Other Advanced Strategies for Finding Cheaper Fares
A few additional advanced airfare strategies can help you save money under the right circumstances.
Buy airplane tickets at the local's prices
In many places in the world, airlines charge lower prices to locals than to people who are booking from overseas. You can often save significant amounts of money by booking on the local website, rather than on a US or international one.
Airlines, like every other business, want to maximize their revenues. To do this, they practice “price” discrimination—trying to get more money from people who are willing to pay more for tickets and offering lower prices to people who are willing to spend less.
For example, if Avianca keeps the fares between Bogota and Cali low, they will encourage more locals to fly to the coast. However, they know that offering these cheaper prices won’t have much effect on the number of international travelers, who choose to come to Columbia on vacation or business. They can charge those international travelers higher fares without significantly affecting ticket volumes. If you look, you’ll see that domestic-facing websites are charging $25 for the same flight that costs $102 on an international-facing site.
If you can, we always recommend checking the price for a flight on a website “set” to the local country. Most of the time, you’ll see the same pricing you would get from a US-focused site but sometimes you’ll find dramatically lower prices.
Here is the calendar of fares between Bogota and Cali, Columbia, if you were purchasing “from” Bogota.
And here are the same fares when you are buying from Seattle:
Sure enough, here are the listings for the US version of Expedia:
And here are the same flights on LATAM's own Columbian-facing site. 132,610 Columbian pesos equaled $45.87.
Basic tips on finding local fares
- Cheaper “locals” pricing isn’t always available. Many airlines charge the same price regardless of where you buy.
- You are most likely to save money on local flights in less developed countries. Lower average incomes drive the need to provide lower prices to local residents.
- In most cases, the cheapest prices are available from the same locale as the “origination” city. If you are flying within Columbia, you are best off buying from a Columbia-facing website, if you are flying internationally from Japan, you are best off buying from a Japan-facing website.
- ITA Matrix is the easiest way to check for prices available from a different location. By default, it will set the “Sales City” to be the same as the departure city. However, you can change the “Sales City” to experiment with prices for people who purchase from different locations. ITA Matrix is convenient but won’t always uncover the local prices being charged by the airline, so it can be worthwhile to check the local airline’s website directly. Using ITA Matrix--The Most Sophisticated Airfare Search Tool.
- The websites for most airlines, and the large travel booking companies, let you set your “location” to one of a few dozen “local” sites. Look for a setting at the top or the bottom of the webpage or on the webpage footer. After you do, you should see pricing for people who live in that country.
- Make sure you use a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. To take advantage of local prices, you will often need to pay in the local currency.
Sometimes, you can control the website’s “language” independently from the “location”. That lets you continue to use the website in English, even when you’ve set your location to another country. If not, you can use browser translation tools to translate the page into English.
Sometimes, you can independently control the currency that is used to display prices. This lets you directly view prices in dollars, even if you may wind up paying with the local currency. Otherwise, you’ll need to convert the prices on your own.
Using a VPN
An airline or travel site may try to outsmart you by automatically determining where you are shopping from, rather than using the setting on its website. While you can set the website to act as if you were shopping from within that country, they can tell that you are connecting from the United States and will show you the higher international pricing.
If you suspect that this is occurring, you can take the more drastic step of using a “Virtual Private Network” (VPN), so that it looks like you are actually connecting from the desired country. A VPN is a service that directs the Internet traffic from your machine to a server located somewhere else in the world and then connects to the Internet from that location. By using one, you can appear to be located anywhere in the world that you want. Use a VPN to Save Money on Travel
Earn free travel by getting bumped from your flight
Most of the time, getting bumped from your flight is the last thing you want to have happen. It can easily ruin your trip or cause you to miss work. Other times, getting bumped can work out great. You'll receive a huge amount of compensation for your inconvenience. The compensation can be so valuable that some travel fanatics make a hobby out of actively trying to be bumped.
The airlines usually do a decent job of predicting how many passengers will show up. The flight might be nearly full, some standby passengers might not get seats, but no one is getting bumped. But occasionally, the flight is truly overbooked and not everyone will be able to get a seat.
- The best way to tell whether the flight might be overbooked, is to see if you can still buy a ticket for the flight. It doesn’t take much time to use your phone to try to buy a last-minute ticket. If they are still selling tickets, it is unlikely that anyone will get bumped. If they aren’t, it is time to swing into action. You can’t trust the online seat map for your flight—it can easily look full, when there are still plenty of seats left on your flight.
- It can also be helpful to take a quick glance at the arrival board at the airport. If there are a lot of delayed flights, there is a good chance that there will be passengers that need to be rebooked on their connecting flights or crew that need to be repositioned.
- If you think there is a decent chance that your flight is overbooked and you are interested in being bumped, there are a few things you can do to increase the chance that you will be one of the chosen volunteers.
- Let the gate agents know. The most important thing is to simply let the gate agent know that you are willing to give up your seat. If there is some chance that someone will get bumped, they will usually thank you and take your name down on their list. If they need to take volunteers, there is a much better chance that you will be towards the front of the line.
- Sit near the gate agents and be there before boarding time. If they start taking volunteers, you'll need to be nearby.
- Don’t check your bags. If you do, it is much harder for them to switch you to another flight.
- If you volunteer, there is a chance that you might wind up a little screwed. Sometimes an airline will start bumping passengers and then find out that there is more space on the plane. If that happens, they’ll put you back on your original flight and you won’t receive any compensation. That sounds like you are just back where you started from. However, while you were waiting, the airline may have given away your prebooked seat and the overhead luggage space may have filled up. You are taking a small risk, every time you volunteer.
- If you can, work out your rebooking options ahead of time. Go online and see what alternative flights are available. In most cases, you'll need to limit yourself to flights on the same airline. In extreme cases, you might be able to be rebooked on a different airline. By understanding your options ahead of time, you can ask to be put on a specific flight and you’ll have independent information about how much you are likely to be inconvenienced.
- Negotiate a better offer. The gate agent will usually make an “offer” for what you will receive and how quickly you should expect to be put on another plane to your destination. Whatever they offer, you can, and should, ask for more. Just make sure to stay reasonable. If it appears that they are having a hard time finding volunteers, your negotiating power is higher; if there is a line of other people waiting to give up their seats, it is lower.
- Ask to be matched to any higher offer. One useful approach is to agree to (a potentially slightly modified version of) their initial offer but ask to be matched to any better offer that they wind up giving to another volunteer. This is a way to lock-in your participation, while still reaping the extra benefits if the airline starts getting desperate and needs to raise their offer.
- Ask for, but don't demand, premium cabin seats for your new flight. Often, there are premium cabin seats still available for fliers with elite status. There is no additional out-of-pocket expense for the airline to put you in one of those seats, and if you are going to be delayed, at least your next flight will be more comfortable. At the very least, ask for a better coach seat, like an exit row, that is typically only available for elite flyers or with a seat surcharge.
- If you are flying a legacy airline, a lounge pass is another easy item for them to throw in. There is little out-of-pocket cost and it gives you a more comfortable place to spend the hours waiting during your longer connection.
- If you need to stay overnight, make sure that your expenses are covered. The airline should give you a hotel room, transportation to and from the airport, and meal vouchers. Ask for the name of the hotel where you will be placed. If it doesn’t seem very nice, see if there is an alternative. Expect the meal vouchers to have limited value. It probably isn’t worth hassling the agents to get your meal vouchers adjusted.
- Try to get cash and not a credit for a future flight. This is especially true if you are flying an airline that you don’t often fly. Just be aware that some airlines, by policy, can’t give you cash. The worst option of all is a credit for a free “round trip” flight (as opposed to a fixed amount of money), as there are often restrictions that make them hard to redeem.
- The minimum payment for passengers who are involuntary bumped is 2x – 4x the ticket price (for domestic flights). Your entitled to 2x, if your arrival time on your rescheduled flight is 1 to 2 hours later, and 4x if you are delayed by more than 2 hours. And because the airline would prefer a happier customer, they will typically offer more than this, to find someone to volunteer.
- Don’t expect to get trip delay coverage from your credit card, as well as compensation from the airline. They specifically exclude covering instances where you accepted an offer in exchange for being bumped. In any event, this insurance only covers your expenses, and the airline should have covered those already.
- Taken to extremes, you can book a flight in the hopes of getting bumped. It may even make sense to buy a fully refundable ticket and then cancel the ticket, if it looks like it is unlikely to happen.
Depending on several factors, problems with other planes can cause overbooking on your flight. If there have been significant flight cancellations due to weather or other issues, the airlines will be struggling to eventually get everyone home. They may want to use your seat to accommodate stranded passengers. More commonly, conditions may require the airline to switch to a smaller plane for your flight, potentially requiring many people to be bumped.
Some people suggest that this approach reduces your bargaining power if you do get bumped. By showing your willingness to get bumped, it will be hard for you to ask for much more than their initial compensation offer. That is probably somewhat true. Nevertheless, our thinking is that it is better to be more likely to get something, than it is to be less likely to get a potentially higher payout.
Flights that are more likely to be overbooked include the last flight of the day, flights through busy hubs, and flights during holiday periods. If you know that a big storm is coming, you might want to book flights for the following day.
Possibly save money with Priceline Express Deals
If you are willing to give up a lot of control over the details of your flights, you MIGHT be able to save some money by booking your tickets with Priceline's Express Deals.
Rather than letting you choose your flight from a list of options, like you would with other travel sites, Priceline decides the exact flight you wind up getting based on the deals it has with its airline partners.
- You enter where and when you are going and Priceline will make you an offer for the flights. They provide a rough idea of the departure time and let you know the number of stopovers, but they don't provide enough information for you to know the exact flight you will be getting.
- In our experience, the savings you get from Priceline’s Express deals aren’t usually high enough to offset the lack of control over your flights. And in many cases don't even save you any money. We prefer controlling the exact time-of-day we are travelling, are willing to pay extra for nonstop flights, and have some preference when it comes to airlines.
- On the other hand, they will sometimes provide a much better deal than you can find anywhere else. So, if you want be exhaustive, you can check to see what is available. You just might save yourself some money. Just never take one of these deals, without checking the normal ticket prices first.
In the example above, we could select the exact nonstop flights we wanted (on a regular booking site) for a few dollars less than Priceline was asking for the unknown flight—making the Priceline offer a terrible deal.
For years, Priceline (and others) had a different model for discounted flights. Rather than receiving a specific offer, you “named your own price” for the flight—entering an amount you were willing to pay for a trip, given your lack of control over the details. If your price was high enough, your offer was accepted and you were automatically booked. If it wasn’t high enough, your offer was rejected and you could bid a higher amount later.
While this approach worked very well for car rentals and somewhat well for hotels, most people weren’t interested in guessing what to bid, as well as losing control over their flights. As a result, all the ‘name your own price” airfare programs, including Priceline’s, have been shut down.
- If you live near the Canadian border, taking a flight from a nearby Canadian airport can save a bundle of money. Because of the current exchange rates and the different competitive pressures from low-priced airlines, flights from Canada can be significantly cheaper than flights from the United States. Canada also has different holidays. So, flights to popular vacation spots, over US-only holidays like President’s Day, stay relatively affordable.
- If you think you might need to take advantage of their extended cancellation benefits, you can book through Priceline. Priceline doesn't just offer "opaque" airfares and hotels, you can also use them like any other regular booking site. With any domestic airline, you normally get 24 hours to cancel your ticket (or a free 24-hour holding period), as long as it is at least 7 days until your flight. With Priceline, you can cancel until 11:29pm EST on the next business day after purchasing your ticket, regardless of the 7-day limit. This gives you valuable extra time to make changes.
- The most powerful consumer-facing flight search tool is ITA Matrix. While Google, Kayak / Momondo, and Skyscanner are the main tools for most flight searches, ITA Matrix can do things the other tools can't, such as search for flights between dozens of different cities, flights that connect in a specific city for a specified length of time, or search for tickets in a specific fare bucket.
For example, nonstop tickets between Vancouver and Honolulu, during President’s week, were $513, while leaving from Seattle would have cost $846 nonstop or $775 for the cheapest tickets. Tickets between Toronto and Cancun were $380, while a comparable trip from Buffalo was $880.
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