How to potentially save money on airfare by booking through Kiwi.com
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As someone who lives near a non-hub airport, I’m used to piecing multiple flights together in order to get the perfect trip.
Though this is incredibly common when it comes to award flights, it can also be a money-saving strategy on paid trips. After all, airline pricing is a complicated and mysterious thing. It’s not unheard of to save hundreds of dollars by booking two separate tickets to get to your final destination instead of one ticket all the way through.
Enter Kiwi.com. Unlike most online travel agencies, the Czech Republic-based Kiwi creatively searches flight and other transit combinations to determine if booking two or more tickets and piecing them together will save you money compared to a traditional search from one airport to another. Their back-end search engine is already set up to look at hundreds of combinations, which saves considerable time over manual searches and may save you money, too.
Let’s take a closer look at booking travel with Kiwi and discuss if you should use it to book your next big adventure.
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Searching with Kiwi.com
Kiwi takes advantage of several types of travel search tricks to find you the cheapest way to get from point A to point B.
They consider everything from far riskier endeavors we don’t really endorse such as hidden city ticketing or throw-away ticketing to a cool feature they refer to as “Nomad” travel. Going to Asia and want to visit Singapore, Siem Reap, Cambodia; and Ko Samui, Thailand? They’ll play around with shuffling the order to find you the lowest price.
However, Kiwi.com is probably best known for its “self-transfer” flights. They’ll search hundreds of air and ground transit carriers to find flight combinations that result in the lowest price. They do all the piecing together on your behalf, which may include combining airlines that don’t formally partner with each other or routing you through connecting airports that don’t often show in traditional searches.
They may include ground transportation options in results, too. For example, you might save big by flying into Munich and taking a train to Salzburg rather than flying to Austria directly.
Since Kiwi looks at all types of unorthodox travel options, you can expect to be bombarded with lots of search results.
I suffer from analysis paralysis all too often, but take it from me: That won’t be a problem. Compared to searching manually and keeping track of a thousand options using pen and paper, Kiwi.com offers filters to narrow things down quickly. With a few clicks, you’ll limit yourself to relevant options.
Don’t want to ride a bus or have too much luggage to realistically consider low-cost airlines? No problem.
If you do find a transit combination that works for you, you can buy it in a single transaction on Kiwi.com, which is a huge convenience compared to going to multiple platforms to buy each ticket one at a time. It’s easier for record-keeping, too, since you can see your entire itinerary in one place.
What is the ‘Kiwi Guarantee’?
Booking separate tickets comes with another downside on top of the hassle. Unlike through tickets, if you miss a connection on separate tickets, airlines aren’t obligated to reaccommodate you. That means if weather or a mechanical issue wreaks havoc on your plans, you’ll be left to figure out a new way to get to your destination on your own. Because of this, travelers stringing tickets together often add plenty of padding to their connections, hoping the extra time compensates for the extra risk.
When booking trips through Kiwi.com, though, travelers have the option of purchasing their add-on “Kiwi.com Guarantee”.
According to the guarantee, they’ll protect you from unexpected changes to your booking even when you self-transfer between multiple tickets. You’re covered against carrier cancellations, delays and schedule changes — if something happens, they’ll find alternative transportation on your behalf or offer you a refund.
In the past, the guarantee was included with all Kiwi flight bookings (with a built-in upcharge) but now you have to opt in when you make your original purchase. Sadly, it doesn’t come cheap. On my sample searches, my offers consistently came in at around 25% of the ticket price. For example, on a $200 one-way ticket to Costa Rica, the Kiwi.com Guarantee was quoted at nearly $50 and on a $638 ticket to Spain, the guarantee was $159.
TPG’s Points & Miles Editor, Andrew Kunesh, used Kiwi.com to book a flight from Berlin (SXF) to Newquay, England (NQY), via Dublin (DUB) in late 2019. Ryanair operated the SXF-to-DUB leg while Aer Lingus Regional operated DUB to NQY. He ended up missing his connection in DUB due to a flight delay and immediately contacted Kiwi. In minutes, he was rebooked on a flight the next day and put up at the Radisson Blu Dublin Airport on Kiwi’s dime.
Downsides of the Kiwi.com guarantee
As any traveler who’s had to make travel changes on the fly already knows, reaccommodation doesn’t always mean you’ll get your preferred flight. Just like when an airline rebooks you, you’re limited to available seats and itineraries. You’ll probably still need to be flexible and you’ll have to accept some delays along the way.
It’s also worth noting that their disruption protection won’t necessarily compensate you for troubles or hardships; their sole goal is to get you to your final destination.
Like any type of travel protection, the fine print matters. You likely won’t be surprised to find out that the guarantee doesn’t apply when you’re at fault for missing part of your transit (for example, if you arrive at the airport too late to check in). But you also won’t be covered during some times when you need it most, even if it’s not your fault at all.
Force majeure situations, like the airline strikes we see in Europe every so often, means your guarantee doesn’t officially apply — though it’s worth noting that Kiwi.com still promises to make their “best effort” to offer alternate transportation. Extreme weather is considered a “force majeure” situation, which could be worrisome for those traveling in the winter.
Most worrisome to me were a few details buried in the legal fine print, which you should read in full if you’re contemplating tacking on this purchase. Here’s what stood out to me (emphasis is mine):
- They may rebook you, but be prepared for lengthy travel delays: “We are not able to guarantee You booking of the alternate Flight(s) departing sooner than 8 hours after Your initial contact with Our customer service …”
- For flight changes announced 48 hours or more prior to your trip, you might not have as many rebooking options as you hope: “Should We find an alternate of the price not exceeding the price You paid for all the unused Flight(s), We may offer You (an) alternate Flight(s) or other means of transportation to Your Destination at no additional cost to You.”
I’m great at searching for last-minute alternatives and have a stash of miles that I can use for last-minute rebooking emergencies if that’s what it comes down to. As TPG readers, that might apply to you, too. In that case, this guarantee may have limited value.
Despite the limitations, this extra protection could still come in handy, especially while the coronavirus pandemic continues to keep flight schedules in flux. Unless you’re booking last minute, you’re likely to face schedule changes or even cancellations while airlines attempt to fine-tune operations. Yes, many fares now qualify for free cancellations, but refunds come in the form of airline vouchers whereas Kiwi.com would provide a true cash refund, even if your standard travel insurance wouldn’t apply.
Will I still earn miles on my flights?
Like any other online travel agency, you’ll still earn airline miles on flights booked through Kiwi.com — but there are a few things to keep in mind.
If you’re combining carriers, you might need to split your earnings. For example, say you’re flying from New York-JFK to Prague (PRG) via Paris (CDG) and the first leg is operated by United while the second is operated by Air France. You’ll need to credit the miles from the first flight to your Star Alliance loyalty program of choice and the second to your favorite SkyTeam program.
Do note that you won’t usually earn hotel points when you book with Kiwi. This is the case across most online travel agencies, as hotel programs generally require that you book directly in order to earn points or use elite status benefits.
Of course, you should pay for your Kiwi purchases with a credit card that earns bonus points on travel. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card earn 3 and 2 points per dollar, respectively, on all travel purchases. Both cards also have solid welcome offers which can help you jump-start your Chase Ultimate Rewards balance.
Taking the cheapest option presented on Kiwi.com will not be right for all travelers. If you are mixing and matching tickets and carriers, you are increasing the odds that something will go wrong with your trip — and you are increasing the complexities of fixing it.
While this risk may be worth it for large cash savings and/or when you are traveling solo or just with another adult and have some flexibility in your schedule, it may not be worth it for a small savings, when less experienced travelers are involved or when you have a very firm time you need to arrive at your destination or back home again.
I’m not convinced that I’m the target customer for Kiwi.com’s optional add-on guarantee, but I still love the Kiwi search platform. It legitimately does find good transport options that you might not consider on your own (or want to take the time to sort through manually), and booking is a breeze with one-stop shopping instead of having to make separate purchases.
For me, booking through Kiwi.com doesn’t always make sense, but it’s usually at least part of my search strategy when ordinary flights are priced higher than expected. After all, you never know what it will come up with.
Featured photo by Philip Pilosian/Shutterstock.
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