Reader Andy G. passes along this article that talks about how you can ‘buy airline tickets international’ — getting the best deal on airfare based on the country in which tickets are purchased. I think it overstates the case a bit (“once I was in Bangkok, that same flight that was once $300 would fall to $30 almost inexplicably”), but it’s worth understanding what ‘point of sale’ means for airfare purchases.
It’s often cheaper to buy tickets “in-country” in South America and in Asia than it is to buy those same tickets abroad. The same phenomenon is true for buying train tickets in Europe versus online in English.
This is just “price discrimination” — American tourists will pay more than locals, so they want as much money as possible for the product.
There are airfares which are designated for specific ‘point of sale’ – a fare that is only available if sold inside a given country. A decade ago this was much more prevalent than it is today.
There are also restrictions on availability of seats at a given fare based on point of sale. If you’re buying an intra-Vietnam online in the US you may only see full fare tickets, for instance, versus discount inventory available if your point of sale is Vietnam. It can be cheaper to buy Vietnam Airlines travel on their own website (sold in Vietnam) versus at Orbitz.com (point of sale = U.S.).
The ITA Software Matrix, which is useful for searching flights and prices but doesn’t sell you tickets, is useful in this regard because you can specify the city in which tickets are purchased. You can see if the pricing changes by varying the city. And it also has built-in currency conversion, so you can easily set the currency to US Dollars even if you’re searching for tickets originating in, say, Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Interestingly, the issue of ‘point of sale’ is one that matters for award travel too. Airlines that make more award inventory available to their own frequent flyer members than to those of partners — while reserving awards into the same booking class — are essentially imposing point of sale restrictions on availability. If it’s their own point of sale there’s greater availability than partner point of sale.
So how do you buy tickets so that they are issued in another country? Most of us don’t have local travel agent contacts in all of the countries from which we might want to buy tickets. So buying from an airline’s local website is one easy way. Some websites will ask your country of origin, others will not.
Another good way to do it is to buy from Expedia — Expedia has a multitude of country-specific websites that allow you to buy tickets issued in that country. I’ve used the German, Spanish, Canadian, New Zealand, and Brazilian Expedia websites for instance at one time or another.
Forcing tickets to be issued in a specific country, often with the local Expedia site, is one of the basic tools of ‘fuel dumping’.
Whenever you’re buying a ticket issued in a foreign country you’re going to be faced with an international purchsae, and likely one in a foreign currency as well. So make sure to be using a credit card that waives foreign transaction fees. (I’m always a big fan of Chase Sapphire Preferred in this regard because it doesn’t just waive those fees but still also offers double points on travel purchases even when they’re made abroad.)
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