No luck finding a cheap flight? Even after searching for the best available fares on the Matrix Airfare Search, using the calendar feature, adding some flexibility in your dates, and maybe even including some nearby airports in your search, you sometimes just don’t end up with any super cheap flights.
When things weren’t looking good for my test subject, Jolene, I was able to shave nearly 20% off the price of her flight, without giving up any travel conveniences.
Jolene lives in Vermont, USA and was searching for a late-spring flight to Israel (ideally May 14 – May 28). A few quick searches on the Airfare Matrix Search and Orbitz.com and things were not looking too good.
First, the cheapest airfares have pretty bad schedules. It would actually take 40 hours to reach Tel Aviv, that’s well over twice the time it should. Also check out what’s going on in the advisory column! See that little grey warning symbol? – It turns out that all of these least-expensive flights would require that Jolene collect her luggage, and then haul herself across New York City from one airport to another to meet a connecting flight. That not only adds additional expense to the trip, it’s also extremely annoying! The first flight in the results that’d be worth considering cost $1,376 since the connection is decent and there are no airport transfers involved.
The bad schedules and expensive flights are a signal that we needed to break up our search. To get a better price we’ll try to match together two separate round trip tickets into one. Instead of searching for flights from our home airport (Burlington, VT, USA) to Tel Aviv, we should instead search for a round trip flight from our home airport to a major nearby air hub such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami etc (in this case, New York) and then find another ticket from that same air hub on to the final destination. I used this technique when looking for flights to get from Burlington, VT to Tel Aviv, Israel and managed to save Jolene almost 20% on her flight! How is this possible?
Hack the flights with codeshares
Maybe you’ve heard of the term “codeshare”. When two airlines are codeshare partners, it means they have formed a kind of partnership, despite being totally different companies. Maybe it’s happened to you – you buy a ticket from one airline but the flight end up being flown by another airline. That is a codeshare agreement in action!
Airlines that are codeshare partners can sell seats on each other’s flights in combination with their own flights. Generally this is great for the customers, because they don’t need to re-check luggage when a connecting flights happens to be on a different airline.
Codeshares also make it easy for people to search for tickets. I can easily purchase a single plane ticket to get from a rural area like Burlington, VT, to a big foreign city like Tel Aviv, Israel, even though no airlines that fly from Burlington also fly to Tel Aviv. This system provides customers with a few nice conveniences. But the system does have its downsides and can end up costing you hundreds of dollars extra on your next flight. So how can this be avoided?
How to beat the codeshares?
Breaking up your cheap airfare search into two (or more) tickets means that you could save big on your next trip. When you search for two separate tickets to reach your destination, you aren’t limited to airlines that have a codeshare or interline agreements with airlines at your home airport. To reach Tel Aviv from rural Burlington, VT, I first searched for round trip flights from the JFK airport in New York City, to Tel Aviv. Later I’ll find a round trip flight to get between Vermont and New York City.
When we search this way, we find some fares that are quite a bit cheaper than what we saw earlier. In fact, it’s about $400 cheaper than the first acceptable itinerary. Even when we add a cheap round trip flight from Burlington, Vermont to JFK airport, we could still save a few hundred bucks. Transaero Airlines (offering the cheapest flights to Tel Aviv) does not have codeshare agreements with any U.S. based airline. So to take advantage of their cheap flights, I need to purchase tickets on that airline separately. It’s just a little extra time invested – but the savings are BIG!
Adding on a round-trip flight from Burlington, Vermont to JFK costs only $143. That means that we can get to Tel Aviv from our home airport for a grand total of $1,127 ($143 + $984). The schedule is good and does not have any inconvenient quirks. That’s a savings of $249 over the fare that Jolene was originally considering.
Extra Bonus: Get a free stopovers to visit an new place
The cost savings alone is big. That’s enough to sell most people – but if you need another reason to break up your trip into two tickets, we’ve got one: stopovers. This means scheduling a ‘layover’ of several days between flights – it allows you time to visit the city before flying on.
With Jolene’s flight from Vermont to Tel Aviv, Israel she has the option to add on a stopover in New York City for free. In fact, she could most likely add a stopover in Moscow as well. Now for the price of $1,127 Frankie gets to visit Tel Aviv AND Moscow AND New York City – wow!
There is one big reason you might not want to buy two tickets to get to your final destination. If one flight is delayed, your next flight on an unrelated airline won’t know to wait for you! If airlines aren’t codeshare partners, they won’t know you’ve just come from another flight that’s been delayed. A good way to avoid such a problem is to simply allow 4 hours or more between flights on non-partner airlines. A good travel insurance policy will also have your back in this situation (I never go abroad without a good travel insurance policy).
Also, if you check luggage in, you’ll have to re-check it when transferring between two separate itineraries. This is easily avoided by not checking any luggage in. I only check luggage in on rare exceptions to give myself the most flexibility. Plus traveling light is always worth it!
You can save $100s of dollars on your next trip by combining two round trip plane tickets into one larger trip. You can’t buy single airplane tickets that include multiple flights on multiple unrelated airlines. So to make sure you’ve got the cheapest fare, break your search up into two and switch to a cheaper airline at a major air hub!