If you’re looking for tips to find cheap flights that actually work and are supported by hard data, then read on.
Flying to multiple destinations per year is a stable in the West, yet it isn’t getting any easier to find cheap flights. We’ve all experienced hours of endless searching to find the very best deals, and with hundreds of search engines offering continually fluctuating prices, the process can feel overwhelming.
Luckily, we’ve put together your ultimate guide to save you time and money when booking your next flight!
Searching for Flights Incognito – Does it Really Work?
However, Skyscanner assure us that regardless of airlines doing this or not, your searches on their site are anonymous. They say the airlines won’t know that it is the same person searching for flights multiple times.
In any case, opening an incognito/private search tab on your browser is effortless. If there’s a chance it benefits you then it can’t hurt to do it….until someone produces the facts!
A trick that does have an impact on the flight prices you see is the use of a VPN. Confuse the sites into thinking that your’re searching from another country, where the flights are not as in demand.
Find Cheap Flights with Flight Search Engines
We recommend searching flights on a few comparison websites to make sure you get the best deal. Everyone has a favourite, but in reality there is no one site that consistently outperforms the others.
However, if you are looking to find cheap flights, here are a few of our favourites:
Just beware of airline add-ons and airport transfers once at the checkout. Not all tickets are created equal and the cheapest ticket may exclude essential items to appear cheaper than the competition. Also, keep in mind that for multi-airport cities, flights may appear cheaper to a specific airport, but end up more expensive once airport transfers are taken into account e.g. further distance from location or more expensive form of transport.
Be Flexible with Your Desired Destination
Pretty much all flight search engines will give you the option to search flights from your departure destination on dates alone. If you are flexible with destination, or need some inspiration on where to go this is a good option. Just pick the cheapest destination to get to, and leave the manual scatter approach to those not in the know.
Simply input your departure airport and the word “everywhere” or “anywhere” as your destination. This will bring up all the flights to and from your starting location on your chosen dates. Below is an example from a Skyscanner search but all of our aforementioned comparison sites include the feature:
Searching Flights by Month Rather Than Exact Dates
There are common theories about Tuesdays and Wednesdays being consistently cheaper to fly on. Cheapair’s study provides some data (US data) that would back up this theory. It isn’t always the case though and can vary greatly by season. To find cheap flights, it’s better searching routes by month rather than specific dates and then pick the cheapest days to fly on. Here’s how you can combine our “everywhere” destination tip from above to get the cheapest destination, in the cheapest month:
You can even sort by price to make it super easy to find the cheapest flights!
Book Flights Early
The days of airline tickets dropping last minute are long gone, but equally don’t book too far in advance. Airlines typically start with a premium fare that decreases to a baseline, and then increases as they sell tickets and get closer to the departure date, but there is also a sweet spot when the airlines understand the demand and will lower fares before they begin to climb again.
You can find these sweet spots explained in great detail within Cheapair’s study. We have summarised the information in the adjacent illustration, telling you exactly how many weeks in advance you need to book. You’ll notice it varies depending on which season your departure date lies within.
Again, Cheapair uses US data so these timescales are a good guide but should be taken with a pinch of salt if you are not flying from the US. For us in the UK, Skyscanner’s best time to book tool has booking sweet spots covered. It uses booking data from 2016 and 2017 to suggest how far in advance you should book UK departing flights. Simply select your departure airport from the list of UK airports and then your destination.
The tool will show you the how many weeks before departure works out as the cheapest time to book. You can also hover over each of the bars to get price statistics. Check out the sample below:
Pay for Flights in Other Currencies
If your currency is strong or you fly with regional airlines, flights could be cheaper if paid in another currency. For instance, if you find a flight via a search engine, but visit that airlines website which is in their own currency, you could pick up a cheaper rate. This is very common if it is peak holiday season in your country but not theirs. Just be aware of foreign credit card fee’s and the current exchange rate when doing this. You don’t want to overlook these and lose the saving you were set to make!
Use Charter Airlines for Last Minute Deals
Thomas Cook & TUI use whole planes for package holidays. They want to sell empty seats to prevent the flight from loosing revenue. If you’re spontaneous enough to book one or two weeks before departure, you can buy these seats dirt cheap. There’s no obligation to buy a package holiday, but if you do your hotel may also be a bargain! Charter flights now also appear on flight comparison searches, so if you spot one you know it is probably a discounted fare.
Sign Up to Airline or Flight Search Mailing Lists to Find Cheap Flights
Sign up for to mailing lists from your favourite airlines or site search engines. They send updates about last-minute/special deals that are happening and airline pricing errors from the flight search sites. it’s one of the easiest ways to find a cheap flight as they do the work for you. Many times, the cheap flights are only available for a day or so, and unless you are spending a couple of hours manually checking flights everyday you will miss out on them. These three websites are the best to stay on top of travel deals:
- Holiday Pirates – Best for European flight deals
- Jack’s Flight Club – Best for those living in the UK
- Scott’s Cheap Flights– Best for US flight deals
- Secret Flying – Flight deals from around the world
Check if Connecting Flights are Cheaper to Book Yourself
If you’re flight requires a transfer, you may want to check if it’s cheaper to book the flights separately yourself. That way you won’t be tied into the partner carriers that airlines are suggesting. Your initial search returning the combined flight packages already tells you the normal layover destinations for your route. It’s therefore very easy to search the connecting flights. We’ve found that there are often more flight times on offer that don’t appear in the flight combinations. Please though, do not book tight layovers, go for at least 3 hours or more apart. Plus, don’t rule out spending a couple of days at your layover destination, you get to explore another place.
Take Advantage of Youth Flight Deals
If you’re a student (or under 26), there are many discounts available to you. Definitely check for flights with Travel agencies that specialise in youth and student trips, such as STA Travel . They have shops located all around the UK and can put together packages for you that are difficult to do online.
Sign Up for Points and Air-miles
Airline reward schemes are a great way to get free flights and free upgrades so definitely sign up to them. However, you can also earn a lot of miles through credit card sign up bonuses, online shopping, surveys, special offers, and more: without even stepping foot in an airport.
The hobby of building up a ridiculous amount of points and travelling everywhere dirt cheap (or free) is know as “Travel Hacking”. You may have seen it portrayed by George Clooney’s character in Up In The Air. There are some pretty smart and inventive ways to build up and multiply points without actually spending any money. However, this is a world in which we are far out of our depth, so we will leave it to the experts. If you are interested, visit InsideFlyer to see posts from the UK’s Travel Hacking community.
Don’t Forget About Local Airlines
Search engines will not always include small local airlines. They’re either too small or don’t do enough turnover to justify paying the search engine booking fees. This is really common in less popular and remote regions where they may be the only means of reaching a certain area. If you’re flying somewhere off the beaten track, search on Google or ask around with locals (try forums if you are not in the country yet) to see if there is a local airline. They can be a bit more difficult to book but definitely a unique experience. You may even find cheap flights on military planes!
Make Friends With Airline Staff
Maybe not as practical as our other tips but if you have friends that work for an airline then keep them close. One of the job perks when working for an airline is greatly discounted flight tickets, which often extends to friends and family too!
Find Cheap Flights Summary
Here is a quick summary of all our tips to keep you on track. Just remember, the cheapest flight isn’t necessarily the best value. It’s up to you whether you like having a decent in-flight meal/personal entertainment system or prefer to slum it and pocket the change!
- Search for Flights Incognito
- Utilise Flight Search Engines
- Be Flexible with Your Desired Destination
- Search Flights by Month Rather Than Exact Dates
- Book Flights Early
- Pay for Flights in Other Currencies
- Use Charter Airlines for Last Minute Deals
- Sign Up to Airline or Flight Search Mailing Lists
- Check if Connecting Flights are Cheaper to Book Yourself
- Take Advantage of Youth Flight Deals
- Sign Up for Points and Air-miles
- Don’t Forget About Local Airlines
- Make Friends with Airline Staff