Airfare 101: How a $300 flight can cost you $1,000
Most of us are always on the lookout for cheap airfare deals and when we find one, we often impulse buy it in fear of the deal disappearing only to be left with buyer’s remorse later on. Just recently, a friend of ours booked “the deal of a lifetime” and later complained that due to all the extra costs, it would have been cheaper to book the more expensive non-stop flight after all. In this post, we’ll share some of the hidden costs that can make an amazing airfare deal very expensive.
- Layovers: Layovers sound fun in theory but the costs associated can add up. We had a layover at LAX recently and we were hoping to find a decently priced hotel by the airport but the cheapest we found was $150USD, which was added to the cost of our ticket. Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of intended or unintended layovers. Intended layovers are the ones you are planning for and unintended layovers are the ones that occur due to flight delays as a result of events within the airlines control and those outside of their control. Some short layovers could end up being overnight layovers that you may have to pay for on your own if they are not covered by the airline, if you don’t have travel insurance or if your travel insurance policy doesn’t cover it.
- Direct vs. Nonstop: Sometimes, the price is lower to get to your final destination if you are on a “direct” flight which means you are stopping along the way and may or may not have to deplane the aircraft. Let’s say there is a weather related delay where you have stopped and need to book a hotel and buy meals, you’re likely going to out of pocket for those costs if you don’t have any travel insurance or if your travel insurance doesn’t cover it.
- Type of Fare: Recently, airlines started to introduce “Basic Economy” fares which means you get a seat, most likely by the lavatory, and have to pay for everything else, i.e carry-on, checked bag, and meals. You also do not earn any miles and cannot use miles or status to upgrade to other cabins. Most airlines only waive checked bag fees for those flying in premium cabins and with status.
- Change Fees: We almost booked a flight recently due to the price until we saw that the change fees exceeded the price of the ticket and we were not ready to throw away $300 away even if it was a great deal for a trip in 6 months. Change penalties tend be to the strictest and most costly when the fare is super cheap so in some cases, good flight deals are best for travel to occur in the near future as opposed to the long term.
- Return on Investment: How much more expensive is a regular ticket at a higher fare class? The reason I ask is because you may earn lots of usable and status miles on long haul flights to offset the cost of future travel and improve your comfort. We were really lucky when we booked a mistake fare on British Airways in Premium Economy to fly to MRS – Marseilles from YVR – Vancouver and back. Due to our status with Alaska Airlines, we earned 150% bonus on useable miles which equals to about 27,000 for the return trip and earns close to 11,000 status miles. For $600 each, we got a flight to Marseilles and back and earned enough points for a free return trip to Hawaii. This is probably one of the best deals we’ve ever encountered in our time of mileage running. If you just want the best deal and don’t want the hassle of collecting and redeeming points, then don’t worry about this factor.
- The Airport: Make sure to consider ground transportation costs into the price of the ticket. Uber and Lyft have a decent presence but they’re not everywhere, and some airports don’t have public transportation so expensive and long taxi rides are the only option if you’re not renting a car. This is often the case with secondary airports. For example, it might be cheaper to fly into YXX – Abbotsford to visit Vancouver, but a taxi from Abbotsford to Vancouver can set you back about $190.
- Travel Insurance: If you are planning on purchasing travel insurance, include that in the cost of the ticket but depending on the price of the ticket, how soon the travel will occur, and if the travel is in a season with less probability of weather related delays, it may not be worth the additional cost.
- Aircraft Type/Seat Configuration: Some people have been duped into thinking they got a great deal for business class on Air Canada only to board the aircraft and see that it’s not a lie flat, it’s a recliner seat on their discount carrier Air Canada Rouge. Pay attention to the details and reconcile your aircraft to the seat map on SeatGuru. For flights between YVR – Vancouver and YYZ – Toronto, Air Canada uses 4+ aircraft types means each flight will be different so check SeatGuru. Please note that each flight on every carrier is subject to a change of aircraft so even if you pay extra for a desirable seat, you may end up in a less desirable one, as I have experienced numerous times on Air Canada and Thai Airways.
It’s better to take some time to assess the situation and other costs if you’re worried about paying more later. There will always be factors out of your control and the only thing you can control is planning for the unplanned, or at least being aware of the factors. There will always be a great airfare deal, even if you miss this one, don’t worry!
What was the best flight deal you ever found? Has a flight deal ever turned into an expensive nightmare for you? Are there any other tips I’m forgetting?
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- How We Use Points for Hotels and Flights – Last Year’s Trip