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.
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
If you don’t already know the Skyscanner site and app, you’ve been missing out. Skyscanner is simply a comparison site for airlines. So rather than checking all the travel agents and airline sites, you can see most in one place.
You can also search for multi-city flights or open-jaw, where you fly in to one city and out of another. Kayak is another option that does pretty much the same job.
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 Opodo 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 Skyscanner 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. Sign up for alerts
If you know you are going to fly, sign up for emails from the likes of Flight Centre and Travel Zoo. Sales and offers are great, but flash sales are even better. You can also set price alerts on Skyscanner.
If you see a sale, 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!
5. Fly budget airlines EVEN long haul
We’re all used to the basic but cheap flights to Europe with Easyjet and Ryanair, but it’s also now an option long haul.
These airlines don’t include food, blankets, seat reservations or films. And certainly no booze. But it didn’t bother me as I could bring my own snacks and read a book. Now nearly everyone has a smartphone or tablet you can watch whatever you want too!
I know people can be put off long haul flights without the creature comforts, but if the savings are big enough I think it’s a decent trade-off.
6. Make a stopover
I’m really keen to go to Iceland, so when we were booking our honeymoon we considered airlines such as Wow and Iceland Air as they offered a few days in Reykjavik for essentially the same price as direct to Boston.
In the end, we felt we didn’t have the time, but it’s a smart way to tick a few destinations off your list for no or little extra.
You can even 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.
You can of course save even more if you get an indirect flight, though bear in mind 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.
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 last year 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 seperately 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. Get an ISIC and try STA Travel
When we flew from Peru to Panama in 2013, we saved £100 each on flights because we had International Student Identification Cards (ISIC). We’ve since easily saved another £500 total on subsequent long haul flights.
Even if you’re not a student you can get hold of one of these cards. You just need to sign up for specific e-learning courses which make you eligible for an NUS card and ISIC card.
In total this will cost you around £25, but you’ll make that saving back in no time. You can read more on my Cashhacks: How to get a student card even if you’re not a student article.
Once you’ve got it, STA Travel is one place that you can search for student flights. It’s not always the cheapest and routes can be limited, but it’s saved me hundreds over the last few years.
9. 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. We flew with Virgin on our honeymoon, but we actually booked through their “partner” airline Delta, which was £40 each cheaper.
You’ll be able to tell who will be operating the plane by checking the flight number.
10. 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 European 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, meals and paying by debit card rather than credit card. However you do get protection if the airline goes bust with the latter.
You’re also better off getting your travel insurance elsewhere rather than when you book your flight.
11. 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.