Tips and tricks to find cheap flights

16 ways to save money on your travels

Flights are looking more expensive this year than ever and now the January airline sales are over, can you still find a good price?  We’ll tell you how to find the cheapest flights, give you tips to keep the costs down, and we also lift the lid on all the so-called hacks to make your air travel as cheap as possible.

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Make use of flight comparison sites and trackers

Google Flights, Skyscanner and Kayak are just three of the many flight comparison sites out there that can help you find the cheapest price possible for the flight you want.

If you are particular about a date and a place you want to fly to, then you can set up alerts on all of these sites. Then just sit back and leave the comparison sites to tell you when it’s best to book. If the price drops (or dare we say rises), these alerts will let you know.

Alternatively, if you are not fussed about the exact date you want to fly, then you can use comparison sites to look at a whole month and use this to pick the cheapest dates. 

This works too if you’re not set on a particular place as you can simply input ‘everywhere’ as your destination and see the cheapest places to visit in a particular month.

Using this method, you can even find great priced flights in the busiest travel months of the year. For example, input the month of August 2024 into Skyscanner with ‘everywhere’ as the destination and at the time of writing you’ll find return flights available to book for less than £50 to Denmark, Norway, Italy, Luxembourg, Germany and more.

Check for codeshare savings

Codeshares are a type of flight where one airline operates the flight, while other airlines may sell seats on it. Sometimes exactly the same flight is cheaper when you book through one or the other airline. You can check who will be operating the plane by checking the flight number. 

That said, you will need to watch out for transatlantic flights as US airlines aren’t part of stronger EU rules on delay compensation – even if you booked via an EU or UK partner.

Book budget flights earlier rather than later

Tickets are often less with budget airlines when they first go on sale. As seats sell, fares tend to increase in price with the most expensive ones close to travel.

However, buying early doesn’t mean they won’t get cheaper, since airlines often run promotions, but generally with budget, the earlier, the better.

Watch out for flight brokers

When you use sites like Skyscanner and Kayak, you’ll usually see prices from third party agencies, and these can often appear to be the cheapest option.

Booking through them should be the same as booking via a travel agency but we’ve seen several stories where the price changes or different flights are booked.There have even been cases where bookings haven’t been even made and customer service has been non-existent.

Do a little research before using one, as most have plenty of customer reviews. If there isn’t a great deal of difference in price, then it might be better going with the airline directly or using a more established agency such as Expedia or eBookers.

Consider indirect flights

To keep the costs down when looking for flights, consider flying indirect routes, as these are almost always cheaper. You can do one way or both ways indirectly.

It is best to book as one trip rather than booking individual legs separately, so you’ll be covered if you are delayed on any flight and will get moved to a later connection.

For peace of mind, it’s always best to choose connecting flights that give you at least one hour to get from plane to plane as you may need to go through customs or pick up your luggage on the way. This varies depending on the country you are passing through, so always allow yourself enough time so you’re not running to your next connection.

Just a heads up, when looking at indirect flights be aware that there are some connecting flights which require you to switch airports. I’ve seen this for US flights where the connection is in New York and you land in JFK but take off on the connecting flight from Newark airport. 

You would have the cost and hassle of lugging your cases across New York, making that low cost indirect flight you found, not quite as good as you once thought!

Make a stopover

If you don’t fancy extending your flight time or enduring lengthy layovers in the airport when flying indirect, it could be better to extend the interim stop and spend the night there. You’ll often save some cash and there’s the benefit of getting to visit another destination on your trip.

Go “open jaw”

An alternative to a stopover is an “open jaw”. These flights are booked at the same time but depart from and return to different airports.

A few years back, editor Andy flew from London to San Francisco and returned from San Diego to London. This allowed him to spend a day in San Francisco before getting a separately booked short and cheap flight to San Diego.  All three flights combined were actually cheaper than flying direct to San Diego!

To find options look for multi-destination options in search options. Or, if you want to book the additional flights yourself, we also like the site Skiplagged to find potential routes.

Fly into other airports

If a town has multiple airports or if there are alternative airports that are easy to travel to then it’s worth checking prices at each of those for both your departure and arrival. Do check exactly where these are though as you could find you’re adding on more time and money to actually reach your final destination for some.

You may actually find these smaller airports have less queues at passport control as they’re often quieter. I have also found with car hire it has been cheaper to pick up and drop off at the smaller airports. Obviously this is not always the case, but it’s worth checking all the costs involved with travelling before booking your flights.

Keep luggage costs down

The first price given on most airline websites is the cost of the flight without hold luggage, so if you want to keep the flight price as it is, then you need to travel light.

Now there are some circumstances where you have to take hold luggage such as if you have large cosmetics, golf clubs or a big suitcase. But rather than book the upgraded economy ticket to include this, work out the price difference if you add these as extras – it can sometimes work out cheaper. 

This can really save cash when booking for multiple people as the airlines apply a seat upgrade to all the tickets you are booking. Since you won’t necessarily need a hold suitcase for each person, you can just book all the travellers at the basic rate and then add on the amount of hold luggage you’ll be taking as an extra. 

This is how I book flights for my family as we never need 5 suitcases – I book the most basic ticket and add on 2 additional suitcases.

If you are adding sports equipment as an extra, such as golf clubs, and there’s space, think about packing your clothing and toiletries in with the equipment (up to the permitted weight), rather than paying for an additional suitcase. The additional padding from the clothes protects your sports equipment too!

Make your carry on allowance go further 

Different airlines offer different carry-on luggage weights and size limits, but here are the airlines with the best carry on allowance included in their most basic fare, that we found:

  • Norse Atlantic 40 x 30 x 15 cm, no weight limit
  • British Airways 56cm x 45cm x 25cm and 23kg + a personal item like a handbag or small rucksack
  • Virgin 23 x 36 x 56cm and 10kg plus a personal item small enough to fit under seat in front (no weight specified)

Using the free carry-on luggage allowance to its max, which with some airlines will be a small suitcase and a rucksack, may mean you don’t actually need a large suitcase in the hold and this could save you money.

Make sure you read up on what you can put in your carry-on luggage as there are restrictions on liquids among other things.

Still need more room? Think about stuffing clothes into your neck pillow. You can buy one specifically designed to do this, or if you already have one with a removal cover, ditch the cushion and fill it with pants, socks, t-shirts and other soft clothes and you have a luggage carrier that’s also a comfortable neck pillow – great for those long haul flights.

Don’t pay to book your seats when you book your flight

To book seats or not to book seats? A question everyone wants answered, but there’s no right or wrong answer. 

If you want to ensure you are sitting with your travel companions or, if you have a preference for a particular seat on the plane, then expect to pay a hefty price to guarantee this. The airlines are really cashing in when it comes to seat allocation and you can expect to pay anything from a few pounds to a few hundred pounds to guarantee your seats.

But Which? recently surveyed the major airlines who, all but Ryanair, confirmed they have systems that will always try to seat groups on the same booking together. 

So if you check in as soon as you’re able to, you should in theory get to sit together, as long as there are seats available. Now if the flight is busy and lots have decided to pay upfront for their seats, then this may stop you from getting seats together.

But you can keep checking the seat allocation on your flight right up to check-in. By going to the ‘manage my booking’ section of the airline’s website, you’ll be able to look at what seats have been taken and what’s available by doing a mock seat purchase.

The reserved seats will usually be greyed out so you’ll be able to see how much space is available on the flight and make a call as to whether it is necessary or not to pay to reserve seats.

If you’re willing to wait until check-in to select seats, ensure you check in at the soonest you can. This will vary by airline, also by ticket type and even by loyalty card status. For example, BA bronze executive club members get to select seats one week before departure whilst for Blue members and non-members it’s 24 hours.

Check your options if you’re travelling with kids

If you’re travelling with kids, then most airlines will aim to sit you together or as close as they can. Again it’s no guarantee, but they do go out of their way to ensure this happens so you don’t have to pay to reserve seats. 

RyanAir is a bit different and allegedly it separates parties unless you pay to reserve seats. To guarantee sitting with your children, they insist you pay to reserve a seat so bear this extra cost in mind before booking.

Make sure you pick a good seat

Before you book your seats, use a site like seatguru to find out which seats are the best and which ones should be avoided, as it maps out each plane and colour codes seats according to how good they are. If they’re colour coded green, then the seat has had a positive review.

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Don’t forget your airmiles

If you collect the various airline points, then don’t forget to check the price of flights by paying with points in part or in full as you may be able to snag yourself deal. 

Most of the time we think you’re better off swapping your Avios into Nectar (LINK HERE TO ARTICLE ON THIS) and shopping around for flight deals, but if you have companion vouchers you may be able to save on your two tickets.

Use “incognito” or private browsing

Experts differ with their opinions on whether this actually happens or not but some say that flight websites use tracking cookies when you’re looking for flights to change the price if you’ve searched for the same route a few times. It’s been reported that you might even get higher prices if you use an Apple Mac rather than a PC.

There’s no guarantee you’ll get lower fares, 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. 

Sign up for deals

Sign up free to Jack’s Flight Club and get an email every week with the best flight deals they have found. There’s also a premium membership at £39 a year where you’ll be sent even more deals. I’ve not signed up for this, but if you have the flexibility with work and family to get away on a whim, it could well be worth it. 

Secret Flying is another site worth looking at if you want a rock bottom price for a flight and are open to different destinations. 

One thought on “Tips and tricks to find cheap flights

  1. Pingback: Cash Chats podcast episode 2 with guest Kalpana Fitzpatrick | Be Clever With Your Cash

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