We recommend you book your flights first when planning a vacation. The reason for this will become clear as we continue. We normally start with general search engines like ‘Cheap Flights,’ ‘Travelstart, ‘ and others. We also look at the advertised prices at travel agencies. Travel agency prices are at least 10% higher than what you will pay if you buy directly.

Firstly, you need to know how some of the Airline Companies work. We realized that if you search for flights to a specific destination, each search will give us different prices. We could not determine the exact reason yet, but it has something to do with the number of bookings on a specific flight, bulk bookings made or canceled, etc.

Because of the above, we started to broaden our searches. Most search engines allow searching your dates plus or minus two days. It is interesting to see how much the pricing differs daily and from Airline to Airline.

We also check the Airline Websites directly. Some Airlines like Air France / KLM will have specials on their website that are not detected by search engines. These specials are not in the peak season. Where possible, try to fly out of peak season. Before you finalize your booking, ensure that the ticket supplier gives you the same value as the Airline. We had the unfortunate experience where we had to pay for our luggage as it was not included in the ticket.

We also look at destinations close to our final destination. This way we found a 30% discount on flights to Paris. Instead of flying directly to Paris for R8500.00 ($650.00) on Air France, we flew with the same plane and boarded a high-speed train to Brussels for R6000.00 ($460.00). Air France / KLM has a ‘Fly and Rail’ option from Paris to other European destinations. We then changed our tour itinerary slightly to start in Brussels rather than Paris.

The last fact to consider is that Airlines will put some tickets on special. These specials are only while stocks last; believe us, this doesn’t last very long.

For the reasons above, we will do searches at least three times a day on various sites and to multiple destinations. After a few days, you will know the going rate for each flight. We would have dropped most destinations by this time and concentrated on two or three. Normally we will find our bargain price within the first two weeks. Unfortunately, it took us more than 3 weeks on occasion.

Another factor to consider is that flights are normally cheaper when it opens for booking. Most websites open bookings six months in advance. We prefer to do our planning well in advance and start our searches for air tickets six months before our departure date.

It doesn’t happen like this all the time. Sometimes we get a bonus and suddenly want to vacation in less than six months. In these cases, we try to postpone buying tickets until as late as possible. Ticket prices start to vary significantly in the last month before the flight. This will be determined by the number of seats left on the plane. Flights that are nearly fully booked will become more expensive while others will become cheaper. For us, this option is a bit of a risk as spaces might not be available since it is also at this point where Airlines start to combine flights, or all flights might be fully booked.

If we find the price we are prepared to pay on one of the general ticket sites, we will immediately search the Airline where the prices are to see if we can find it cheaper on the Airline site. We do this on a separate window as we have lost cheap tickets because we left the site. On our return, the tickets were gone, and prices were high again. If it is cheaper, we buy from the Airline directly. If the Airline offers the same price or higher, we prefer to buy from the site where we found the price originally.

Lastly, airport tax adds a big chunk to your ticket price. Larger airports charge more airport tax than smaller airports. Where possible, try to get a flight to a small airport. A good example of this is flying to England. If you fly directly to Heathrow in London from OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg, a ticket will cost around R9 000.00 ($690.00). If you rather fly to Manchester, the price of the ticket will be around R8 200.00 ($630.00). A train ticket from Manchester to London will cost less than R800.00 ($60.00).

Similarly, flying to Zagreb, Croatia, from Paris will cost around R3 000.00 ($230.00). If you rather fly from Brussels to Belgium, the ticket will be about R1 600.00 ($123.00). Definitively worth investigating.

Normally with International travel, Airline tickets will be your single most expensive expense. However, if you can save money at this point, you will be able to spend it on something worthwhile during the vacation.

Tips summary.

  • Book your flights first before any other reservations are made
  • Be flexible with your travel dates
  • Use various search engines
  • Compare search engine prices with airline websites
  • Make sure baggage, and other standard requirements are included in the price
  • Compare prices of various destinations
  • Look for smaller airports
  • Search multiple times a day
  • Book six months in advance

Thiss will help you to get cheaper flights in the future.