Finding the cheapest time to fly

JOSH MARTIN
Last updated 05:00 16/02/2014
Planes at Auckland Airport
JOHN SELKIRK/ Fairfax NZ

TOUGH DECISIONS: Airlines offer specials at varying times, but there are some traps for young players seeking the best price.

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I asked a travel agent, and then Google, when is the best time to go on a getaway to Raro and backpack through Asia.

Cue the flashing airfare search pop-ups and the agent's tale of how she "dropped everything and booked a one-way ticket to New Delhi to nurture orphaned elephants".

The pop-ups barked "Now! Hurry! Only four seats left!" Big mistake.

Spontaneous trips abroad may be a romantic success, but they're a financial disaster.

So many factors affect the cost of air travel including capacity levels, fuel charges, seasonality, competition on routes and holidays and events, but industry insiders agree not all months were created equal when it comes to nabbing a holiday bargain.

FRUGAL OR FESTIVE, NEVER BOTH

Skyscanner, the online flight aggregator, confirms December is the worst month to travel for the cash-conscious, with pre-Christmas and New Year demand making airfares surge, despite airlines adding capacity. This happens globally and New Zealand is no different, with Auckland airport having its busiest month ever in December 2013.

AVOID JUNE, JULY, AUGUST

You want to escape Wellington's horizontal rain and Christchurch's sub-zero mornings for the balmy Pacific isles? So does everybody else.

Combine that with the European and American summer and New Zealand's ski season hitting its stride and it's a recipe for peak-season pain for your bank balance. A return fare to Europe, on the lowest cost carrier, is about 20 per cent more expensive in June than a month prior.

SHOULDER SEASON SUCCESS

February, May and November are when the best deals can be found, no matter the destination, airline or route.

Skyscanner delved into three years of bookings data and found air travel in February offered penny-pinching passengers an average saving of 19 per cent, with May close behind. That could equal three or four nights in a hotel or several days of car rental.

House of Travel's Brent Thomas says November keeps popping up with the best deals time and time again.

Notwithstanding the snags in the United States around Thanksgiving weekend, it's a safe bet.

If you are heading across the ditch or on a European adventure, the savings should continue when you touch down, as both months safely fall outside peak season for accommodation, car hire and activities.

IF NOT NOW, WHEN?

Last minute travel deals such as grabaseat.co.nz and Jetstar's Friday Fare Frenzy support the theory that spontaneity is great for the budget-conscious tourist. But unless you are very flexible, the opposite can be true.

It's a false economy to save $50 on flights only to have to use $150 worth of annual leave to take them.

Internet flight and accommodation aggregators like Expedia and Travelbug reward punters for filling extra seats and hotel rooms that didn't sell, which is great sometimes, but ditching the kids for a weekend is another challenge altogether.

Skyscanner recommends booking six to eight weeks out for the best deals on flights to Australia and long-haul destinations. However, House of Travel's Brent Thomas says booking between three to five months out is still cheap but offers more options for departure times and routes.

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If you're chomping at the bit to book a break right now, try Thailand. Skyscanner found it offered an average discount of $400 to Kiwis who booked only three weeks out.

- Sunday Star Times

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