Travel Planning Tips: Flights

A lot of friends and co-workers ask me where I find my flight deals, where I book hotels or how I do my trip planning so I’m going to quickly go over my process starting with flights.

For flight deals, there’s really two ways I go about this.  For general keeping up with cheap deals that are popping up, I generally check two sites: The Flight Deal and Secret Flying.  Both sites post in real time as they find deals throughout the day.  The Flight Deal is aimed mostly at US-based flyers from major metropolitan cities and can also be followed through Twitter and Facebook.  For those that are US-based but not in the major metropolitan cities The Flight Deal caters to, you can also try Fare Deal Alert.  Secret Flying is more global in that it shares deals that originate from all over the world versus The Flight Deal and Fare Deal Alert that share flight deals originating from US cities.

Remember though that most deals disappear quickly so if you see one you like, you should book ASAP.  And for those that seem too good to be true, after purchasing, I would recommend you wait a bit before planning the trip as some mistake fares do get canceled by airlines.  But there are definitely still good deals to be found.  Last year, my friends and I bought round-trip tickets to Singapore from Los Angeles for only $328 on Japan Airlines!

So everything I’ve gone over is more for impulse trips but if I have actual locations and dates in mind then I use Google Flights to search the flights I need.  It’s really convenient because you can search buy round-trip, one-way or multi-city.  You can look at various airlines at once and also exclude the ones you don’t want or adjust for times, class and even look at multiple airports at once.  Since I live in Los Angeles, there are tons of airports around town though I’ll typically only fly out of LAX or LGB.  But I can search both at the same time.  You just have to type in both airport codes as I’ve shown you below:

googleflights

You can do this for both the departure city and the arrival city.  This can be useful if you live or are visiting a city with multiple airports.  Sometimes it’s cheaper to fly into a smaller airport.  Another example is if you’re flying to/from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale.  The airports are close enough to both cities that it’s an easy Uber/Lyft ride away from either airport but oftentimes you can find that one might be cheaper than the other and enough so that the longer Uber/Lyft ride is worth it.

The other good thing about Google Flights is that you can track the price of itineraries you’re considering.  If you’re not in a rush to buy, you can see how the pricing is, if it’s fluctuating up or down or pretty steady to help determine the best time/price to buy at.  In order to track a flight, you just need to select your itinerary and click track price.  I believe you do need a Google account in order to do so.

googleflights2

I’ve definitely saved on flights before because Google notified me about price drops on flights I was tracking.  However, do yourself a favor, don’t track flights you’ve already bought (after the 24 hours cancellation window).  If the price does go down more, you’ll be pretty sad even if you already got a pretty good deal compared to normal rates. 😦

The last thing I want to mention about Google Flights is that when you price some of the itineraries, it will also show you various options for places to purchase and they’re not always the same.  Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy direct from that airline, sometimes it’s cheaper from a partner airline’s site and sometimes it’s cheaper at an OTA (Online Travel Agency) like Orbitz or Priceline.  Also, the pricing is not always correct but for the most part it is.  You can see an example of the various pricing below for this LA to Taipei flight on EVA Air in economy.

googleflights3

If you click on one of the prices, it’ll actually link you to that site, usually with the itinerary already loaded.  Keep in mind that that for US travelers, Google Flights does not show Southwest Airlines availability so you will have to check their flights separately.  They can definitely be a good option especially if you plan to bring a lot of luggage since they allow 2 free check-in bags and have a lot more flexibility in terms of changes and cancellations.

Also, if you do use an OTA, something to keep in mind is price guarantee.  I’ve only done it once but some OTAs have a price guarantee.  I used the price guarantee when I booked through Orbitz.  Their price guarantee is pretty generous and also pretty simple.  Basically, I had a one-way flight from Los Angeles to Taipei on EVA Air that was $471 on Orbitz but only $457 on JustFly.  However, I’d never heard on JustFly and was wary of using their site but with Orbitz’s price guarantee, I purchased the flight and then submitted a claim here.  They accepted my claim and notified me they would be refunding me the price difference and posting $50 Orbucks (Orbitz points) post-flight since the Price Guarantee was approved.  The $50 Orbucks has since been used on a hotel reservation for my upcoming trip meaning I saved an extra $64 altogether. 🙂

The only potential drawback to using an OTA is that if you need to make changes, it can sometimes be more difficult.  It hasn’t happened to me but I’ve heard friends complain that they get kicked between the airline and OTA when it comes to changes in itinerary and the OTA’s are not always the most helpful.  I had a co-worker once call to change the departure date of his return flight and different agents quoted him different costs to make the change.  I guess if you ever get quoted something ridiculous to make a change, try hanging up and calling again because the number can change depending on the agent.

Now my last tip for flights is to subscribe to airline newsletters.  Some airlines like JetBlue or Southwest will send e-mails regarding fare sales quite often.  Some are better than others.  Other airlines, less so, but it’s good to pay attention because you might find some hidden gems.  For example, last year Southwest had a California sale where intra-CA flights were only $29 each way on certain dates.  I ended up doing a one-day trip with friends up to San Francisco for only $58!  Another example is around Black Friday last year, Singapore Airlines sent out an e-mail advertising sale prices to Tokyo and Hong Kong from Los Angeles and San Francisco.  A friend and I were able to get round-trip tickets to Tokyo for only $399!  So even though it’s a pain to receive so many e-mails, it’s always good to do a quick check so you don’t miss out on any good deals!

So this post ended up longer than I expected and I’m not sure I covered everything but hopefully it is helpful and I’ll work on some additional posts on travel planning. 🙂

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