I love travelling to far-flung places, which doesn’t come cheap. But I can usually find ways to cut the price I pay for my flight – often saving hundreds of pounds.
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I’m probably not going on a big holiday this year, but I’ve just been looking at some flights for friends who asked my advice. A two-minute search found fares that were £200 less than the ones they’d seen.
If I can do that in just a few minutes, so can you. And you can save even more with a few other tricks.
Here are my tips to help you get the best value.
1. Use “incognito” or private browsing
Flight websites know when you’re looking for flights and can change the price if you’ve searched for the same route a few times. But if you use the incognito option in Chrome or private in Safari you can hide your search cookies from them. Just remember to close the windows and open new ones for each search.
2. Start with a price comparison site
They work as you’d expect any comparison site. So rather than checking all the travel agents and airline sites, you can see most routes and prices in one place. You can also search for multi-city flights or open-jaw, where you fly into one city and out of another.
Watch out for flight brokers
When you use sites like Sky Scanner and Kayak, you’ll usually see prices from third party agencies, and these can often be the cheapest.
Booking through them is the same as booking via a travel agency – but I’m often a little cautious. I’ve read many stories where the price changes or different flights are booked.
Do a little research before using one, and for the sake of a tenner it might be better going direct or using a more established agency such as Expedia or STA Travel.
3. Be flexible on dates and times
Despite “research” from travel agents on the best time to buy, there doesn’t seem to be any firm rule on the best time to travel. However, prices are likely to be lower on weekdays, early in the day and late at night.
Search with a month view on any of those comparison sites and it’ll show you the cheapest flights available.
Booking early doesn’t always make it cheaper as airlines will have promotions, but with budget airlines tickets are usually less when they first go on sale.
4. Track flight prices
If you know you are going to fly, you can use the comparison sites to track the price of your route on dates you choose. This is handy if you’re waiting for prices to drop below a certain level.
5. Find out about sales first
Sales and offers are great, and flash sales are even better – but often you hear about them too late and find availability isn’t great. So you should also sign up for emails from the likes of Flight Centre and Travel Zoo, even the airlines.
But one of the best is Jack’s Flight Club. Free members get an email every week with a decent deal that Jack (he’s a real person) has found. There’s also a premium membership at £35 a year. I’ve not signed up for this, but if you have the flexibility with work and family to get away a lot, it could be worth it.
If you see a sale or very low price, be quick as the best prices go first, though for most of us it’s difficult to do it without first getting annual leave approved. I once missed out on a ridiculously cheap flight to New Zealand as my boss was away!
6. Make a stopover
You can of course save money if you get an indirect flight. Bear in mind you might have to get off the plane, so you’ll probably be sat in an airport for a few hours waiting for your connecting flight rather than have the time to explore your interim destination.
Or you can manufacture your own interim stop. You can often save by flying to a different airport in Europe first. I know people who have got returns to New York with Norwegian for under £200, the only catch being they had to fly to and from Oslo. But if you’ve never been there, it’s a nice addition to your holiday.
7. Go “open jaw”
An alternative to a stop over is an “open jaw”. These flights are booked at the same time but depart from and return to different airports.
So a few years back I flew from London to San Francisco and returned from San Diego to London. This allowed me to spend a day in San Fran before getting a separately booked short flight to San Diego. All three flights combined were actually cheaper than direct to San Diego!
To find options look for multi-destination options in search options. Or, if you want to book the additional flights youself, I also like the site Skiplagged to find potential routes.
8. Look for a codeshare flight
Airlines often partner up with each other to run certain routes. When they do this it’s called a codeshare, and sometimes exactly the same flight is cheaper when you book through the other airline. You’ll be able to tell who will be operating the plane by checking the flight number.
We flew with Virgin on our honeymoon, but we actually booked through their “partner” airline Delta, which was £40 each cheaper.
9. Don’t pay for what you don’t need
The most common way you can save is by not checking luggage. More airlines are letting you choose now, with even BA not including it on their flights. If you can carry on, do it. Make sure your bag isn’t too big though, as you could get charged extra to put it in the hold.
You can also cut back the cost by not paying upfront for reserved seating and meals – even on budget long haul flights. You’re also better off getting your travel insurance elsewhere rather than when you book your flight.
10. Compare planes with SeatGuru
Some airlines and planes are better than others. Saving £20 might not be worth it if you’re crammed in like sardines and can only watch the same film as everyone else.
SeatGuru is a great site to see reviews of different planes and find which seats give you the best value for money.