Save by Booking Through an Airline’s Local Site

Some airlines charge local residents far less than tourists.

Qantas A380
••• Qantas A380 flying over Sydney. Qantas

Just as airlines employ countless techniques to part you with your hard earned cash, there are plenty of tricks you can use to minimize the financial strain of booking a flight. Certain international airlines charge local residents far less than they charge tourists, for the exact same seat and even the same fare class! The reason here is that local residents are often much more price sensitive than foreign travelers — a $400 one-way fare for a 3-hour flight may seem perfectly acceptable to a tourist planning a complex itinerary halfway around the world, but for a local making that trek to visit family or friends, $800 roundtrip may seem an outrageous price to pay for a common route with a fair amount of competition.

Typically, airlines based in the US charge the same high fares regardless of where you’re booking from, so the only benefit of switching to the US site when you’re booking from abroad might be to see the fare presented in US dollars instead of the local currency for wherever you’re booking from. Also, keep in mind that airfares will appear in the local currency of foreign air carriers when you’re visiting the page for their home country, so don't forget to factor that in when you’re calculating savings.

Generally, you can’t get these lower local fares by booking through a third-party site or a travel agency, unless perhaps you also visit the booking site’s local page, where the same reasonable fares may be available. Your best bet is to use a booking site, such as Expedia, to find the airlines and flights that travel between the cities you need with the fewest connections and shortest travel times (unless, of course, you’re trying to earn more miles by booking a connecting flight).

Once you identify an itinerary that works for you, head directly to that airline’s local site. You may first land on the airline’s US webpage, since carriers direct you to a specific version of their site based on where you’re currently based. Once you navigate to the correct country version (for Air New Zealand, choose New Zealand, for example), you can search for the same flights that you pulled up in the booking tool.

Some “locals” fares may exclude perks like checked bags and seat assignments, so keep that in mind when you’re comparing prices.

The strategy above applies to national airlines and larger regional airlines, but for very small carriers, such as those that provide only very short-haul or intra-island flights, you may find the lowest fares by calling the carrier directly to book, or booking only a few days prior to departure. There’s no guarantee that there will still be a seat, but if your plans are flexible, it may pay to wait. Call the airline directly to confirm. Keep in mind when booking with any airline that some specific airfares may only be available to local residents. If you book one of those, you may be required to provide documentation at check-in, and could be denied boarding.

Unfortunately, you can’t use the same local site strategy when booking award seats — you’ll generally only see these discounts for paid tickets. You may be able to pay far fewer miles by booking with another airline’s frequent flyer program, of course, depending on redemption levels and if you have the miles to spare, but there aren’t any tricks like the one above to get you on your way for less. If the airfares are cheap, however, it may make sense to pay cash instead of redeeming miles, especially once you factor in high taxes and redemption fees.