It’s a Thursday morning in London. While the rest of the city is busy getting ready for a long day of work in anticipation for the weekend, I’m doing something different.
I’m at London’s Heathrow airport strolling between the ticket desks at Terminal 2, on the prowl for the cheapest tickets any of the airlines can offer me. The destination? I’ve got no idea, really.
Anywhere, I guess, as long as the tickets are cheap. In doing so, I’ll also be able to show you if it’s really worth delaying booking your tickets online just so you can buy them physically at an airport. Here’s what I managed to find:
Air India to Mumbai
One of the first airlines I approached was Air India. India’s national airline has just begun to undergo a bit of change under new ownership, so I’m curious to know if I can buy my way to the financial capital Mumbai without shelling out the big bucks.
After a few minutes of frantic checking, the desk operator hands me bad news. She tells me that both flights to Mumbai on the day are fully booked, and the only seats available are in business class for the 9.30pm service. “How much is that going to cost?”, I ask, and the price I’m given is way past my budget: “£2,046”, she replies.
I take a bit of a moment to recompose myself, and politely thank her for her time and head out. But here’s the twist. A short while after I spoke to the lady at the Air India counter, I opened their website. I punched in the date of travel, i.e today the 17th of August 2023, and hit “Search”.
What happened next took me by surprise. As it turned out, there were tickets in economy for the 9.30pm service, and they were miles off the absurd business class price I was quoted. While not super-cheap, an economy class ticket for the 9.30pm service would set me back £302. Not bad at all for a non-stop service inclusive of meals and an allowance of 2×23 kg bags!
To be fair, the lady at the Air India desk did tell me that it’s much wiser to buy tickets online rather than physically at the airport desks.
British Airways to Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the perfect city to let your hair down a bit or just go all-out, if that’s what your idea of fun is. What’s not too fun, however, are the prices for flights to the popular tourist spot from London Heathrow. This is especially true if you plan on heading to Amsterdam on a whim.
I headed to Heathrow’s Terminal 5, expecting to speak to someone at a British Airways ticket desk to learn their cheapest fares. However, I found out that Terminal 5 has no physical ticket desks whatsoever. A polite member of BA’s staff told me that only Terminals 2 & 3 feature such desks, and if you wish to book tickets on a whim for same-day travel out of Terminal 5, you’re going to have to do so online.
When I surfed BA’s website for prices to Amsterdam, the only ones available on the 6.15pm service were in business class, setting me back a princely £574. The next service, departing at 7.35pm, had much cheaper seats, with economy options starting at £222. Mind you, for this fare you’d only be able to carry hand baggage.
Egypt Air to Cairo
So then, what if you want to take a break from London’s depressing summer and head over to Egypt to do a bit of pyramid spotting? As I found out, an economy class ticket on the 3pm Egypt Air service to Cairo would set me back £450. The tickets would also include 2×23 kg bags, just like Air India.
However, there was a bit of a strange caveat that seemed to be specific to Egypt Air, as the airline ticket desk operator told me. She said that while I could book a ticket to fly to Cairo on the same day, there were chances I’d miss out on the flight’s meal service. She then went on to explain that I’d potentially encounter this strange dilemma because Egypt Air’s meals are supplied in Cairo, where I believe they supply meals on the basis of tickets booked in advance.
Aer Lingus to Dublin
With plans to head outside of Europe now on the back burner, it was time to explore my options within the continent. I went to Aer Lingus’ desk in the Queen’s Terminal to ask for their cheapest fares to Dublin, the Irish capital city for today. A one-way economy ticket on Aer Lingus would cost me £331.43 for the 10.25pm service, with only one piece of luggage allowed.
I personally found this a bit perplexing, especially considering how I could’ve flown halfway across the world to India non-stop for lesser. Once again, here too the lady at the counter told me I’d be better off booking my tickets online to avoid airport taxes that passengers are normally charged when booking tickets physically at the airport.
LOT Polish Airlines to Warsaw
Right then, the next airline I took a gander at was LOT Polish. Here, I was offered two different fares. The first, a charge of £515.48 for a one-way economy ticket included a single carry-on bag weighing 8 kg.
The next fare was £616.48, and for this amount, you’d be allowed a single 23 kg check-in bag and a single 8 kg carry-on bag. Both prices were for the 18:10 service. Once again, my curiosity got the better of me and I hopped on to LOT’s website to compare prices.
I was again reminded of the advantages of booking tickets online regardless of the date because here, a one-way ticket on the exact same flight for a baggage allowance of 23 kg (one bag, check-in) and 8 kg (one bag, carry-on) was just £546.48.
This was a difference of almost £70 between the online fare and its airport-desk counterpart. You’d be much better off buying the same ticket online.
TAP Portugal to Lisbon
Up next was TAP Portugal, and I was told that a one-way economy ticket on the carrier’s 4.25pm service would set me back £177.68. Paying this fare would only allow me to carry a single carry-on bag, mind you.
Over on the TAP website, I couldn’t see any tickets for the 4.25pm flight. What I could see were ticket options for the 6.45pm and 7.50pm services, with the cheapest tickets costing £344.68 and £378.68 respectively. Both tickets offered a baggage allowance of one piece of checked baggage (23 kg/50 lbs) and a hand bag (10 kg) and a personal item (2 kg)
Icelandair to Reykjavik
The last airline I inquired about during my little impromptu trip to Heathrow was Icelandair. Here, I learned that a one-way economy ticket to the capital Reykjavik would cost me 456.18 quid for the 9.25pm service. This ticket would enable me to carry a single checked bag and a single carry-on bag.
Breaking the trend I was experiencing until now, the Icelandair website actually offered tickets on the same flight for the exact same price as I’d have to have paid offline.
Is it better to buy tickets online or offline at airports?
To put it shortly, you’re going to be much better off booking your flight tickets online, even if you wish to travel on the same day.
While choosing to head to the airport and buy discounted tickets off an airline desk might sound like a good idea in theory, it is seldom true in reality.
From my conversations with the staff at these desks and my own experience searching for tickets online, you’re more likely to get a better deal for a flight online versus booking the exact same tickets offline.
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