Interesting tool for finding well-priced flights

We’ve been hearing a lot about the AirWander website for finding well-priced international airfares.

This site is for travellers who want to include stopovers in international flights.

Stopovers tend to be particularly attractive to people who are not necessarily on a tight schedule.

The principle is simple: you take a round-trip itinerary and split it into multiple bookings with multiple tickets.

And then you add a stopover, which is a break of more than 24 hours between your origin and your destination.

This allows you to visit two or more locations on your journey at a cost that can be similar to the original point-to-point round-trip.

We’ve heard of travellers adding a stopover and saving money, although Australia’s isolation makes us sceptical.

Type a proposed destination into AirWander and it offers possible stopover locations and fares. Then fiddle with cities and dates in a bid to get the lowest fare.

When doing your sums, costs such as accommodation at the stopover site obviously need to be taken into account.

AirWander then refers you to third-party booking websites, in the same way as sites like Skyscanner and Momondo.

And, of course, there is always some connection risks – such as flight delays and missing luggage – with buying separate tickets from separate airlines.

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More airlines offering stripped-back fares

More airlines are offering stripped-back fares to help compete in the growing market of budget-conscious travellers.

European airlines, KLM and Air France are the latest so-called legacy carriers to introduce a reduced fare that doesn’t include seat selection, check-in luggage or the ability to change a booking.

Reports from the UK say that the fares – scheduled to start in April on transatlantic flights – are part of a growing trend among European airlines.

Alitalia is also offering an Economy Light fare that limits passengers to one piece of hand luggage and does not offer booking amendments or ticket refunds.

Lufthansa also offers a similar fare.

A few months ago, we were charged a fee to slightly amend two tickets on Aegean Airlines.

American, Delta and United airlines also offer basic economy fares – some of which do not allow use of overhead lockers.

And British Airways made headlines last year after it announced that people who bought its basic fare would board its planes last.

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How do low-cost airlines do it?

We’re often asked how low-cost airlines manage to offer cheap fares.

The broad answer is that they reduce overheads – but just how that’s done can vary greatly.

Most low-cost airlines have streamlined booking by selling tickets electronically or over the phone only – and by charging for things like food and drink on an ‘as needed’ basis.

There are also usually luggage fees, some restrictions on hand luggage and often charges for seat selection and use of a credit card to pay for it all. And, it’s wise to ensure you are within the luggage limit – and to check for any other taxes before agreeing to buy a ticket.

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Newer, fuel-efficient planes

Interestingly, many low-cost airlines also reduce their costs by other general management factors that help create savings.

For example, budget airlines often have newer planes than the traditional carriers.

Increasingly, these newer aircraft are more fuel-efficient – a key factor.

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Simplified fleets

And low-cost carriers, typically, have one type of plane only.

RyanAir, for example, flies only Boeing 737s; Easyjet uses only the A320; and Scoot has a largely Boeing Dreamliners.

Pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and ground staff, therefore, need only be trained on one type of plane.

Point-to-point flying

Low-cost carriers do not necessarily have a base or hub airport – allowing their planes to be in the air longer, making runs from point-to-point destinations, with shorter loading times.

The downside here can be that some of the airports they use might be quite a distance from major centres.

It’s smart to check this and factor-in transport costs.

Do some research

Safety is a central concern to all airlines and there are regular published audits.

It’s a similar story with delays and cancellations. We always recommend that the cancellation policy of individual airlines be checked before booking a ticket.

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Are there savings?

So, after all this, can low-cost airlines really save you money?

A check of any online fare comparison site shows that the answer is a clear YES – if you are willing to do without all the extras.

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Google Flights has many features for finding airfares

We’ve been taking a look at Google Flights, an interesting tool for finding bargain airfares.

The site has lots of fancy features – and seems to be one of the fastest of the flight search engines.

For example, by setting a broad area like “Europe” or “Asia” as a destination, you get a map of main and regional airports and the cost of flying to each. Now, that’s definitely a feature!

Flight suggestions can also be based on your interests like culture, history etc.

There’s also an ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button that gives Google’s idea of a good destination for the days you selected.

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Illustration courtesy Forbes magazine

If there is a similar but less expensive option to a flight you are interested in, the site has a “Tip” bar that says how much money you would save if you were perhaps willing to fly earlier, later, or from a different airport.

Google’s ‘Best Flights’

Once you set your destination and flight day, you get a list of airlines making the trip, including Google’s idea of the ‘best flights’ – apparently combine low cost with reasonable departure times and the fewest stops.

Prices can also be shown over a month.

‘Best flights’ aside, we tested the ability of Google Flights to get a bargain fare, regardless of flight duration and departure.

As an example, we checked four online sites to find a cheap one-way fare from Sydney to Athens on August 1 next year.

When we searched, Google Flights quoted $847 AUD for a Qatar Airways flight – about the same as offered by Qatar Airways itself for the same flight.

Cheap Flights quoted $766 AUD for that flight, followed by Skyscanner at $794 AUD.

As a matter of interest, low-cost carrier, Scoot, indicated that it would fly that same route the following day, August 2, for $688.87 AUD – plus booking, checked baggage and food fees if you want them.

Of course, airfare prices can change quickly and this may be out of date already.

Our opinion

Google Flights is yet another useful addition to the online arsenal for travel planners.

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Cheaper plane fares: our tips

No one wants to think that they paid too much for flights.

We are regularly asked for tips on getting the best value air fares – and here are some of points we consider when researching. As any regular travellers will attest, there are no iron-clad guarantees, but these suggestions might help.

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Plan well ahead

For international air fares we try to search about 170 days before our flying date. As an initial part of online research, we set up ‘fare drop’ alerts with air fare websites.

If the fare falls, the sites usually send an email advising of the change.

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When looking online use the best web sites

Our favourites include;  CleverLayover; The FlightDeal; Skiplagged; Skyscanner; ITAMatrix; Which Budget; AirfareWatchdog; and Trip Advisor; all of which have their pros and cons.

We have often spoken about CleverLayover, which finds savings by linking together two separate return flights.

It’s also smart to keep your online searches secret by wiping your computer’s cookies and history – or using private browsing mode – before returning to a site. Don’t risk a price suddenly rising if a route is repeatedly searched.

Be as flexible as possible with travel dates

If possible, arrive at your destination in low season, rather than peak summer or late Spring.

Skyscanner, for example, also has a service that allows you to find the best prices for travel over a month. Check it out.

Try to fly during the middle of the week and on flights that leave early morning or late at night. The value of this is debatable, but sometimes it seem to work.

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Find the cheapest place to fly

Especially in Europe, compare the price of flying into various airports – and there is a web tool called Kayak Explore, that will help with this.

If you are bound for London, for example, it might be cheaper to fly to Amsterdam or Paris and then catch a budget domestic flight, train or ferry.

As another example, Rome is also considered by many to be a particularly well priced European destination, from where you can then pick up a flight elsewhere.

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Increased options

Many of the long-haul routes are now serviced by both traditional and so-called Budget airlines.

This has expanded the options for travellers.

However, when considering budget carriers, it is crucial to read the fine print about baggage fees etc and ensure you are comfortable about leg room, on-board entertainment and food etc.

Don’t forget layovers

If you are flying from the West Coast of the US to Australia for example, consider booking a budget flight from the US mainland to Hawaii and another budget flight from Hawaii to Australia – with a layover of a few days in between.

If you are not on a tight schedule, why not consider using layovers to see more destinations than you normally would.

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