Travel insiders know some sneaky ways to cut costs on flights.
Travel insiders know some sneaky ways to cut costs on flights.

Airline secrets: How insiders score cheap flights

There are few people who have their finger on the pulse of the travel industry as closely as Michael Grierson.

As travel expert for flight search site Skyscanner, the Singapore-based Aussie expat lives and breathes cheap flight deals - when he's not travelling himself, that is.

Recent trips have seen him exploring Vietnam, North Korea, Malaysia, China and Japan, not to mention Europe and Australia (well, wouldn't you if you had all that intel on flight bargains?)

We asked Grierson to tell us all his insider secrets to help us get the best deals to the hottest destinations, too.

And he came good with some pretty handy tips - like how to score the same seat on the same plane but with a ticket at a fraction of the cost of everyone else's.

Pondering on the steps in Chendu, China.
Pondering on the steps in Chendu, China.

THE BEST FLYING EXPERIENCE YOU'VE EVER HAD?

First class with British Airways from Singapore to Sydney. T

he flight was delayed so they kept the champagne flowing before takeoff along with a personal apology from customer service manager, but if it meant more champagne I really didn't mind.

It was an overnight flight and deciding to go to sleep was tough decision because I wanted to stay awake and soak up the whole experience.

ANY TRICKS FOR GETTING AN UPGRADE?

I would love to say, "dress well" or "ask nicely at check-in", but in reality, these are a very long shot.

Best thing you can do is travel often and always with the same airline or alliance group.

Someone on a fully flexible economy fare is much more likely to be "bumped up" than the person who got the discount non-refundable fare on sale.

Solo travellers are also much more likely too given if there's only one spare business class seat then only one person can take it.

Outside Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in the super secretive North Korea.
Outside Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in the super secretive North Korea.

CAN YOU SHARE ANY TOP TIPS FOR GETTING THE BEST FLIGHT DEAL?

1. Be prepared to travel a little out of your way you're looking to save money or try grab a

premium class seat for cheaper, eg business class flights to Tokyo can be much cheaper if you're willing to add in a stopover in KL. Considering you'll spend that stopover in a lounge, it's not such a bad thing.

2. Check out codeshare flights. Often premium carrier flights are being ticketed under other airlines for less. It's the same seat, the same plane, only your ticket comes from a different airline that charges less.

3. Skyscanner Price Alerts: Just find your preferred route on the Skyscanner app and press the

bell button. You'll get a notification when the prices change so it really maximises your chance of getting the best deal.

WHAT'S YOUR TOP TIP FOR BEATING JET LAG?

Stay up as late as possible BEFORE your flight so you are more likely to sleep on the plane and arrive refreshed.

Failing that - keep the window shades open and soak up as much natural light as possible to slowly adjust to the new daylight hours as the flight progresses.

Most vitally, don't go to sleep as soon as you arrive unless it's already night.

Do your best to power through the day and go to bed at the same time as the locals.

 

Trust an Aussie to find North Korean beer.
Trust an Aussie to find North Korean beer.

HOW DO YOU PACK? WHAT'S YOUR TOP TIP FOR TRAVELLING LIGHT AND IS THERE ANY ITEM YOU'LL NEVER TRAVEL WITHOUT?

I really don't think I pack differently to anyone else, but the most important thing to do is check the weather for your destination and pack accordingly - nothing like a surprise cold snap to ruin your beach holiday.

In the 2000s I carried around a little iPod dock to play some music (great in hostels for room parties back when I was younger) now I have a good quality Bluetooth speaker that means I can still listen to my tunes at high quality even while travelling.

WHAT'S BEEN YOUR BIGGEST TRAVEL REGRET?

Making rigid plans - especially if you're travelling for two weeks plus having rigid plans can really lock you down and have you miss out on opportunities that arise while on the road.

While it may seem daunting to not know where you will be staying the next night or so, once you try it there is also a great feeling of liberation that comes from know you can go wherever you want, whenever you want.

WHAT'S YOUR FLYING ROUTINE ON A LONG-HAUL FLIGHT? WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO EAT ON A PLANE?

I pre-download whole series from Netflix or Amazon Prime to my iPad so I have hours of interesting shows to keep me occupied. I also find podcasts are a great way to pass the time and will often help me drift off to sleep.

Consider the gluten free meals (even if you're not gluten intolerant).

Often these are more likely to contain fresh fruits and salads compared the processed foods in the default meals.

 

One of the famous posters in North Korea.
One of the famous posters in North Korea.

YOU'VE VISITED SOME OFF THE BEATEN PATH PLACES, LIKE NORTH KOREA. WHAT SURPRISED YOU MOST ABOUT NORTH KOREA?

Firstly, it's actually very easy to enter North Korea so long as you do it through a tour group. The beer is high quality and one of the beset German style lagers I've tasted.

You can also find microbreweries in the most random places (like bowling alleys).

On the flip side there's a lack of technology and infrastructure.

North Korea is still using 70 year old abandoned US army jeeps and trucks from the Korean War as government vehicles.

Farm work and even gardening is often done by hand due to lack of machinery to do it.

WHAT ARE YOUR PREDICTIONS FOR THE FUTURE OF FLYING?

We've seen Qantas call for planes capable of flying direct from Sydney to London and New York. If these become a reality expect some very long flights and aircraft built for more comfort.

With comfort comes extra costs, so I'd expect Aussies will have to make a choice between a cheaper flight with a stopover or a longer direct flight with more leg-room and new style social spaces to stretch your legs and chat with friends.

WHAT'S YOUR HOT TIP FOR THE NEXT BIG DESTINATION FOR AUSSIE TRAVELLERS?

Many Aussies have experienced Bali and Thailand and are now looking to go deeper into Asia. Vietnam fits the bill perfectly.

Jetstar now flies direct from Sydney and Melbourne making it much more affordable and accessible.

At Skyscanner we've already seen bookings to Vietnam increase 7 per cent year on year and expect this to grow into 2019.

Hanging out at the Helsinki Cathedral in Finland.
Hanging out at the Helsinki Cathedral in Finland.