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How to get cheap flights online

Rachel Erdos
1 Feb 2018
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We show you the best ways to get the cheapest flight deals online from budget airlines, long-haul carriers and price-comparison sites

Tracking down a cheap flight deal can be hugely satisfying, especially when you’ve put in the legwork to uncover a hidden fare or a significant price drop. Not least because you’ll earn some serious travel bragging rights before you’ve even packed your bags. While there’s no easy shortcut to securing a cheap flight (you’ll need to put in the research and spend time shopping around for the best deals) there are plenty of tips and tricks that can help narrow down your search. And conveniently, there are a growing number of sites that do a lot of the hard work for you.

Here are ten of the best ways to save money when booking your next flight.

1. Sign up for savings

Let the deals come to you. Sign up to airline and travel deal newsletters to stay on top of sales, promotions and new routes. And while you’re at it, follow your favourites on Twitter and Facebook for tip-offs about price drops and flash sales. Airlines need to ensure they have a certain amount of availability before launching a site-wide sale, so they’re more inclined to promote one-off deals and savings on specific routes to their social media followers than to a wider group.

2. Let someone else do the hard graft

If you haven’t got time to sift through endless comparison sites for the best deals, get someone else to do it for you. If you have a rough idea about where and when you want to travel, you can set up a Price Alert with Skyscanner. This free service keeps an eye on a specific route and tips you off about price changes so that you can pounce on a good deal. You just need to enter your route and dates and click on “Get Price Alerts” to add your email address. You can set up separate alerts to monitor the same route across a number of different dates to see when's cheapest to travel. Sites such as Kiwi.com, Airfarewatchdog, Kayak and Google Flights offer the same service.

3. Be flexible

To find the cheapest flights it pays to be super-flexible. Tuesday and Wednesday are generally the cheapest days of the week to fly, and if you’re booking a long-haul fare, include a Saturday-night stay (airlines tend to separate their business and leisure travellers by this distinction and set prices accordingly). Travel at unsociable times (either early-morning flights or red-eye departures) and, if you’re not tied to the school holidays, consider travelling during the “shoulder season” (the period of time between peak and off-peak seasons). Not only will you save money, but you’ll swerve the crowds too. May and September are great months to pick up bargains in resorts across southern Europe when the weather is still great, and March sees prices drop and temperatures pick up in New York. Price-comparison sites such as Skyscanner let you track prices across a whole month to see the cheapest days and times to fly.

4. Fix your budget

If your budget is rigid but you’re completely flexible about where you jet off to, check out Kayak’s brilliant Explore feature. You can set your departure airport, budget and trip duration and then keep things vague on the date front (search by month, season or “anytime”) to track down the cheapest destinations to fly to. It's great if you're just looking for ideas for a weekend escape in spring for example. Even if you don’t find a bargain, the handy interactive map can provide inspiration for your next trip. Skyscanner offers a similar service with its Everywhere search function.  

5. Book like a local

As flight prices are dynamic, it’s common for travellers in different countries to see different prices. If you’re looking to book a costly long-haul fare, it could be worth investing in a VPN to hide your location and check rates that other nationalities see. Playing airfare detective may well be fiddly and time-consuming (you’ll need to clear your browsing history, cookies and cache with each search), but will be ultimately rewarding if you can score a discount on an expensive route. Just make sure the Ts&Cs don’t dictate that you need to live in a certain country in order to make a booking.

6. Book early

Flight prices are generally at their lowest around 50-60 days before departure, so it pays to be organised if you need to fly on specific dates. This sweet spot is said to be the period when airlines start to worry about filling seats and travellers start to think about booking them. If you’re looking to fly during a peak period like a bank holiday or a school holiday, it’s best to book as soon as the airfares are released (typically 9-12 months before departure) as they’re unlikely to drop as you get closer to the date of travel.

7. Book late

If you’re really flexible with your travel dates and destination (and can stand the suspense), you could hold out for a last-minute flight deal. It’s worth checking charter airlines such as TUIfly as they’ll often have spare capacity to sell to flight-only customers, especially on long-haul routes to destinations such as Florida and the Caribbean.

8. Consider a stopover

If saving money is more important than saving time, consider breaking up a journey with a stopover. You’ll get to stretch your legs and potentially save big on the overall price of a flight. Icelandair and WOW Air both offer free stopovers in Reykjavik on their long-haul routes between Europe and North America, and Turkish Airlines will even pick up the hotel bill for a night in Istanbul on select long-haul routes (if you have at least a 20-hour connection). On sites like Skyscanner and Cheapflights, leave the “direct flights only” checkbox unchecked to compare all options.

9. Mix and match your flights

Don’t assume that you’ll always get the best deal by booking a return flight with the same airline. It’s wise to shop around to compare prices for each leg of the journey with different airlines and different airports that serve the same city. Skyscanner makes searching easy by automatically displaying “Mashup” fares that combine outbound and inbound flights from different airlines.

10. Watch out for hidden fees

If you’ve bagged a cheap flight, don’t spoil it by getting stung with additional charges. Make sure you know the airline’s baggage policy inside out and take a bag that complies with its rules on hand luggage to avoid any (notoriously expensive) excess-baggage fees. And check in online before the deadline (usually two hours before a scheduled departure) to avoid paying extra at the airport.

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