Biding your time – when is it best to book a flight?

January 22, 2013

I remember sitting on a plane to Dubai, looking forward to my trip and feeling smug because my careful planning had resulted in a cheaper airline ticket. “Book your flights early” people say, “the longer you wait the more you pay.” Then the guy next to me, after a few glasses of wine too many begins to brag about how he bought this ticket last minute and paid only 2 thirds the amount I paid.
In that moment, my travel anxiety was born, when is it cheapest to book a flight?
It is always a gamble, says Kellie Pelletier a U.S travel expert, but a general rule of thumb is that the more seats are available, the cheaper the tickets. As seats go unsold in the time leading up to take off however; ticket prices will drop. A wise trick is to start looking early, around 10 weeks before the date of departure is best. Book online and monitor how fast the seats are filling up. Then based on this information you can decide if it’s worth it to wait it out or buy early.
There is a magic number however; studies by the Airline Reporting Corporation have found that on average people will get their flights most cheaply 6 weeks before departure date. A good strategy, according to Pelletier, is to start monitoring earlier. If at 6 weeks the flight looks like it is filling up, buy your ticket. If it is still looking empty at 6 weeks, and the price is too high, it could be worth waiting it out.
This only applies however in normal times, for peak holiday seasons, be sure to book as far in advance as possible.
While it is a satisfying feeling to get your flight at a discounted rate, there is always likely to be somebody on the flight whose ticket was cheaper, and somebody on the flight whose ticket cost more. It’s best to keep some perspective when airline bargain hunting or you may never get on the flight at all.

Secret to Cheap Flights
Often we plan our holidays according to a weekly schedule, and leave cycle that makes sense: finish your work week Friday, fly out Friday night or Saturday morning to return the following Sunday. Ideally try to get a few public holidays in there too to extend the leave. While in many cases this is the most rational option, or the only option, if you can avoid it you may well find it much cheaper to fly than you thought.
A few tips to reschedule your holiday plans could make all the difference:

  • Assuming you can, avoid travelling over school holidays, long weekends or over the weekend: People who have minimum leave or are tied to school schedules tend to be in the majority. Workday flights in school term are often cheaper.
  • Come home Monday morning rather than Sunday night: even if you do have to be at work on Monday, take the earliest flight possible and go straight from the airport to the office if necessary.
  • Ideally look for a late night flight, mid-week. These may not be pleasant but can be a bargain.
  • Try to book around 6 weeks in advance: studies have shown that most flights are cheapest 6 weeks before departure date. Best to start shopping around closer to 10 weeks before, but at 6 weeks you will get a good idea if prices will rise or drop leading up to departure.

There is a balance that needs to be weighed when looking at cheapest times to fly. They are so cheap because it is not nice to be at the airport at 5am or arrive home at 2am in the morning. This is why people avoid them. For some, the choice to spend more money on the vacation destination makes any sacrifice worthwhile, whereas others may feel a pleasant journey is part of the holiday. In the end, it comes down to personal preference.

Traveling South Africa: To Fly Or to Drive?
South Africa is a big country compared to its European or some Asian counterparts. In 2010 the country was filled with joyous European tourists who had rented a car and planned to visit the Kruger Park and be in Cape Town two days later for the World Cup game – big mistake.

ImageTo help you decide to take to the road or to the sky, here is an outline on a few popular destinations:
Johannesburg to Cape Town – it is almost always preferable to fly. This is a long distance, over 1 000km. If you are alone it is probably not safe to drive it in one stretch and better to stay over on the way. For this trip you are looking at a flight ticket price of between R1 500 to R 2 000 compared to around 14 hours of driving (where you need to factor in tolls and fuel costs).
Cape Town to Port Elizabeth – A flight will cost you anything from R1 500 to R 3000; the drive, on the other hand, is just under 800 kilometres. If you are not in a hurry, driving could well be the preferable option here. The road takes you along the Garden Route, undoubtedly one of South Africa’s most beautiful drives and could be done in a day, or stretched into two very pleasant days of sightseeing.
Johannesburg to Kruger National Park – Drive, there is no debate here. A flight could easily cost you around R2 000, while it is only around 500km from Sandton, Johannesburg to Kruger National Park. Stock up on water and snacks, and hit the road.
Cape Town to Kruger National Park – Flights could easily cost you up to R4 000 on this trip, which is hefty. The drive however is nearly 2 000km which could never be done in a day, and should not be done in less than two. If you chose to drive this could be a great trip to do over a week, seeing all of South Africa on the way. If you’re looking for the cheapest options however, bite the bullet and buy the flight. Another option is to fly into Johannesburg and then hire a car and drive the rest of the way.

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South Africa is a great country to explore and if you have the time and the budget it is always nice to take the long road there. If however you are balancing time and budget, best to compare flights with distance, you never know which might work out cheaper.

10 Luggage Tips from Seasoned Travellers
Every trip brings another luggage epiphany and once you hit the dozen long haul flight mark, you may well have your packing and luggage distribution down to a fine art. Getting to that point however can be a long and tedious process, which is why we can help you fast track it with 10 tips from travellers who have been there.
Packing your hand luggage: don’t be the person next to the conveyer belt with your suitcase open, clothes everywhere while you search for a warm pair of socks and a jumper. Mentally go through all the steps of boarding the flight, flight temperatures and remember to check the weather on the other side. Make sure your hand luggage has what you need.
Seal/plastic wrap your bag: just in case.
Contact Details: in case of a luggage mishap, make sure your details are in your bag
Don’t let your luggage hold you back: either bring a suitcase with wheels or, better yet a bag you can easily carry on your back. When you pack, imagine climbing 2 flights of steps carved out of stone with your luggage, then re-evaluate.
When in doubt, pack casual: unless you are going to Monaco or away for work, you probably won’t need more than one formal outfit.
Invest in a toothbrush holder: anything could happen in your toiletry bag.
Plastic wrap toiletries: pressure in the luggage cabin can make them burst open, it is best to keep the mess contained.
Don’t put valuables within easy reach in your backpack: it makes sense to keep your wallet and passport in the easy to reach pocket of your bag, but it’s easy to reach for criminals too, especially when it is on your back.
Have your bag stand out from the crowd: make it easily recognisable on conveyer belts.
Don’t leave your luggage unattended, even for a second: should go without saying but just in case.

It is almost inevitable that when you reach your destination you will open your suitcase and wonder, packing“what was I thinking when I packed?” Fortunately you can always buy socks, underwear, a new toothbrush and an adaptor at the airport. To avoid disaster though using a checklist helps, and always make sure your luggage is sturdy, safe and within your line of sight.

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