The internet is full of blogs, tips and tricks on how to book the cheapest flight. They all go along the lines of ‘book on a Tuesday’ or ‘delete your cookies if you’re doing multiple searches’, etc. Mom, if you’re reading this, a ‘cookie’ is dark magic.
Being on a strict budget for this trip, I thoroughly understand why the business of finding the cheapest flight is an important one, and I risk sounding like a hypocrite typing this article, but here goes anyway.
It’s not worth it.
I’ve been scouring the net for the past 2 days trying to find a particular combination of flights that aren’t going to cost the earth. I mean it’s ridiculous. Looking directly on the individual airlines’ websites is like watching The Exorcist on Halloween. You’ll crap yourself at the prices sometimes.
Naturally, this means we will all find ourselves on a flight search engine scrolling through thousands of combinations involving multiple airlines, with multiple layovers, some so long you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’re the new Tom Hanks in a remake of The Terminal.
So, out of desperation, I’ve developed my own little way of finding flights and not throwing myself in front of a bus whilst doing so.
You’re not going to find cheap direct flights:
Unless you’re flying to Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha, you’re not going anywhere direct cheaply, unless you’re super lucky. You’re a backpacker, you’re not expecting a direct flight anyway – you know you’ll be waiting in an airport somewhere in the world.
Set 2 main limits:
Limit 1: How long a layover can you live with without losing your mind?
Me, I can’t do more than 5 hours waiting in an airport. I know my limits. More than 5 hours will push me off my mortal coil. There are only so many times I can wander around looking like something from the Walking Dead. Furthermore, airports are expensive. I mean, 1 Costa coffee at Dubai International Airport could feed me for a month in Cambodia. The longer I’m aimlessly wandering around, the greater the chances are I’m going to say ‘screw it’ and buy 10 Toblerone chocolates and whatever saving I made on the long layover is gone.
Limit 2: Maximum you’re willing to pay for that ticket
After 10 minutes of searching, you’ll have a good idea of how much the ticket should cost. Is it worth surfing the net for 2 days trying to save $20? For me, it isn’t. The savings in doing so really will be $20. Not worth the time in my opinion. Set a budget, stick to it whilst you factor limit 2, above, into account.
The myth of finding the cheapest booking engine
These booking engines are clever bastards. They’ll offer you a cheap fare but as soon as you enter your credit card details, you’ll see a ‘Visa credit card fee’ of $20 miraculously appearing. And a ‘service fee’, etc.
I also have a sneaky suspicion (unverified so don’t vilify me) that many of these booking engines are all owned by the same underlying company. The web layouts on many of their websites are suspiciously familiar. It’s clever: Skyscanner will give you 2 options from 2 different entities, making you think you’re getting a sweet deal, but at the end of the day, some bastard industrial psychologist just tricked us.
Things you need to get comfortable with if you’re going to ignore the above:
You’re going to waste 2 nights, just like I have. You’re going to feel frustrated and want to throw your laptop against the wall, but then you remember you’re not rich and can’t afford a new one if you do so.
You’re going to book through a dodgy booking engine you’ve never heard of and then spend an hour getting very suspicious text messages from your bank.
You’re going to have to wait 24 hours for your ticket to get confirmed by the underlying airlines – this is stressy. Some part of my mind wanders off picturing someone pulling an elaborate scam on me.
Finally, you reach the conclusion you shouldn’t have been so extraordinarily tight fisted over $50 and just gotten a travel agent to book the bloody flight for you.