I get asked this a lot: how do I find cheap flights?
It’s a great topic to explore especially now that airlines have dropped fuel surcharges, a move mandated by the government when oil prices dropped. Last year, a “piso” flight from Cebu to Singapore (that is, a flight with a base fare of PHP1) cost me around PHP5,000 all-in; right now, a similar “piso” flight would just cost around PHP1,400.
(In Cebu Pacific’s piso sale last January, I was able to snatch a round-trip ticket to Tokyo for only PHP1,212.92 — imagine that, going to Japan and back for less than the price of a fancy dinner buffet!)
As “veteran” deal hunters know, finding the cheapest flight is a bit of a game and involves a fair amount of luck but you can increase your chances of spotting and grabbing the best airfare deals by following these tips.
Stalk the airlines on social media
The thing we have to understand about seat sales is that airlines only put a few seats per flight on sale (otherwise they would lose money). The best way to get the cheapest fares is to book as soon as the sale starts, and the best way to do that is to make sure you KNOW that there is a sale.
Social media is where the airlines announce their latest (and sometimes even upcoming) promos, so:
- Follow them on Twitter.
- Like their Facebook page. On Facebook, make sure that you’ve checked “Get Notifications” — go to their page, hit “Like” if you haven’t already, hover your mouse above the “Liked” button, and on the drop-down list click “Get Notifications” — so that you’ll get alerts whenever they have a new post. Of course this means that you’ll also get notified of less important posts (like cliché travel quotes) but at least you can be sure you won’t miss sale announcements.
- Subscribe to their email updates. You can do this via the airline’s website. Their emails are usually a few hours behind their Twitter and Facebook announcements, but they’re still useful. Personally, I try not to follow too many airlines on Facebook because I would then get flooded with notifications. Instead, for those airlines whose promo seats don’t get gobbled up as fast — for example, international airlines such as Singapore Airlines, KLM, and Etihad — I just subscribe to their email updates. I’ve found that these are especially useful for staying informed about promo flights to Europe.
When I spot unbelievable airfare deals, I usually share them on the SGMT Facebook page, so make sure you Like our page as well. Check Get Notifications — very important. I don’t always share seat sales — there are some that I feel would still result in expensive fares, even with the discount — but I usually make it a point to post cheap Batanes flights.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
Where and When
Even before a seat sale starts, try to form a concrete idea of where you want to go and when.
- WHERE — You can find out which destinations each airline flies to by looking at the route map and/or flight schedules on their websites. Then if, for example, you learn through Facebook that Air Asia will be having a sale in two days, you can start looking at the list of Air Asia destinations and make a wish list of where you’d like to go.
- WHEN — Keep a list of Philippine holidays on hand and examine your schedule to see when would be the best times for you to travel. That said, it’s also important to be flexible. The sale travel period might not include your desired date, so be open to other possibilities. During booking, PAL shows lowest fares for the week surrounding your preferred dates. If there are no more cheap seats on the date you want, perhaps another date will do just as well, so keep an open mind. (Note: This paragraph used to include the statement “Cebu Pacific has an option for Monthly View, where you can see the lowest fares per day for the entire month” but this is no longer true. Instead, Cebu Pacific just has a weekly view, where you only see the lowest fare for the date you selected, and the tabs for the other days of the week do not show lowest fares. Gotta hand it to Cebu Pac: their talent for finding more ways to be less helpful to customers is unparalleled.)
When you have a good idea of when and where you want to go, you won’t have to waste time during the sale deciding destinations and dates.
Keep a file of the information you will need to enter when you book a flight. This includes full names, birthdays, addresses, passport numbers, and credit card information (but keep the file secure). That way you can just copy and paste the data — the less time you spend on filling up the booking forms, the greater your chances of getting the lowest fares.
No, I’m not exaggerating. I actually tried having gotten to the last page of the booking process — I had entered my payment details and all — and when I clicked Continue, I was informed that someone else had paid for those seats first. I had to go back to the start, and when I did, there were no longer any promo fares for that date. So sometimes minutes (or probably even seconds) do matter!
Maintain a healthy travel fund. Nobody outside of the airlines themselves knows when they will have seat sales. (Well, usually they will have sales on occasions like Valentine’s or Labor Day, but we don’t know if it will be a piso sale or just a modest discount.) When there is a piso sale, we have to grab that opportunity because it doesn’t happen very often, and we can only do that if we have enough money to pay for flights. The budget required can seem daunting, especially if you’re dreaming of traveling outside the Philippines, but just as cliché alert a thousand-mile journey starts with a single step, a PHP10,000 trip can also start with just PHP10.
For a common-sense approach to building your travel fund, read:
Cheap flights to Europe
Before going further, I’d like to say that I’m not an absolute expert on European flights, so I’ll just share what little I know. On my first ever trip to Europe — see “Love at First Sight: Paris” — we flew Air Asia X from Kuala Lumpur to Paris Orly, but they’ve unfortunately discontinued that route. Last year, we flew KLM from Manila to Amsterdam for USD888 v/v — we booked the January flight during a September sale, which we learned about through KLM’s Facebook page.
One of my favorite blogs Are we there yet? recommends following HolidayPirates, Fly4Free, and similar sites. They’re always on the lookout for travel deals and post them on Twitter. (They also have newsletters.) Many of the deals they post are within Europe, but sometimes I’ve seen them post great airfare deals to/from the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries.
Aside from signing up for social media updates, you can also check for cheap flights at Skyscanner. I’ve seen them display round-trip flights to Paris for around PHP25,000, which is a pretty good deal. Skyscanner isn’t a booking site, but they’ll show you what airline to take, on which dates, and you can then go to that airline’s website and book the flight directly. A lot of people also recommend using Google Flights.
Update (31 May 2015):
Skyscanner seems to have changed its pricing algorithm, such that there is a slight-to-significant difference in the prices they show and the actual price when you book. (They also seem to be making a greater push towards third-party booking sites now — probably not a coincidence.) This is an example of their results for a July 20-29 Kuala Lumpur-Paris return trip.
Click image to see more results
It shows a price of PHP16, 479 but the lowest actual booking price, when I played around with the different airlines, was around PHP30,000. This major price jump doesn’t happen all the time but enough that you need to be aware and not get your hopes too high up when you see something that looks too good to be true.
…Cheap flights to Europe continued
Finally, you can also consider booking piso flights to major hubs in Asia and flying to Europe from there.
- Some travelers recommend booking a Cebu Pacific piso flight to Dubai, which has many flights to Europe.
- In my case, I live in Cebu, and the two airlines that usually have piso sales, Cebu Pacific and Air Asia, fly direct from Cebu to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur. I can then use Skyscanner to check for cheap flights from these 3 cities to Europe (or anywhere else, for that matter).
- Postcard Pretty recommends going to Hong Kong, and booking budget airlines from there to Europe. She was able to get return HK-London tickets for only PHP30,000, including checked baggage fees!
- Jasmin of Artistitch (they recently made a personalized luggage tag for me and it looks awesome) recommends Cathay Pacific, especially for those flying out of Cebu — no need to stop by Manila and they often have great December deals.
- Cebu Pacific also flies direct from Cebu to Tokyo, and Air Asia flies direct from Cebu to Kota Kinabalu, but I’m not yet sure how easy it’ll be to get piso fares to these cities or cheap flights onwards to Europe.
- One route I’m also looking at is Manila-Bangkok-Copenhagen/Oslo/Stockholm, the second leg via Norwegian. I haven’t tried this yet, but it looks promising. For example, there are November 2015 flights from Bangkok to Copenhagen for €180, to Oslo for €169, and to Stockholm for €167.
That’s it! I’ll make sure to update this post if I discover more ways to score cheap flights. In the meantime, anybody else have tips? Share them in the Comments section below. Happy travels, everyone! 🙂
“Piso Sale! How to Get the Cheapest Airfare Deals” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.