Why pay top dirham to fly from UAE when a little thinking saves a lot?

There are some basics that need to be remembered while hunting for bargains on airline tickets.

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If there is one thing Emiratis and expatriates share as the summer sets in, it is the need to plan a much-needed holiday thousands of kilometres away from the heat. I am looking forward to my month-long European holiday in July.I will no doubt be joined by thousands of fellow GCC nationals.

But while many outsiders and newcomers to the UAE perceive Gulf natives as wealthy brats who couldn't care less about how much things cost, the reality is different: as veterans of summer holiday travel from the region, many are gurus at finding great bargains, especially low airfares.

Just like clockwork, every year when February ends, my young Emirati friends start looking for deals.

Mr bin Ali, an Emirati and my bargain godfather, showed me how he saves as much as Dh10,000 (US$2,722) on his family's airfare when travelling by Etihad Airways to most European and US destinations. His secret: flying out of Oman.

"The difference in price is almost half. I like to travel in business class and entertain myself. Why should I pay thousands extra, which I could instead spend on hotel bookings? The airport in Muscat is only four hours by car, or one hour if you go by plane," he says.

I initially found it hard to believe there could be such a big gap in price, but when I logged on to Etihad's website, my disbelief turned to shock.

Booking a business-class ticket from Muscat to London through Etihad's website for a flight next month would cost approximately Dh10,000. A similar flight to London departing from Abu Dhabi would cost at least Dh17,000.

It might seem unfair, or even resemble blind robbery, but the reality is that different airports charge different tax rates, which is reflected in the ticket prices.

Mayed Mohammed, an Emirati and a self-proclaimed travel addict, said he would be flying-first-class this summer to his favourite city, New York.

"I am a Khaleeji, and I am born to love the comfort," he told me.

But he said he would save Dh15,000 on his ticket by flying via Tehran, which is only two hours away by air.

He turned on his computer and showed me that purchasing a round-trip ticket from Tehran to New York via Etihad's website for travel in July would cost approximately Dh14,700. On the day we looked at airfares, the prices for the same ticket, with a departure from Abu Dhabi rather than Tehran, began at Dh43,800.

Other tips are slightly less creative but no less helpful.

"Book your ticket three to four months in advance on a fixed date, and join an air miles programme. That saved me a lot of money," said Jaber al Mansoori, an Emirati student living in the UK.

The more I chatted with those airline gurus, the more wisdom I accumulated. I learnt that there are different price ranges within economy and business classes on Etihad. There are 10 economy classes and three business classes ranging from low to high in price. The earlier I booked the ticket, the less I would pay.

Then there are the basics: booking a ticket online rather than through an agency avoids service charges; opting for a round-trip ticket, instead of a one-way fare, is usually better value; and travelling on weekdays is usually cheaper than flying on weekends.

If there is one golden rule I learnt when booking my airline travel, it is to avoid flights departing on weekends, because prices are much higher then. (One exception is travelling to any GCC country on Etihad, which costs much less on a weekend than on a weekday, presumably because of the abundance of business travellers during the week).

Whatever the airline and the destination, my Emirati friends and I will book our tickets no later than the end of this month, as most travel will come to a halt when the holy month of Ramadan begins on August 1.

* Manar al Hinai, a fashion designer, was named one of the Arab Women of the Year this week.