Given the recent drop in the loonie, the price of travel is expected to rise. But with a little time and creativity, it’s possible to keep boarding those flights while lessening the damage to your wallet.
Barry Choi, a television director by night and personal finance blogger by day, shared some money-saving travel tips with me. “Book multi-destination tickets as they allow you to fly into one city and out of another,” he said. “I use Google Flights for that, and then use SkyScanner.ca to search the smaller local carriers that may not show up on the more well known travel search engines, but may be cheaper.”
I decided to put his advice to the test. Suppose I want to go to Italy with my girlfriend at some point this summer. I know we want to visit Venice, but do we fly straight there? When is the cheapest time to go? With the benefit of flexibility and a sense of adventure, I decided to find out.
To begin my frugal travel search, I added Google Flights to my arsenal of travel booking and planning sites. By simply inputting that I wanted to end up in Italy, using random dates in June, that site brought up a map listing all the possible airports with an overlay of prices. Turns out that Rome is cheaper to fly to than Venice, by more than $60 per person (using different dates reveals different results).
I redid the search with an arrival date into Rome on June 21st and heading home two weeks later. By clicking on various date fields to bring up the calendar, different prices came up and I could easily scan them to find the cheapest times to book. For example, using the originally entered dates of June 21st to July 5th, the price was $1,170 per person. But I could quickly scan the calendar to see that if I moved our trip up to be June 2nd to June 16th the price dropped to $856. For two people, that’s a savings of $628 - or 27 per cent. One of the frustrations I've had with other sites in the past is that finding the cheapest dates to fly within a large window of time takes a certain amount of trial and error.
I found a non-stop flight to Rome, but the cheapest option on the way back to Toronto included a three hour stop-over in Amsterdam. If you are flexible with your holiday timing and like the idea of seeing more than one country, you could follow Mr. Choi’s advice and change your search from a round trip to a multi-destination one.
I reset my trip search from Toronto-Rome-Toronto to Toronto-Rome-Amsterdam-Toronto and was able to select the length of the stop-over. The price was indeed within a few dollars of the original search. Personally, I like the idea of visiting more than just one country or culture when travelling across the pond.
Speaking of country hopping, short haul flights in Europe are cheap and plentiful. If my girlfriend and I wanted to spend one weekend in Paris, an Expedia.ca search found that a return ticket from Rome would be $188.69 after taxes, fees, and charges, per person. SkyScanner.ca was able to find an itinerary that was 31 per cent cheaper ($129.85 after taxes, fees, and charges) by using airlines that didn’t show up in Expedia. It brought up a different airline for each direction of the trip, and we would need to buy our tickets separately, but it would certainly be worth it.
One last tip when comparing prices is to make sure to factor in the cost of additional baggage fees. Some prices may seem higher but could include a checked bag. If you select a lower priced flight that doesn’t include a large enough baggage allowance, then after the additional charges, it’s possible to end up with a worse deal.
In terms of timing your ticket-buying, a study released earlier this year by CheapAir.com found that the best time to buy your ticket for domestic U.S. air travel was 54 days before departure on average. They also found that the average trip had 92 changes in pricing from the time tickets originally went on sale, and for domestic flights the difference between the best and worst price was a whopping $312 (U.S.). The results were a bit different for international flights which tended to have an even earlier sweet spot.
Every Canadian traveller knows there are many travel savings websites out there. But every now and then it’s worth digging into some of the new ones - or ones that are new to you. I did that and managed to save much more than the lost purchasing power of our struggling loonie.