No airline’s motto is ‘it’s our job to piss you off on the ground and in the air’ but they give it a good go. In order to find the best deals, it helps to understand the basics behind airline operations.
PART 1: AIRLINE HUBS
A bird’s eye view: The scene from my plane seat
All airlines have a main hub(s). A hub is basically an airport an airline uses to transfer passengers to another plane to reach their destination. Usually, passengers are flown to a hub because the airline does not offer a direct flight from your desired Point A to Point B.
Knowing main hub(s) can decide which airline will be the fastest and most direct, saving you money on overnight accommodation and lengthy stop overs.
You want to travel from Los Angeles to Sydney – you’ve never been so you don’t know much about your options. You’ve heard of Qantas but there are sales available on Hawaiian Airlines which are $100 cheaper.
If you know some basic info about Hawaiian Airlines, you’d know their main hub is Honolulu International Airport. Hawaiian Airlines doesn’t offer direct flights from LA to Sydney either. If you acted on impulse and brought the Hawaiian Airline ticket based solely on it being $100 cheaper you’d end up paying more – in more ways than one. This ticket would fly you from LA to Honolulu – where you would stay overnight most times due to connection times – then Honolulu to Sydney the next day. The return leg would be Sydney to Honolulu for a stop over and then on to LA.
If you have a basic understanding of airlines and hubs, you would consider Virgin Australia or Qantas instead. Why? Both Virgin and Qantas have their main hub in Sydney and fly this route direct. This would save you the overnight accommodation fee on the Hawaiian Airline flight, return airport transfers in Honolulu and the loss of 24 hours. The $100 you ‘saved’ on the ticket ended up costing you a lot more.
How a similar hub situation can also save you money if you have time on your hands
I flew from Chicago to Sydney with Japan Airlines whose main hub is Tokyo. So, I was flown from Chicago to Tokyo. I then enjoyed a delightfully quick 7 hour layer over until I boarded a plane to Sydney. I flew half way around the world but for my patience and lack of anything better to do, I saved almost $400 compared to the nearest flight I could find. If you think 17 hours on 2 planes and a 7 hour stop over is worth saving $400 (one way) then re-routing in hubs may just be for you.
2 x One Ways
Look online at the ticket you are thinking of buying. If the airline is going to fly you to a hub to transfer you on to another plane and its a pretty hefty lay over, try this;
Find out who uses the transfer hub as a main hub and compare the difference in switching airlines altogether in 2 separate one way tickets. The disadvantage is having to check in again and possibly a baggage fees/and different luggage limits depending on which airline you want to fly. Sometimes, a change of plane at a hub even if you fly with the same airline as a connection requires you to collect baggage and check in again anyway so always check. If you do this option make sure you give yourself enough time to get off the plane and check in for the next plane.
TIP: One way flights are 85% of the price of a return trip. If you can afford it and know you will use it (You can change the return date for a fee most of the time) you can often get a return flight for the same price as a one way.
Try to fly the airline that frequents your desired route directly.
If I wanted to fly from NYC to Belfast, my first stop would be Aerlingus. They are pretty cheap if you book in advance, and are based in Ireland. I asked a friend who which airline they would start with – she said British Airways. (BA fly everywhere and they are a UK based company, she said) So, I searched for NYC to Belfast for Jan 16, 2013 for both BA/ American and Aerlingus.
BA: Your itinerary would be New York to London to Belfast and would take anywhere from 10 to 21 hours to complete including layover. The price is roughly $1700 for a one way.
Aerlingus: This flight would be direct to Dublin from NYC for $489 one way and for almost 9 hours. You can then get a bus from Dublin airport to downtown Belfast for 10 euros ($17) or a train for $52 and it takes only an hour. This in total will cost about $517 (bus and taxes included)
The difference is over $1100. You just gotta know where to look and don’t buy the first “decent” looking flight you see. Researching can save you hundreds. This means going to airlines websites directly as well as using flight search engines.
Domestic US example:
If you want to fly NYC to Denver, your first point of call is Frontier Airlines or United to compare prices – both airlines’ main hub is Denver. This means they will more than likely fly directly into Denver from NYC. To put this to the test I searched for a flight from NYC to Denver for January 16, 2013 (Wednesday). I compared Jet Blue (a non Denver hub) to United (a Denver hub). JetBlue’s cheapest flight is $185. United was $118.
Save money in the USA: Check out Southwest directly first as they do not advertise on flight search engines so you could be missing a deal.
While Southwest is known for kicking up a storm for overweight people taking up two seats (but doing nothing about a skinny screaming child damaging your hearing long-term) they are pretty cheap and only advertise on their own website. I tested the above NYC to Denver flight route for the same day and it was….$88!
From my experience working your hubs can save your hundreds but not everyone has the time or patience to do a tonne of research or switch flights. Search engines can offer good deals as airlines try to sell their seats cheap to fill the plane, but don’t forget these search engines aren’t working for free so be careful and always double check a cheap search engine flight with the airline’s website directly to see you savings!
Do you consider airport hubs when you book online and trying to get the best price/quickest route?