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Find Very Cheap International Flights
You just have to know where to look

Who says you can't find very cheap international flights?

I still remember paying US$900 from Geneva to Rome, a trip that can now cost as little as $50 thanks to the new breed of low-cost airlines. The world of aviation has changed dramatically, and it's in our favor.

A few basics: There are several types of flights and airlines.

The most traditional are the scheduled airlines. Until recently they were the most expensive, but not anymore. They often undercut discount airlines because they're feeling the pinch of competition.

There are several types of discount airlines and tickets:

  • mostly internal or domestic routes (like WestJet Airlines in Canada, Southwest Airlines in the US or Jetstar in Australia)
  • regional routes (those that tend to cover a single region, like EasyJet or Ryanair within Europe, or AirAsia)
  • international routes (with longer haul airlines like Virgin or Air Berlin) from one region to another, say from North America to Europe or Asia
  • round-the-world tickets, which group several airlines together to give you a great deal with a single ticket.

Finally, there are charter flights, usually managed by a tour operator, where you can also get great deals, even at the last minute, but they're not as common.

British AirwaysAlways check scheduled airlines - their prices can be competitive and at times cheaper than no-frills airlines

Cheap tickets: finding your way through the maze

It's not as hard as it seems.

If you do it yourself, you'll have to investigate each individual discount airline. A good place to start would be with a list of low-cost airlines. You'll have to check through each airline individually, which can be a lot of work. The advantage? You might find even cheaper flights by playing around with the times and dates a bit.

Discount airlinesFinding low-cost airlines isn't difficult, especially in some of the most popular destinations

If you'd rather use a single booking engine that scours cheap plane flights worldwide and does all the footwork for you, there are plenty around like flylc.comWeGoLo or Skyscanner.

Another way of finding very cheap international flights is to use one of the new wave search engines. One engine that bills itself as covering nearly 25,000 different routes is WhichBudget, which lists every budget airline flying out of or to your chosen destination. I like this one because it makes me dream - I just click on my home town, and see where I can fly. 

If you're flying around Europe Harefares will save you money by finding you discount airlines that go near your chosen destination. For example if you want to fly to Geneva and prices are too high, you'll be directed to flights from Lyon or Chambery, each of which are easy driving distance from Geneva but less frequented, so often cheaper.

Or you could try BudgetLongHaul, which specializes in long-haul flights.

Many of these sites specialize in digging out obscure or new airlines that you've probably never heard of... Air Sarah? Flyglobespan? Air Arabia? Yet these and many other low-cost carriers may tie together two cities that major airlines wouldn't dream of servicing because there's simply not enough traffic.

So you're spoiled for choice.

If you're set on finding very cheap international flights, why not bid for them?Priceline will take your bids and try to match your price with a flight.

Too confusing?

Some ticket sites allow you to search a number of booking sites at the same time, like BootsNAll's Airfare Comparison Tool.

A quick word about long-term travel: if you've got several months (or more) you might be better off buying round-the-world tickets, known as an 'RTW'. These are issued by scheduled rather than discount airlines, but may still be a better buy. Not only will one of these provide relatively inexpensive international flights, but you'll pay for all your tickets up front: what money is left will yours to spend. Remember though, these tickets are usually valid for only one year so if you plan on being on the road longer, this is not for you.

Very cheap international flights: do's and don'ts

Getting the most out of cheap airline tickets and budget airlines means following a few simple rules:

  • Do your research. Certain times and days are cheaper, like early Sunday morning, mid-day weekdays or flights in the middle of the night. Booking with the airline itself can be cheaper than using a booking engine, so double-check.
  • Check all the airlines. Look into scheduled, discount and charters - you never know which one will be cheaper.
  • Check the extras. That no-frills airline may come in cheap but once you've added the credit card fee, the baggage fee, the seating plan fee and the cost of food and coffee, you might be in for a shock.
  • Book early. On many discount airlines, the first few tickets sold for a flight are much cheaper than the last few. You could pay $40 for a flight booked a few weeks in advance, and $400 for the same flight booked on the same day.
  • Consider overland segments. Remember, you don't have to fly everywhere, so comparison shop - there are other cheap ways to travel. One of my favorites is rail, especially in Europe, where cheap train travel is still within the realm of the possible. And there are plenty more - travel by bus, boats, bicycles...
  • Look into single journey tickets. Fly with one airline and return with another, taking advantage of the cheapest fares each way.
  • Explore nearby airports. Many cities have alternative, more distant airports for low-cost airlines; if there's public transportation to town, you could save a bundle by using these.
  • Split your trip. I once tried to fly from Geneva to the Far East at an exhorbitant price. Instead I flew discount to London and then on to Asia on a scheduled airline. I don't remember the cost but it was half, including the night I spent in London! Give yourself time though - if you miss your flight, you won't get a refund, since technically you're not 'connecting'.
  • Plan ahead. Changing tickets at the last minute will cost you money.
  • Sign up for frequent flyer plans. I flew to Borneo from Europe for free. And to Panama. All because I religiously keep track of my miles.
  • Read up online. Airlines often have special offers or web-only promotions. Stay on top of airfare news and be the first to grab that discount ticket! Sign up for newsletters or email alerts of those airlines flying to your destination.

A caveat...

Air travel is not the cleanest way to travel, and cheap air travel means more of us travel further than ever. I'm not suggesting anyone should stop flying, but I do believe we should be aware of our carbon footprint - and do something to offset it.

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