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How can you save money in Australia’s airline wars?

Tuesday, 25 March 2014 | By Nina Hendy

Price is the most important thing when choosing a domestic flight, according to a recent survey by wotif.com.


But travelling for business can cost a pretty penny over the course of a year. Here’re a few ways to cut back on domestic flight costs.


Use comparison sites, but don’t book through them


Comparison sites and online travel agencies like Webjet, Zuji, cheapflights.com.au, adioso.com, skyscanner.com and Iwantthatflight.com.au enable you to quickly compare prices from each airline for your selected route. But be wary of those that have extra charges on top of ticket prices – Webjet is an example. If you're using on of these sites, write down the details of the flight you want to take, and book direct through the airline’s own site. Most meta search sites meanwhile,  like Adioso and Expedia don't display sites with extra charges and the search results they send you should ensure you're not paying more. 


Louise Di Francesco regularly travels between Sydney and Melbourne for board meetings, and always checks all four airline options.


“I’ve recently started flying with Tiger Airlines, which is usually much, much cheaper than any of the others and has always been reliable between Melbourne and Sydney,” she says.


Also mix and match your flights, so that you may fly each leg with a different airline, depending on which is the cheapest, she says.


Join a frequent flyer program


If you do fly regularly, it’s worth signing up to a frequent flyer program.


Well-respected travel bloggers Caz and Craig Makepeace blog at YTravelBlog and say loyalty programs can earn you points towards cheaper fares, upgrades and free companion tickets.


“It may take you a while to accumulate points, but they add up if you fly often. And if you have premium status, you usually gain access to the airline lounges, even if you’re flying economy. You also get priority check-in, priority security and priority boarding.”


Frequent flyer programs usually accrue by miles. So even if you don’t travel very often, taking just one long-haul flight will add to your points balance, she says.


Adelaide business flyer Marina Mara is a member of the Qantas reward program, and says she hasn’t paid for a domestic flight in three years and has also travelled overseas four times entirely on points.


“And recently I tried to book a Melbourne to Adelaide flight, but all airlines had no availability. I looked into my frequent flyer account and there was a 6pm flight ready for me to book, bliss!”


But editor of Australian Business Traveller David Flynn advises flyers to avoid using frequent flyer points for economy seats, explaining it’s a false economy.


“The exchange rate on that value of flight is simply not worth it, although a lot of people don’t get that. It’s far better to use your points on an upgrade for a long-haul flight.”


Choice has conducted research on airline loyalty programs from a value perspective.


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Don’t book too close to flying


Avoid booking your flight too close to your flight day, because the airlines often jack up the prices for those hoping to fly last minute.


If you’re not concerned about flying on a particular date, you could try scoring a last-minute discounted flight, or even a standby flight. Sometimes, prices will be dropped for last-minute tickets if airlines have empty seats to fill.


Make sure you don’t buy flights too early, either. If you’re booking tickets too far ahead, prices are usually higher. The best time to buy a ticket is between three and 12 weeks before the flight.


Also, sign up to email alerts from the airlines and follow your favourite airline on social media platforms, where discounts are sometimes announced first, recommends travel blogger Craig Makepeace.


Signing up for email alerts to find out when flights are reduced to a price you’re willing to pay at Airfarewatchdog, he adds.


“The best way is to have a price that you’re comfortable with. When you sign up, you’ll be emailed when that price is available, or lower, so jump on it. That way you can be satisfied that you got a good deal.”


Be flexible


You can save money if you can be flexible in your flight date and time. Booking flights in the middle of the week, instead of the weekend is always cheaper.


Most people like to fly on a Friday and head home on a Sunday, pushing the price of air travel skywards. Bear in mind that Tuesday and Wednesday are usually cheaper options to fly. You could also book a really early flight, such as 5am or late at night, which is usually cheaper, too. Travelling during school holidays is a more expensive option.


Airfares can be more expensive if you’re flying into large international airports, with airport taxes jacking up prices. Compare flights into alternative airports located nearby to your destination; then either catching a bus or hiring a car at the other end.


When flying in groups, bear in mind that you may not see all the seat options, as the airlines typically show the lowest ticket price for the whole group. That means, you might not see the cheap seats at the back of the plane, because there’s only one left. To get around this, make sure there’s enough seats on the plane for the whole group, then search one ticket at a time.


Checking what you’re paying for


Also be careful of the airline websites that automatically click options, such as luggage, or insurance when booking online.If you don’t need it, unclick these options to cut costs.


Paying on credit card isn’t always the best way to save money with the airlines.


Jetstar was going to slap a surcharge of nearly $20 per person on a recent family flight, but gave me an option to electronically transfer the funds into their bank account, which saved $160.


Also, work out luggage ahead of time. Travelling with hand luggage has advantages, but isn’t always practical. However, you could be hit up for more money if you want to check baggage. If you do need to check baggage, pay for it in advance rather than once you arrive at the airport, which could literally save you hundreds.


This article first appeared on SmartCompany.


CORRECTION: This article originally stated that all comparison sites charge an extra fee and tickets should be bought directly from airlines. We accept this is not the case and have amended the original article.