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.
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Hacks when finding your flight
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. 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.
Compare different airlines
For years I’ve been using the Skyscanner site and app, though recently my first choice has been Google Flights. Kayak is another option that does pretty much the same job.
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.
Factor in the extras
Most airlines now offer basic fares which don’t include hold baggage, while the cheaper budget flights might not even include hand luggage or meals. This means the prices you’ll first see advertised will be without those extras.
That’s great if you don’t need them. You can 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.
However for most big holidays you will at least need to check some bags, and they can easily be £30 each way, if not more. So just make sure you know the real cost and that you’re comparing like for like.
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.
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.
Hacks to bring the price down more
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. I’ll always play around with different days to bring down fares. Don’t forget changing dates could also have an impact on the price of your hotel so check those too before booking.
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. Airlines are always running promotions
Change your airport
If a town has multiple airports 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.
You can, of course, save money if you get an indirect flight. Travelling takes longer but can be a lot cheaper on long-haul. 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. And there’s the risk that any delay to the first plane could mean you miss your connection.
Make a stopover
Potentially better is to manufacture your own interim stop and spend the night there. 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 even with the extra London to Oslo flights the total was still far less than the cheapest London to New York ticket. Plus 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.
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 yourself, I also like the site Skiplagged to find potential routes.
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.
Check for package holidays
If you’re going to a popular destination for package holidays then check what price some of these holidays are going for. It could be that it’s cheaper than a flight-only option. You don’t even have to fancy the hotel that’s in the package as you can always book alternative accommodation.
Hacks to find out about cheap fares
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. You can also set price alerts so you get an email when prices change.
Sign up for sale and deal alerts
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) and his team have 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. Secret Flying is also worth a look.
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!
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