Tricks and Secrets
The single biggest cost of your trip is going to be flight tickets unless you are traveling to buy a Japanese watermelon or a cantaloupe. The research might seem daunting, but once you get into the swing of things it is less of a chore than it looks. Besides, when you eventually come away with The Mother of All Cheap Flights, you will have beaten the system and feel victorious.
My three-pronged attack
In 2010 I flew from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Bogota, Colombia for $83 one way including all taxes. I am sure it was impossible to find the flight on Orbitz, Kayak, Momondo, or whatever the booking engine du jour is, so how did I come across it? By first figuring out all the airlines that flew into anywhere in Colombia from anywhere in USA. I have a three-pronged attack to follow the budget airline action. First I check whichbudget.com, one of my favorite resources, but it isn’t always comprehensive nor up to date (and every time there is a redesign, it is less user-friendly.) It shows you what airlines fly from or to what cities. It helps if you already have a good sense of geography to know that an airport down the road might be a more convenient/cheaper alternative. This is especially true in Germany, which seems to have an international airport every 50km. In the case of Colombia, I had been there the year before and I knew they were pushing regional airports to decentralize travel to the capital, so I checked Medellin, Cali, and Cartagena–any and every international airport–as well as Bogota.
However, this flight wasn’t on whichbudget.com. I then checked the official website for my destination airport, comparing it to wikipedia.com’s entry for the same airport for the most up-to-date information on which airlines and charters are coming and going. I went to Bogota airport’s website and I noticed that Aires, a formerly all-domestic carrier, was flying to Florida as a new route and when I went to their website, lo and behold, they had a crazy-cheap introductory sale I couldn’t pass up. There are lots of flights like this under the radar. This is especially true for leisure destinations between the Mediterranean to northern Europe as airlines and new routes come and go.
An interesting resource I like referring once in a while to is anna.aero for the newest airline routes. New routes can often mean cheap introductory fares.
Just showing up at the airport is an option, too. I have done this in Malaga, Spain, and I flew the next day to Frankfurt for US$105 on a cheesy airline I had never heard of before–and I like knowing about obscure airlines—called Aero Flight. Sometimes when you discover a flight possibility you still have to do some detective work to track down these companies and then see if you can convince them to sell you a one-way ticket.
I did the same from the airport in Antalya, Turkey to Leipzig, Germany. Since I hitchhike, I rarely think of a narrow destination, but rather a region, especially if the flight doesn’t arrive too late in the day, giving me the chance to go somewhere else upon arrival. I had no reason to go to Leipzig itself, but it led to one of my all-time hitchhiking stories when a trapeze artist picked me up and—but let’s not get distracted now.
The Majesty and Glory of One-Way Tickets
In a perfect world, flights would be like most trains and buses: round trip costs double one way, no fee to change dates, and price is the same whether bought one day or one month before. The airline industry has conspired to not work this way, but more often than not, I find a deal and go with one-way tickets.
Unless your trip must end by a certain date, who wouldn’t want the freedom a one-way ticket offers? A round-trip ticket–a fixed date to return–is like a straitjacket. Go home when you want to go home, not when an airline is holding an arbitrary date-change fee over your head like a guillotine. Airlines have brought all my antipathy upon themselves with their crazy fees to change a date. It is a ten-second process and yet some airlines charge up to US$250 to do it.
What if your plans change? What if there’s an emergency at home? What if you fall in love and need to follow Helga back to Norway? What if you want to take an intensive Filipino cooking class–OK, that will never happen, but the point is that a one-way ticket is freedom. The clock isn’t ticking. You don’t have to be held to a fixed time and can move on when you want to move on. So what’s the answer? Seeking out those rare one-way deals and then using the requisite fake onward e-tickets.
Everyone assumes one-way tickets are expensive because they don’t know where to look. Often they do cost more then half round trip, but if it isn’t too much more, I’d rather have that than be stuck with a ticket that is expensive to change the date and where I have to make a loop to come back to the same place to fly out. Consider, too, that on a round-trip ticket you can rarely if ever make a routing or name change and you have to pay to make a date change every single time. There are few things worse in life than having to pay for a date change more than once.
The worst-case scenario has happened where I had to buy a one-way ticket at the last minute. Maybe I have been lucky, but it’s never cost an arm and a leg. I was in Cairo once when I had to rush home–just before Christmas, no less–but I flew from Cairo to Fresno, a podunk California cow-town, for $710. Not bad.
The Ancillary Benefit of Not Budgeting
This nicely blends in with the benefit of not worrying so much about a budget. On travel forums I see countless questions from people obsessed with how much they need for their trip. It’s an impossible question for someone to know how much another person will spend. Why not just go with the flow and before the money runs out, you buy a ticket and go home. Easy! Less stress! What do people do now? Buy a round-trip ticket and pray that you don’t need to change the date—if you are even allowed to?
Creeping website flight prices–urban legend?
If life is too short to deal with the airlines’ shenanigans, I understand if you want a simple round trip, something that will preferably accrue miles. Researching for the best flight deal is, at best, time-consuming. It can feel like a lot of work and things change. Plus, there are superstitions: Search after midnight! Fly on Tuesdays! Book early! Subscribe to all the airlines’ boring newsletters! Who has the time and desire to stay on top of this stuff?
Plus, there is “flight price creep” contend with. I’ve always felt like a half-baked conspiracy theorist about this, but I have some vindication with this CNN article. On some airline and travel booking websites, if you search for a flight, search the same flight again later, and again another time, suddenly you see the price creeping up. It is the software on the website prodding you to act and stop being a Looky Loo. To thwart this, you have to use another computer from another IP address or clear the cookies from your computer–whatever it takes for the website to think you are a new user.
What about travel agents?
In some cities abroad people gravitate towards travel agents if they are numerous on the ground, but don’t assume they sell the cheapest tickets. If at all possible, it’s worth going to the source to inquire about tickets, meaning straight from the airlines’ offices. This is especially true in Bangkok, a travel hub if there ever was one. Don’t trust the scuzzy, hostile travel agents on Khao San Road, go to the airlines’ offices scattered around the Silom Road/Patpong area (there’s your excuse as to why you are always hanging around Patpong). Another reason is that the airlines have more control over capacity; they can scrounge up a seat on a “full” flight more easily than a travel agent. Plus—and this could be important—any customer service need you will have will be more convenient and efficient to do straight from the airline, too.
On the other hand, I miss the good old days of Khao San Road where someone sitting out in a dusty alley with nothing more than a desk and a phone could sell you a plane ticket.
One city name, but two airports?
Does everyone know by now that you have to be careful with secondary airport locations such as Duesseldorf/Weeze, Frankfurt/Hahn, Paris/Beauvais and Oslo/Torp? None of the airports are even close to the cities they are attached to. Ryanair and the discount airlines like to make these associations to give the impression they are near, but I hear plenty of stories of people getting mixed up and having their trips ruined. Make sure you check that three-digit airport code first.
This confusing phenomenon is most prevalent in Europe but lots of big cities have at least two airports (Sao Paulo, Bangkok, Shanghai, Tokyo) and already people get Orlando and Orlando-Sanford mixed up, which is a real problem since the latter has no public transportation. (Can you imagine an international airport with dozens of flights from seven airlines and zero public transport options? Welcome to Orlando-Sanford! Check out their dreadful website if you don’t believe me. The rental car mafia have a stranglehold on it.)
You need to approach your discount flight as lean as possible. Almost all budget airlines nickel and dime you in cynical ways, such as using a credit card where you have no other choice, but also for checking in bags, seat selection, extra leg room, faster boarding, blankets, pillows, drinks, meals, and anything else they can think of. I always thought Ryanair was joking about charging to use the toilet, but they intend to go through with it while taking out some toilets in the aircraft and adding seats. AirAsia makes you opt out if you don’t want insurance, and it isn’t so straightforward to do. Check out Wizz Air’s list of fees as an example.
At a minimum I bring food and water on the plane. I put an empty bottle through the x-ray machine and on the other side in the terminal I fill it up again. Usually I am on the fence as to whether I need to check my bag in, but the problem is that they charge a lot more to check it in at the airport than online at the time you buy your ticket, so I have to know ahead of time.
Read the website closely so you aren’t surprised later by fees and pray you don’t have a customer service issue where you need to actually talk to someone or you might start a website like wizzairsucks.com–which does exist. In fact, so many people hate the endless fees and lack of any customer service on discount airlines that you can take just about any airline name and add “sucks.com” and you are bound to see an interesting site. Yes, for this reason I already bought TheDromomaniacSucks.com.
The lesson of Oasis Hong Kong
Avoid taking the inaugural flight of an airline. This is only based on the true story of the now-defunct, discount airline, Oasis Hong Kong. A plane full of happy people in Hong Kong who each paid about US$150 to go to London, sitting on the tarmac, and then at the last minute the Russians deny them permission to fly over their airspace, saying that no one had bothered to inform them. Oops! Everyone had to go home and try again tomorrow.
So, are you interested in the details, the nitty gritty? Go get a cold drink and a giant globe and check out the next section on how to travel cheaply all over the world on one-way tickets!
“it’s worth going to the source to inquire about tickets, meaning straight from the airlines’ offices. This is especially true in Bangkok, a travel hub if there ever was one. Don’t trust the scuzzy, hostile travel agents on Khao San Road, go to the airlines’ offices scattered around the Silom Road/Patpong area”
SOO True. And by the way, I just switched the date of a Thai Airways flight (talking to them directly, at one of their Bangkok offices) and they charged NOTHING for the switch. I was very happy.
Thanks. It’s nice to get some validation from other travelers I have never met before. (Check is in the mail.) Congrats on the date change, too.
Great tips and advice, couple questions though.
How far in advance should I book? It seems like there are tickets only a week away which are cheaper than those in a month…and I’m talking about from today.
Second, should I be happy with anything under $600 one way from Seattle or Vancouver, BC to Bangkok? Or is that too much?
Thanks! Keep up all the writing, and good luck transferring all your old pages.
Air fares make no sense so it’s hard to say when you should pounce. Don’t forget to check from other computers if the price starts to creep up.
Over $500 one way to BKK? Sounds bad, but maybe not compared to how much a round trip is: $800-900? Is it cheap to to anywhere else in Asia? Hong Kong? Taipei? Singapore? From any of those places it should be less than $100 to BKK.
Good luck. I know it is a pain to sort it all.
Checked a lot of the places AirAsia flies to BKK from, most were low $500’s, with a connecting ticket to BKK making it again right around $600… Round trip is around $950 depending on the day, but most are over $1050.
Also, I’ve been clearing the cookies so hopefully the prices aren’t creeping, but who knows?
Thanks again, I think I’m just going to consider myself lucky and jump on it if I can find one for under $600…
the best place to find awesome travel deals is on ltur.de, it’s a german website, selling very last minute airfares, mostly from Frankfurt. The deals are posted 72 hours before departure. Here are some prices: Montego Bay, jamaica for 109 ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ (roundtrip!!!!), Dubai for 250 euro, cuba for 200ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬…
Hi Michael, Thanks for your comment. I used to love ltur, but thought that they had lost their way for a while and haven’t looked at it recently. I will give it another look!
Wow that was very informative. But I think a regular traveler with little knowledge will always will be the prey of the big bird companies. I found it very amusing as how did you figure it all out. Good work!
Love your blog!!! I am actually part of the CS community and came across your blog through that one. I have been searching for the cheapest tickets to get my foot around africa from Mumbai to Nairobi (11th Aug), Nairobi to Accra (30th Aug) and Accra to Mumbai (31st Oct). I currently lead HR transformation for APAC and been in the business for 14 years but am quitting the corporate to set my foot travelling and volunteering :))) Hope you can suggest somethign worthwhile …. the best prices i have got thus far is 1100 USD round trip 🙂
Anything out of Accra will be tough. Maybe look at afriqiyah, a libyan airline
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This all matches–and adds to–my own experiences. Right on!
Found you web site searching for dromomaniac. Why not?
You mention the escalating price scam: when you have found a good price and go back the next day to book only to find it has gone up. I have verified this more than once on EasyJet in Europe. The cookies remember you looked at that flight before.
I opened the link in an incognito browser window (so easy to do with Chrome), and bingo, the old cheap price was back. Book it – cha ching.
A lot about travelling with low cost airlines is down to trial and error i’ve found. The most annoying thing is the little ‘extras’ that they like to tag on thus making the flight more expensive sometimes. Ahhh decisions decisions.
I love your way of expressing it.Hilarious!
Today I had a situation at Cairo airport.I had one way ticket to Japan on my Canadian passport and they gave me shit~!
I tried to explain that Canadians are visa free to Japan with or without visa ( I had W and Holiday visa btw which is irrelevant) but those incompetent bastards insisted on presence of visa~!
I was furious as I know very well how it is like when airline adopt a duty of government and customs!it is total mess!
Now,I need your advice:I fret for a day when they will really,some stupid airline refuse me a boarding because of that nonsense you as you smartly put it.What should i do ?Print fake onward ticket?Maybe so,what if they unify the system,especially Star alliance group,it may likely happen in near future.Is it worth maybe to consider charge for fraud or cheat?
The fake ticket would help solve that problem, but as I mention, you have to choose an airline that doesn’t have a relationship with the one you are taking so they can’t easily check. I really need to make the fake onward ticket its own page on my website because I get a lot of questions about it.
not need to separate page.just paste it in Word,edit and you done
you forgot to share one secret,I just deciphered it myself.sometimes,third agencies like Orbitz or Expedia will give you cheaper deal if you book through them vs through airline itself.I was surprised upon discovery of this as I expect that they would charge commission fees,after all they are lazy bums sitting in front of the screen 24/7,they dont fly,they dont maintain the aircraft,no fuel costs etc.
For instance I flew from Muscat to Cairo for 191$ booking through Orbitz.Had I booked through Etihad directly it would cost e 80$ more.
my ten cents.
One alternative to the fake ticket is actually purchasing one from Orbitz, Expedia, priceline. They have a 24 hour cancellation policy and will refund your money. You can even do it online on Orbitz and priceline so you don’t have to talk to an agent. There are exceptions for a few airlines but it’s something to look into.
Thanks for the tip! Are you American? I think that 24-hour policy is only for the American websites?
It is worth looking into.
The way I do my fake tickets is the following: I had once a travel agent friend of mine make a fake ticket for me. It is one of those simple printouts with just text info, no logos and things like that, so it is very easy to edit. I have it in doc-format and I edit it for each country, then print it or just make a pdf file that I can show on my phone. Of course I choose a real flight, as Kent suggests.
The paper has my friend’s agency’s contact info, so in case anyone ever checks, I can say that he messed something up and ask them to call him to confirm. Then he would say it is his fault and assure them that I have paid for a ticket.
Maybe a bit unnecessary precaution, but an extra safety net doesn’t hurt.
Yes, that’s a good idea. Also, if you are at the airport for a legit flight and ask the airline for a printout, you might get one that looks like what you described: all text, so you can edit it later.
Hey kinda of a tip and question …second hand flights such as http://www.jumpflight.com/en anyone ever used them? Seems like a good idea just wonder about the level of abuse that could occur given some doggy sales peoples from nigeria :/
Wouldn’t this be bogus since almost all tickets are non-transferable? I wish something like this could be true. It would be fantastic if you can get over the trust factor.
Great tips! I’ll have to use this the next time I travel. I also have noticed the creeping effect, I’ve also seen on Reddit that you get different rates based on if you search from a Mac or PC although I have yet to confirm it. The airlines just try to squeeze you for as much as possible
Thanks! Another tip I heard was to search in incognito mode with your browser such as you can do with Chrome. It’s all a pain in the sphincter!
It`s also worth to check tickets from airline company`s destination country sites, for example once i needed quite last minute ticket from europe to brazil. Price in aa.com.br site was few hundred dollars cheaper then on aa.com site. exactly same flight.. it was few years ago and then it was possible to pay only with brazilian credit card, so you need local friend if you don`t have card:)
That’s a great tip! Thanks for sharing. I remember that “only with Brazilian credit card” problem! I hope things have changed.