For the Cheapest Airfares Think Global, Buy Local

When you’re traveling outside the United States, it’s always worth checking local airfare. Don’t just assume the fares you see on Orbitz or other US-based online travel websites are the cheapest available.

Fares sold in U.S. may be higher, the cheapest fares may only be available in-country. For that you need to book on a website whose “point of sale” is local.

Rapid Travel Chai shows you the difference for travel on Vietnam Airlines. He searched for travel on the Vietnam Airlines website – and so issued locally in Vietnam – and found that fares were less than one-fifth the price he was seeing on US booking sites. The US sites were showing ‘full fare’, all that was available to them.

The simple solution is to book on an airline’s own website. But using local online travel agency sites is possible too. I like Expedia’s local country sites, and of course Google Chrome has built-in language translation.

In China, Stefan recommends:

Pull up China domestic flights on most international websites and you’ll get eye-popping numbers. Use ctrip, eLong, travelzen or other domestic OTAs, or the airlines, and you’ll get substantially cheaper fares.

There are some locations where local fares are restricted to locals (mostly in South America). But for many destinations it’s always worth comparing local point of sale.

That’s different from, though related to, the issue of where you start your trip. It’s generally cheaper to buy business class tickets Sri Lanka – US – Sri Lanka than it is to buy the same airline, same flights US – Sri Lanka – US.

The idea is that the airlines are price discriminating. The local market demand is different for people living in Sri Lanka than for people in the US, and airlines want to maximize their revenue from passengers in each market. You won’t sell many $8000 tickets to Sri Lankans, but you’re giving away your product at $2000 in the US for instance. There are also rules in some locations about who can discount.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Wonder if that would work for the transport out to Park Hyatt from Male in the Maldives.Can’t believe all the locals flying with us paid north of $500 USD RT!

  2. @pssteve you won’t be eligible for the local air rates, however bear in mind that the price you paid included speed boat transfers too.

  3. Are these price discrepancies mostly found in Asia and South Asia, or does one see them within intra-Europe — where most of my travel is focused — as well?

  4. @pssteve Does the Hyatt charge you these rates and add it to your room or do you have to order and pay this separately with the air carrier?

  5. I’ve noticed this a lot in New Zealand and Australia – always use the .nz Version of airnewzealand’s website – fares were at least 60 percent cheaper! Also, google flights often prices flights on jetstar considerably higher than the .au jetstar website

  6. Wow, good to know. This explains why when I was just in Vietnam and flew on JetStar (Qantas subsidiary) the fare was only $18 all in for the flight haha

  7. I agree with the tactics, Gary, and have been using them for years. But how do we deal with a situation where the airline alleges (a la United’s “mistake” fare ex Denmark) that these fares are not intended for Americans, and therefore are null and void? Didn’t the DOT suggest that Americans shouldn’t have been using a Danish portal for flights ex-LHR to the United States?

  8. Kayak will search local websites and OTAs.

    Not infallible, and way slow compared to Google Flights, but it’s a great tool to use for flights outside of North America and Europe.

  9. @COLIN. Europeans get the power of the Internet. Same prices when purchased in any country in the world.

  10. What I have found with Vietnam is that one of the reasons the prices appear so much cheaper is because they show you the base fare until the final screen when taxes and other charges are included. Compare this to the US where these things are included up front.

    I have booked plenty of Vietnamese airfare, some of it domestically and I have never noticed anything more than a deminimis difference between US and Vietnam sites for Vietnam Air.

    This is exactly what Rapid Chai Travel is showing on his blog – one number includes taxes and fees vs one number that does not. A half-baked effort should be validated before being trumpeted around.

  11. @jim – I have booked Vietnam Airlines flights (not just searched) and they’ve been much cheaper on the VN website than at Orbitz, Expedia, etc.

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