How to save money on flights – Epic airfare hacks from a pro

Flying is expensive so who wouldn’t want to book a cheaper ticket given the option?

It can be hard to know how to find low-cost tickets though!

I spent years helping people book airline tickets as an Air New Zealand reservations consultant, and have travelled to more than 75 countries – and now I’m here to help you save some serious dosh!

From common sense to lesser-known practical tips, we’ll help stretch your vacation budget further…

White Air New Zealand plane sitting on the runway at Auckland International Airport.

How to save money when booking flights

1. Book in advance

Planning your travels in advance is often one of the best ways to save money on flights.

Flight prices often rise as the departure date approaches, so booking several weeks or, better still, months in advance, can lead to significant savings.

Unfortunately, there’s no golden rule or deadline to book before prices go up.

We suggest keeping an eye on prices. If you notice they’re starting to climb, it might be time to lock your dates down.

2. Avoid peak travel times

Flying on/around weekends, public holidays and school holidays can ramp prices up significantly.

By comparison, flying mid-week, taking flights at less-desirable times (super early or late) and traveling during off-peak seasons can help save money.

As a general rule, you’ll pay more money to fly when others want to. If you’re happy to travel at less popular times, your wallet will thank you.

3. Be flexible with dates

Even within busy periods, being flexible with dates can help you save money on flights.

If you have this level of flexibility, scan the dates over a week or two.

It’s not uncommon to be able to save a few hundred dollars just by picking a nearby date or returning home a day or two earlier/later.

4. Try your luck with a sale

Sometimes flight tickets are offered on sale – this can be a great way to save money!

These can appear around particular days (like Black Friday), or in response to low ticket sales.

Waiting for a sale can be a risky game though because airlines generally special off the lowest fare classes.

If they have confidence that they’ll sell most of the tickets on a flight, they won’t offer them at a discount.

So, if you’re planning to travel when others will also want to, be very cautious about waiting on a sale… you could well find that a special never comes, or that when it does, your chosen flight is excluded.

And that might leave you paying significantly more than you would have, had you purchased them nice and early.

We only recommend holding out in the hopes of a sale if you’re travelling off-peak and if your trip is not essential.

5. Use flight comparison tools

You’ll find a number of different flight comparison tools and apps online these days.

These platforms aggregate prices from various airlines and booking sites, allowing you to view price trends and compare findings – all in the hopes of finding the best deal.

Better still, many of these platforms also search based on some of the tips we’re shared here – like flexible dates, routes and different ticket types.

Check out:

  • Google Flights
  • Skyscanner
  • Kiwi.com
  • Kayak

Pro tip ✈️: Learn how we save significant money by using these features on Google Flights.

6. Set price alerts

Remember how we mentioned keeping an eye on flights to ensure prices don’t get away on you?

You can do this manually – or you can set price alerts for your desired route(s), letting technology do the legwork for you.

Many travel search engines offer this feature, notifying you when prices drop for the flights you’re interested in.

Just remember – they might never drop – so don’t price yourself out of your dream vacation by waiting indefinitely.

7. Consider alternative airports

If you’ve got a few airports near you, it’s worth checking prices for each of these different routes.

Smaller, less busy airports can sometimes offer lower fares.

Major hub airports can also be cheaper due to the number of flights they offer and the possibility to fly discount carriers.

Check in hall of Air New Zealand at Auckland Airport.

8. Leverage airline & credit card travel reward programmes

Though they’re unlikely to help you on your upcoming flight (as they take time to build up), rewards programmes can be lucurative in the long-term.

We recommend signing up with airline frequent flyer programmes, even if you don’t travel often, so you can start saving points towards future flights.

And even better, get yourself a credit card that earns frequent flyer points, so you can earn vouchers to spend on flights. You’ll be surprised how quickly these add up if you put the majority of your spending on your credit card.

Plus, some credit cards offer significant sign-up bonuses that can be redeemed for travel.

Pro tip: If you’re a frequent traveller, it’s often worth paying for a platinum credit card. Though the fees are higher, you’ll earn frequent flyer points at a higher rate and will often receive free travel insurance.

9. Use a budget carrier

Though you might have a preferred airline, budget carriers can offer the same routes for significantly less money.

Sure, you’re unlikely to be as comfortable, and won’t have access to the same creature comforts as a full-service carrier, but saving money on the flight means you’ll have more to spend at your destination!

10. Consider different ticket types and routings

Though this tip can take a little more time to figure out, looking at different ticket types and routes can help save you significant money.

Be aware though, just as these options can save you money in some circumstances, they can actually cost you more in others.

Be sure to check all options before deciding which is best for you.

Don’t book a return fare

Sometimes booking two one-way tickets with different airlines can be cheaper than a round-trip ticket with one airline.

When booking a return flight out of New Zealand, you’re treated as a New Zealand customer.

When you book two one way flights (for example, New Zealand to the USA, and then USA to New Zealand), you’ll book on both the New Zealand and US versions of the website.

This can result in better prices, but keep an eye on the currency of your return flight (as it will likely be in the currency of the country from which you’re departing).

Book individual tickets

Though we tend to prefer through-tickets (where you book all flights in one go, for example CHC to AKL, and then AKL to LAX) as they give you more protection as a traveller, sometimes booking tickets separately can save you money.

However, don’t assume this will always be the case – often the opposite is true.

⚠️ If you plan to book separate tickets (which is known as a self-transfer) ensure you have more than enough time between connecting flights. You’ll need to disembark your flight, collect your bags, clear customs/immigration (if required) and check in to your next flight. Allow plenty of extra time in case of delays. And be aware, if on two separate tickets, airlines will not take any responsibility for delays impacting other flights. Check your travel insurance to determine the minimum connection time they require to pay out, should you be delayed.

Combine all your bookings with a Multi-city fare

In situations like this, it’s best to use a multi-city booking engine, combining a series of individual tickets into one bundle… just be aware, you won’t always be able to do this.

There are sometimes limitations when flying into more obscure airports or when looking to add stopovers.

Stopovers

Talking about stopovers… they can make flights cheaper or more expensive, so if you’re flexible, we suggest pricing up both options.

Speaking from experience… We recently compared half a dozen different options for an upcoming vacation. The online booking system wouldn’t let us combine a stopover with an onward ticket, requiring us to split the booking. In the end, it was more affordable for us to pay a booking fee for a reservation agent to book a through-ticket with a stopover, than it was for us to book two separate tickets online (without any fees). Don’t assume that what you see online is the only way to book a ticket, or that it’s necessarily the best option.

Hidden-city ticketing – Skiplagging

Finally, and this is a contentious option, you could consider ‘hidden-city ticketing’.

Say you want to travel from AKL to LAX. It could be more affordable to travel from AKL to SFO, via LAX, for example.

Hidden-city ticketing (or skiplagging) would have you book the AKL to SFO flight (via LAX). You’d then fly AKL to LAX, before quietly getting off in LAX and forgoing the last leg of your flight.

Be warned though, many airlines (understandably) don’t like their passengers doing this.

If you decide to make use of a hidden-city ticket, you’ll only be able to do so for the last leg of your ticket, and you’ll want to travel only with carry-on luggage (unless you’ll need to collect checked luggage anyway – like you do when landing in the US or when you first touch down in your destination country).

It’s also important that you let the airline know that you won’t be able to make the last leg of your flight – but we recommend doing that once you’re on the group at (what will become) your final destination.

Again though, this isn’t for everyone, so be sure to understand what you’re getting yourself into.

It’s possible to use the Skiplagged site to check (and book) hidden-city fares, or you can find them yourself by manually checking booking engines.

11. Avoid extra fees

If all else fails and you can’t find a cheaper flight, it’s often possible to make the flight you need more affordable.

Keep an eye out for additional fees that can inflate the cost of your ticket, such as checked baggage, seat selection, meal fees and entertainment packages.

Packing light and bringing snacks can help avoid these extra charges.

Leave off anything you don’t need to reduce the cost of your flight.

Did you know? A lot of people suggest using the incognito option on your browser to save money but this doesn’t normally have an impact on flight prices. Each flight has a certain number of tickets available in each fare class – when these sell out, you’ll have to purchase the next class up. If a price goes up, it’s almost always because someone else bought the cheaper tickets before you did. If they only held the tickets (and decide not to purchase them) or someone requests a refund, tickets will go back into the system – but they won’t always go back in at the same fare class… that depends on the proportion of other tickets that are currently available. Chances are though, it doesn’t have anything to do with your browser tracking you.

And there you have it – twelve tried-and-tested, practical tips to help you stretch your travel budget when booking flights.

And that means more money to spend on vacation!

If you have your own tips, we’d love you to share them in NZTT.

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