Australia has always been one of those places that I thought I'd probably get to one day, but have never been in any particular hurry to visit. Various of my friends have spent time there and, like most Londoners, I've collected a small squad of Australian buddies over the years who've extended kind invitations to stay with them Down Under, but it always felt not quite exotic enough to merit the immensely long journey.
Until now that is, because at the end of February my half-Australian boyfriend and I will be setting off for five weeks on the world's smallest continent. Tempted by the idea of visiting family S hasn't seen in over a decade, scuba diving somewhere new, taking in the comedy and theatre at the Melbourne Comedy Festival and Adelaide Fringe, and eating lots of massive prawns, we decided that now was the moment.
I'll be writing about the trip while we're away so won't ruin the surprise and bore you senseless by listing all the things I'm looking forward to. What I hope might be useful at this stage, however, are a few tips for finding cheap flights to faraway places, all of which we made good use of last week:
- Check the ticket prices of your preferred airlines and/or relevant national carriers via their websites before you do anything else, as this will give you a benchmark for prices when you start looking elsewhere.
- Use a travel search site such as Skyscanner to compare the ticket prices offered by lots of different travel agents for the various airlines that fly the route. In all likelihood there will be much cheaper deals available than those available when booking directly with the airline.
- The more flexible your travel plans are the better, as there are often big differences in price depending on what day of the week you travel or which airports you fly into and out of.
- Start researching flights well in advance of your trip so you can get an idea of how prices fluctuate as your dates of travel approach. Tickets aren't necessarily cheaper the further in advance you book, but they often are, particularly on long-haul routes.
- Once you've found the flights you want, do some research into the travel agent the search site suggests as it seems there are a lot of disreputable operations out there. Google the name of the company + review and you'll find plenty of threads on online travel forums. It's a good idea to take anything said in a forum with a pinch of salt as it's not unheard of for companies to log in anonymously to leave positive feedback for themselves or negative feedback for their competitors. If in doubt though, look elsewhere, bearing in mind that travel search sites won't give you information for every travel agent available. Having found the tickets we wanted on Skyscanner, but unhappy with the agents listed by the site, we searched with Lastminute, ultimately finding the same tickets (with the rather illustrious-sounding Royal Brunei Airlines) for just £20 more than the lowest price quoted on the first search site.
- Research the airline too. This is more relevant to short-haul flights, but very often you get what you pay for. Does your ticket price include meals, drinks and inflight entertainment? Are you able to choose a seat in advance? What's the airline's record when it comes to safety and delays?
- Remember that flying 'direct' and 'non-stop' are not the same thing. A 'non-stop' flight is what it sounds like: one that goes from A to B without stopping along the way. A 'direct' flight might involve scheduled stops, either where you stay on the plane or have to change aircraft. 'Non-stop' will almost always be more expensive.
- Remember to factor in the cost of taxes, surcharges and fees.
- Always book travel arrangements with a credit card as your credit card issuer should refund any losses in the event of trouble.
- If you're concerned about a booking made through a third party, call the airline as soon as possible to check that they have your details.