People often ask who I use to organize my travel. I’ve yet to find a way of doing what I do with any proper sense of economy without organizing pretty much everything myself. Some of the tools of the trade:
Front line of attack for all things airfare related. Used to be a lot stronger before Google took over but still a very solid source of pricing and availability data. What’s special about ITA:
- accepts multiple, comma separated IATA codes
- accepts carrier and via-point restrictions
- allows date-flexible search
- presents results in exceptionally easy to read graph format.
You cannot buy tickets on ITA directly but this is generally the first place to get a picture of the market. There are oddities, such as QR constantly displaying fares that don’t exist, and LCCs (e.g. Easyjet, Ryanair and Wizzair in Europe) not taking part at all, but for the most part it still gives a strong result.
A relatively new addition to my arsenal, as it seems to now come up with some things that ITA can’t. Won’t do the heavy duty stuff though, like the KHI-LHE I had to book today.
KVS Availability Tool
For the really odd stuff there’s the KVS Availability tool. I’ve got a platinum subscription but that’s because I’m a Sabre geek. The closest I’ve been able to get to a Sabre terminal on my laptop since the demise of EasySabre back when I was in college.
Routings and Techniques
A quick summary on “how to book a ticket”:
- Remember the IATA codes of every airport you’ve ever flown into, plus the codes of every airport you might want to go to, plus a list of alternate aerodromes! Use these on sites like ITA as comma separated lists, i.e. a search from BSL,FRA,GVA,ZRH to AUH,MXP will give you many more options than a search from BSL to AUH alone.
- Beware of connection possibilities and alternative routings! If you want to get from BSL to AUH as mentioned above, the ticket might price at €2000 – but if you leave from FRA, only 3 hours away by German high-speed train, you’ll find tickets for only a quarter of the price. Don’t fly from Zürich just because you live in Zürich – the time you spend waiting in the airport for connections can often be better spent on a train or on a separately ticketed low cost flight. Know your nearest and cheapest hubs and use them!
- Keep an eye out for any pricing anomalies. My favourite used to be BSL/MLH – same airport, one code for the Swiss side, with Swiss prices, the other code for the French side, with French prices…
- Use open jaws! Open jaws (trips that start in one city but end in another, i.e. FRA-AUH-MXP instead of MXP-AUH-MXP) are pricing pretty competitively of late. They can be really handy to get you between places you would otherwise pay additionally to transfer between, and are often also a super way to hop around Europe. For example, I’ve started moving between TRN, BUD and BSL on LH using simple TRN-BUD-BSL tickets for the same price as the TRN-BUD-TRN return.
- Know your one-way carriers – this should become second nature. For example, Wizzair, Easyjet, Ryanair and Aer Lingus will all do reasonable one-ways – Lufthansa will not. You should instinctively know who to turn to for one-ways and when to disguise them as open jaws. Keep an eye out, as this market is changing – BA just entered it recently as a one-way carrier, for example. One-ways are also market, and not just carrier dependent – i.e. QR might offer you a very reasonable one-way between AUH and DOH but will ask for your back teeth in return for a one-way between DOH and BUD.
- Know your pricing windows! European flights generally tend to get more expensive closer to departure; Middle Eastern flights generally do not, where flights can often be bought for the same price at the airport on the day of departure. This however is also carrier dependent – at the last minute, the “low cost carriers” in Europe are often far more expensive than the legacy carriers on similar routes. This means you may need to plan more in advance (or pay more for late bookings) in some markets than others, and adapt your strategy to look towards “low cost” or legacy fares depending on timing and the market.
- Utilize stopovers! If you need to get to MXP, AUH, MCT, BAH, DOH and FRA on a business trip, that’s 2 tickets, not 6! For example an open jaw from MXP to MCT on EY with the return to FRA will let you pass through AUH each way and get you to your AUH, MCT and two EU stops; from MCT or AUH you can buy a super cheap return to DOH on GF which will give you free stopovers in BAH. Use ITA to space out legs that give you enough time to do what you need to do in each location and you can actually stay in one hotel in AUH for the whole trip and do all 6 cities / meetings in a few days for less than €750 for the whole trip.
- Likewise, stack your tickets. I’m currently on 2 open trips where I’ve taken the outbound but haven’t yet taken the return – they will come together in about 3 weeks when I take the returns and go back through a series of destinations again. In this case it was a BUD-TRN-BUD, and a TRN-BUD-TRN – I used the first segment of each ticket (i.e. BUD-TRN and TRN-BUD) over the last weeks; next month I’ll fly the return legs, i.e. TRN-BUD on the first ticket and BUD-TRN on the second. The benefit of this is you can often play with open jaw routings to your benefit – and of course your “trip durations” are longer, often putting you into more acceptable fare buckets on each ticket.
- Buy business class only when it makes sense. For example, DUB-AUH-MEL is 21 hours flying time each way, and can often be had for about €3000 in biz instead of €1200 in economy. That’s a total of 42 hours of flatbed for about €1800 more – i.e. around €40 an hour. Try the same thing going from DUB-AUH only, you end up paying €2300 instead of €500, that’s the same €1800 premium for only 14 hours total flying time, making for a much more expensive (€128 per hour) bed. For everything else, there’s upgrades and status.
- Needless to say, know your airlines, their products and their routes, and let frequent flyer status become your religion. It’s what will get you treated like a human as you bounce between ports.