“Just book the flights and everything will sort itself out later.”
For many years, this has been my mantra. And I’m not alone in this. Most of my traveler friends live by these words. Often, we snag promo fares from an online sale, and only then should we begin planning. The booking of the flight signals the birth of a trip. The ticket is the key. It is the way. It is the life. Wuw.
That’s not a surprise because most of the time, the most expensive part of travel is the airfare. Cheap hotels are easy to find. Cheap tours, too. But cheap tickets are hard to come by, right? Wrong. Over the past few years, the cost of a seat on a plane has gone down significantly (at least in this part of the world). Thanks to the rise of low-cost carriers and stiff competition, prompting even legacy airlines to offer budget options.
Finding cheap fares is not that difficult anymore. Yet, whenever airlines announce promos on their Facebook fan pages, they are bombarded with all sorts of complaints from users. While some of them have a point, some users just accuse the airlines of being deceptive, claiming that the sale is just some empty promise or a misleading marketing strategy. Some even go as far as saying that the SALE is not real.
Trust me, these promos are real. Just because you can’t find promo seats doesn’t mean they are not. I have availed of it a number of times already. But we understand where the negativity is coming from. Some get really frustrated because the promo seats don’t appear when they search.
I used to work as marketing consultant for two local airlines, so I somehow have a good grasp of how these sales work. And I compiled some tips on how to successfully book a promo flight. This applies to local airlines such as Cebu Pacific Air, AirAsia, and Philippine Airlines. Here we go.
1. Follow airlines’ social media accounts.
Stalk them on Twitter and Facebook. Gone are the days when they would surprise everyone. They now announce the sale days ahead.
It’s hard to know when exactly promos will happen, but there have been constant elements over the years: They launch special sales during holidays and important occasions. For example, to celebrate their anniversaries, airlines usually launch massive promos as a treat and a marketing stunt. They also usually have promos on Easter, Valor Day, Independence Day, and New Year’s Day among others. I’m referring to booking periods, not travel periods.
Many frequent travelers I know have turned on the GET NOTIFICATIONS feature of the FB page of airlines so they receive alerts. Downside, they are notified for other shit, too.
2. Book by small batches.
This is one thing I have proven so many times. When you book for so many people at once, the site displays “SOLD OUT.” But when you book for just one or two people, you can have that same flight (same plane, same day, same time).
For example, two weeks ago, during a promo, my friends and I were booking tickets to Cagayan de Oro. There were 5 of us. Every date we chose, we would get a SOLD OUT display. But when we tried just booking for two people, suddenly some slots became available. So what we did was book two flights and then my friend booked the same flight for three people using a different computer. In March, all 5 of us will fly to Cagayan de Oro.
3. Be quick and early. Book on the first day of SALE.
Perhaps the reason I always grab sale seats is because I book early. If the announced sale period is November 3-6, book on November 3. There’s a big chance there won’t be anything left in the following days. The number of seats in a plane is finite and they can only put a few of them on sale but the demand is so big that they tend to get sold out easily.
Some airlines replenish promo seats after a specified period of time so they’re evenly distributed throughout the sale period, but they don’t disclose the exact date and time. The easiest way remains booking at the start of the sale.
If you found cheap fares and you like the dates, book them fast. You have no idea how many users are eyeing those same seats at that moment and you will lose them soon. If you’re booking for other people, make sure you have their full names and birth dates (sometimes, passport numbers).
4. Book in the wee hours.
I know it sounds ridiculous but if you really want to grab a cheap seat, book in the wee hours of announced date of sale. The sale usually activates at 12 midnight. You will have more chances if you’re searching within the first hour.
Also, whenever there’s a sale happening, airline websites can’t seem to handle the volume of users trying to book at the same time, slowing down the system. This also leads to a lot of waiting times and errors. This is what you can avoid when you book while the rest of the world is in slumber.
5. Consider other dates.
If there are no more seats on your chosen dates, pick another. Obviously, weekends tend to get sold-out faster than other days of the week. Be flexible when it comes to dates and timings.
Be patient. I know it can get tiring clicking the Next Day/Previous Day button but if you really want it cheap, you shouldn’t mind going through all dates if necessary. If you have very specific dates that can’t be changed, then good luck to you.
6. Choose a not-so-popular destination.
Davao, Cebu, Bohol and Palawan seem to be the most loved destinations — they go “sold out” even before you consider booking. So come up with alternative places to visit that are also worth your time. For example, Dumaguete offers a heritage-rich experience as well as great beaches. Iloilo is your gateway to Guimaras where beaches are as stunning as in many provinces in the country. Laoag opens your doors to Pagudpud and the best of the Ilocos region.
Also, try using other gateways to the destination you wish to visit. Want to fly to Dumaguete but no more P1 seats? Try Cebu and just take a ferry to Dumaguete. This way, you’ll also get to explore Cebu. No more Caticlan seats? Kalibo is just two hours away. Going to Samar but no more Catarman or Calbayog seats? Try Tacloban. Be open to other possibilities.
Airlines actually disclose the number of available promo seats per sale. Just go to their website and check which destinations have a lot of seats on sale.
7. Check other airlines through Aggregator Sites.
Don’t get fixated with just one or two airlines. There may be other cheap seats sold by other carriers. You’ll be surprised. Sometimes, legacy airlines have cheaper offers than low-cost carriers. Whenever I plan on flying, I would check Kayak or SkyScanner first and compare fares. For example, for flights to Japan, China Airlines and Japan Airlines sometimes offer lower rates than Cebu Pacific or JetStar.
Travel taxes and airport fees are now usually included when you book flights. For international flights, that’s P1620. Steep? Don’t blame the airline for it, blame the government.
There you go. Again, don’t forget to subscribe to the airline’s Twitter or Facebook alerts so you’re the first to know. 🙂