Sinead Ryan: How to keep flight costs down in the face of last minute fare hikes
With recent strikes pushing up the price of flights, Sinead Ryan advises on how to keep costs down
I had to make a last-minute trip abroad last week, just over and back quickly. I knew it would be more expensive than if I had the luxury of booking well in advance, but it was still a shock.
In my case, Aer Lingus turned out to be cheaper than Ryanair, but even so, it was more than €470 return for a flight I've made many times, usually costing around €100.
What's going on? Well, with the uncertainty surrounding ongoing Ryanair and Irish Ferries cancellations affecting over 140,000 holidaymakers for different reasons this summer, the market has truncated. That leaves travellers scared and prices shoot up.
Pat Dawson of the Irish Travel Agents Association says popular destinations like Malaga and Faro are up by over €50 each way, per person.
Strikes by Ryanair crews across Europe mean it isn't likely to abate any time soon despite the airline doing its best to restrict cancellations to high-traffic routes like the UK.
This week I'm looking at other ways to keep your costs lower while flying (see panel), and if you haven't yet had a holiday and want to book something last minute, how confident can you be for the remainder of August that you'll get a trip for a reasonable price?
I've had a look around the airlines to see what's available for the rest of the month and what you can expect to pay.
When we book flights, we often only compare Aer Lingus and Ryanair.
But there are dozens of carriers flying from Dublin, Cork and Shannon (30 airlines fly from Dublin Airport alone), so it's worth having a look at them and, indeed, Belfast for alternative flights.
One option is to use skyscanner.ie or kayak.ie to compare all airlines and check if it's cheaper to use one on the outward leg, but a different one returning.
Here are some offers which are correct at time of going to press...
- Dublin to Munich - Leaving August 17, returning August 24, with Lufthansa (€329 return).
- Cork to Madrid - With Iberia Express, €368.31 return from August 18-25.
- Belfast to Alicante - Return with Jet 2 (outbound) and EasyJet (inbound) €161 in total (August 17-24).
- Dublin to Amsterdam - Indirect with SAS, August 17, 4 nights, €295.
- Dublin to London (Southend) - Flybe €60, tomorrow.
- Belfast to Malaga - On ASL (Aer Lingus charter), €155 return, or €245 with EasyJet on August 24 for a week.
The first thing to do is to ignore headline prices or unsolicited emails from airlines.
Don't get carried away by unsolicited "low fares, European destinations from €20!" notifications which are usually rubbish.
By the time you get to the online checkout, it'll have racked up considerably, or only apply to a tiny number of flights in a promotion.
Only compare prices after adding in all taxes, baggage, similar flight times and transfer costs from the airport to see if you are really getting a bargain.
In addition, consider booking from a different airport. If you can fly from Cork, Shannon, Knock or Belfast, you may get a better bargain than from Dublin.
If you're prepared for a stop along the way, say in the UK, it will take a lot longer, but may be cheaper.
It might be considered old fashioned, but a good, bonded travel agent has access to far more information than you have on your laptop.
Compared to DIY online bookings, your consumer rights are far stronger too.
If a flight is cancelled at the last minute, it becomes their problem to fix, not yours.
Other ways to save on travel
Baggage: Bring the absolute minimum. Hand luggage only, nothing in the hold, and two pairs of shoes (one to wear). A foreign laundrette is cheaper than extra bags. Many airlines don't allow 'pooling' of baggage, i.e. you can't carry 15kg and your partner 5kg and hope they'll allow 10kg each. Weigh before you go.
Travel Tuesday: Flying at weekends is generally more expensive than a midweek flight. Tuesday or Wednesday can be cheaper - if you can, do so. Flying on the first flight (the 'red-eye') in the morning or last at night is also better value.
Fly with food: While drinks can't be taken through security, you can bring your own food and (non-alcoholic) drink on board, so pack a lunch/breakfast and avoid over-priced meals on board. Kids prefer eating food they're familiar with.
Sit apart: Unless you have small kids or it's a long flight, who cares where you sit? Avoid extra charges by not booking in advance and let the airline seat you at check-in.