With so many airlines flying out of Australia – not to mention the growing number of flight booking comparison and aggregator websites – how can you be sure of finding the cheapest possible ticket for your next international flight? CHOICE checked out the flight comparison sites most commonly used by our members, looking in particular for hidden fees and charges that separate the best from the rest.
For more information on Airline travel see Travel.
Where do you start?
Our members often choose their airline according to which has the best service, schedule or frequent flyer scheme. Others are happy to put their faith in a traditional travel agent to arrange their entire holiday for them, including the carrier. But for many members, price is the key factor guiding their choice of airline. And most are going online to book their own flights, or at least to find quotes for traditional agents to match or beat.
Using these sites to compare the quoted prices for international economy flights leaving and returning on the same dates to the same destination, we found a discrepancy of $369. So it’s definitely worth spending a little extra time surfing and not just assuming the most popular sites will also automatically find the most competitive prices.
How we surveyed
We compared the quotes provided by the flight comparison sites outlined here for identical flights to the UK, US and New Zealand on the same dates. Note: this was not an exhaustive survey, merely a snapshot of the prices quoted on two separate days. The prices quoted will depend on a range of factors including availability and airline sales, and may vary from day to day. We also considered each site’s user-friendliness, as well as any booking fees, credit card surcharges and amendment and cancellation charges.
What we found
Domestic flight comparison sites are useful for comparing the five major domestic carriers across your preferred dates, but in most cases you’ll be better off using them only to compare, then going directly to the website of the airline with the lowest quoted price. That way, you’ll avoid the steep fees that some sites, such as Webjet, charge.
International flights are a different story. With dozens more carriers in play, we found savings of up to 25% – hundreds of dollars – by using the comparison sites not just to compare, but also to book. One flight offered by Jetabroad, for example, quoted a competitive Sydney-London return flight with two carriers – but when we checked those carriers’ sites directly, we found the quoted price was either much higher or sold out.
Check the codeshare
Many airlines codeshare with one another. This means the airline that operates the flight – providing the plane, crew and ground handling services – is different from the airline that sells the tickets. Codes are often shared between members of the three major airline alliances: Star Alliance (which includes Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, Air New Zealand and United Airlines), Oneworld Alliance (which includes Qantas, Cathay Pacific and British Airways) and SkyTeam (Air France-KLM, Delta and China Southern).
Online flight comparison sites will often bring up codeshare flights. We found, for example, a trans-Pacific flight that ostensibly was with Air New Zealand, whose name and logo was specified. Looking at the smaller print below, however, we found this to be a codeshare flight – with United Airlines flying passengers out of the US.
As our most recent international airlines survey found, there is a very wide gap in satisfaction scores between these two carriers. So always check any codeshare arrangements when booking your flight online to avoid being stuck on a less well-regarded airline. Look out for four-digit flight numbers, as often these are indicative of an international carrier that’s different from what the airline code specifies. Flight LH9780, for example, is actually operated by Singapore Airlines (flight SQ221), even though LH is the airline code for Lufthansa. Flightstats is a useful site where you can check the status of your flight according to the airline code and flight number, including the airline, plane model, length of flight, location of your destination airport and so on.