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How to Save Money on Airfares

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Published July 21st 2013
The mistakes that can make a 'cheap' getaway very expensive
How to Save Money on Airfares

I recently took a weekend trip to Melbourne. Although it was the first time I'd booked airfares and travelled on a plane alone, I figured that it would be straightforward enough, and also figured that flying from Adelaide to Melbourne and back would be pretty cheap.

Almost $450 later, I see that I figured wrong. My trip was very much a learning experience in all facets of airfare booking! Here are five things I'll keep in mind for the next time I fly.

Book as early as possible in advance

For some reason, I had this strange idea in my head that booking at the last minute would work out cheaper. Since I was travelling alone, I thought I'd be able to find a last minute cheap airfare on a flight that had just a couple of scattered seats left to fill.

Wrong. Turns out the earlier you book, the less you seem to pay. And prices increase the closer you get to the departure date. For instance, I saw a flight to Melbourne for $59.95. I was thinking of booking it, but then thought I'd wait a little until I was completely certain of my plans. A couple of hours later, I logged on again to book the flight, only to find that it was now $129.95. Just like that.

Booking ahead will save a lot of money.

Book directly through the airline's website

Another of my ideas was that Webjet was definitely the smartest, cheapest way to book an airfare.

However, I soon discovered that when you book with Webjet, you have to pay a hefty surcharge in addition to the airfare cost. This surcharge includes a 'booking guarantee' and a 'processing fee'. You end up having to pay $80 for your $40 airfare. That was something I definitely didn't see coming.

The good news is that the fees are much lower if you book directly through the airline's website. For instance, Tiger Airways' booking surcharge is only about $10. Your $40 flight will end up costing $50, rather than the $80 you'll pay for the same flight if you book through Webjet.

In saying that, Webjet is very helpful as a starting point. You can find out all the flights available on a particular day, note down the ones that suit you most, and then go to the airline's website to make the booking.

Book One Return Trip

Another thing that cost me was booking a return trip from Adelaide to Melbourne as two one way trips. Once again, I wanted to wait until I was completely certain of my plans before I booked the flight home.

However, booking the fares separately meant that I had to pay a booking surcharge for each flight. The booking cost me double what it would have if I'd taken the time to plan exactly what I wanted to do, and then booked the flights as a return trip.

Buy Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance is only about $10 extra on top of the cost of the airfare. It covers you for unforeseeable events, meaning that you can cancel the airfare and receive your money back, or change your booking at no extra cost. I decided not to buy it, since I'd paid so much already and felt it wasn't worth it for a short weekend trip.

Another bad decision. An unforeseeable event did occur, meaning I had to return home a day early. Because I didn't have travel insurance, I couldn't get any money back if I cancelled my airfares. Suddenly $10 seemed like a very small price to pay.

What I found out is that you can change the date or destination of your flight for a $50 fee. This is what I ended up doing, but I would have saved the $50 if I'd had travel insurance.

Be aware of risks associated with travelling on budget airlines

Tiger and other budget airlines are great because you can save so much on your airfares. But it's important to realise that your flight could be delayed, or changed, with minimal notice.

One passenger I met was travelling to Adelaide for a work commitment. She'd been due to arrive in Adelaide the night before, but three hours before departure time she was informed that the flight had been cancelled, and everyone was moved to a flight departing Melbourne the following morning.

Often these cancellations happen simply because the flight isn't full enough, which is how Tiger airfares are so cheap.

While I'd be happy to travel on Tiger most of the time, I'd suggest that if you're travelling for an important event such as a wedding, book with Qantas or one of the more expensive airlines.

Qantas, airplane, aeroplane, aircraft, spirit of australia, how to save on airfares
Image from Lasse Fuss via Wikimedia Commons

How do you save money when booking airfares? We'd love to hear your tips.

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Your Comment
I just booked two return flights from Melbourne to Perth. I booked them at the same time. I read that it was $8.50 to pay by credit card (unless you had a Jetstar credit card) - no big deal. When I finally got thru the entire process, the fee was $34, that was $8.50 pp each way. I think that is pathetic.
by Kazzie (score: 0|6) 2528 days ago
Pays to read the fine print.
by kjack (score: 0|5) 2540 days ago
Sorry but most people who travel already know all this information.
by lynep (score: 1|11) 2539 days ago
Another tip would be to watch your luggage weight limits and quantity of bags allowed. Weigh your carry on, because the airlines weigh them and charge extra. Arrive early for flight. If its super important u arrive on time, fly an earlier plane or day. Don't leave so close to deadline. Avoid avalon airport to go to Melbourne city.

I would've liked more info on your own personal experience.
by 1nerd (score: 2|113) 2539 days ago
yeah good point - like it doesnt actually say what happened to you? who you flew with - what your experience was exactly? etc
by oracl (score: 0|4) 2534 days ago
Where do you get $10 insurance?
by patri (score: 0|3) 2534 days ago
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