$100 flight to Australia - My Flight booking process

The Booking Process

I am addicted to finding cheap flights. It's pretty bad actually, I ask friends and family this question all the time:

"If you were given a Round Trip Ticket anywhere in the world right now but could only pick one place, where would you go?" 

Then I keep a look out for cheap fares that come up. I get tonnes of facebook and twitter notifications (See my Custom List) every day about wicked cheap flight deals and error fares from Europe, Asia, and North America to destinations in Asia, Europe, Africa, South America and Aus/New Zealand. It gives me a crazy rush. In a weird way, it's kind of like Pavlov's dogs, where after a while, I somehow don't even need to go on an amazing trip, because just considering the opportunity gives me a burst of endorphins. I know that's messed up but there is some weird truth to it. The idea of creating an experience of exploration and discovery and adventure for somebody else brings me incredible happiness. So I actually get a lot out of searching.

But lately, I have been searching for myself: a one way flight from Canada (Victoria YYJ or Vancouver YVR) to Australia for my best buddy's wedding. The closest Airport to the wedding in Aus is Maroochydore MCY.

Here is the process I went through and I wanted to document it just so maybe other people could see the process:

Step 1 - FULL FARE

First I look for a base to see what $ value I am working with. I live in Canada so these numbers are all in CAD. Using Google Flights, I searched for how much the one way would cost from YYJ to MCY.

  • Route: YYJ-SFO-SYD-MCY
  • Price: $1350 (One Way)
  • Verdict: Not bad in comparison to Some offers from Air Canada in the $1800,s. But since I have other options, this is still too far expensive considering it's one way.

There are other options for flight search like SkyScanner, Momondo, Hipmunk and Kayak, but Google Flights is quick and easy for this particular search and allows a few cool tricks like listing multiple Airports (YVR,YYJ).

I will check out the next way to reduce the cost of airfare.

Step 2 - Shop Around for Deals

There are always good deals going on. I have a Fare Alerts page with my twitter lists and blog sites. So I usually check that for fares going from Country to Country (eg Canada to Australia) then try find domestic flights within the countries to get to where I am going. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. There was a crazy wicked Qantas deal going on from Vancouver to Sydney for $999 Round Trip but the dates didn't include when I needed to go so I couldn't take advantage of it. Such is life. But pays to look anyway.

STEP 3 - CUSTOMER SURVEY 50% REBATE

See the email here for an idea of what they get back to you with. 

I went to EvaluateitbySQM, a mystery shopping service for flights (see this post for details), to see if there were any assignments from YVR to Sydney. There were some assignments on Air Canada from YVR to SYD, so I emailed the company and asked how much.  After a 50% refund on Airfare, the one way ticket would have cost me $716.

  • Route: YVR-SYD
  • Price: $716
  • Verdict: It's not bad and gets me across the ocean but I still have the added cost of Victoria to Vancouver. Then on the Australian end, I have to get from Sydney to my home airport in MCY

Seems like a great deal. Since this goes off the cost on the website, it is nearly always better value internationally to book Round Trip though. ESQM was offering Round Trip for $1400 after the 50% refund. I kinda messed up though because a few weeks ago, I booked one segment of my return flight which messed up my chances of getting a return deal, So this one way option is an opportunity to save more money. But I am still on the hunt for even cheaper fare

STEP 4 - POINTS AND MILES

I have Aeroplan Points (see how I got them here) so thought I would check that to see if there were any flights on award travel. The best way is to assess the individual segments and try those from most ideal to least ideal. First let's try a direct route:

YYJ-MCY = NO RESULTS

If there is no direct flight, you won't always get a result. The more connections there are, the more complicated the search is and the more likely it is to return poor/no results. So we have to break down the trip into segments. But what are the possible segments?! Great question!

FlightConnections

Go to http://www.flightconnections.com/ it's a lifesaver. 

Green Square means Major Airport (Hub), Yellow Circle means Standard Airport, and Red Circle means regional or private airport. Try using FlightConnections to search for the connections between your two airports.

YYJ-MCY brings back these results.

YYJ-MCY Results

On the Left I can select from 7 different routes and it will show me where it stops on the map on the right. I can collect a bunch of useful information from all the sections on this screen.

- Possibility - Is it possible to get from where I am to anywhere near where I want to be
- Longest Segments - Always take note of the longest segments, they will be the hardest to find seats on and thus best to search first to  save time.
- Origin Hubs - Where can I try searching flights FROM in Aeroplan if Victoria is showing no results.
- Destination Hubs - Where can I try searching flights TO in Aeroplan if Maroochydore is showing no results
- Airlines - In the bottom left, I can see the airlines that fly each segment. If I can find one airline from the Aeroplan Alliance/Partnership (Star Alliance), then I will be able to make it there!

AWARD NEXUS

Another option is to use a site called AwardNexus. Award Nexus is a service for people who want to search award availability. It compiles the results from all the individual airline program searches. Using AwardNexus to search all possible award availability costs awardnexus 'points' which you get when you join up. If you don't like the idea of points and any pay for purchase concept, they also have another free tool called Route Explorer that is just like FlightConnections but it allows you to filter out results by alliance. It doesn't have a map though, and you need to be a member to use it! I am a member on Flyertalk (Free registration) and therefore I registered for a Free Account. This gives me 100 credits and lets me use the Route explorer. I searched using Star Alliance carriers, but you can also add whatever other carriers you want. I found that you can go through SFO, LAX, HNL, PVG, PEK and a few others. 

Now that I have this information, I know what options I can try searching for. Remember these two searches we have done just show us flight routes, they don't show us award availability or cost. So start with the longest segments from both searches:

Canada Hubs - Vancouver (to SYD, AKL, HNL), Victoria (to HNL, SFO)
USA Hubs - San Francisco (to SYD), Los Angeles (to SYD), Honolulu (to SYD)
Asia Hub - Beijing, Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai, (All to SYD)

I then searched all these options on Aeroplan. Some were not showing up, some were showing up but for different dates than I wanted. But these are the main options I was faced with. All of which cost around 40,000 points but varied by date and by fees.

So the image above shows a flight on the date I want to leave, for one of the routes (YVR-SYD), I see a fare! Great. It has a stopover, whatever, I can deal with that. But the fees are way too high. $621!!! Time to try another option.

This one above is 2 days after I wanted to go, but the fees are lower. Hmmm, worth writing down. It's also good to note it's a direct flight! A lot more comfortable and when jetlag is involved it can mean a world of difference.

Woah so this one above is 4 days before I wanted to go and the same fare was found for 4 days after. It has a 14 hour stopover which sucks, but the fees are only $103. That's so cheap! Over $300 less than Air Canada.

STEP 4 - TAKE ACTION

These seats are first come first served, so you need to take advantage of them while you see them! Don't hesitate or overanalyse too much.

Over the course of a few days, Air Canada YVR -SYD full fare flights went up from $1433 to $1580. That day I called SQM and they told me all the seats are taken for July so I can't help them for this month's mystery flight shopper offer anymore. I was left with the option of waiting to hope seats came available on the day I wanted to fly out, or to compromise. I have dealt with hesitation before that ended in frustration and I didn't want that to happen again! SO I booked the Air Canada one with $428 fees. It was a happy middle ground because the flight is shorter, and the fees aren't as expensive as the Connection through Korea. I already have work booked off for certain days so I can't take the early flight on United. And I already have other returning flights booked for August 2nd so I can't really take the Later United flight or else I will only get 3 days in Australia!

There is a Return fare to deal with that I will touch on in a few days, but I am really happy with the result. Before I learnt any of this, I paid $2200 for a Return ticket to Australia. I have found out how to get the same for as little as $100 each way. That's a ridiculous amount of saving. I feel really good having been able to reduce my costs and to have options. Not a bad days work. This all took me about 4-6 hours to do over 3-4 days. And if I booked those $100 flights, would have saved me $2000. That's the equivalent of paying myself about $320/hr. I will happily take that saving!

So...

"If you were given a Round Trip Ticket anywhere in the world right now but could only pick one place, where would you go?" 

By   

Matt McLean


Matt McLean is an ex-teacher who has lived and worked in 7 different countries, trying his hand as a cruise ship counsellor in the Caribbean, a waterski instructor in New York, a surfing coach in England, a radio announcer in Australia, a chalet host in France, a Lindt chocolatier in Canada, and a conference presenter in Austria. To Read More from Matt, click his name!