Australia’s major international airport hubs are a long way from pretty much anywhere, except for New Zealand and the South Pacific Island nations. It’s not that far to fly from any Australian east coast international airport to New Zealand, New Caledonia, Fiji, or Vanuatu. If you happen to want to go anywhere else though, you will likely be looking at long haul flights of 9 hours or more. With flights like that, they can also get expensive, especially going to popular North American and European destinations that have 14+ hour flights, often including layovers in Singapore or Dubai on the way to Europe.
Compared to domestic Australian flights, and even Trans-Tasman flights that can often be purchased for less than $150 AUD, even short long-haul trips like Tokyo can be pricey. The thing is, with a little bit of forethought, research, and planning you can get long-haul flights for much cheaper. The most recent example that we’ve booked is Sydney to the United Kingdom return for $99 AUD per person in economy class.
We actually could have gotten these flights for $45 per person if we took a different route there, but the more expensive tickets gave us the option to spend 8 hours in Singapore airport which we really wanted to do.
So, how do you save money on long haul flights from Australia?
Well, there aren’t really any magic tricks, except for finding mistake fares, but there are a number of hacks to help save money.
Book flights on a return fare
Airlines want to fill as many seats as possible, so if you book a return fare rather than one way, you are a more appealing customer than someone just booking one way. This means you just might get a better deal on a return fare.
I’ve often researched flights and found the return fare to be either the same price or only slightly more than just flying one way. Compared to booking the two flights separately, you could be doing the return leg for free.
Consider flying through nearby smaller airports
Major airport hubs, like London’s Heathrow airport, may have better connections, more flight options, or be more convenient, but smaller nearby airports can often save you dollars since they aren’t as busy and their fees are lower.
These smaller airports do also serve as feeder airports for major centres, so they can help airlines to fill seats on both smaller routes and bigger ones, again creating opportunities for discounts. Rather than flying from major Australian airports like Sydney’s Mascot Airport, Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport, or Brisbane Airport, look at nearby regional city airports. You might not be able to fly directly, but they can be cheaper even with a connection.
Instead of Mascot in Sydney, look at Newcastle airport. Instead of Tullamarine in Melbourne, look at Avalon Airport near Geelong. Rather than Brisbane airport, consider the Gold Coast airport, Sunshine Coast airport, or even the Ballina/Byron airport.
The Gold Coast airport does offer some low-cost long-haul flights, like Japan and Singapore routes with budget carriers like Jetstar and Scoot, but there aren’t any major carriers flying long-haul routes from here. For most international destinations, you will connect through Sydney, Melbourne or Perth.
Sunshine Coast and Ballina/Byron airports will typically connect you via Sydney.
Avalon airport between Melbourne and Geelong will connect you via Sydney, Brisbane or the Gold Coast.
There is no guarantee that these smaller feeder airports will be cheaper, but airlines do tend to use them to help fill seats from the major hubs, so they do have promos that work out really well.
We have gotten some great deals on flights to Japan booked from Newcastle airport connecting via Brisbane airport. We saved over $100 per ticket to fly from Newcastle instead of Sydney, and this is taking into account the cost of getting to Newcastle airport vs Sydney airport as well.
Look for flights that are part of a multi-leg journey
A multi-leg journey is where a plane stops at another airport on the way to its final destination. For example, Qantas operates flights to the UK from Sydney with a stop in Singapore airport. Even though the plane continues on, not all passengers will do the full journey. Some will debark in Singapore, and some will board in Singapore. This means that you can often get a good deal on one leg of the journey if it has low volume. This is more likely to be the case when the second leg is a shorter, lower demand, but higher competition route.
An amazing example of this was a flight we booked from Los Angeles to Christchurch via Sydney. The more logical route would be Los Angeles to Auckland and then Christchurch, but going via Sydney was $400 cheaper per person. In fact, it was $300 cheaper than if we just flew to Sydney on exactly the same plane without the Christchurch connection.
The reason the above example was cheaper is that the Sydney to Christchurch leg was actually the last leg of a multi-leg journey operated by Emirates. The plane was on a Dubai to Christchurch route with a stopover in Sydney. We arrived in Sydney on a Qantas flight from Los Angeles and then transferred to the codeshare flight with Emirates. The ticket was heavily discounted to help fill seats on the lower demand leg of that journey, Sydney to Christchurch. After all, with hundreds of seats available on an A380 full-service airline, they can’t discount tickets to compete with the high volume of low-cost carrier flights across the ditch. Combining the flight into a single ticket from another flight helps to fill the seats without running a discount on just that leg of the trip.
Another example of this is flights operated by LATAM from South America to Sydney with a stopover in Auckland. It’s possible to get the leg between Sydney and Auckland on their full-service planes for cheaper than the same route on Jetstar. I can tell you the LATAM 787 is a much nicer 3 hours than a Jetstar A320, and can you really go past that Latin-American flair?
Check flights that connect via unusual airline hub airports rather than direct
Most full-service airlines route their flights through hub airports using a hub-and-spoke model rather than flying directly between destinations. This creates scale and allows more efficient use of aeroplane capacity. It is most notable in Australia in Sydney at Mascot airport where Qantas has all of Terminal 3 to itself. This is Qantas’ Sydney domestic hub. Other major international hubs that most Aussies are probably aware of are Singapore (Singapore Airlines), Dubai (Emirates), and London Heathrow (British Airways).
The hub-and-spoke model is popular with airlines because they can bring lots of smaller planes on feeder routes into a hub. Those smaller planes help to fill bigger planes going on longer routes. Chances are there isn’t going to be the demand for passengers flying from Newcastle to Los Angeles to warrant running direct flights, so instead, airlines route these passengers to Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne instead.
This model also creates efficiencies in maintenance and operating personnel, but most importantly for us, as passengers, is that it creates opportunities to find deals via unusual hub airports.
From Australia, most flights to Europe go via Singapore or Dubai. However, other airlines operate other hubs in the region. For example:
- Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong
- Japan Airlines in Tokyo, Japan
- Philippine Airlines in Manilla, Philippines
- Thai Airways in Bangkok, Thailand
- China Southern Airlines in Guangzhou, China
- China Eastern Airlines in Shanghai, China
- Korean Air in Seoul, South Korea
- Malaysian Airlines in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- Qatar Airways in Doha, Qatar
- Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi, UAE
These airlines (and others as well) all offer flights to Europe, if you go via their hub airports. So, if your destination is on a route from their hub airport that they want to fill seats on, you might be able to pick up a sweet deal from Australia.
Of course, flying to Europe via East Asia will be a longer journey than via South Asia or the UAE region, but I’ve found flights coming in between $250-$600 cheaper going via these less common hub cities.
Similarly, if you are going to the USA, direct with one of the major carriers from Australia or the USA may be the quickest, eg Qantas, American Air, Delta, or United. However, there are many other carriers around that can get you to the USA via their hubs. Think carriers like:
And, of course, all the East Asian-based airlines offer connections to the west coast of the United States as well.
Be flexible with dates and times
The worst thing for flight pricing is being locked in to set days or times. Often, you can save money just by flying at a quieter time of day where there is less demand, but you can save even more by being flexible with dates.
Certain days of the week tend to be cheaper, be it because there is less passenger demand, because the airline uses a different plane on certain days, or because it is a codeshare flight and you are actually flying with a different airline, or there could be a sale on certain days. Sometimes travelling a few days earlier or later can put you in a sale period.
Regardless of the reason, it is always worth being flexible and checking surrounding dates and times.
Keep an eye on airline sales
Airline sales often happen with little warning, though some airlines do give early access to their subscribers. Picking up sale discounts can sometimes help you get a better price. This isn’t always the case though. For example, sale fares may be one way only, but the return fare is still a better deal overall.
Sales can vary, Qantas best sales are often on return fares which require you to depart between certain dates with flexible return dates. Sometimes they have designated return dates as well.
More airlines are offering a price-drop email notification tool, but you can also use one from a flight search tool like Skyscanner.
Fly without checked baggage
This one can save you a truckload! Long-haul flights with full-service carriers almost always include checked baggage, but, domestic connections and low-cost carrier flights don’t. It’s possible to fly from Australia to most destinations in Europe on low-cost airlines, if you don’t mind a few stopovers and taking an indirect route. It might take a bit longer to get there, but can be significantly cheaper. The moment you need to add checked bags though, up goes the cost, sometimes by a very significant amount.
I’ve often found that adding checked baggage to low-cost airlines brings them close to the same price as flying with a full-service carrier on long-haul routes. For most people, it is simple to fly with carry-on bags only, if you really break it down to what you absolutely need. Yep, we spent 2 weeks in Canada and Alaska in early Spring while it was still chilly and I even brought a tux with me to wear on cruise formal nights, all we took was a carry-on size suitcase and a backpack.
Chances are, you really don’t need as much as you think you do.
Check flight comparison websites
This might seem obvious but check different flight comparison websites. I often find the best deals for Australian carriers is booking directly, but for carriers based in other countries, this isn’t always the case.
On our last trip to Japan, I found the cheapest flight was on ANA via a third-party booking site indexed by Skyscanner. It sounds a bit convoluted, but, it was worthwhile because the third-party booking site booked us on a “Shareholders Benefit Discount Fare”, which was a decent amount cheaper than any other publicly advertised fare and also ended up getting us a free seating upgrade at the gate. To confirm, we don’t and never have held shares in ANA.
For Australian flights, I’d suggest using comparison sites that operate in AUD as they will give you a better picture of final flight pricing. The ones I use are:
I especially like that on Skyscanner you can search entire months for the cheapest day, remember, if you are flexible with your travel dates, you can often save some dollars.
I would also suggest using the Skyscanner country search. Momondo has a similar “Anywhere” search feature. In other words, you can search all flights from Australia to the UK rather than to a specific airport. It will then tell you which Australian airports are the cheapest to fly from to get to the United Kingdom. It might not be London’s Heathrow airport. This is especially handy if you are from a regional area because you can mix it up with your feeder flights as well. Maybe you are in Newcastle but flying from Brisbane is $300 cheaper than Sydney. For a $100 or less flight to Brisbane, you are saving yourself money compared to commuting down to Sydney Airport.
Many airlines are offering price-drop notifications now, but Skyscanner’s price-change notification checks all possible flights on your desired day so you are updated as soon as the price changes. Handy if you don’t need to book urgently.
I do sometimes find it is worth checking international sites like Orbitz, but by the time you account for taxes, currency conversion and conversion fees, their prices are no better (and sometimes worse) than what I find on the Aussie ones above. Very occasionally though, I do find a good deal here.
Combine flights with accommodation
This will depend on what kind of trip you are doing, and may only work well for shorter trips, but, when you combine flights and accommodation you can pick up some great deals that work out better than booking both separately.
Typically, these kinds of bookings will expect you to be staying in one place for the whole trip, so it might not be suitable for a road trip around a country, but if you are going to stay in one city for your trip, it’s worth a look.
I find booking sites like Expedia and Webjet come up with some good ones here. The best deal we ever got this way was flights and accommodation for the same price as if we just booked the flights on their own.
Look at flights in other currencies using localised sites
This one is getting harder, but, every airline operates a localised website for each country that they fly to. These sites have different sales and different pricing. This can lead to better deals, especially on one-way flights.
As an example, booking Jetstar flights between Japan and Australia can often come out cheaper via the Japanese localised website than the Australian one.
Since these kinds of pricing variations are intended for customers in the country they are targeting, airlines do use many sophisticated methods of location detection to try and ensure you get the right site for the country you are from, but this can often be gotten around using a VPN with the location set to the country you want to appear to be in. Keep in mind, this isn’t foolproof as it is possible for your browser settings and history to give away where you come from.
Use reward points
Last, but certainly not least, use reward points. It doesn’t matter whether they are Qantas Frequent Flyer Points, Virgin Velocity Points, points with another airline, or even Coles FlyBuys points. These points can help bring your cost down.
Depending on the flights, reward seats may work out the best value. I’ve often picked up Qantas reward seats that have a low point cost and a low dollar cost. This isn’t always the best value though. Sometimes the fees and taxes that you pay the dollar amount for add up to more than flying with a cheaper airline. In this case, choosing the points + pay option can work out better. Yes, this will cost you more points, but if the points can bring the cost down to lower than any other way of doing the trip, that is the best value.
You just might even be able to pay for your entire ticket with points which is even better. I’ve written before about maximising your Qantas point earnings with the Bankwest Qantas transaction account, but this is only a relatively small way of contributing to your point-earning potential. There are so many more ways to boost your points. My suggestion though is to focus on Australian airlines if you are flying from Australia and specifically focus on Qantas.
Qantas has a much larger international network than Virgin through direct partnerships as well as the OneWorld alliance. This means you can book flights on their many partner airlines using your points. The only caveat is the flights need to have an Australian port on the ticket, be it starting, ending, or stopping over on a multi-leg journey.
Don’t ignore Virgin or other airlines that frequently fly in Australian airspace (like Air New Zealand), there is still the opportunity to earn points with them that might not exist with Qantas, and you never know where those points might be able to take you.
FlyBuys points are also worth utilising. Yes, you can trade them for dollars off your shopping which is great value, but you can also use them to book flights through FlyBuys Travel. If you have earned enough FlyBuys points to get your airfares for lower dollar amounts this way, then it is saving you money.
Got any more tips that belong in my ultimate guide to saving money on long-haul flights from Australia? Let me know in the comments below! Otherwise, happy flying!
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