Booking cheap international flights can be a daunting task, especially for aspiring travel photographers who need to reduce their costs in order to continue to offer their clients competitive prices. Maybe you have spent hours or even days trying to find cheap international flights online?
The problem is always the same: Airlines love to change their prices all the time. I remember a flight from London to Riga for which British Airways wanted $210 USD. On the first day of my search, mind you. One day later the price had dropped to $156 USD without warning, only to climb to over $250 USD a few hours later. Other airlines didn’t look any better.
Is there a perfect time to book cheap international flights online?
How the hell can anyone find cheap international flights under these circumstances without spending hours and days in front of your computer?
Someone who might know that is the people who work at Google Flights. I wrote them an e-mail and received a study in reply, which they did of thousands of international flights. The found that you can save an average of $50 by chasing the best price for several days. It can also happen that you end up paying a much higher price. In other words, it’s impossible to find the right time to book a flight. In 99 out of hundred cases you lose with this method. And you’ve also wasted precious time that you wanted to spend on the beach in Phuket.
You cannot predict prices if they are constantly changing. The best time to book your international flight is usually TODAY!
If you are comfortable with the price you paid, you need to accept it, even if airfare drops.
The best methods to book cheap international flights online
For this article , I’m going to look for a flight from London to Hong Kong in March 2019 for 8-10 days. (Note: Prices reflect the day of search on January 10, 2019.)
Getting a first overview
I usually start my search for cheap international flights on pages with special offers, such as Holiday Pirates or The Flight Deal, to see if there are cheap international flights available. Sometimes there are, most of the times there are not.
Holiday Pirates did not find one single flight from London to Hong Kong in March.
The Flight Deal does not offer a flight search, here you can only choose pre-defined offers.
Revealing flight taxes
The next service I like to use is ITA Matrix. It was developed by Google and allows an amazingly complex search. A calendar gives me a first overview of the airfares in March. The prices for flights from London to Hong Kong vary in the calendar between $380 USD and $422 USD. Generally ITA Matrix shows only major airlines. There are no budget carriers here. A click on “Airline” reveals even more extreme price differences. ANA charges $5.387 USD for the flight from London to Hong Kong in economy class, while Finnair charges only $380 USD for the exact same service! Here you can see how much money you can save thanks to ITA Matrix.
If you click on an offer in the calendar and then again on the price, you will quickly find out that it is not the airlines but the tax offices that are taking the most money out of you. In my example, an economy flight with Finnair from London to Hong Kong in March 2019, the airline charges $87.96 USD for its transport service. In addition, there are taxes of $291.34 USD collected from Finland and England. That’s more than three times what you pay for the flight! No wonder you end up with a total price of $379.30 USD.
How to find a budget carrier
Now you have a rough idea of what a flight on a major airline costs. If you prefer budget carriers, visit the pages Skyscanner and Momondo.
Skyscanner finds a flight from London to Hong Kong with a Chinese budget carrier for $282 USD. The Finnair flight I found with ITA Matrix costs only $362 USD here.
Momondo found a flight on Jet Airways for $337 USD. The flights I found with the other services were not listed there. They may appear somewhere on page 20 of the search results, but to be honest I was too lazy to check.
In general, you should always use several flight search engines to get a feel for the prices. Because not every search service knows every airline, in one case Momondo and in another Skyscanner may be the cheaper provider.
How to reduce your flight tax
The next step is to learn from the experience we have gained so far.
- ITA Matrix has shown that a flight from London to Hong Kong with a major airline costs $380 USD, and that the fee consists of $87.96 USD for the flight plus $291.34 USD taxes.
- If you use another flight search engine, in this case Skyscanner, you might get the major airline flight a bit cheaper ($362 USD). You saved $18 USD with that hack.
- If you choose a budget carrier, you can fly from London to Hong Kong for $282 USD. But you do not get any food on board and are only allowed to fly with hand luggage. Apart from that, airplanes from budget carriers crash more often.
If you do not want to skip the advantages of major airlines, you can try to avoid taxes by changing the departure airport. Taxes on flights are only levied on departure, never on landing. The trick is to travel to a nearby country with low flight taxes and taking the long-haul flight to Hong Kong from there. Welcome to the wondrous, fascinating world of open jaw flights.
With ITA Matrix I have discovered a flight from Amsterdam to Hong Kong for $245 USD which has tolerable waiting times and is operated by the Chinese major airline Xiamen. In addition there is a flight with easyjet from London to Amsterdam, which costs $26 USD. That’s a total of $271 USD.
Although it would save me another $17 USD compared to the cheapest direct flight from London to Hong Kong, it is not worth the effort, because you have to factor in immigration, checking into a new airline, possible delays, and your time.
I do not believe saving $17 USD is worth an extra 20 hours in an airport. Though I have used this method often to save money in the past, in this case, booking two separate flights isn’t worth it.
Booking directly with the airline
In order to encourage consumers to book directly with them, airlines may have cheaper prices listed on their website.
This was not the case with Finnair. They charge $379 USD for the flight, which is the same price I found with ITA Matrix. Skyscanner only charges $362 USD for the same flight.
I was not able to could check the Chinese airline Xiamen. Their website is so fucked up that it is practically unusable.
Momondo offered me a flight on Jet Airways, an Indian low cost airline, for $337 USD. On the airline’s website I found the flight for $336 USD. Not really a mega-deal.
Note that this is just an example. In other cases I saved money by booking directly with the airline. Earning miles can also be an important factor.
How fast can you book cheap international flights online?
The search for cheap international flights should not cost you more than an hour. There are people who spend 10 hours or more in front of the computer and eventually end up on an obscure website that offers their flight $5 USD cheaper. These people think they are smart savers, but they are actually pretty stupid. They spent 10 hours of their time saving $5 USD. In other words, they worked for 50 cents an hour. Wow!
There are also people who never book their flight because they constantly expect a better offer the day after tomorrow or a week from now. These people freeze practically and are no longer able to act. And they waste heaps of time that they would definitely rather spend on the beach.
Nevertheless, I will show you one last trick that might save you a few more dollars. With most airlines you can cancel your flight within 24 hours without penalty. I make a note to check back in 23 hours, so right before that time is up, I delete all cookies in my browser, perform a quick search and check if the price for the flight has fallen. If so, I cancel and rebook the same flight at a cheaper price. If the price has remained the same or has risen, I do nothing at all.
With this method you can take suddenly appearing savings offers with you, without sitting for hours in front of the computer.
Always remember, no special offer is more valuable than your time. Enjoy your life and your cheap international flights.
By the way…
If you want to know more about booking cheap international flights, check out our Masterclass Travel Hacking. There you will receive various tricks with which you can travel around the world almost free of charge.