COMMENT:

Herald on Sunday business columnist Diana Clement tells how you can slash the price of your flights.

We all love a bargain holiday. But all too often we pay over the odds for our flights. Here are some smart tricks to help slash 50 or even 75 per cent off a fare:

Be flexible with your dates. The better booking sites make it easy for you to see the prices for the dates before and after your first choice. Even better, at least two booking sites, including Webjet.co.nz and new kid on the block Jettzy.co.nz, offer a table of dates and prices. You can see which combination of days are the cheapest and can adjust your choices accordingly.

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Fly on the red eye. If you're willing to arrive at the airport at the crack of dawn or fly overnight you will very often get cheaper fares than at more popular times of the day.

Set up price alerts. You can get upcoming deals sent straight to your phone from airlines such as Jetstar.

Fly on lesser known airlines. I've twice flown to Sydney and back on Latam, a giant South American airline that many Kiwis have never heard of. Latam likes to fill its planes for the short hop between Sydney and Auckland and as a result has great prices for economy and business class, very generous luggage allowances, but terrible sandwiches. Likewise Etihad Airways, national airline of the United Arab Emirates often offers some of the cheapest fares to the Middle East and London.

Take advantage of less popular routes or multiple stops. An 11-hour layover sounds hideous but can give you time to get out and sightsee. One of my Australian-based mates suggests booking trans-Tasman flights separate from the long-haul leg to take advantage of cheaper fares.

Pretend to be a foreigner. Airlines discount in markets where they're not well known. I snaffled a bargain on an Air New Zealand ticket from Porto Alegre in Southern Brazil to Auckland thanks to the fact that our national carrier is trying to make inroads in brand recognition. According to new booking site Jettzy.co.nz I benefited from what's known as "airfare location discrimination". You can sometimes get away with using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) which allows you to pretend you're based in another country.

Airlines like Air NZ offer cheap flights in certain markets. Photo / Getty Images
Airlines like Air NZ offer cheap flights in certain markets. Photo / Getty Images

Use more than one search engine. Not every search engine will have budget airlines or exactly the same deals. Check that the prices are in New Zealand dollars. I've bought several flights through the House of Travel's HOT.co.nz and when I'm booking obscure routes, Expedia.co.nz.

Include nearby airports. Many large cities have two or more airports within spitting distance. London has Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, Southend and London City Airport. Not so long ago I booked a flight into a local airport in Rio de Janiero, saving on the flight and the taxi ride to my accommodation.

Be flexible about destination. I love the "Explore" feature on NZ.Kayak.com. It allows you to choose a date and a budget and see what routes fit the bill. Sometimes there is localised competition on certain routes from a new airline on the route. Webjet has a "where can I go within my budget" search.

Time your purchase. NZ.Kayak.com analyses fares from the two past years to determine when the cheapest time to book for various destinations is. For Sydney, the best time to book is two months in advance and the cheapest month to go is September. For Dublin it's three months and October is the best time to go.

Get the points. I have a friend who gets flights to the United States for free thanks to points, some of which are gained through supermarket shopping. He also points out that it can be worth buying frequent flyer points from airlines such as American Airlines to redeem on low-cost business-class flights.

Beware of overseas-based flight-booking sites. Trying to get your money back from a company with no physical presence in New Zealand can be hard. The Commerce Commission says the legality of whether foreign websites are covered by New Zealand law is dependent on the situation. Technically they come under the Fair Trading Act, but it can be difficult to get any comeback if things go wrong.