Booking flights can be one of the most daunting tasks when you first decide to attempt an overseas adventure. When I first started looking, it all seemed a little overwhelming. There are so many websites, airlines and options to choose from. Each website presents the information in slightly different ways, which further adds to the complexity.
Prices fluctuate wildly, often for no apparent reason (I’m sure there are complex systems behind these fluctuations, but to the end user it can be bamboozling). Sometimes the airline that appears to present the best deal at first glance can end up being al less-than-ideal choice.
However, get it right and you can jet off on your holiday in the knowledge that you are travelling with a reliable airline, and that you are doing so at the best possible price! I know that I would rather spend my hard-earned on sushi and souvenirs than on a seat on a plane.
The following are the tips that I have learnt from booking our tickets to Japan. They worked for us and we ended up saving a decent amount of money. Hopefully they work for you too!
1 – Research – Booking Flights
We began researching as soon as we decided to travel to Japan. The goal was to have as much information as possible, in order to make an informed decision. We found out who the main carriers were and who offered direct flights. We compared total travel times and quickly ruled out any flights with stopovers. Our rationale was that any small savings would be completely nullified by the stress of the extra travel. Keep it simple quickly became our mantra.
Through some of the large booking sites, we found that we had three main options for carriers that fly directly from Sydney to Tokyo – QANTAS, Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA). Each of these carriers are well-respected and, frankly, we would have been happy to travel with any one of them. While there are differences between them (fly into different airports and different times etc.), they were not enough to be the differentiating factor.
The number one criteria that we were interested in, now that we had established that there were three good options, was the price.
A note on research – the more time you give yourself, the more prepared you will be and the better the results you will potentially achieve. This trip had been in the pipeline for months before we decided to pull the trigger and confirm it.
2 – Play the waiting game – Booking Flights
Ah, the waiting game. Frustrating for some, pure anxiety-inducing for others. But for some strange souls (like yours truly), exhilarating! Why? Because finding a good bargain takes me to my happy place. I know the value of my dollar and I know how bloody hard I’ve had to work to earn it. If there’s a dollar to be saved somewhere, you can be sure I’ll be close by, sniffing around.
It became a daily habit to jump online and check the latest airfares. It was really interesting to see just how much prices can change from day to day. Had we rushed in, or needed to book in a hurry, the difference to what we finally paid could have been in the thousands of dollars. That is a significant amount of money – money that could be far better spend on food, accommodation and experiences.
When an attractive price finally appeared, we were ready to jump on it. By midday the same day we had confirmed our leave with our employers and booked our tickets. The price stayed the same for a couple of days after, but soon enough it was on its merry voyage back up. I have continued to watch the price every week or so, just out of interest, and I am yet to see a better price than the one we secured.
It is worth remembering that some credit card companies offer a “price guarantee” policy on their card, which means that you can claim a refund of the difference if you find a lower price, so it may be particularly worthwhile to you to monitor prices after you have purchased your tickets (they have plenty of terms and conditions, so make sure you are aware of these before wasting your time).
…just don’t wait too long. At some point, the prices may start to go up. Even worse, they may sell out completely. If there are only a few months left until you intend to travel, you may be better off just booking whatever is available.
3 – Check carrier websites, as well as the aggregators and online booking agents – Booking Flights
When we first started looking, we spent most of our time on a couple of trusted booking-agent sites. It appeared to be the best use of our time – access to several airlines at the same time and promises of low prices. While those websites certainly are useful (we have booked through them before), they may not always be the best way to get a good deal.
When we visited the ANA website, we realised that it had the option to search for flights in a seven day grid. Straight away we could see that by adjusting our search dates, we could save a fair chink of money. This was not so immediately apparent on the booking website.
We ended up booking our tickets directly through the ANA website. It was easy to do, and a massive rush to realise that we had taken the first massive step of our Japan adventures!
4 – Be flexible with dates – Booking Flights
As I mentioned in the previous point, flexibility with dates can save you a large amount of money. Of course, some people have no choice but to travel on certain dates or within particular windows. If, however, you have a degree of freedom in your travel plans, then I highly recommend thoroughly checking a range of dates and booking accordingly.
The below screenshot provides an example of the savings that can be made by slightly adjusting travel dates (prices based a search for two adults and 1 under-two years old, with the toddler travelling on a parent’s lap). When we booked our tickets, those differences were even greater.
If you can extend your holiday for an extra day or two, or alternatively shift the intended dates of travel, there are most definitely savings to be found. Even if you have to pay for an extra night’s accommodation, it can still end up cheaper, plus you get a whole extra day of holiday – who could argue with that
5 – Cheapest isn’t always best – Booking Flights
In the research phase of our flight booking, we quickly narrowed our choices down to the three mentioned carriers. There are other options out there, and some of them are cheaper. They may be a viable option for you, and if so, great! Just make sure you are aware of all the fine print that can make the difference to your experience. Is checked baggage extra? What about meals? Or entertainment? What is their cancellation policy like? How do they treat their customers when there are delays or cancelled flights? Is the flight direct, or does it involve a few hours of waiting around in a third airport? Can you choose seats to ensure you sit together, or does that cost extra?
All of these things matter. They matter even more once you throw an active toddler into the mix. A flight may initially appear to be more expensive, but once you factor in time spent and inclusions in the ticket price, you may just come out on top (mentally and financially).
These are my five key points to booking flights. If you have had your own experiences, drop them in the comments so that everyone can benefit from them.
Remember, these are the things that worked for me on this particular occasion. There is always an element of luck when it comes to such endeavours, and I may well not be so fortunate next time it comes to booking an airfare. Neither may you. Even though we chose to fly with ANA on this particular occasion, this post does not constitute an endorsement of them over any other carrier. I have no affiliation with any of the airlines mentioned in this post. I will provide my honest recount of our experience with ANA once we have completed our flights. Stay tuned.