Here I am revealing the top secrets of the travel agent / airline ticket industry. I hope you find this useful when you come to purchase your flights!
There are three different types of airlines:- Charter, Budget (low cost) and Scheduled airlines.
Charter flights are usually operated by a package holiday operator and operate a slightly flexible schedule; usually seasonally / once a week e.g, and include the likes of Thomson, Thomas Cook and Monarch and are aimed at holidaymakers.
Budget, or Low Cost flights operate usually a bit more frequently but can still be seasonal (depending on destination) and include Ryanair, Easyjet, Wizz Air, Jet Blue or Virgin Australia etc. They are no frills and low cost and you have to pay for lots of hidden extras such as airport check in and hold luggage.
The third type of flight is scheduled flights; these are the main carriers who run flights on specific routes and specific times and include BA, Virgin, Emirates, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways, American Airlines, Delta etc etc etc, the list goes on. Scheduled airlines generally offer a better service in terms of reliability, in flight entertainment, luggage allowance, meals / drinks on board.
I am not going to discuss charter and budget flights in any great depth but I will tell you, they will usually cost you less than a scheduled flight if you have the choice of either options which are flying the same route. If there is any possibility you will need to change the name on the ticket, book with a low cost or charter company as scheduled airlines NEVER allow a name change. You will still need to check the rules of your ticket with your agent to see if a name change is permitted. The other point I will make is that if you want to book a flight with a charter or budget airline, just book direct with the airline / company, on their website or in store. No third party travel agent receives concession or commission on these tickets and with their fees and commission mark up you will often end up paying a lot more, despite what they tell you when booking. By third party I mean they have no direct affiliation with them (for example, this will not apply if booking a Thomsonfly flight through Thomson holidays travel agent.) Booking package holidays with charter flights is pretty much the only time in the travel world where you can find a ‘late deal’. If they have not sold their hotel rooms / flights when the travel dates are approaching, they are likely to drop their prices.
Scheduled flights are the main airlines who deal with travel agents and offer agencies a discounted rate which is why you will normally able to find flights a lot cheaper by booking through a third party than direct on the airlines website. So where do you look to find these flights? How do you know you are getting the best fare possible? This is where I can help you! There are some great tools online and by phone to help you plan your trip.
Firstly you need to consider what type of trip you are looking at. If it is a simple return flight (to and from the same destination and departure point) then you are laughing!! You can search for live availability on various websites and because the travel agents know that you have access to this anywhere, the competition is rife and you can easily get the best rates.
If you are looking at multi-stop flights (visiting various destinations on the SAME ticket) then this can become a little more complex online but I can recommend some fantastic companies who can look at this for you. http://www.opodo.co.uk/ is fantastic for checking multi stop flights online. Alternatively if you prefer to speak to a travel agent over the phone, I can recommend Flight Centre http://www.flightcentre.co.uk/ , Dial A Flight are very knowledgeable with complex itineraries and have access to low fares and various others in the same league. You will need to factor whether or not your ideal trip is realistic. By this I mean, Emirates are based in Dubai so if you use them for a flight to Australia then in theory you can stop in Dubai for a few days en-route. You would not however be able to stop in Dubai and then New York to travel out to Australia. Some airlines offer special tickets that can take you around the world in the correct direction with various stops and it can save you a fortune compared to booked these flights individually online yourself. With these tickets, your best option is to phone a few of the main stream agencies. If you have been given a quote from one, expect to be able to get it around 10% cheaper by shopping around. Agencies will always put mark ups and fees on to your flight. Don’t try to bankrupt the travel agencies but know that you can probably save a few pounds by shopping around.
http://www.skyscanner.co.uk/ is a great tool to check what flights are physically operating the route / date you have entered and gives you the best possible fare for that flight. Whilst sometimes you can go through and book it, bear in mind it sky scanner is just a search engine / flight comparison tool and does not search for live availability and often shows prices that are no longer available to book or the flight could be completely fully booked. I do, however find it very useful to look for flights travelling to obscure places or to play around with the dates.
If you have a preference of airline rather than the best price then your best bet is to find the flight you want on the airlines website and get the direct quote from them, then phone a few mainstream / reputable travel agents to see if they can price beat it. I will come to this again in more details shortly.
I have mentioned some companies above that can be used to check for flight availability that I, personally have had good experiences with in the past. There are some others such as http://www.netflights.co.uk/ , Travel Up, Expedia who often have great rates – shop around!
Business travellers (Inclusive Tour fares) – If you are travelling to certain destinations without a Saturday night stay, you may be familiar with having to pay 3-4 times the cost of a normal ticket! No more…. If you speak to some travel agents, they can hook you up with a deal that includes accommodation for a minimum of 3 nights / or full duration and this potentially will save you hundreds. This is not available in all destinations but USA is a hot spot for these deals. The fact that the travel agent knows you will not be able to get this flight only price online and can do it a lot cheaper WITH accommodation does mean they are likely to include a large profit margin so again, it is always worth getting matching quotes from various reputable agencies to see who can offer the best.
Book in advance – Booking last minute to get the best deals in the world of scheduled airlines is a myth! This only applies with charter flights or package holidays occasionally. Scheduled airlines do not drop their prices last minute, they would actually prefer to send the plane off half empty than to sell cheap seats off to fill the plane.
Be Flexible with Dates!!! You will be surprised how moving the dates around even a day either side could save you many pounds. If your departure date is 31st May for example, always check the 1st June as this could be a new season and therefore have drastically different prices. Its basically worth checking flights 2-3 weeks either side of your ideal dates to travel. If you want to get away in September, avoid departing in the first week as this is still school holiday period and the prices are still hiked up.
Pre Book Seats – do this online as far in advance as you can. SOME airlines will actually let you book bulkhead seats or exit seats online in advance but be warned, they may move you from these seats if someone else needs it more. If you are unable to do it online, speak to your travel agent. Some airlines have now started to charge for this service.
Check in online – usually available 24-48 hours prior to your departure time, check with your airline. check your seated together and any meal requests are showing and print your boarding pass. If the online check in tool is not working, be warned there may be an issue with your flight taking off when it should, you should contact your airline.
Don’t bother with a long connection in an airport just because it saves you £20 off the airline ticket, you are wasting valuable holiday time and will easily spend that in the airport anyway.
How to avoid the summer school holiday prices! This may not work all the time / every year but I am aware than Scotland and England do have different school term dates so if you are prepared to drive to Glasgow for a flight during the English half term, it could save you hundreds if there is a group of you travelling!
I mentioned Flight Centre above, if you click on to their website and scroll to the bottom they offer something called the Lowest Airfare Guarantee. This means if you find a flight cheaper with another travel agent that fills their criteria (ABTA and ATOL bonded / reputable) then they will price beat it by £1. I have used this tool before and ended up paying about £50-60 cheaper than they had originally quoted me. They are a great company to use, reliable and offer good customer service.
Make sure that if you book with a travel agent repeatedly that you occasionally shop around as they could start adding more profit to your bookings once you get comfortable without you even realising it!
Before even factoring in the cost of the ticket, the most important thing you MUST check is that the agent you are considering booking with is both ABTA and ATOL bonded. This gives you financial protection against the failure of the airline you are flying with or the travel agent you are booking with. There is no point in saving £50 on a flight that you may lose £600 on a few later as they have gone into administration. Credit card payment does not give you the same protection, for example if you are abroad and the airline you are due to fly home with goes bust, AMEX are not going to travel out to Corfu and get you home….
Happy bargain flight hunting!
*publisher would like to add that this is all based on personal opinion / review of purchases / products and publisher accepts no responsibility or liability for readers future purchases / products*