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Travel Tips – Shopping for Flights


I love the challenge of finding a great deal on a flight.  Over the years, I’ve learned a few things on flying as cheaply and comfortably as possible.

The Best Time to Buy an Airline Ticket:

There are a few theories on the best time to buy an airline ticket.  One thing is for sure:  If you buy too early or too late, you’ll pay more than you should.  It’s funny, those airfares – on any given flight to anywhere, there are probably dozens of different fares passengers have paid to be on the same flight.  Getting the best fare is a fun challenge for me, and I’ve watched these trends like a hawk.

Start shopping 16 weeks before departure.  I normally put a price in my head that I’d like to pay, then start watching for that price.  When I see it, I usually buy it.  For example, on a trip to Europe from Toronto, getting a fare for less than $900 is a good deal.  If I see one advertised for $898.00 – SOLD!  Sales will fluctuate from 16 to 6 weeks before your departure.  Once you are within the 6 week mark, be prepared to pounce, because the prices are going to start climbing from that point.

My favourite discounter site is www.flightnetwork.com but there are dozens of good ones to choose from.  HOWEVER, I always advise to just use these discounters as a reference.  More often than not, the airline itself will offer the same price (or even a couple dollars lower).  I much prefer to deal directly with the airline.  This is especially recommended for the simplicity of seat selection (see Seat Selection below).

Once you’ve paid for your ticket, keep watching the price with that airline.  If it goes down significantly, it might be worth the penalty to change your ticket.

And remember:  The cheapest day of the week to fly is Wednesday (Tuesday and Saturday are good too).

Connecting Flights (A.K.A. Bonus Trips)

We all know direct flights are more expensive than connecting flights.  Don’t look at it as a “connecting flight”, see it as a chance to take an exotic one-day tour of a city you’ve never seen before.  Try to pick a flight that connects to a city you’d love to visit.  I try and connect so that I can spend 8-12 hours on a lay-over.  Then take a train into the city from the airport and explore!  My favourite connecting cities are Amsterdam (KLM) and Paris (Air France).  Both are easy commutes from the airport, and both are awesome cities to spend a day in.

One word of warning:  If you’re flying in the winter months, be sure your layover city isn’t prone to snow storms.  Otherwise, a delayed connection could ruin your vacation.

Under the Eiffel Tower

Seat Selection:

Once you’ve paid for your ticket, the fun isn’t over.  Now the challenge is to get the best seat possible.  Of course you don’t want to pay a ridiculous price for business class, so let me help you get the most out of the economy section:

Depending on the airline, you can often go into their website and select your seat approximately 48 hours before departure.  So which seats are best?  Here’s what to look for:

– stay away from the last row and the row directly in front of the exit row (those seats don’t recline)

– stay away from the washrooms (if you’re in an aisle seat, you’ll be bumped and annoyed throughout the flight)*

– avoid sitting near babies *

– avoid the back of the plane (more turbulence and engine noise)

– try to get an exit row seat (there’s more leg room)

– try to get a seat with a vacant seat next to you (more room to spread out)**

* So how do you know if your seat will be near a baby or a washroom?    There’s a neat little website at www.seatguru.com where you type in your airline and flight number, and a map of the plane will appear.  This map will tell you which are the best seats, and which are the worse seats.  It shows you where the washrooms are, and where the bassinets are located.

** When traveling alone, there is nothing more exciting than to find out the seat next to you is vacant.  It’s not that I’m anti-social, but we know how crowded those planes can be.  That empty patch of real estate next to you makes for some creative sleeping pose opportunities (once you raise the arm that divides you).  When choosing your seat from the airline selector map, you can see which seats are already taken.  Look for a row of 3, with either the window seat or the aisle seat taken, and the other 2 vacant.  Pick the seat that leaves the middle seat vacant.  Middle seats in a row of 3 are always the last to fill.

As for window or aisle.  It’s a matter of personal preference.  If I intend to do a lot of sleeping on a flight, I’ll pick a window seat so I can lean up against the wall, and turn away from everyone (note, wearing a hoodie on a night flight is good for feeling extra cozy while sleeping).  If I plan to stay awake during the flight, I’ll pick an aisle seat so I can get up often to stretch my legs without bothering my neighbours.

Finally, if you belong to a loyalty program (I belong to FlyingBlue), they will often upgrade you for a reduced price.   A few days before my flight home from Thailand, Air France emailed me, offering an upgrade to 1st class for $300.  My flight was an overnighter, and I was sick with a head cold at the time.  I took the deal, and enjoyed total luxury on my way home: champaign, filet mignon, a seat that reclined completely flat, and a real pillow and a real blanket.  Best $300 I ever spent!

 

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