Buying Your Airline Tickets Outside the U.S. to Save Money

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 (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.)

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. Few Jet Airways from BOM-GOA back in Feb. Tix were about 20% cheaper at their website choosing India as the home country and paying in Rupees vs. US/USD. It’s always worth checking.

  2. Buying domestic flights in China is cheaper to use Ctrip or Elong the reason is they offer the deep discount for local TA, not available to Expedia or Orbitz. The different could be 20% +

  3. I recently picked up a TK flight from SAW – AYT on their Turkish site that was about 10% of the price on the US version. Definitely a good trick to try, especially in that it usually doesn’t take long to check.

  4. This is not on this subject but don’t know where to ask it: I want to get the no fee(signature card) Visa Hilton Honors card and once I reach the spending requirement there I want to upgrade to their card that has a fee(reserve card). Does anyone know if I would still be eligible for the sign up bonus if I upgrade?

  5. About 10 years ago I was living in both the UK and US amd flying back and forth a good number of times each year. Having credit cards ifrom both countries I noticed that the price of the same flight would sometimes be quite different depending on which country I booked from. It was not a simple difference in currency conversion but sometimes completely different fare rates.

  6. My Swedish hosts would often buy United business class tickets in Sweden for me rather than have me buy them here in America and be reimbursed because they were much cheaper, like $2,000.

  7. Nope, you would not get a bonus for upgrading. You only get that bonus for signing up.

    Assuming you have not applied for any type of Citi card in the last 2 months: what you can do is sign up for the no fee card, wait at least 65 days from when you apply for that card, (don’t apply for any other Citi cards during that time), then apply for the Reserve card. They are totally different cards, so you can have both open at the same time.

  8. Thanks Robert for your reply. I just got the American Airlines Citi card in August, so you are saying I should wait at least 65 days before applying for another Citi card? Is the waiting time also applicable to American Express and Chase cards?

  9. You might want to mention that in some cases such as in South America (i.e. BUE-IGR) you’ll get denied access to your flight when buying these local fares and then showing up at the airport without local ID.

  10. Air New Zealand website is another example. I booked an AKl-WLG flight for $92 NZD on the .nz version of the website that was going for $169 CAD on the .ca version of the website!

  11. Well, I’m Brazilian, so let me talk a bit about local tickets. ITA doesn’t show the same price that airlines (TAM, Gol and Azul – Avianca Brazil doesn’t even show up in ITA) display in their website. Usually buying from the Brazilian website is much cheaper, but it requires a credit card issued in Brazil (and i think the signup bonus wouldn’t entice anyone reading this blog ;)). However, about a year and a half ago, there was a huge fuss on local media because someone found out that sometimes tickets were cheaper on the international website (and then you can’t use a Brazilian issued CC). I don’t know if there are still cheaper tickets on the international website (they were usually for flights in a week or so), but it doesn’t matter for foreigners, as your CC will not be accepted when trying to buy a ticket from the Brazilian website.

  12. It depends on the carrier. It doesn’t mean this will work EVERY SINGLE TIME. That said, I found that in this case, Americans tend to luck out more often than other nationalities.

  13. Following up on Stephen’s comment (#3) – I purchased a domestic Turkish itinerary earlier this year on the TK Web site for $200; would have been over $900 if purchased in the US. For some reason, ITA does not show the lower fare even if I specify Istanbul as the sales city.

  14. Someone please tell me why every U.S. 3d party booking site wants US$1300 for a nonstop on Silk Air from Singapore to Siem Reap, Cambodia, but Singapore Air (parent company of Silk Air) will sell it to me on their own website for US$400.

  15. I booked a Sydney to Auckland flight via air New Zealand. By using the USA site it was more expensive then the Australian website

  16. Anyone know why a lot of times tickets involving the same city pair between points in the USA and Southeast Asia is MUCH cheaper (as much 80%) if taken FROM the USA ? Example: LAX to CGK often can be had for around $550 but the lowest fare for CGK to LAX is around $900. Any tips on how to secure the lower fares for trips TO the USA?

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