Flight Plan

How to get the best deals for your next holiday

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on October 16, 2018

Festive seasons see a huge demand for flight tickets   -  Getty Images/iStockphoto

Airfares are a huge part of vacation planning and a few tips can help passengers save money

The rules of the game are changing. Gone are the days when you could figure out what was the best time to take a holiday and be guaranteed low airfares. Today, there is no good time in terms of cheap fares or seats being available as per your convenience when it comes to both domestic and international travel.

However, there is near unanimity among those from the industry that if you follow certain thumb rules, chances are that you will strike a good deal. The first of these is not to wait till the last minute before planning a holiday.

Be the early bird

Says Sharat Dhall, Chief Operating Officer (B2C), Yatra.com, “When the load factors are low then the last minute fares could be a good idea to go after. In a scenario where the load factors are high, I think the last minute fares will definitely be much higher.” Dhall has a point as the average passenger load factor on domestic airlines is in excess of 80 per cent. Passenger load factor shows how many of the seats on offer by airlines are filled. If more seats are filled, airlines can charge more for the few seats left vacant on the aircraft.

“Airlines tend to recognise that it is the business traveller who will book at the last minute and they will be indifferent towards price,” says Dhall, making a case for leisure travellers booking well in advance.

To take Dhall’s logic further, capacity in the domestic market is going up as is demand; but demand is going up because fares are low. This means that airlines do not have pricing power in the early part of the purchase window, giving flyers a chance to get lower-priced tickets as compared to booking at the last minute, when airlines try and hike prices realising that load factors are high. Some others maintain that you can save between 12 to 15 per cent if you book well in advance.

Though there is a difference between domestic and international flying, the same logic of booking early applies to both. Daniel D’souza, Head Sales, India and NRI Marketing and E-Commerce, SOTC Travel, agrees that the earlier a passenger books the better off they will be. “If you are a risk taker and want to wait… today airlines can drop their prices at any time but still the safest bet will be to book early.”

D’souza suggests that international travellers should look at seasonal travel, pointing out that travelling to a destination when it is off-season can see airfares drop.

“If I go to Europe in April, May or June, obviously it will be expensive or if you travel to the US in July, August or September, then fares will be higher as students will be travelling,” he adds.

However, there are times when the early bird logic does not work. Given the huge number of seats available in both the domestic and international markets from and to India, there is a chance that a passenger could grab a better deal closer to the time of travel than what a passenger booking early has got. “I would say about 15-20 per cent of the times. But the flip side is that if you do not get the seat, then the actual cost of travel could be 35-40 per cent higher than what a person booking early has paid,” said a tour operator.

Be flexible

Being flexible with flight timings when flying domestic also helps. For example, if passengers fly on the Delhi-Mumbai route on the 6 am flight, they are likely to pay more than a passenger flying at 12 noon or 3 pm. The logic is simple: Travel on the 6 am Delhi-Mumbai flight provides a full work day in Mumbai and airlines charge a slight premium for this.

Being flexible about days also makes a difference both domestically and internationally.

Passengers can also opt for group packages when travelling international. These group packages have a predetermined date of departure and are 15-20 per cent cheaper than buying air tickets and booking hotels on your own. According to D’souza, this is because the booking agency is likely to pre-book the flight almost a year in advance at lower fares.

Using technology helps too

However, if all else fails, then there is always technology to help you decide when to book. Meta search engine Kayak offers a fare tracker, which notifies passengers on whether they should book immediately or wait. “Users are required to sign up for the alert notifications to know when the flights or hotels that they are interested in change prices. The alerts are sent to a user’s email or mobile phone,” a Kayak spokesperson said.

The Kayak website points out that the service gives a number of useful tips like how it is cheaper to fly on a Saturday (though not so much for international travel). “Likewise, travelling mid-week (Tuesday or Wednesday) is usually cheaper than Monday or Thursday/Friday. Consultants love travelling on Monday mornings and flying back Thursday,” the website says.

Kayak also offers Hacker fares, which combine two one-way flights on two different airlines so that a passenger can save money. Incidentally, this facility is also available on other websites like MakeMyTrip. The only word of caution here is to read the fare rules carefully before booking because some flights may entitle you to fly at the low fare only with a cabin bag. The minute you start adding checked-in bags to the fare, the total cost of travel goes up.

Published on October 16, 2018

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