How We Book Flights, and How You Should Too.

posted in: Travel Savings | 0

Back in my day…

The first time I had to book flights was back in 2005 to visit my uncle in Australia. My strategy at time? I went to the Halifax Shopping Centre and visited every travel agent in mall! I started at Carlson Wagonlit, then took their price to Maritime Travel. When Maritime travel found a cheaper flight I took their quote to Flight Centre. Flight Centre gave me their slightly cheaper price which I then took back to Carlson Wagonlit. The ever so slightly annoyed travel agent I had first sat down with this quote, worked her magic, and found me one slightly cheaper still. It’s not how I’d book a flight today, but back then 19 year old me was ecstatic with the deal he got.

Google circa 2005 - not how you book flights
Google circa 2005 – How do I book flights with this?

Not worth the layovers

The deal by the way involved me flying from Halifax to JFK. Running as fast as I could through JFK to catch a very tight transfer to Los Angeles. There I would have a 6 day lay over (bonus right?) until I would fly to Taipei. I arrived in Taiwan early to look forward to an over 12 hour layover before flying to Sydney. In Sydney I had the joy of having to transfer airports with only a 3 hour layover before finally catching my flight to Perth. The couple hundred dollars I saved was not worth it.

Nowadays though, we don’t need to spend the day bouncing between travel agents to book flights cheaply. In this post I’ll walk you through the process we take every time we make a booking. It’s a lot quicker and easier, and can be done at home in your underwear.

Senario One:

You already know where and you know when:

Our process was slightly different booking our Florida trip, than it was for our California trip, or our European honeymoon. The simplest flights to book are when you already know where you’re flying to and when. This is how we booked our flights to Florida.

Find the best airport

When we booked our Florida trip, we already knew we’d be going to Italy and Africa this year and wouldn’t be able to spare any vacation days. This limited us to a weekend trip, and based on our schedules we knew it would be from February 17th to 20th. February 20th is Family Day, our newest stat holiday and if we could find a flight in the late afternoon on the 17th we could leave from work and be in Florida that night.

To find the flight path we wanted we used Google Flights. We love using this site as it quickly lets you search multiple airports to find a schedule that suits your needs with its flight map. After inputting your desired dates you can zoom in on an area and it’ll show you all the airports you can fly into and the cost of flying into each one.

Google Flights Screenshot
At a glance you quickly see the prices of flying into various airports.

Find the best Flight path

Clicking on any of these airports will show you various flight itineraries broken down by total duration and price. If you wish to narrow your search you can use the drop down menus above that map to specify non-stop, max duration, or max price.

Google flights screenshot
On the left hand side we can see the cheapest price is $548. It’s a nonstop flight and it’ll take us 4 hours to get down there.

By clicking the Show flights button on the left hand side you can search through all the various itineraries to find the flight schedule that suits you best. Once you found that, keep your credit card in your wallet as you’re probably not going to book this trip today. Just below where you would purchase these tickets, you’ll see an option to “track price”. Go ahead and click that.

Google Flights Screenshot
Google flights found the cheapest price by quoting 2 separate one way ticket prices. But the price could still get cheaper.

When to book flights

Hopper App
To decide when to book flights, we use Hopper

The next thing you’re going to want to do is get an app called Hopper. Hopper predicts price changes in commonly traveled flight routes and has helped us buy at the absolute lowest price for several flights including this trip to Florida.

Its not as good as Google Flights for finding the best price
Hopper Screenshot
What we’re really using Hopper is this information near the bottom of the page.

So Google flights found us flights to Florida for $548.00 Canadian, and Hopper’s best price was $635 USD or about $795 Canadian. Thats over $250.00 more! Google flights has been by far the cheapest place we’ve found for ticket prices. But, we still want Hopper, look down below and its telling you when it expects prices to go up and down. This we have found to be VERY accurate. Hopper will tell you when the cheapest time comes to book flights. Trust it.

Watch your e-mails.

Overtime as your tracked flight paths change price you’ll now get a notification. Keep checking Hopper and you should have a good idea on when your flight is going to be the cheapest to book. Once you’re within a week or so of that date watch for the notification from Google. You’ll get an e-mail that your flight has decreased in price. Once you see that e-mail its time for you to book your flights.

Where to Book Flights.

Your patience has paid off and you’ve gotten the best price on the best itinerary. Now if you wish you can go ahead and just book flights directly through the links provided by Google. These usually redirect you to the airlines website where you would book directly through Air Canada or Delta, or dare I say United. Before I do this though, I’ll try to find the same itinerary through Expedia.

We try and book through Expedia if we can find the same price with them.

If you’ve already been booking a lot of flights or hotels through another website, and are part of their points program check and see if you can find your flight through them. We’ve had great experiences with Expedia, I’ve had to call them a couple times and they’ve always been great to deal with. On top that, they have a decent points program that we’ve already been able to use towards free accommodation. If you can get the same price plus points, get the points.

Scenario 2

You know when, but not where.

For our Trip to California, Dayna and I found ourselves with a week off work. But we only had 2 weeks notice to plan it out. Again the first place we went to was Google Flights. We knew we didn’t have the budget for Europe, and needed to keep the flight times down. Where we only had the one week we didn’t want to spend half of it in the airport. So we brought up the map.

Google Flights Map
If you know when, but not where, Google Flights map is a great way to compare locations.

Multi-City planning

After getting some ideas on prices for various destinations we thought about what we’d like to do. Did we want to spend the entire time in one area or did we want to explore? In the end we decide we’d rent a car and explore the West Coast. At the time we were able to find cheap flights in and out of Los Angeles.  But who wants to drive up and then have to book it back down the Pacific Coast Highway? If we could fly into one city and out of another, that would be a lot better! Google Flights allows you to do this with their Multi-city planner.

Google Flights Multi City
Return to Los Angeles we’re getting a price of $705, but lets fly home from somewhere else.

On the flight selection page, you have the option for Multi-City just above where your location is selected. Unfortunately there is no cool map to play around with for your return flight. Instead play around with a few different cities that would be interested in flying out of. You might be surprised at what often happens to the price….

Google Flights Multi City Screenshot
$49 cheaper per person

Sometimes its cheaper

Yup, not only will the Multi-City give you a better experience, quite often its cheaper. Also, don’t forget to swap the cities. Check if its cheaper to arrive in San Francisco and depart from Los Angeles. Now in our case, we were doing this with less than 2 weeks notice. We decide to book flights on the spot and not wait and see if they got any cheaper.

Scenario 3

Anywhere, anytime…

This is the best scenario, and really is just a combination of the points listed above. This was the case for when we booked our flights to Namibia. It was considerably more expensive for us to rent a 4×4 in one city and drop it off in another so we made a short list of cities that would make an appropriate starting and ending point. We knew roughly when we wanted to go, (dry season) but could be very flexible with our dates. The only thing we did additionally that we did not list above is that we played around with Google flights calendar feature.

Chose your dates carefully. Prices here can vary from $1,337 to $2,419

Flying to Africa can be very expensive, but the more flexible you are, the more likely you’ll be able to find affordable airfare. As you can see above, flights to Windhoek where we are flying in and out of can vary by over $1,000 based on when you travel. When you book flights, take the time and effort to do a bit of research. You don’t need to spend a day at the mall bouncing from travel agent to travel agent. But you should look around, as a little research can actually save you thousands.



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