—Updated on 20 June 2013
From time to time I get emails or other messages asking me for tips on finding low fares, etc. There are all kinds of tips out there so mine are probably not mind-blowing ideas. Still they work well for me and are based on personal experience.
We all know airfare can be quite expensive. It is even more so within the US or when using US airlines which lately charge more and more and provide less and less services. I have especially seen this as we’ve had the opportunity to fly with international carriers within South America. Flights may not be all that cheap, but you get far more bang for your buck. For instance we recently flew with TACA (although the flight was operated by AeroGal) from Colombia to Ecuador. Staff were friendly and helpful, and our 1-1/2-hour flight included free beverages (including wine and beer), snacks, and a light meal. There were no charges for checked or carry-on baggage or for checking in online, and I got to choose our seats for free as well. Try that in the US!
When using super low-cost airlines in other countries, make sure to read the fine print for hidden charges. Ryanair is infamous for this. Your ticket may only cost $50, but by the time you’re done paying all the extra fees you may have spent thrice that. Spirit charges for both carry-on and checked baggage, but what may not be clearly known is that the fee is PER SEGMENT. So if you have to change planes somewhere, you’ll be charged that fee all over again. When we flew to Colombia from Honduras, we ended up having to pay $140 in baggage fees for 2 backpacks that were checked, and they were well within weight limits. They were still cheaper than their competitors, but not by much after that.
When searching for flights, I generally begin with Adioso. So far it has been SkyScanner almost every time. Just be aware that some of the sites listed through them charge an additional processing fee, and currency exchange rates might also apply (check your bank or credit card company for details if you’re unsure).
When I find a good deal, I usually visit that airline’s website as well as sometimes they offer steeper discounts when booked through them directly. It doesn’t always happen, but one time I found a roundtrip airfare for Paris that was $300 USD cheaper on the airline’s website. No, that isn’t a typo.
If you have some extra time don’t forget to check trains and buses. They may take a little longer but they can offer a HUGE savings. For instance to fly from Cuenca, Ecuador, to Quito, a roundtrip ticket will cost $126, whereas by bus, which will take about 8 hours, it will only cost $16 roundtrip. Buses aren’t always the most comfortable ride, but they do offer you a chance to experience local culture and see parts of the country that you might not see otherwise. In some countries the buses can be quite posh. On our trip from Bogota to Medellin our bus had WiFi, individual entertainment systems, foot rests, an extremely clean bathroom, A/C with extra fans, reading lamps, and so on.
In countries with a more developed train system, like can be found all over Europe, they are not only super affordable, but offer less hassle, are cancelled less often than flights, are extremely comfortable and quite fast making them an even better option.
Do you have any other special tips you’ve found to be particularly successful?
January 27, 2013
I did use COSMOS to book a guided tour thru Costa Rica. It was $995 for a 10-day guided tour on a first class bus. The price was all inclusive: hotels, meals, entrance fees, etc, etc. R/T airfare was $400 each. $1,400 for an all inclusive trip – which was actually one of my best adventures ever! I went with a friend, my brother and cousin in 2006…we still talk about this trip and are ready to do it again!
January 27, 2013
I’ve never heard of COSMOS before. Sounds like a pretty darned good deal!
May 10, 2012
I love trains and buses when I travel. Definitely an affordable and efficient option in other countries (not as much in the US). As for airlines, the US sucks when it comes to charging. I have my own theories as to why and have written about them so I won’t go into it here. I will the two biggest factors are lack of competition for other travel options and lack of competition in the airline industry for domestic travel.
Unfortunately, the price of flying continues to go up as there have already been a number of airfare hikes in 2012. And as airlines merge, I think this is going to mean even bad news (I just wrote about this as well).
Flying in the US is expensive and then when you look at fees and taxes, it makes you appreciate some of the other travel experiences you have outside of the US.
May 10, 2012
I agree with you. I think mergers make it worse, and competition is the key to price control. The old supply and demand rule. I think some of it is also just plain greed. When an airline is posting millions of dollars in profit and then turning around and charging customers baggage fees, raising prices, etc., that just smacks of “We’re doing it because we can.” And as you said, with no other really good travel alternatives within the US, it’s either pay up or drive.
May 4, 2012
Great tips! It is also good to leverage any airline miles with have (whether it be through a mileage program with an airline or through your credit card company)… Doing this allowed my husband and I to travel from Peru to Paris for free!
May 4, 2012
If you’re lucky enough to have lots of mileage. Since I always have to chase the best deals, I never have enough miles. Boo! J
May 3, 2012
Perfectly timed information for me, Talon! As of right now, I’m wanting to book “legs” on my trip — fly from Denver to Paris, Paris to Italy, Italy to Tel Aviv, and Tel Aviv to Denver. Because it seems complicated and I’m totally unfamiliar with this part of the world, I’ve thought about going to a local travel agent to help with this. Any thoughts/experience with going through a travel agent, Talon?
As always, thanks for sharing your experiences!
May 3, 2012
Travel agents can be very helpful. You’ll pay a little bit more, but in the end they can save you some extra gray hairs, especially if something happens while traveling. With your route I’d personally recommend considering taking the train from Paris to Italy. You’ll get to see some amazing countryside that you might not otherwise get to see. Although, if your itinerary is pretty tight, flying will be best. That’s when a travel agent can save you some time and grief.
May 2, 2012
Another tip that I recently discovered – read-the-fine-print on Expedia, et al. They often have their own (additional) penalties for change/cancellation of a flight – ON TOP OF whatever the airline might have.
That’s why I generally look for the best fares on Kayak, etc. but… then go to the airline’s site and book my flight directly through the carrier.
May 2, 2012
That has been my best practice as well. Good point about Expedia, though. That IS an important thing to know.