Last week I wrote about skyscraper hotels, and this week I'm adding another 30,000 ft or so of elevation and want to tackle perhaps the trickiest element of our job as travel advisors, that of flights. Specifically, how J5Travel works with clients to secure the best value airfare available, tips if you're booking your own air, and a quick reminder of how we can make your various frequent flyer or credit card award points work for you. It's fairly hard to write about airlines and not slip in to a massive rant, but I'm going to stay positive here!
Airfare can often represent 50% of your total vacation spend, so it's really important to ensure you have the best combination possible of value and sensible itinerary.
How to Get Higher - Top 5
We have no means of obtaining clients lower airfare than is published for domestic air unless there is a group of 10 or more involved. If we're booking an entire trip then we are happy to work with you on choosing the best itinerary within the parameters you have set. We have a policy not to book Basic Economy fares for anyone unless you truly appreciate what "basic" means including the risk that you will be first to be bumped from an oversold flight. On the plus side, any domestic flight we do book for our clients we treat as our responsibility. We monitor for delays and cancellations and are ready to help, should problems occur.
Top tip - on domestic flights I like to choose a window seat as you're over land almost exclusively and can be rewarded with views like that below on a recent dawn takeoff from Las Vegas.
Perhaps the greatest misconception of our business is that we are just booking the same priced fares you can find on Google Flights (great resource for working out your route), Expedia or the airlines directly.
Now it depends on the route and dates, but for economy international flights, I'd estimate that 50% to 60% of the time we are quoting lower prices than those sites above, and certainly not higher.
We have access to what are named "Consolidator fares" which are reduced price special fares, usually associated with package deals. We can extract those flights and use them to create your own tailored package. And to belabour the point above, you have one point of contact to deal with any problem.
Top tip - try Google Flights "Explore Maps" feature (below) which can show you which cities represent the best value from your home departure point. Call us before you book though!
3. Business/First Class
Consolidator fares really come into their own with international Business and First class flights, often saving over $1,000+ per person compared to anything you will find on a publicly published site. Whilst these are not suitable for those who need flexibility (ie. those flying on business), they work very well for luxury vacation travelers indeed. Combined with our personal service and ability to bring all your itinerary together, we think we have every element for value seeking luxury travelers. Maybe the brand new Virgin Upper Class Suite (photo below)?
Top tip - Business Class fares can often be $1,000s different just within a few days. Midweek flights usually present the best value, but if you can be flexible with dates you may save considerably.
4. Using points
United announced this week that they will join Delta in removing their award chart and move to "dynamic award pricing". I'm pretty sure American will do the same soon. Boo, hiss etc.
I've loved having award charts to refer to over the last 10 years or so I have been a true points geek, so this is going to be difficult, but the basics of successfully booking award flights will remain the same. Unpopular and off season rates will represent value. You're absolute best chance, especially if you are wanting summer award travel is to book 11 months in advance as soon as your dates become available. This strategy will still work!
Evidence is our upcoming trip as a family of 4 in Qatar's amazing QSuites (below). We hope to be a little less formal than those gentlemen.
Top tip - Don't forget we can help advise you on transferring your Amex points, Citi Thank You points or Chase Ultimate rewards points to an airline frequent flyer program to extract maximum value... sometimes 10 times the value of simply using points against an account charge.
5. Open Jaw (below)
We often have requests for trips that begin by asking for a return flight to one destination, and then a request for the itinerary to visit several locations and even countries, before looping back to destination number one. But you do not need to fly in and out of the same airport and I think many presume it will be more expensive not to. In many cases it's actually less expensive to fly back from a different airport and country. I have no explanation, but it's true. So as in the example below, it's likely you can fly in to Paris and back from Madrid for zero extra cost and potentially less.
Top tip - this works particularly well for European itineraries, where a robust rail system and several low cost air carriers can make the internal travel inexpensive.
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