How to Get Cheap Flights

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The cost of flying has been going up rapidly with the demise of airlines like 1Time, VelvetSky, Nationwide and FlySafAir. The remaining carriers are sitting plum and making a fortune from us, but there are still ways for you to find cheap flights.

How airlines work

You just have to think like the airline to take advantage of them. The airline’s goal is to maximise profit for every single seat and they use complex algorithms to do this. But the factors that they always have to consider are (1) fuel price, (2) competition and (3) demand. The last two factors are where you can game the system.

So how do you get cheap flights?

Monitor them all

To figure out when the prices might drop monitor prices across all airlines. You’ll notice how price drops happen in waves. Don’t buy the ticket that drops its price first, rather wait to see how the competitors respond – you may get an even better deal. Use a service like cheapflights.co.za to keep an eye out on all of them.

Buy on Tuesday afternoon

The best day to make your pick is Tuesday. Many airlines send out their weekly savings specials on Tuesday morning, once they’ve analysed their data for the coming week. Sign up for their newsletters and follow them on social media to get deals before they disappear. Set aside the morning for bargain hunting, have a think over lunch and then make your decision in the afternoon.

Midweek travel is best

Avoid the weekend, public holidays and major events. Demand is high at those times and you’ll struggle to find a good price. If you have to fly during this time, consider booking for a few days before (or after). You won’t avoid the high prices entirely, but you’ll do better than the desperate booker who wants an Easter flight a week before Easter. It’s also worthwhile to look at using this to your advantage. When demand is high for flights into a city (like for a major conference or sporting event), look at the flights flying in the opposite direction. Airlines need to get their planes back to meet this demand and flights in the opposite direction can be cheaper.

Monitor the monitors

The web has cut out the travel agent, but it has also introduced new ways for airlines to monitor you. Have you ever seen a good price and then come back an hour later to see it gone? Every time you visit a website you’re most likely being followed by cookies and trackers. Checking prices for a flight over and over again reveals to the airline that there is demand for that flight, which means it will only get more expensive. Use plugins like Ghostery, which blocks trackers and cookies, to stealthily peep at the prices.

Mix, match and use airpasses

Airline alliances (associations of airlines like Star Alliance and SkyTeam) often offer air passes for travel through continents. For a relatively low price you can travel freely throughout the specified region. They come with some restrictions, but are a good option for backpackers and the like. No one airline has the two-way advantage on a route, so mix and match to get the best package. Fly there with Kulula, fly back with Mango.

Weigh your luggage

The safest way to save money is to know how much you’re carrying. If you know that you will be over weight look at using cargo flights, like SAA Cargo, to send your stuff ahead of you. The cost of sending heavy luggage by cargo will almost certainly be cheaper than the penalties, which are the bread and butter of airlines.

Ticket hunting checklist:

  • Follow the airlines on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Sign up for their newsletters.
  • Use flight comparison sites to monitor them.
  • Avoid weekends, public holidays and major events (keep an eye on the events calendar).
  • Make Tuesday your decision day.
  • Pick flights that fly midweek.
  • Mix and match your flights.
  • Weigh your luggage before and send it by cargo if it’s heavy.

Good luck ticket hunting!

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