Secrets from an ex-travel agent. By now, most traveller’s are confident booking simple trips online, but what about round the world fares, or destinations without direct flights from Australia or the USA? Fear not, with a little basic geography knowledge, here’s how you can book the cheapest flights, to any destination, including round the world fares, online.
If your goal in life is to see as much of the world, for the least amount of money, then knowledge of airlines and their routes, is essential.
How does Edinburgh to Los Angeles for AUD$297 (USD229, NZD326) sound? Or what about Bangkok to Alicante, in Spain for AUD$591 (USD455, NZD649) or Beijing to San Francisco for AUD$494 (USD382 , NZD543)
Most travellers search for flights from their home city, to their destination which is logical but there’s hundreds of airlines based overseas that can work out much cheaper. The major carriers servicing Australia and New Zealand, won’t fly you to every destination around the world, and not all airlines based overseas fly all the way to Austalia.
Here’s a list of overseas airlines to get you started. Some of them you may recognise, many you probably had no idea they even existed. (This list is actually for travel agents so don’t call the number on it) But you can google the airlines to find their websites. It’s certainly not definitive.
Working out a flight itinerary can be frustrating for the geographically challenged, and whilst there’s no single website I’ve found (so far), that matches a travel agents reservation system,with a little research, you can book almost any destination online.
How airline routes work.
Years ago, airlines would have a home base or hub city, they would always fly via. A home base could be where their maintanance took place or where their head office was located, or in the case of international airlines, it would generally be the capital city of that country. For example, Thai Airways is the national carrier for Thailand, and will always fly via Bangkok, Singapore Airlines is the national carrier of Singapore and will always fly via Singapore, just as Aeroflot is the national carrier for Russia and will always fly via Moscow.
There are some exceptions to the rule, (such as the Air New Zealand flight from Sydney to Norfolk Island to Auckland) where an airline may have an agreement to transit (or refuel) at an airport, before flying onto it’s destination. Airlines are continuously renegotiating airline routes to better service their passengers (and their profits); but as a general rule, airlines will fly via their hub city.
Knowing which airlines, fly to what destinations via what hub city is key to snagging the best deal.
Hint: You may need to book multiple tickets with individual airlines.
- Map ~ Get a decent map. Google Earth is amongst the most detailed and it’s interactive, which gives you the feeling of spinning a globe with the added benefit of being able to zoom in and out for more detail. It clearly shows airports, including regional ones.
- Find your airline ~ Wikipedia has a page about budget airlines, organised by region and country. There is also a page dedicated to airlines of Europe, Asia, Africa, Middle East, South America, North America (including Central America) and Australia. Which countries and hub cities are on the way to your destination? (Check the African itinerary at the end of this post for an example).
- Check various itinerary break points ~ Flying from Australia to Europe, is it cheaper to fly via Singapore, Bangkok, Guangzhou, Beijing, Seoul or Tokyo? What about via Mauritius or Reunion Island? Perhaps there’s a cheaper flight from Singapore to London with a totally different airline (Norwegian Air). Is there a sector flight from Asia to Israel (Etihad) that is cheap? Is there then a budget European airline from Israel to London or New York? (Wow air). Ask the questions, and you’ll find the fares.
- Think regional ~ There is a plethora of Chinese airlines but not all fly to Australia or New Zealand; however many offer cheap flights from regional cities in China, to Europe and the USA. Use the app, Trip.com (it has a dolphin logo) to book Chinese airlines if you are outside of China.
- Search flight booking websites ~ Some websites allow multi-city itineraries to be booked, utilising one-way fares. Try Jetabroad, Kayak, or Expedia. Be aware they will have agreements with certain carriers so will often bring up their preferred airlines (ones that pay higher commission) first and may not have agreements with budget airlines, but they can be an easy way to start your flight search. Check various dates for the best prices.
- Compare prices on an airlines own website ~ Where possible, check an airlines own website, to make sure you are getting the best possible price. Some flight booking websites drop their commission, in order to get the booking which is why you may find a flight $50 or $100 cheaper on a random website, however there may be additional fees like credit card charges.
- Compare taxes at different airports ~ When flying to Europe, most major cities are the same price, so you can fly into one city, like London and out of another like Rome, However airport taxes vary, so choosing different cities, can still affect the overall cost. There are dozens of budget airlines in Europe and many will fly into smaller regional airports because they offer cheaper landing fees (passed on as cheaper fares). So you might not end up directly in say Paris, but you will be close. Check transfer options from regional airports before booking, as these can cost more than the flight!
Benefits of creating your own itinerary
- Never again be restricted to destinations offered by commercial carriers or airline alliances
- Forget waiting weeks for travel agents to get back to you
- Utilising overseas airlines can often work out much cheaper
- Visit far-flung destinations you perhaps hadn’t considered before
- Support tourism industries in countries that really need it
- Enhance your travel stories by flying on exotic sounding carriers like; Lucky Airlines (China), Okay Airlines (China), Wizz Air (Hungary), Spice Jet (India), Cinnamon Air (Sri Lanka) or WOW (Iceland)
Things to be aware of
Every airline has different baggage allowances and rules. Know your allowances before booking your ticket as this can greatly affect price if you go over your allowance. E.g. Some airlines allow 7kg of hand luggage only, others allow 10kg.
Likewise travelling on seperate tickets with different airlines will mean you will need to collect your luggage at any transit points and re-check them in, if you are changing airlines.
If you’re flight is delayed, and you miss your connecting flight, travelling on seperate tickets can mean you have little course of action. Airline A got you to your destination according to their ticket, airline B will count you as a no-show and you may have forfeited your ticket. Check the ticket rules about changes and no-shows carefully. Each airport website should display minimum connecting times, otherwise you can check with the airline you are flying in with. Even with a non-refundable ticket, you are entitled to receive a refund on the airport taxes.
Some visa requirements state you must have a return or onward ticket, so if you are flying into a country on one airline, and flying out with another, always carry printed copies of all your e-tickets as proof. I once was stopped and questioned about every aspect of my travel at Amsterdam airport by border police because I was traveling to New York on a one-way ticket, until I showed them my onward ticket with Qantas.
Smaller airlines may not have any affiliation with big frequent flyer schemes so you probably won’t earn One World or Star Alliance frequent flyer points, but often each airline will have their own frequent flyer scheme, most are free to join.
These are not definitive, but to give you an idea as to what is possible.
Itinerary #1 Round The World: Sydney – Singapore – Athens – London // Edinburgh– Reykjavik – Los Angeles – Sydney
- Sydney to Athens (15 March 2018) with Scoot Airlines AUD$405
- Athens to London (28 March 2018) with Ryan Air AUD$35
- London to Edinburgh at own expense – Bus and train fares are cheap in the UK
- Edinburgh via Reykjavik to Los Angeles (29th April 2018) with WOW air AUD$297
- Los Angeles to Sydney (10th May 2018) with Qantas AUD$516
Total cost = AUD$1253 including taxes (but excluding optional extras). All costs were available as of 20th Dec 2017 and are subject to change at any time.
As a comparison, a similar itinerary (but without a return flight back to the UK from Athens, using the One World RTW flight planner for similar dates, comes in at AUD$4430, including AUD$1130 of airport taxes alone!
Itinerary #2 – Europe: Brisbane – Bangkok – Stockholm – Alicante (Spain) // Paris – Guangzhou (China) – Brisbane
- Brisbane via Denpasar and Kualur Lumpur (7th March 2018) to Bangkok with Malindo Air AUD$371
- Bangkok via Stockholm to Alicante (12th March 2018) with Norwegian Air AUD$591
- Make your own way to Paris – Train or intra-European flight from another Spanish city is reasonable
- Paris to Brisbane via Guangzhou (28th March 2018) With China Southern AUD$498
Total cost = AUD$1460 including taxes (but excluding optional extras). All costs were available as of 20th Dec 2017 and are subject to change at any time. As a comparison, using Jetabroad for the same itinerary comes in at $1769 including taxes or even just a Brisbane to Alicante then Paris to Brisbane comes in at $1543 using Jetabroad or $1560 using Kayak.
Itinerary #3 – Asia/Middle East: Melbourne – Beijing – Astana (Kazakhstan) – Abu Dhabi – Bangkok – Melbourne
- Melbourne via Kualur Lumpur to Beijing (14th March) with Air Asia AUD$282
- Beijing via Novosibirsk to Astana (17th March) with S7 Airlines AUD$323
- Astana to Abu Dhabi (24th March) to Bangkok (29th March 2018) with Etihad AUD$472
- Bangkok via Kualur Lumpur to Melbourne (31st March 2018) with Air Asia AUD$224
Total cost = AUD$1301 including taxes (but excluding optional extras). All costs were available as of 20th Dec 2017 and are subject to change at any time. As a comparison, Melbourne to Astana for similar dates with Air China is $1610 but doesn’t include stops in Abu Dhabi or Bangkok.
Itinerary #4 – Africa: Perth – Mauritius – Antananarivo (Madagascar) – Addis Ababa – Nairobi – Bangkok – Kualur Lumpur – Perth
Perth to Mauritius (10th Jan 2018) with Air Mauritius AUD$667
Mauritius to Antananarivo (30 Jan 2018) with Air Mauritius AUD$308
Antananarivo (7th Feb 2018) with Air Kenya via Nairobi to Addis Ababa AUD$380
Addis Ababa to Bangkok (3rd March 2018) with Air Kenya via Nairobi AUD$324
Bangkok via Kualur Lumpur to Perth (8th March 2018) with Air Asia AUD$195
Total Cost – AUD$1874 including taxes (but excluding optional extras). All costs were available as of 20th December 2017 and are subject to change at any time. As a comparison, the same itinerary using Jetabroad came in at $2561 including taxes.
Where will you go? New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong or Vietnam?
To ensure you get the best price, always check:
- Alternate dates (early morning/late night/midweek tends to be cheaper)
- Book in advance (at least six to nine months)
- March and November are often the cheapest period to travel
- Check nearby cities that might be cheaper
- Alternate flight routes
- Different websites
If you see a great deal, book it. Airlines will only allocate a few seats, at the cheapest price. These days it’s common for sale fares to be valid for one or two days only, so if you do get cheap seats available, grab them.
Sign up to airline newsletters to be the first to find out about sales, which are often cyclical. Monitor an airlines sales emails to predict patterns on when a deal might be coming out.
Generally, booking direct on an airlines website will get you the best price and if anything changes, it’s easier dealing with the provider rather than a third party to make amendments.
Travel light (Macpac sells ultra-light travel clothes) and eat before your flight (realistically unless you’re travelling business class, who’s ever had a great meal on a flight anyway?) to keep costs down. Even if you don’t pre-book a meal on a budget airline, there’s always snacks and drinks available to purchase, (and you can take your own food on-board like instant noodles in a cup, flight attendants will have hot water) so don’t get caught up with the airlines add-on offers during the booking process. Websites like Jetabroad, will usually include flights with baggage which can drastically increase the cost of a flight.
Once you’ve booked your flights, then head to Hotels Combined to compare hotel prices, to find the best hotel, at the cheapest price.
It may sound like a lot of work, and full service airlines can work out better value if you want meals and entertainment included, but if like me, you love a great deal and travelling to exotic destinations, then working out your own unique itinerary is all part of the fun of travel.
Booking multi-sector itineraries can offer you a chance to see more of the world, for less; using these travel hacks, any destination is within reach.
P.S. If you master this, congratulations, you’re now a travel agent!
> If you loved this article, then you’ll love my podcast, Travelosophy.