Did you know that the cheapest ticket on flight booking sites isn’t actually the cheapest ticket to your destination?
These days, almost no one goes to an airline company directly anymore – at least, not unless they’re stalking the web for Jetstar promotions and Scoot promotions. Most Singaporeans book their air tickets through flight booking sites, which trawl the available tickets for the lowest prices.
However, there are some things that will help you book the cheapest air tickets using Skyscanner, Expedia, and other flight comparison sites:
1. You Need to Look at Several Booking Sites to Find the Best Price
Have you ever noticed that, on certain flight booking sites, some airline names appear all the time, while others don’t at all?
For example, you might find that Delta Airlines appears frequently on website A as one of the cheapest options, but almost never on website B. Conversely, website B may often show Qatar Airways as having the best-priced tickets, but you never see this airline on website A.
This is because many websites sort and rank prices based on companies that work with them. In other words, when a website gives you the lowest priced airline tickets, they are not the cheapest possible tickets among all the airlines. Instead, they are the cheapest possible tickets among the airline companies that the website works with. That’s why a certain airline can keep popping up on one website, but almost never appear on another.
It’s also why you need to look on more than one booking site, in order to get the best price. The cheapest air ticket on a website may still not be the cheapest air ticket available.
2. Some Comparison Sites Use Teaser Prices
Sometimes, you will see flight tickets that seem impossibly cheap. These are often double-digit prices, like S$28 for a plane ticket to the Philippines, or S$88 for a flight to Australia. These are teaser prices, which are used to lure you in.
When you get to Book Now button, however, you will see that the actual price is much higher. A S$28 plane ticket can actually cost well over S$350.
This happens because the teaser price is the price of the flight itself. It excludes many of the additional charges that can be applied. For example, it may exclude airport taxes (which have to be paid at both Changi airport and the destination), fuel surcharges, and baggage handling fees. Once you add in all the extras, the price is more or less comparable to a regular priced ticket.
There is a simple reason why websites do this: by the time you get to the final price, you would have filled in a lot of details. You’ve probably typed in your passport details, credit card details, confirmed the seat you’ve wanted, and so forth. The site is counting on your being too lazy to back out, and go through the whole process again.
We suggest you copy and paste the details like your address, passport number, and so forth on a separate word document. This will speed up your form-filling, and you’ll be less hesitant to check out prices elsewhere.
3. Your Airline Discounts May Be Invalid at the Flight Booking Site
When you book through a flight booking site, you may already be getting the lowest possible price from the airline. This often means that further discounts or rewards, such as from an airline loyalty programme, may not apply.
Also, airline members may be required to book through their specific airline’s website, where discounts or rewards will be applied to their purchase. But if the airline members book through a comparison site instead, the airline may have no way of knowing it’s one of their members. As such, there’s no discount or reward.
If you are using a credit card, always check if your bonus miles or credit card rewards still apply when booking through a comparison site.
4. Clear Your Cache or Deny Cookies
Some website embed tracking cookies that monitor your activities on the site. Sometimes they are harmless and are simply a way for the site to track the most popular routes. However, some comparison sites use them as a way to raise prices.
When you repeatedly click on a particular route or destination, the site knows you are more than likely to buy a ticket, as opposed to just randomly browsing. As such, the price is slightly adjusted upward.
This is why you might remember the site offering a particular price, but be unable to find it afterwards.
(At any rate, it’s a good idea not to just accept cookies from any old website. You might be opening up your computer to malware).
5. It Can Be Difficult to Change Your Flight Details Later
Avoid booking on the comparison site until you are 100 per cent sure of your departure and arrival dates. Remember that, when you book on the comparison site, you are not booking the flight with the airline itself.
A comparison site may have no facilities to accommodate changes, should you need to change to flight timings later. And if you call the airline company directly to change your flight, you may be faced with a lot of confusion and frustration; they may not be able to locate your booking easily, as it was made under a third party website.
Even if you are certain on the dates, always ask the comparison site about contingency measures. Call them before booking, or check their FAQ. Find out what happens in the event you miss a flight, or need a later or earlier flight back due to medical reasons.
If you have a credit card, you might want to get one with a concierge service. They can arrange emergency flights for you, in case the comparison site lets you down.
Use the Right Credit Card When You Make Your Booking
Some travel credit cards give accelerated miles or discounts when you book flights at certain websites. For instance, the UOB PRVI Miles Card gives you up to 50% off when you use Expedia. Make sure you check your credit card to see if they have any bonuses or promotions before finalising your travel plans.
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By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.