part i: flight fight

Hello! Welcome to the this series of travel-planning posts, which will document the process that S, D and I went through to organise our 25-day holiday in Europe.

Warning: lengthy post, more for reference than for leisurely reading.

Skip the italic parts, which are more like a story than actual facts. Keep in mind that we were going to fly to Europe in late July, 2017.

Summary

  1. Researched destinations
  2. Looked at prices on flight-search-engines (I don’t trust them, but Skyscanner was cheapest)
  3. Got a quote from travel agents (STA & Flight Centre). Got them to price-match the prices I found on Emirates & Webjet
  4. Opened a Student Debit MasterCard account with Westpac to get a free ISIC card (saved $30 off my flight)
  5. Booked with STA Travel. Total cost $1641 (including $49 flight-change-pass)

 

April, 2017

Researching destinations

We had 6 destinations on our list, and there were 3 of us, so we split the load, and each person was to research 2 cities. I was responsible for Prague & Berlin. I read the about these cities in a guidebook (Lonely Planet’s ‘Discover Europe’ book. It had many photos and pictures and colours unlike other guidebooks, which made it much more appealing to read). I read this book on the bus to and from uni, since it was a solid 40-minute trip.

We made a Google Docs folder to keep all our research in!

Checking prices on Skyscanner

I started looking at flight prices on Skyscanner.com.au for the following dates:

Brisbane > _ July 19-26-ish, 2017

_ > Brisbane February 5-ish

The prices weren’t too bad, around $1490. However, these prices were all from those dodgy ‘budget’ booking sites and I didn’t want to risk paying hidden fees with them.

 

May, 2017

Comparing prices on different search engines

I went on many flight-finding sites: Kayak, Expedia, Momondo, Airfare Watchdog, Skyscanner and Expedia. What I found was that Momondo’s flights were about $40 more expensive than Skyscanner and Kayak (who were similar, though Kayak was $2-30 more expensive than Skyscanner). Airfare Watchdog’s prices weren’t that good.

I researched many date combinations, i.e. mixed and matched days to leave Brisbane & days to return to Brisbane. Mon-Thu were pretty similar (contrary to the “flying on Tuesdays is cheaper” myth), and the weekends were indeed more expensive, by $18-35.

Overall, this was a very time-consuming task and I didn’t really get anything out of it, other than that it was more expensive to fly on weekends.

Since I decided not to book from Skyscanner (because of the dodgy sites it redirects you to), I probably could have skipped this step or at least spent way less time on it.

Bottom line: Skyscanner shows the best speculative prices from Brissy to Europe, but their prices aren’t the final price. Fees, taxes and sass will be added on the end, so expect an extra $35-100+

Visiting the travel agent & price-matching

tl;dr

  • Decided to play it safe by going to a travel agent.
  • Went to STA Travel and Flight Centre.
  • Both gave me quotes around $1750, but I told them I found flights for $1600 online (Emirates & Webjet) so they price-matched it.
  • STA Travel had a $30 ISIC* you had to buy in order to ‘access’ their prices, and offered a $49 ‘OneFlex’** pass which allowed you to change your return date/location once.
  • Flight Centre had a $50 booking fee. But in hindsight I should have asked them if they could price-match Webject WITH the booking fee. (So a total of $1600 instead of $1650)
  • I ENDED UP BOOKING WITH STA.
  • Flight – $1591.83
  • ISIC – Free (I saved $30 – will explain later)
  • OneFlex pass – $49 (prob shouldn’t have gotten this but w/e)
  • *ISIC = International Student Identity Card. Apparently gives you FANTASTIC discounts DEALS AND PROMOTIONS ALL OVER DA WORLD but that’s debatable. I ended up finding a way around this.
  • ** OneFlex pass: a $49 add-on. It allows you to change your return flight’s date and location ONCE. If the return flight costs more (and it usually will, especially if you’re changing last-minute and in a popular season), you will have to pay the increased difference of course. But you avoid STA’s change fee (which is of unknown value) and you also avoid Emirates’ change fee ($225!). My logic was ‘better safe than sorry’, but now I think I’ll be safe and sorry since changing flights is a stressful process and the price-difference will probably be expensive.

S, D and I agreed that it would be good to visit a travel agent, because they could price-match online prices, either from the airline itself (e.g. Emirates), or Australian flight websites (e.g. Webjet).

On Sunday, D went and got a quote from STA Travel (in Sydney). I forgot the exact prices though.

On Tuesday, I went and got a quote from STA Travel (in Brisbane). The travel agent was a young woman who was still in her first month on the job. She was very friendly. To be honest I had no idea what exactly to do. I basically sat down, explained where and when I was travelling, and asked what price it would be, and if they had ‘open-end’ tickets or something like that (since I wasn’t sure which day I would come back to Brisbane on). I planned to ask her to price-match the prices I found from Emirates and Webjet, cause apparently you can do that:

Thu 27/07 BNE > LHR

Tue 6/02 CPH > BNE

Emirates: $1626 AUD (including taxes, fees, and 30kg luggage)

Webjet: $1614 AUD (the same Emirates flight, including taxes, fees and 30kg luggage). $12 cheaper than Emirates lol

Both the STA and Flight Center travel agents gave me an expensive quote, around $1750.

So I told them I found cheaper ones from Emirates & Webjet, and asked if they could price-match them.

Avoiding paying for ISIC ($30)

ISIC = International Student Identity Card. It’s discounts & benefits are debatable.

So in order to book ‘student price’ flights from STA Travel, they require you to own an ISIC. And if you don’t have one, you have to purchase one from them for 30 bucks.

PRO TIP

Now my good friend Westpac (a bank) had a deal going on. If you opened a Student Debit Mastercard account, you would receive a free ISIC! (This deal prob won’t last for long)

THIS WAS FANTASTIC because it solved two of my problems:

  1. I could save $30 woop woop
  2. I did not have a Debit Mastercard and needed one (apparently, according to my older sister). But tbh I did need one. I needed to pay for things online and tap & go and all the jazzz

I skimmed through the Terms & Conditions, looking for sneaky fees or policies but couldn’t find any. Maybe I didn’t see them since I was skimming lol. But the deal looked pretty good on the outside. No monthly fees (for students & under 21’s). No this. No that. It kind of seemed too good to be true but I went for it anyway because it took 2 minutes to sign up.

Booking the flight

I visited the Travel agents on Tuesday. On Thursday I decided to go for it, with STA.

But I had all these doubts about the OneFlex pass (it is stressful to change flights and their customer service is lacking).

and doubts about STA (customer service).

But argh I bit the bullet and booked S and I’s flights. D wanted to wait until she got her confirmation letter (which she did get, and she booked her flight through Emirates’ website).

The total was $1640.83

$1591.83 + $49

Flight + OneFlex

 

PHEW.

I paid with EFTPOS.

PRO TIP

STA doesn’t have a surcharge for Cash/Savings/BPAY. But they have a 1,3% surcharge for Credit/Phone payments.

Sophie payed with BPAY, which should ideally be done within 30mins of the booking, but can be done before 4pm the same day (or else the flight fare might increase the next day and you’ll have to pay more!!!) She also had to supply a passport-style picture for the ISIC.

PRO TIP

Have a passport-style photo of you stored everywhere – printed copy in your phonecase (not where people can see it tho, that would be narcissistic in an unflattering way), electronic copy on your phone, computer, email, Google Drive, etc)

SO YES IT WAS DONE & DUSTEDDDDD YAAAASSSSSS

So liberating.

Flights: done.

Next up: accommodation argh

 

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