It's that cooler time of year when many Kiwis start to plan uplifting summer breaks for the months ahead.

Airlines say the internet has made pricing transparent and air travel is a bargain, but do they make it too hard to choose the most affordable options?

Consumer advocates try to counter the confusion by comparing fees for things like baggage and extra legroom - a growing part of the cost of a trip - but this can be difficult, especially when travellers don't buy their ticket directly from the airline.

No changes are coming in the short-term, leaving travellers to plot their own strategies for finding the best prices. As always, it helps to plan ahead and consider whether you need extra services that might add to your cost.


And some old strategies are losing value due to changes in the way airlines operate.

The notion that Wednesday (or Tuesday) is the best day to buy your ticket, for example, isn't always true anymore. As more airlines base loyalty programs on how much you spend, not how many miles you fly, it has become harder for many leisure travellers to earn free flights.


• Know what comes with your seat by reading the fine print on the airline website. A cheap ticket that doesn't include checked baggage might not be such a bargain.

• Be flexible with dates and destinations. Flying to tourist destinations will almost certainly be cheaper and less crowded out of school holidays. That is of little help, however, to families with school-age children.

• Check the budget airlines. They may not be the most convenient or comfortable, but they may offer some attractive savings. If you want lots of optional services, however, you may find it cheaper to stick with the older, more familiar airlines.

• If you haven't done so yet, follow the Twitter accounts of the airlines on your intended route and sign up for alerts from fare-tracking services - there are several of those. That way you'll learn about a flash sale before it ends.

• Families should confirm free seat assignments right away when booking. However there is an often an extra fee for advance seat assignments when flying on the discount airlines, which won't let you pick seats for free.

• Know that fees for certain seats and other items can vary widely - or be waived - depending on whether you belong to an airline's loyalty program and whether you're an elite member. Even using the airline's branded credit card can make a difference. Your fees might be waived on one airline but not another.