Since I rediscovered my passion for travelling more than 5 years ago, I have been asked many times by people how can I afford to travel often. Since they don't buy my excuse of having a rich boyfriend in every city that I'm visiting anymore, I guess I have to share my secret now how I was able to fly abroad for less than 10 dollars. Yes, bummer.
Airlines are using dynamic pricing strategy on their fares. Which means the airfare is not fixed and is based upon several factors including the law of demand and supply, market conditions, targeted market, airline moguls' mood, what's our stars say, what color of clothes you're wearing etc. In short, we won't know until we click that book button from their websites. So how can I find cheap fares, you ask?
It's because… my stars connived against the airlines!
Okay, obviously I'm just kidding. But before you close your browser for thinking I'm just shitting you, below are the screen shots of my previous travels along with the prices I paid.
I paid 460 PHP or around 10 USD for my flight from Manila, Philippines to Sabah, Malaysia. I booked it 2 months ago prior to my flight.
My flight from Medan, Indonesia to Kuala Lumpur , Malaysia only cost me 76,000 IDR or around 6 USD. I booked it a month before my flight. However, when I was in Medan, I decided to buy a checked-in baggage from their office across the hotel I stayed in as I brought a couple of souvenirs with me. It cost me around 140,000 IDR or around 11 USD. Much more expensive than the cost of my flight. What a rip-off! 😉
I paid 135 MYR or around 39 USD for a flight from Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia to Bali, Indonesia. I booked this 4 days before my flight so it's not bad thinking I didn't have much time to actually choose a flight.
And lastly, my recent purchase. Tada!
A Manila- Dubai flight for only 180 PHP or less than 5 USD. So do you believe me now?
Okay, now let's get down to the business. How did I manage to get it for less money?
Did I hack their system and tweak it? Nope. But I'm tempted. One day…one day…
Did I seduce airline moguls to give me special discount? Ha! Unless they have nice butts, hell will freeze over before I do it. (P.S. that is what you called confidence)
Did I sell my soul to the devil and let the stars connived for me? Almost. Anything for travel right?
So what the hell did I do?I've learned to use different techniques to get lower fares over the years. Some of them I've learned since my first flight booking and still using that until now and those are the reasons I managed to save lots of money on airfare alone.
Please remember that majority of the full service airlines are using class fares. They have 3-4 kinds (economy, first class, business/ VIP class) of fares usually with different features/ services attached to it. And getting lower than $10 international flight is almost impossible with these full service airlines but there are promos that you can still avail that are usually just the same price or even lower with budget airlines. And that's what I'm going to teach you on how to find them. On budget airlines, they usually have 2-3 kinds of fares. The year-round fare (or the average fare for a year) – which goes up depending on the color of your shirt. Just kidding. But yes, it goes up like crazy sometimes and this is what I'm trying to avoid – the crazy fares. The discounted fare which is usually the median fare on the flight (a promo on their own but not as low as the seat sales) and the seat sales, which is the lowest among them all. And that's my usual target.
Well, isn't it great to sit besides a person who paid $300 bucks and you paid less than $100 for the same services? (Don't worry Matt, I won't tell everyone how much you hated me because of that 😉 )
I'm also not going to pretend that I know everything how the airlines work or how their pricing system works. But even airlines analysts can't give you a direct answer on how to predict the airfares because like I said, the system that most of the airlines are using depend on several unpredictable factors. But some of the techniques I've been using help me to find the lowest airfares as possible.
This scenario might be all familiar to you. An airline announces seat sales for $10-flight but you go to their website and didn't find anything. You go to their Facebook page or Twitter account and slander their page: "You lying scheming airline!" Trust me, I saw that scenario a million times when my social life involved trolling people on airlines' Facebook page. And no matter how many times their social media administrators explain that the seats are limited, people still don't believe it…well because they didn't see anything.
To give you a bit of idea how promo seats allocations, please refer to the table below. Please note that this is just a sample table to give you an idea how pricing system is being allocated across class fares/ price type.
You see, even if the airlines announce that they have 10000+ seats on promo sales, that doesn't guarantee you that you can find something. Each flight doesn't have more than 10% for promo sale. In fact, in most cases, they don't even have more than 5% on each flight. Those 10000+ seats they are saying are usually scattered in *80+ flights/ daily within 180 days (6-month time frame for travel time). So granted, they are only selling promos in 10% of their flights for that 6 months (including all destinations), they are only giving away around 6 seats for each flight of these 10%. So it's challenge to find them, and let's not add those travel agents who book promo seats by bulk in advance (yes, I know what you did last seat sale sucker!).
So even with big sales on airlines, you still need some techniques to get ahead. Now, let's talk about them!
Tip #1: Study the promo trends of an airline.
Since I am from the Philippines and travel around South East Asia often, I'm going to focus on South East Asian airlines mostly. Also, this technique applies to those people who want to plan their trips in advance and with planned itineraries. If you're like me who wants to have a bit of freedom with my flight schedules and to save some money as well, you can scroll down to check out technique #3.
- Airlines (including budget and full-serviced airlines) usually announce BIG seat sale during special holidays, anniversaries, national holidays or even rare events of having dates like 11.11.11. So if you think there are holidays coming, go and check airline websites. Please note, that if you want to save BIG money on flights for Christmas trip, then do not wait for December to find promos, because more of less, you'll get promo flights on Christmas next year. Wait for holiday promos instead 3-4 months before your intended travel date and find something within your plans.
- Although signing up for airlines newsletter helps to keep you updated for their promos, I have never relied on them. And they also usually late by 24-36 hours so even before you can visit the website, flights for sale have already been booked. Seat sales usually last from 3-5 days, even before they announce their next promo on the 4th-6th day, I'm already checking out their websites. (For Philippine fliers: Cebu Pacific usually announces their seat sales around 12pm-1pm. Air Asia announces theirs mostly during mid night, at the least their BIG seat sales).
- Be early. So if the airline announces: "We have a BIG promo on 00:00 hour. Come, join us and let's all collect eyebags!", check the website 1-3 hours before their announcement. So if it's 12 midnight, check the website at 9pm-11pm. Why? There are airlines who load promo seats on their system earlier. Why? I don't know. Maybe the airline staff want to go home earlier than 12 midnight because they have a life too you know? Also, most travellers I know, would check out the site at exactly 12 midnight or 1-3 hours after the announcement. The result? Heavy traffic on websites servers (Avitair of Cebu Pacific is the worst in my opinion). So even if they see something, they have to book them 5-10x. Waste of time and it's also scary as there are some glitches reported many times where their cards get charged many times as well. So instead of joy, the seat sales become a nightmare for some.
So Christine, what if we got the news late? Because we also have a life you know more than staring on airlines websites?
Well, you still have more options don't worry. Just scroll down below.
Tip #2: Take advantage of competition.
I love competition! This brings out the best in people and most especially with businesses. And that includes airlines. So how do we benefits from airlines competition you say?
- Before you book anything in airline #1, check out first airline #2 if they have promos comparable to airline #1. Most likely they do. Have you seen those announcements where airline #1 announces "BIG SEAT SALES EVER" and then airline #2 suddenly announces "SUPER MEGA SEAT SALES EVER!", followed by another from airline #3 "RIDICULOUSLY, EXTREMELY SUPER SEAT SALES FOREVER AND EVER!!!"? Yeah, you would see those adjectives and exclamation points word wars a lot. And the result? A HAPPY ME! I take advantage of that by checking who offers convenience the most (travel dates that align with my plans, convenient flight time and the cheapest one. Ding, ding, ding!).
- Two airlines are better than one. I seldom book round trip ticket on the same airline. Especially if it's promo. Why? Because more than not, you have to pay more for your return ticket. It's still all about the money, honey. Obviously, airlines need to earn money and they can't give away all seats for a couple of dollars. Like on the table I showed earlier, not all seats are available for promos and that's how the airlines earn. It's marketing strategy. They will sell you an outbound ticket for few dollars, but they will give you a more expensive ticket for your return ticket so they can still earn something from you. Well, of course you need to go home even if you don't like to, right? So, it's still a win-win for them. And that's one of the reasons why you have already checked all dates but can't find a piso fare for your flight back home. Or if there's some, it's many weeks away from your intended travel date (Who the F can afford to have a vacation leave for 3 months?). So what do I do? I book my outbound with airline #1 and book my inbound with airline #2 for either cheaper fare or only few dollars more expensive than the outbound flight from airline #1 (and most than not, it is only expensive because of the airport tax from the other country).
Tip #3: Beat the system.
There's no exact formula to foresee the pricing algorithm of airlines. But there are some ways to beat the system. This applies for people who want more flexibility on their travels. I use this every time but they proven to be more helpful during emergency or sudden changes on my schedule.
- Be invisible. Use incognito window and close them every after search. I have never used a normal window in any of my flight booking searches. Using incognito protects your privacy as you don't leave browsing history and cookies. I also use incognito window for all of my online shopping and when I'm doing online banking, but that's another story. Going back, incognito mode prevents the airlines to use your cookies against you. No, I don't mean for the airlines to hit you with real and flying cookies! I mean those small files that websites put on your system to store your data and browsing preferences. They do this so when you search over and over again using the same cookies you left from your previous searches, they can display higher prices for you. They can recognize your interest so they display higher prices. It's like going to a bazaar and you see a cute stuff toy and you hug it right away, showing how much you like it. Then when you ask for a discount, the seller says NO. Why?Because you like it and the seller knows you will buy it anyway regardless of the price. Take what this insider guy has to say about the matter.
- Do not log in using membership access or frequent flier account. People use their frequent flier access to save time in entering their details on the website, but this is similar to having the airlines use your own account against you by looking at your flight history. So make sure not to log in, book as "guest" and just enter use your frequent flier number to make sure you get credited for your flights. Remember when you search something on google and then when you click on websites, just any website that has nothing to do with what you search in google, all ads in the websites suddenly cater to what you need? Airlines use the same advertising algorithm. They get your details and supply you with targeted ads. And this might be used against you. Take the case with Delta Airlines few years ago.
- Use local websites. If an airline has an international website, but with local subsidiaries, choose the local website of your flight origin. What I mean with this is, if I'm in the Philippines, and I want to travel between Indonesia and Malaysia, instead of searching using the Philippine website or their international website, say for example AirAsia, use the local site for Indonesia instead. This will display local promos and will give you more options to choose from. That's how I found my 6 USD flight from Medan, Indonesia to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
- Remove 3rd party on the equation. I use flight booking sites to spot on airlines with lowest offerings but don't use them. Bahahaha! I use skyscanner, kayak or google' ITA to help me check flights easier but then go directly to the airlines websites once I scout them. This is the practice I use personally for business: always cut the middle man and go directly to the source. Save you money, save you the headache. 😛
Tip #4: Be Creative.
I don't mean putting a funny make up or choosing the right clothes before booking a flight. No, that's not gonna help you. What I mean is don't just settle for 1 or 2 options and stick with them. There are lots of ways to save money on flights, if you'll be more flexible with your travel plans.
- Take alternative routes and take advantage of it. When I was planning for my Bali trip, the flight from Manila to Bali is whooping 12k-15k of pesosesoses! That's roughly 280-350 USD! That's way more than that of my goal of 5k maximum for a regional flight in South East Asia. So did I book it? Hell, NO! I checked google map and checked cities with direct flights going to Bali. Kota Kinabalu got my attention as few months before that, I canceled my flight to KK from Singapore to go home. The flights were around 4-5K from KK-Bali. But then it was cheaper compare to the direct flight. So did I book it? Nope. I first checked the Manila to KK flights. Then I managed to find a 460 pesos ($10) flight on the same day. Wohoo! I was going to KK! So what about Bali? Well, 2 days before my flight to KK, I managed to book a 135 RM ($39) from KK to Bali! So that's roughly $50 vs $280. And I got to visit KK for 2 days!
- Choose smaller airports. Smaller airports have lower taxes hence flights are usually cheaper. But then I really don't recommend this without checking the pros and cons first. Some smaller airports are not in the city or probably in some remote area of the city. So I suggest to calculate how much you can save with money and time, because it might not be worth it.
- Choose non-peak hours or days. I can actually save more (whaaaat?!) if I'm using this technique a lot. But since I'm working while travelling at the same time, I have to let it go sometimes. Even if it's cheaper to fly at 3am, that's not going to work for me if I'm working around that time or even if it's cheaper on Wednesday and Thursday compare to flying on weekends.
Tip#5: Be Patient and Compromise.
You need a lot of patient if you want to save more money. There are people who would advise you to book as early as possible to save more money but this does not work for everyone.
- There are airlines who are better to book earlier, like Cebu Pacific for their piso fare promos that can be used after 4-12 months. But there are also airlines who are good for booking at the last minute, like Philippine Airlines, who occasionally put their international seats on sale to fill their planes and airlines like AirAsia who stands on middle ground for having the best price earlier or at the last minute sometimes. So patience is a key. Since your travel plans might not coincide with the airlines' dynamic pricing.
- Remember earlier when I mentioned that you have to be earlier or else try to find promos along with the rest of the million fliers? Well, if you received the news later, it doesn't mean you don't have a chance anymore. In fact, promos don't bother me anymore (choz!). So even if they have promos and I need to sleep, I can't be bothered. Why? Because those people who book on the 1st and 2nd day are sooo excited sometimes and I rely on that. Majority of the airlines these days (in South East Asia at least) have different payment options. That includes reserving seats for 5-24 hours and almost 1/3 of fliers use them. If the flier fails to pay them and confirm the booking, the reservation gets canceled. And the slots go back to the system. So if you can't find anything on the first day, go back on the 3rd or 4th day. Because all those trigger-happy bookers have probably remember they don't have enough budget to fly in the days they chose or probably remember an event where they can't take a vacation or simply forget them.
- Only book the flights for the meantime and only purchase add-ons (check-in baggage, insurance, seat selector etc.) once you're 100% you're flying. Also it saves you more time and get to book faster (which you need to do as seats get filled easily). I do this most of the times, so just in case, I won't be able to fly, I only lose a couple of dollars.
- Also, don't be too greedy (ouch!). If you think you're saving enough at 1000 pesos ($24) flight going to Singapore, just go for it and do not wait for it to go down at 300 pesos especially if the travel dates are perfect for you. This is my target usually. I don't pay for more than Php5000 for a regional flight in South East Asia and more than Php3000 for domestic flights anywhere. Learn to compromise as well.
*Average daily flights of a big budget airline