Airfare hacks: Methods to guide enterprise class for much less and scoop up tremendous offers throughout pandemic, Journey Information & High Tales
SINGAPORE – I just made a $ 12,000 stake against the Covid-19 virus.
Yes, the pandemic is far from over. However, I cannot imagine that the world’s borders will remain tightly closed for another 12 months and that there will be no vacation trips.
The vaccine is around the corner while the travel bubbles keep brewing. The Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble was postponed two days ago, but has not yet been completely emptied.
In the meantime, airfares are available at bargain prices, coupled with favorable booking conditions.
So I took the plunge and bought four plane tickets to travel next year.
Here’s why I found out the odds are in my favor.
Lowest tariffs in half a decade
Internet research done earlier this month shows airfares for early next year at bargain prices compared to the days leading up to the pandemic last year. (The global travel industry stalled from mid-January this year. With that in mind, January 2019 is a better benchmark for price comparisons.)
Global travel search engine Skyscanner’s data at the time of writing showed savings of up to 51 percent on some airfare routes for January and February next year compared to the same period last year and in 2018.
“Three people can now fly for two,” says SH Lim, a ticketing agent for a leading outbound operator with 20 years of experience.
Long-haul tariffs, especially to Europe, fell between 15 and 25 percent. Regional medium-haul flights to Japan and South Korea are also good deals.
Long-haul tariffs, especially to Europe, fell between 15 and 25 percent. PHOTO: JOHN TAN
Business class cabins have become more affordable. For example, Turkish Airlines offers Business Class from Singapore to London – transit via Istanbul – for just $ 2,595 (see table on cheaper flights from Singapore). Before the pandemic, this award barely brought people outside of Asia into business class.
National carrier Singapore Airlines (SIA) offers round-trip business class flights to Tokyo for $ 3,000 – a sharp contrast to the $ 5,500 I normally spend in this popular sector.
• Fly in Business Class for big savings.
• Check for updates to the airline’s financial status. Avoid airlines that are undergoing financial restructuring or are in a difficult cash flow situation.
• Competing airlines that transit into their hubs rate their tickets on almost half of SIA’s direct flights. Note, however, that the arrival destination border control rules for transit flights may be different.
Get a free sector and even pay less
My default provider is SIA because of their loyalty program and because my home base is Singapore.
For years, my favorite travel hack has been getting a free tag-on flight.
In connection with low tariffs, this trick has now turned into the following: Fly further and still pay less.
A SIA Business Class return ticket from Singapore to Tokyo for early February next year costs USD 2,938 (see table under Fly further and pay less). However, if I book the front and back of this itinerary with an additional Asean destination like Bangkok, the price drops to $ 2,173.
With this $ 765 saving, you can buy a five night stay at the Grand Hyatt Bangkok, many wonderful hours in my favorite Thai massage paradise, and servings of Jay Fai’s Michelin-starred crab omelet.
I’ve used this hack half a dozen times in Bangkok, Singapore, and Japan in the past five years and can’t remember such low business rates.
Another buzzword: add a Ho Chi Minh City sector to Singapore and on to Paris via SIA, and you’ll save staggering fares of $ 1,479 in Business Class and $ 88 in Economy fare compared to one Route that originated in Singapore.
Depending on the tariffs and routes, the savings for families or large groups can be thousands of dollars.
These Asean destinations are just a stone’s throw away and frequent low-cost flights serve them.
For those with free time or a flexible schedule, this is a free day-on vacation. Stopovers in Singapore are also permitted, subject to fare rules.
Depending on the tariffs and routes, the savings for families or large groups can be thousands of dollars. PHOTO: JOHN TAN
No, neither SIA’s airfare assistants nor its algorithms misunderstood their permutations.
As a foreign airline in these destinations, SIA has to compete with the national airline there. Conversely, SIA charges a premium for flights departing from its home base in Singapore.
• Select tag-on flight sectors from countries with good flight schedules.
• Different “start and end cities” are allowed. For example, I can start my SIA itinerary from Bangkok to Europe (via Singapore) and end my return journey in Phuket, provided the SIA group for the same country is involved.
• Open jaw sectors are allowed provided the sector originates from the same zone. For example, the SIA flight from Kuala Lumpur (via Singapore) to Paris can begin – but the return route is from Munich instead. Such travel routes offer variety and avoid backtracking.
Flexibility is key, but know the rules
“Nobody is going to buy a ticket today if there is no flexibility,” says Wong SH, a travel industry veteran with 40 years of experience. The icing on the cake is the abundance of unprecedented flexible ticket terms.
To entice travelers into buying tickets before December 31 of this year, airlines can make changes to dates, reroutings, refunds and travel credit for future trips for free.
Every freight forwarder has its own terms and conditions.
Most airlines group their tariffs into three categories, with the lowest and most restrictive tariff – both economy and business – being non-refundable. The other two genres with higher tariffs allow for a chargeable refund.
Regardless of the tariff type, all tickets are valid for one year.
One of the most generous is Qatar Airways, which is valid for two years. unlimited changes until December 31 of next year; Exchange for a travel voucher with a bonus; full refund for airline cancellations; and exchange the ticket for air miles.
I bought the lowest SIA business class non-refundable ticket to Japan for travel next February.
PHOTO: JOHN TAN
For me, Japan is an annual foodie pilgrimage and I bet against the possibility of the country being closed for another year. If February is still incomplete, I can postpone the travel dates at any time.
• Check the fine print.
• Buy non-refundable tickets for your favorite destinations or a must-see trip. Don’t fret, though, as non-refundable tickets allow you to rebook for a new itinerary or date, subject to price differences and fees.
• For less safe travel, choose refundable tickets. These cost a few hundred dollars more, with refund fees, but get your money back immediately. I would go for refundable tickets when it comes to high quality fares.
Frequent changes are costly: request an open-date ticket
For tickets purchased before December 31 of this year, SIA is offering a one-time free rebooking for travel in the next year. The fees for later rebooking are between 25 and 340 US dollars, depending on the fare type and cabin class.
However, competitors such as Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines are offering unlimited changes until the end of December next year.
Given the stiff competition, industry watchers say SIA is likely to offer some consistency in the future.
When contacted, SIA cited “commercial sensitivity” and declined to provide further details on its future plans.
• Frequent changes can be costly. My ticket is based on my most likely travel date to minimize the chance of a canceled trip. If the original departure date is canceled and uncertainty looms, I will ask that the ticket be changed to an open date. It’s free.
• When my travel dates are fixed, I lock the new dates and have a ticket reissued. This applies to the one-time free change, subject to any price differences.
Extending the use of your ticket beyond a year
Although tickets are valid for a year, there is a trick to extend the financial lifespan.
Before the end of a year, a ticket can be reissued with a new route or a different type of tariff. The newly issued ticket has a new lifespan of 12 months. You can always reissue, but you will incur rebooking fees every time.
However, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong does not see international travel returning to normal next year.
“Perhaps it would be possible to make a major expansion in two years,” he said at a virtual event related to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group last Thursday.
Even so, my ticket punt is in my belief that vacation trips will return.
Prices rise whenever a travel restriction wears off or when travel confidence rises.
The recent positive vaccine news is like a shot in the arm to me – I bought summer / fall tickets to the US and Europe next year in addition to my original plan to travel to Japan.
I’m sure SIA will appreciate my ticket purchases more than a meal ticket on its parked plane.
• Before the pandemic, John Tan, a former journalist, had made an average of 70 flights a year for the past decade. Its most expensive ticket was a global Star Alliance Business Class fare that cost more than $ 16,000. But its most memorable was a no-frills $ 18 Ryanair flight from Bucharest to Rome.