Paper, Planes & Pinot

In Other Words… Stationery, Travel, and All Else that Matters

Travel Thursday – Michael’s Airfare Tips

The BF is BACK with another Travel Thursday post!

Take it away Michael!


And I’m back.  After my last post generated a wealth of discussion, (read: zero comments) I figured I’d keep handing out invaluable.  This will not be some BS list of popular myths such as when it is best purchase airfare or using a fare alert (they don’t work).  Instead I’ll share some tips that are honest, and sometimes even break the airlines contract of carriage.  After what they put us through they deserve a little payback.  Here Goes:

Easiest tip:  Be flexible and search flexible

The quickest way to drive up airfare costs is to limit your options.  Airlines love that you don’t want a connection, that you want to leave Friday at 6 pm/come back on Sunday afternoon and that you can only leave from Reagan airport.  Oh and you only fly Delta.


To easily drive airfare down, consider a different date, be flexible on when you leave, be willing to drive more than 30 minutes to get to the airport and don’t be particular about your airlines.  You don’t even have to leave and return from the same airport (known as an open jaw).  Hell you should even be flexible about where you want to go.  This is especially useful for visiting Europe.  A flight to Oslo followed by another separate flight on a low cost carrier to London, may be hundreds of dollars cheaper than flying directly to London.  Plus you get to see two cities instead of one.

Of course searching this many options take an inordinate amount of time.  Enter the greatest air search website of all time that the public barely knows about: (a.k.a “matrix”).  This website will let you search a month of airfares between twenty different destinations and you can even specify where you want to connect and what airlines you are willing to fly.  With itasoftware you can search for airfare as specifically or vaguely as you want.  Attempting to explain all the features and how to use the routing language would take about ten posts.  Instead I’ll point to this link:

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 10.15.38 PM

Illegal Tip: Hidden City Ticketing

This one is well known to seasoned travelers but not much of the public.  It is especially helpful for flying to major cities where an airline has a hub.  Typically those routes are obscenely expensive.  Hidden City ticketing involves flying a one-way ticket with a connection in the city you want to visit.  Instead on continuing on with the connection, simply get off the plane and exit the airport.  Also works in reverse.

Technically this violates an airlines contract of carriage and they have the right to cancel your ticket(s) or claw back your miles if they find you doing this.  Before getting too scared to try hidden city ticketing, consider this:  what are they odds the airline finds out what you are doing?  Do you really think their IT systems are sophisticated enough to find you out when thousands of people are missing flights every day?  Remember, these are the same systems that can’t even give you the right seat assignment.

A Tip for the Dedicated:  Error and Mistake Fares:

Want to fly to Hawaii in first class for $75?  How about a flight to Los Angeles for $5?  Europe is on sale from the east coast for $127.  While all these may seem like scams they most certainly are not.  All of the aforementioned were available to the public at some point during the last year, due to airline mistakes.  These types of fares are not for the faint or heart or those with little travel flexibility.  Sometimes these fares are only available 30 minutes or less so you must be able to make a travel decision quickly.

Being able to take advantage of these deals is about being in the right place at the right time.  To take advantage you must constantly monitor several blogs and websites for the first signs of one of these fares.  Here are just a few of those links (most important links first):

Obsessively following the twitter accounts of the above site may also yield useful results.

Illegal International Tip:  Tricked Fares

This is also known as “fuel dumping”.  As you may be aware, a large portion of any international fare on many airlines consists of a fuel surcharge that can run as high as $600 per round trip economy ticket.  In order to apply these fuel surcharges correctly, airlines and their global distributors have developed an extremely complicated set of algorithms for determining how much fuel surcharge to apply to any given ticket.  These algorithms are subject to breakdowns whereby the fuel surcharge can be removed from an international ticket by adding segments or using creative routing.  I will not go into how to do this in detail and am only here to enlighten you that it is possible. Feel free to go out and research it and try it for yourself.

Note that without computer programming skills, the majority of these fares are extremely difficult to find.

Free tip:  Fly for free using miles

Just because you don’t fly often doesn’t mean you can’t fly free on miles.  As described in my last post, these miles can be easily be obtained using credit cards (through credit card bonuses and credit card spending).  Keep in mind, that picking the right program for your type of air travel is important.  Here are a few tips on how to choose a program for your type of travel

Short, but expensive domestic flights:  British Airways Avios.  You can use for travel on US Airways and American flights.  Keep in mind this program is distance based so it’s value increases if you live near an American or US Airways hub.  Flights less than 650 miles from your airport cost only 9,000 miles

Other Domestic Flights:  Southwest Rapid rewards is usually your best option.  Their program is value based meaning the amount of points needed for a free flight is determined by the price of the ticket.  This means that it is a better value to use southwest reward points for any flight that costs less than $357.  Most other airlines charge 25,000 miles round trip for a similar flight.

International Flights:  The right program will vary by destination.  Overall I would say US Airways has the best award chart to and from North America, but this depends on the destination and your origin.  British Airways Avios are good options for short flights (i.e to the Caribbean and Mexico) not on British Airways, American airlines can get you to Japan for only 50,000 miles from the US, ANA can get you to parts of Europe for only 38,000 miles (plus some fuel surcharges).  This doesn’t even include the programs that include free-stopovers and let you route to Australia through Europe and Asia.


Got a question on anything?  Leave a comment and one of the next Travel Thursday posts will be all yours!






One comment on “Travel Thursday – Michael’s Airfare Tips

  1. Kegan
    May 2, 2014


    I’m reading… and I’m liking!

    We need to discuss these things more…

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This entry was posted on May 1, 2014 by in Planes and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .
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