays to poke around, looking at different combinations of dates if possible.
On any scheduled flight, there can be up to 15 different booking classes, all with different price points. These fares differ by advance purchase, length of stay and flexibility. The lowest fares are the most restrictive, and as you go up in price, the more flexible they get. No matter what fare you buy in Economy Class, the actual seat and onboard services are the same.
Be flexible. To get the lowest fare on a flight, book with as much notice as possible, keep your trip less than a month in length and be okay with the fact that your ticket is non-changeable and non-refundable. If you simply need a changeable ticket, understand the cost associated with that flexibility.
We get it – comparison shopping can be a pain. And as far as booking flights goes, the internet can quickly become a giant rabbit hole, with the limitless amount of airlines and travel providers claiming to offer the lowest fare. Did you know that our Expert Travellers can handle your comparison shopping for you, without a charge? Yep, our service is always free. We’re just happy to help.