This is a question I get asked quite often.
For personal travel I have booked anywhere from a month to 9 months out from booking. Unfortunately for us in Australia prices can fluctuate hundreds of dollars for the same dates with different airlines and different transit options.
There is no “best time”. I have seen fantastic deals 9 months, 6 months and even 2 weeks before! There are however a few things to keep in mind when looking for that ideal fare.
Here’s a few ideas to keep in mind when booking the flights.
Be Ready to Buy: If you see a good fare (or what you consider to be a decent price) buy it. Don’t wait. Airlines often have the same seats for sale in the same fare class at various pricing…it’s all about demand. You might see a “sale” fare advertised but often the airline release only a handful of seats at that pricing forcing you to pay extra so you don’t miss out on your travel dates.
Look at changing your routing: Flying into one city and then out from another can sometimes save you a few hundred dollars. I have booked fares flying into London and then out of Amsterdam or Paris which saved around $600 return! A quick trip on the Eurostar ($50 one way) and you’ve not only been able to see another country but saved some serious dollars!
Be sure of your travel dates: Changing dates on tickets can sometimes be as expensive as the ticket itself! Be sure you know your exact dates so you don’t have to make any changes later on.
Avoid the cities with the highest airport taxes: The UK is the second highest country in the world for airport taxes. Avoid exiting it especially!. Flights often have an extra $200-$400 just in taxes from the UK alone for international tickets! I have flown into London numerous times (to Heathrow, Gatwick and London City) but always try and leave from another city if I can possibly do so to avoid those taxes!
Get creative! One of the things I often help clients with is looking at completely different options, especially in the peak travel periods. European summer is Australia’s winter and everyone loves to get away in the June/July school holidays. Can you go earlier? The fare bucket is late May and early June is a lot cheaper than just before school holidays commence. Can you go later? September the weather is slightly cooler in Europe but fares and accommodation will be so much cheaper.
Another option is to not book with one airline from Australia to Europe return. I am finding really great options from say Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur, Sydney to Singapore, etc and then purchasing a different flight from one of the Asian cities to Europe return. You just need to be careful when booking to allow enough time to transit (and if you need to check in bags, change terminals etc). I always suggest a one night stopover on the way there and then a couple of days on the way home if doing this option. This helps in case flights are delayed and can take the stress out of what is a long trip. By doing this option I have seen total fares for all the trips combined to be around $1000 return in peak summer periods!
Do you want to book with Frequent Flyer Points? Depending on which program you have points with (and what class of travel you’d like to fly in) it all comes down to availability. For members of Qantas Frequent Flyer trying to get more than one seat in Business on some of the busiest routes in peak travel periods you need to book many months in advance. I have personally booked 2 Business seats roughly 6-7 months out (and once I got lucky with 2 weeks out!) to get the dates and routes I wanted. Flexibility in your travel dates and routing is imperative when using points; and again avoiding the destinations with the higher taxes as you have to pay taxes when booking award travel.
Look at all your booking options. The days of travel agents being able to find the cheapest fares is becoming a thing of the past. The generic agencies may claim to be able to “beat the price” but in reality that’s by just 1 dollar! Do some research and look at the airline’s own sites as well as booking agents like Expedia or Zuji who often have great fares (even sometimes lower than the airlines themselves). There is always the option with Expedia or Zuji to book a portion of hotels with the trip which can save major dollars.