Planning a trip abroad has never been easier. You can check out every aspect of your holiday online, and the flights are no exception. Most travelers head to a flight comparison site, enter a destination, and begin poring over results. Everyone likes uncovering a cheap flight ticket or two!
Once you find your cheap flights, you must move fast. Sometimes it feels like the more you check the flight price, the more it increases. Are airlines tracking your interest and raising the fare?
Read on to find out how you can find insanely cheap flights almost every time.
How Do Airlines Choose Cheap Flight Tickets?
There are several common misconceptions regarding flight prices and how airlines gauge demand. Most ideas center around the idea of tracking. Airline companies track your online movements and ramp up the ticket costs as soon as you visit the site, using cookies to keep tabs on you. Could that be true?
“If the airlines were to raise prices because of browser cookies (targeted individually), there would be air travel whistle-blowers and senators running to microphones for legislation to prevent it,” says FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney. “What people see when they shop multiple times, and prices are changing is a reflection of inventory changes, data caching techniques and the fact that prices generally get more expensive closer to the departure date, even within a day.”
Airfarewatchdog flight analyst Ricky Radka also confirms that “What happens to make people think the airlines are tracking the search, is that the closer it gets to the departure date, the more people look—which is when airfare will increase.”
It doesn’t always feel like that, though. Prices appear to change within minutes, much to the chagrin of consumers on the hunt for insanely cheap flights.
Airlines Do Use Dynamic Pricing and User Profiling
Within 15 minutes they raised the price per ticket by $250… scam…
— MooseCraft (George) ? (@ItsMooseCraft) May 16, 2018
For instance, in 2018, airline revenue management software provider, PROS, confirmed that many of their clientele now use dynamic pricing.
Dynamic pricing structures do consider user location, customer accounts, previous flight data, shopping trends, and more, to create specialized individual flight prices that differ from customer to customer. PROS clientele includes Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, Qantas, Emirates, Southwest, and many more.
Currently, each airline has just 26 fare classes. That’s one for each letter of the alphabet (literally). Airlines can update the prices for each fare class four times per day for domestic flights, and hourly for international flights.
The current flight pricing structure was put into place in 1978, after The Airline Deregulation Act. However, airlines are finding it difficult actually to shift from that system—but that time is now.
Dynamic Flight Pricing Leads to Price Discrimination
There are more than a few people voicing concerns regarding dynamic fare pricing. One of the biggest issues dynamic pricing presents is the tracking and grading of individual customers, which will undoubtedly lead to flight fare discrimination toward any number of potential customers.
Any system that gauges a customer’s suitability for a specific price should remain open for analysis. The reality is that the backend of such a system will never see the light of day, lest it exposes shady and discriminatory practices.
Consumer Reports, formerly the Consumers Union, states in a report from 2018 [PDF] that “Despite the notion that algorithms are neutral and objective arbiters, algorithms can exacerbate bias or have unexpected discriminatory effects.”
Earlier, in October 2016, a Consumer Reports study across nine of the top travel search sites cited “42 pairs of different prices on separate browsers for the same sites retrieved simultaneously.”
The report led to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer calling the situation “a sad state of affairs that might just violate consumer protections.”
Flight Route Profiling
Flight route profiling has existed for a long time. For instance, a flight from London to Lanzarote is primarily marked for leisure. Airlines know that demand during school holiday periods will dramatically increase.
They also know that parents will look to find the best deals months in advance and as such, prices around those periods remain high, despite the number of available seats and current demand.
A switch to dynamic profiling is unlikely to change this scenario. It could, however, impact in other ways.
If you’re checking out flights on a high-end Mac, in San Francisco, the dynamic pricing might assume you have higher income and show you higher prices. How about checking prices for a return overnight trip from New York to Chicago?
Dynamic pricing might assume you’re a business person, check your previous flight purchase history, and show you price knowing that you will pay it regardless of cost.
7 Flight Hacks to Find Cheap Tickets
Everyone wants to find an insanely cheap flight. The reality is that the ridiculous flight deals are few and far between. You might get incredibly lucky from time to time and find a flight ticket with a massive discount. But the reality is that airline ticket prices react to demand and the proximity to the flight.
Still, there are a few handy tricks you can use to knock a few dollars from your airfare.
1. Use a VPN to Find Cheaper Flight Prices
If the airlines use dynamic profiling, you can fight back by using a VPN to change your location. For instance, you can use ExpressVPN.
MakeUseOf readers can grab an exclusive 49% discount for ExpressVPN using this link to change your IP address as to appear from one of 94 countries.
Here are a few examples of price differences I found using ExpressVPN, with the locations and the differences. I ran the same price comparisons using a fresh Lubuntu Linux installation, with a completely new browser.
Our test flights are:
- New York JFK to London Heathrow
- Miami International to Paris Charles de Gaulle
- Tokyo Narita to San Francisco International
All departing on September 11th and all returning on September 18th, using the exact same flights for each flight price check site. Check out the difference in price between Skyscanner, Momondo, and Google Flights using the scenarios.
Note: I had to use Google’s ATX Matrix for the ExpressVPN Hong Kong server as Google Flights are unavailable in Hong Kong—it returns the same prices though.
A few things become clear immediately.
- Google Flight prices remain extremely constant, regardless of location. Thus, you should know how to use Google Flights alerts to save money when going through it.
- Using a VPN uncovered significant discounts when booking cheap airline flights from the Netherlands.
- For the most part, discounts are only in tens of dollars, with one or two notable exceptions. However, if you’re booking cheap flights for several family members, these savings do add up.
- Using a VPN to search for cheaper flights don’t always uncover discounts.
The last point is important. Using a VPN will not always help you find discounts, so you’ll have to play around with locations to figure out what works. It is also trip specific. The VPN server and flight combination might give you a discount at one time, but not others.
2. Be Flexible to Find Cheap Flight Deals
Flexibility is key to finding a cheap flight deal. If you can travel at any time, you can work your way through the cheapest dates for your destination.
If you cannot travel at any time (which is the reality for most of us!), try and remain flexible with your destination. Skyscanner and other flight comparison sites allow you to search for “Everywhere” using the Cheapest Month option. It’ll show you the cheapest locations, in the cheapest month, from your departing location.
There is always a deal somewhere. It often takes looking at the bigger travel picture to see where it is.
3. Alternate Airports
Following on from flexibility, you can try and fly from and land at different airports. Many of the major global cities have multiple international airports. Switch between them to check for price differences (though make sure to factor in your travel into the city too).
Switch up your departure location, too. If you can travel between several different outgoing airports, include them in your base search so you can compare fares easily. For instance, trip-building site Kiwi.com lets you do both (add different departure and destination airports).
4. Check for Airline Fare Errors
Now and then, airlines slip up. A price update goes wrong, hits the market, and suddenly you’re flying to Seychelles for $40 round-trip. Okay, the airline fare errors are never quite that dramatic, but if you catch one, you can make mega-savings.
One of the most recent examples came from Cathay Pacific, which sold $16,000 business class tickets from Da Nang, Vietnam, to New York, for $675.
One of the best places to check for airline fare errors is Secret Flying. They post airline fare errors as soon as possible, hopefully before the airline catches their mistake.
The difficulty is that some airlines will not honor the mistake fare. Airlines can cancel the mistake fare at their discretion. Furthermore, the prospect of ultra-cheap airfares is slowly dwindling. The mistakes often stem from manual user input mistakes: a slipped key, a misplaced decimal point, and so on.
The move automation means that airlines no longer rely on manual input for price updates (which you can completely understand), and an update to airline pricing systems, such ATPCO. The Airline Tariff Publishing Co (ATPCO) maintains flight pricing data for over 400 airlines. A recent update to their system reduced the time to fix a fare mistake from 1 hour down to 15 mins for domestic flights, and from almost 24 hours down to 1 hour for international flights.
Mistake fares will still crop up—but you’re going to have to be ready to pounce when they do.
5. Book Your Flights Early And at Specific Times
I’m a little skeptical of this, and so are other online flight specialists. However, in the quest to find cheap flights, you’ll try anything, right?
You should always attempt to book your flights early. Although the figures differ, the best time to book a flight is between three to six in advance.
The team over at Airfarewatchdog believe booking your flight late on a Tuesday evening or early on a Wednesday morning is the best time of the week. That’s because many carriers release their new sales late on a Monday or a Tuesday morning. As the new fares filter through the market, prices adjust, and you might snag a cheap flight ticket.
6. Set Airline Fare Price Alerts
If you’re not using flight price tracking alerts already, you should start right now. If you have a specific destination in mind (or even a bunch!), you can set price alerts that notify you when the flight ticket prices reach a certain level of discount.
7. Book Individual Flights
Finally, consider booking individual flights instead of using the connecting flight option. It will take you a little longer to book your full itinerary, but you can sometimes knock a few dollars from the price of your trip.
Just make sure to book with enough time between your flights, accounting for collecting your bags and making the trip to the next gate in the terminal (or in a different terminal, and so on).
You Can Find the Best Cheap Flights!
Insanely cheap flights are hard to come across. But a good cheap flight deal is well within your grasp. Figuring out what you consider a great cheap flight deal is important. Are you talking 10% off a $100 fare? Or are you hoping to find 70% off a $500 fare?
Tempering your expectations means you won’t get frustrated that you’re not finding a bonkers flight discount, but happy to grab a cheap fare when it pops up.
What do you conclude from this? Check all your options, at all times, and always double-check across the cheap flight ticket comparison sites. Otherwise, you should check out our tips for using Google Flights effectively.
And if you’re checking out flights for a vacation with friends, take a look at some additional tips for having a wonderful trip.
Read the full article: How to Get Insanely Cheap Flight Tickets: 7 Airline Hacks That’ll Save Money