How to Save Money on Big Airlines

Ryan Ong



Big airlines aren’t known for low fees. Mainly because jet fuel, airport taxes, and competition means they make very little profit these days*. If they didn’t overcharge like a Dragonball villain, your airline food would be expired spam and half a carrot. So don’t ask them to lower prices anymore. You’ll have to take your own steps to minimizing costs:

*Big airlines are in trouble.

Method 1: Fly From Another Country

Think flight tickets are too expensive? Blame the airport.

Airport tax is such a huge cost adder, there’s a whole industry built on avoiding it. It’s called the budget airline. That’s why budget flights tend toward delays and godforsaken take-off times; they’re trying to use the runway on off-peak periods, when the tax is low.

But a big carrier isn’t as selective. On top of that, distance and routes combine to make some departure points more expensive.

A return ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Vancouver costs about $4,000. But from Singapore, the cost would be around $2,000 (at the time of writing). Check comparison sites for the current rates). So if you can spare the time, it’d be worth travelling to Singapore first, then flying off from here. Certain carriers charge more when flying out of areas where they have a larger market presence, so it may make sense to take a budget flight out to somewhere a little more obscure and then taking a flight to your intended destination from there instead.

You can also vary the arrival airport (If you don’t mind driving or taking a coach bus to the actual destination).


Method 2: Choose One Seat at a Time


Crowd cramming into plane
It’s a free seating system. If you haven’t got a seat, you’re free to go without.


The price of airline seats are variable. They’re based on time, distance, and a complex algorithm known as “whatever the hell they feel like charging”.

The only consistent fact is price buckets. Airlines price the same seats at different rates (price buckets). As one bucket of seats “fills” up, the pricing moves to the next (often higher) price bucket. So a seat that was $1,900 may become $2,000, if more people buy tickets.

So, let’s say you buy two tickets. But there’s only one ticket available, before moving from the $1,900 to $2,000 bucket. So what does the system do?

Charge you $2,000 for both tickets, that’s what.

There’s a way around it. The next time you visit comparison sites, set it to “one adult” and find the lowest price. After that, search prices for the total number of tickets you need.

If there’s a price difference, book a single ticket for yourself. Then make a separate booking for the rest of your party.


Method 3: Book Close, Alternate Days


Sleeping in airport
Did you know? Two extra days in Houston is like being dead, but less interesting.


Airline ticket prices change daily. And sometimes, the difference of a single day can mean a $200 – $300 difference.

So again, you can trade time for money. Consider leaving two days off the intended departure date; you might find the prices are a lot lower.

Hey, if you’re going on vacation, you might not mind a few extra days. Or if it’s work related, your client might not be bothered by the slight change.


Method 4: Maximize Frequent Flyer Miles

If you spend about $5,000 a year on travelling, get a specialized credit card.

Cards like the Amex KrisFlyer Gold Card accumulate frequent flyer miles faster, especially if you are planning to spend a lot of money in a short period of time. A few trips back and forth, and you could have a free upgrade to first class, or free tickets to Hong Kong. Check out MoneySmart for frequent flyer cards.

Just remember to use the card for payment only, not credit. Otherwise, the savings get swallowed by the interest.


Method 5: Consider Other Departure or Arrival Times


How much WAS the discount, and why is this labelled ‘Night Flying Radar’?


This relates to method one (the airport tax). Try tweaking the time on the comparison sites; a matter of three hours can come to a few hundred dollars.

This is good if you don’t mind flying on off-peak hours, but still want full service (because granite chicken and a frozen bun are such delicacies). You’ll want to weigh up the benefits: Arrive at 4 am and shamble around like the living dead, or arrive a day or earlier and pay extra hotel bills.

Image Credits:
avinashkunnath, lingolook, holisticmonkey, Creative Tools

How do you save money on big airlines? Comment and let us know!

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.