Score cheaper flights with these booking hacks
It is January and you are planning your vacations for the year.
You have narrowed down your destinations and checked out hotel deals, but high airfares may be making you baulk.
But it is possible to stretch your dollar on flight tickets with some smart booking tips, including the best days to fly and how far in advance you should book a trip.
As with all hacks, your mileage may vary. The Straits Times tests some of them out with round-trip flights in May to some popular destinations.
Why May? For starters, there is a public holiday on May 1 (Labour Day), and one more on April 22 (Hari Raya Puasa) if you are looking at a long trip.
May is shoulder season in many parts of the world – sans the heat, crowds and higher prices of summer (June to August). And since it is still four months away, it is not yet subject to last-minute fare hikes.
Here are some tips to help you save on airfare and maximise your shopping or food budget.
1. Book on weekends, fly on weekdays
This will give you the most bang for your buck, according to data from travel booking platforms.
Expedia’s 2023 Air Travel Hacks Report reveals that for Singapore-based travellers, tickets booked on Sundays are 30 per cent cheaper than those on Friday, the most expensive day to book.
The same report encourages travellers to depart on a Thursday, which is about 25 per cent cheaper than leaving on a Sunday, the most expensive day to fly.
Meanwhile, booking platform Traveloka reports that Friday is the most expensive, and Tuesday the cheapest – with a price difference of about 14 per cent.
It may all sound rather confusing, but do not be bogged down by flying on an exact day. As a rule of thumb, midweek is when flights are likely to be cheaper and less crowded, which increases your chance of having an empty seat next to you and breezing through immigration queues.
On a Singapore Airlines (SIA) flight to London, for instance, flights on Tuesdays to Thursdays cost at least $100 to $200 less than those on other days of the week.
2. Look for deals on new routes
Keep an eye out for new routes, which airlines will usually promote with attractive deals.
AirAsia, for instance, will launch direct flights from Singapore to Chiang Mai four times a week in February. Flights to the northern Thai city now include a layover in Bangkok. The airline offered one-way fares starting at 3,390 baht (S$136) during the launch promotion in November 2022.
While the promotion has ended, you can still bag round-trip fares for about $255 in May 2023.
With many airlines launching new routes and reinstating old ones now that borders have reopened, the time is ripe to shop for fare deals.
3. Keep destinations flexible
No concrete plans? Just want to go somewhere? Key in your dates into travel search engine Kayak’s explore function and it will show you where flights are cheapest.
You might get ideas for an unexplored city or you could compare prices between favourite destinations. For instance, flights to South Korea in May start at around $432, while a ticket to Osaka costs about $100 more.
Kayak reveals that Spain and Greece are the cheapest entry points into Europe, with flights to Madrid starting at around $950 and those to Athens starting at $816.
4. Book about four to six months ahead
Travel booking platform Expedia’s report says it is best to book flights about four to six months in advance, and that fares peak about two to three weeks in advance.
A flight from Singapore to Bali on Scoot costs about $238 in May and $355 in February.
If you are not ready to commit so far ahead, most travel booking platforms have a price alert function which will notify you when prices match your budget, so you know you are getting the best deal.
5. Search in a different language or currency
Travel booking platform Skyscanner is known for its low fares, but you can save even more by using the search links on its international sites, which are found at the bottom of the home page.
Booking directly on an airline’s website? Toggle through different currencies to score some savings. Local currency is not always cheaper.
On AirAsia, the same round-trip flights from Singapore to Chiang Mai in May cost about $8 more when paid in Thai baht or Malaysian ringgit compared with the Singapore dollar.
In both cases, it may take a bit of trial and error to find a lower price. And if you do, minimise foreign exchange fees on your payment by using a multi-currency travel wallet such as the YouTrip pre-paid Mastercard.
6. Get cashback on flight bookings
Make bookings via home-grown online company Shopback, which provides cashback deals for shoppers. Travel booking platforms such as Trip.com, Expedia and Traveloka are listed there.
Go to shopback.sg and click on the travel booking platform you want. You will be directed there, where you can make your booking. Shopback earns a commission from each purchase it redirects to these merchants and shares a part of that with the customer.
Cashback rates generally range from 2 to 6 per cent, but can go as high as 12 per cent during promotional periods such as 11/11 or Black Friday. Brands also run “upsized cashback” deals from time to time.
As with all deals, read the fine print. For instance, Trip.com’s cashback rate is advertised as 5.5 per cent, but this applies to only hotel bookings. International flights, on the other hand, will get you 1 per cent cashback.
Among the flight booking platforms on Shopback, Traveloka now offers the best rate of 2.5 per cent cashback for flights to Britain or the United States, and 2 per cent for other outbound flights from Singapore.
This works out to $37.50 cashback for a flight to London in May that costs $1,500. It may not seem like a princely sum, but the point of cashback is that it adds up, especially between flights, hotels and other travel expenses.
7. Secure your fare
While shopping around for the best price, some airlines allow you to secure your fare for one to three days. This is handy if you have found a good deal, but need time to finalise travel plans.
Fare-hold fees vary depending on the cabin class and flight, and airlines usually reveal prices towards the tail end of the booking process. Checks by ST show that the fees usually range from $5 to $45 and most are non-refundable.
SIA’s Secure My Fare service, for instance, starts at $5 and the carrier will hold your itinerary for up to 72 hours.
* Prices are correct as at Jan 16.