Flights are often the most expensive part of travel and most of us are after the cheapest flight deal we can find. In my previous posts about how to travel more, I recommended booking as many flights as you possibly can in January and filling up your travel calendar for the year.
January is a great time to book cheap flights thanks to the airline sales and you’ll give yourself some amazing holidays to look forward to for the whole year. You can also budget your entire year around these holidays so you’ve got no excuse not to travel more.
Here are my top tips to save money when booking your flights…
1. Book early
Do you remember a time when last minute flights were cheap? Back in the good old days you could book last minute flights for next-to-nothing. If the airlines struggled to fill seats they’d rather make a small profit than no profit at all so you’d find flights for less than £10.
These days it doesn’t work like that.
The airlines realised that everyone was waiting until the very last minute to book their flights so they put a stop to last minute flights pretty quickly.
If you want to find cheap flights then lots of studies suggest the best time to book your flights is 6-weeks before you travel. I usually book about 3-4 months in advance but I’ve been known to book 10 months in advance too.
2. Delete your browsing history
Have you ever noticed that every time you go back to check the price of a flight, the price has risen ever so slightly? That’s because your internet history is traced. When the website you’re checking realises you want that flight they start upping the price – especially if it’s the 10th time this week you’ve checked the price! They’re sneaky buggers and that cheap flight won’t be so cheap by the 11th visit!
Clear your internet browsing history and you’re essentially starting again from scratch.
(Just Google it if you don’t know how to do this – it varies slightly depending on what browser you’re using.)
3. Always use flight comparison websites
Always, always, always start your search with a flight comparison site like Skyscanner or Kayak. These sites will help you find the cheapest flights as well as the best airline, dates and routes. I then delete my browsing history and book directly through the airline.
4. Don’t dismiss travel retailers
I used to work for Flight Centre (this is in no way sponsored or endorsed or anything) so I can honestly say that sometimes (not always!) the travel consultants can find a cheaper deal than you could online. This only applies to long-haul flights or multi-destinations so it’s worth sending through an enquiry if you’re travelling long-haul. If you’re just booking a cheap flight within Europe then don’t bother as they won’t be any cheaper.
Amar from Gap Year Escape also suggests using a company like STA in his post How to Find Cheap Flights. If you’re a youngster then use your age to your advantage and use a travel retailer that specialises in discounted youth flights.
5. Look out for airline sales
Lots of airlines have huge sales and January is a good time to keep your eyes peeled for them. Sign up to receive email updates from airlines and you’re inbox will soon be flooded with cheap flight news!
6. Sign up for email updates
While we’re on the topic of signing up for emails, just sign up for as many as you can. I know, I know, no one wants their inbox filled with junk but if you keep on top of your emails, this is the best way for someone to do all the hard work for you when it comes to finding cheap flights.
I sign up for updates from my local airport too so I get information on new flight schedules and sales. If an airport has a new airline or new destination, flights to this place will usually be discounted so you’ll want to be the first in the know!
Emails to sign up for:
- Your local airport
- Budget airlines like easyJet and Ryanair
- Favourite airlines
- Flight retail companies like SkyScanner, Flight Centre and STA (if you’re under 26)
7. Fly into regional airports
If you’re flying short-haul, flying into a large airport can often be more expensive than the smaller, regional airports. I’m assuming this is due to popularity, ease of connecting transfers and airport taxes?
But if you can, try to fly into a regional airport. They’re often not that far away and have great connections to the main hub.
If you’re flying to Oslo, for example, it’s usually less than half the price to fly to Oslo Torp rather than Oslo Gardermoen. Lots of budget airlines fly to Torp so there’s a coach transfer into the city centre. These coaches don’t have a really strict schedule, they just leave about half an hour after a plane lands – so if your plane is delayed, you’re not going to get stranded in the middle of nowhere!
8. Get the train or a budget airline to an airport hub
Regional airports are often cheaper if you’re flying short haul but if you’re flying long-haul, the main airport hubs will probably be cheaper. If you don’t live near an airport hub, get the train there or fly there with a budget airline.
If you’re in the UK, London Heathrow is often the cheapest airport but you should also think about flying to another country too. We can fly to Paris or Amsterdam for next to nothing with easyJet, Ryanair or FlyBe and flights might be cheaper from there.
9. Pack hand luggage only
If you’re going to be flying with any budget airlines, don’t pay for baggage. It might only be £15 or £20 for your bag but every penny counts!
Once you start travelling with just hand luggage, you’ll never want to travel with a heavy bag again.
Read more: How to pack for a week away with hand luggage only
10. Be flexible with dates
This is another reason to book your flights a long way in advance – so you can be flexible with your flight dates. When I’m initially browsing flights, I’ll often select ‘Whole Year’ or ‘Whole Month’ (available on Skyscanner) rather than a specific date and you’ll be able to find the cheapest time of year to fly.
11. Leave on a Wednesday
Flying on a Wednesday is often the cheapest option. It also means you only have a 2-day week in work and who doesn’t love a 2-day week!?
12. Travel in the shoulder season
The shoulder season is the time between the peak season and the off-peak season. Think May, June and October in Europe.
This is when flights and hotels will be cheaper, there are fewer crowds and the weather will be pretty good too.
In theory, travelling in the off-peak season is the best idea but if you’ve only got one holiday a year, you don’t want to waste half of it stuck indoors because it’s raining. If you’ve got 6 months to travel, that’s an entirely different story!
13. Fly with different airlines
Skyscanner is good for showing you ALL your options when it comes to flights and airlines.
Sometimes one airline will be cheaper on the way out and another will be cheaper on the way home. You may even cut costs by flying to different airports all together. If you’re travelling long haul and have a layover, it may be best to choose a different airline for the second leg of your journey – although you should leave yourself plenty of time between flights.
I often select ‘Any London Airport’ when I’m searching for flights so I often depart from one and return to another.
You just need to remember when you’re flying to different airports or with different airlines or you’ll get a shock when you think you’re landing at Heathrow and find yourself at Gatwick or you’re at a different terminal. Trust me!
14. Make the most of layovers
Flights with layovers are often the cheapest so make the most of your layover to see a new destination.
A 6-hour layover is pretty much useless to anyone. You barely have time to leave the airport but it’s too long to be sat around waiting for your connecting flight.
A 24-hour layover, however, is awesome. You get to go out and explore a new city without any extra cost.
Don’t dismiss longer layovers too. I actually had a 3-month layover in Hong Kong!
I was flying from London to Sydney with a 3 hour layover in Hong Kong. There was no extra cost to extend the layover, so I extended it to 3 months. I spent 1 week in Hong Kong then took a cheap AirAsia flight to Bangkok. I spent 2.5 months exploring SE Asia before retuning to Hong Kong for my connecting flight to Sydney.
15. Don’t forget the added extras
Don’t forget to calculate the cost of airport transfers and luggage costs. These added extras can quickly add up and make your budget flight not-so-budget-after-all.
The main factor I consider is the time of the flight. Sometimes a 6am flight is the cheapest option but to get to an airport for 3am you’d usually need to take a taxi or spend hours and hours waiting in the airport the night before. It’s definitely not worth it!
16. Consider an overnight airport stay
Having said this ^, sometimes the first flight of the day is so much cheaper, it’s worth staying over at the airport the night before. Airport hotels in the UK typically cost around £60 per night. If the first flight of the day is £100 cheaper and there are two of you flying together, you’ll save yourself £140 by staying in a hotel the night before. And you get to start your holiday early!
Consider a hotel such a Yotel, a hotel where you pay by the hour rather than the night. No, it’s not that kind of hotel!
Read more: My YOTEL review
17. Take the red-eye
Overnight flights are often cheaper and you save yourself one night’s accommodation too. Depending on which direction you’re flying, the red-eye flight can also help you get over jet lag faster because you’ll arrive in your destination in the morning.
I sleep like a baby on planes so this is a great option for me but if you don’t sleep on planes, ask yourself if it’s actually worth it because the lack of sleep could end up ruining a few days of your holiday.
18. Is it really worth it…?
While we’re on the topic of what’s worth it and what isn’t, think about this seriously. A 6-hour airport layover doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, until you’re 30 minutes into your wait and you realise it was the worst idea ever and you’d pretty much pay any amount to be on a plane on your way home.
19. To travel hack or not to travel hack?
I’m going to be talking about this more over the next few weeks. For me, signing up to credit cards and spending a lot of money on those cards doesn’t work. Lots of people in the UK swear by Avios points (Mrs O has a great guide) but I don’t spend enough money to make this worthwhile. I love flying with nice airlines but I don’t love it enough to pay extra and I’m not interested in upgrades because I sleep for pretty much the entire flight. I’d rather be a cheapskate and fly with Ryanair.
(I love Ryanair and I have a guide to surviving Ryanair flights here.)
20. Your tips…
And finally, I’d love to hear your tips about how you find cheap flights. I’m sure everyone has their own secrets and pearls of wisdom to share.
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Sunday 17th of January 2016
I'd also add Hidden City Ticketing, essentially booking further than where you really want to go, but disembark the plane early, to save money (because flight prices are driven by market demand, not distance traveled). It can be a bit risky because if there's a change if your flight the airline will only care about getting you to your destination, but I've done it and enjoyed enormous benefits from it. Skiplagged is one tool that does the work for you with this. I also follow @airfarewatchdog on Twitter and subscribe to their newsletter, as they always offer incredible deals and you can refine your newsletter to your starting and/or destination location :)
Sunday 17th of January 2016
Thanks Jessica, such great tips! I've heard about Hidden Ticketing but never actually done it - will definitely have to try it next time!
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Sunday 3rd of May 2015
Some great tips here. I also advocate planning all your trips for the year ahead in December/January to get the best prices.
Wednesday 22nd of April 2015
Brilliant post! I love that you've mentioned deleting browser history- a lot of people don't know how cookies work so i think you've just helped many people make a new discovery there!
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