In your average year I take over 30 flights. I’m not rich, but I’m rich in travel experiences. People often ask me how I afford to travel so much because flights can be expensive, but I am usually very flexible and I often plan my travels around the cheap flights I can find. For example, recently I saw Ryanair flights from Manchester to Oslo for £12 so I decided I would fly to Norway. I had always fancied going there, but I planned the trip around the flights, not the flights around the trip.
There are also a few general rules and sites that I use to help me get the best price possible. In this guide I’m going to show you how to find a cheap flight and get the best deal on airfare.
As a general rule, flights are cheaper the earlier you book, and the prices will increase rapidly as it gets closer to the date. If you want to get the best price, try to book as far in advance as possible at least 6 weeks before you want to go. That’s not always easy to do if you like to be spontaneous, but it will save you a lot of money. Unfortunately sometimes I am lazy and don’t book my flights to the last minute…then I get stung with expensive fares.
Prices can even increase or become sold out in the course of one day, so it’s best to book as soon as you see the deal. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have seen flight prices go up as soon as it turns midnight.
Sometimes if I see really cheap flights on Ryanair for £10, I’ll book them straight away, even if I don’t know whether I actually want to go. If my plans change and I decide not to catch the flight, I don’t fee like I’ve lost or wasted too much money.
If you have fixed dates you’ll be stuck with the flight prices on offer. Flight costs can vary according to the time of year, and even what day of the week it is. Flights tend to be more expensive on weekends because that’s when everyone wants to travel, so if you can fly towards the beginning of the week on a Tuesday or Wednesday then you might find cheaper prices. Shop around and check the ‘flexible dates’ option when searching for flights.
Flights also tend to be cheaper in the early morning or late at night, because less people want to fly at these times. Holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year can be expensive times to travel, as are the summer months in Europe when most people take their vacations.
Europe is known for having lots of budget airline carriers, including Easyjet, Ryanair, Whizz Air, Vueling and Jet2.com. In North America Spirit Airlines offers lots of cheap flights within the states and to places in South America. Meanwhile in Asia I usually book all my flights with budget carrier Air Asia. The one disadvantage is that some low cost airlines do not offer the opportunity to collect air miles with frequent flyer schemes. They also tend to charge lots of extra fees for checking in bags.
Check out this list on Wikipedia for a full list of low cost airlines.
If flights are too expensive to the airport I would like to fly into, I start to look at alternative airports that might be a bit cheaper. For example, when I was going to Oktoberfest in Munich the flights were very expensive, so I flew into Berlin and then took the bus down to Munich. If you’re not pushed for time, change your departure/arrival airports and see whether the flights are cheaper.
Some of the major cities have several different airports, including airports served by low cost carriers. Often the secondary, low cost airports are further away than the main airport, but sometimes the extra distance is worth it for the savings you’ll make.
There are times where I’ve bought plane tickets but my travel plans have changed or I’ve not been able to go away. It’s always annoying to think I’ve wasted money on a seat that I won’t be sitting in.
But now a site called SpareFare.net is connecting people who have bought a flight ticket or a holiday package but cannot use it anymore, with people who are looking for plane tickets at discounted prices.
So, if you’re looking for an ultra-cheap flight you can place a bid for any tickets you find on sale. You help sellers get their money back on non-refundable plane tickets while you get a lower price on unused flight tickets. A win-win for all!
To protect you from fraudulent sellers SpareFare.net won’t pay the seller until you verify that the flight has been transferred in your name and the seller cannot change it anymore.
When I was looking for flights to Australia, I couldn’t find anything within my price range. So what I did was book a return flight to Kuala Lumpur, and then I booked two single tickets from Kuala Lumpur to Melbourne with budget carrier Air Asia. By doing so, I saved myself a few hundred pounds.
I also did a similar thing when I flew to Bali. I found a cheap flight to Jakarta, and then booked a single ticket from Jakarta to Bali (Denpasar) on Air Asia.
When I’m flying from the UK to the USA, I often look at the prices to fly into various different hubs such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Dallas Fort Worth and New York City. Sometimes it is better for me to book the cheapest flight and then catch an internal flight to my final destination with another airline.
There are lots of flight comparison sites on the web that will allow you to search for the best flight prices amongst different airlines and booking websites. My favourite flight comparison site for finding the best deal is Skyscanner because I like their ‘Everywhere’ tool, which allows you to search for the cheapest flights to any destination in the world.
Other notable flight search engines include Kayak, Momondo, Vayama and Expedia. Try them all to make sure you’re getting the best possible price.
I am no longer under 26, but I used to book all my flights with STA Travel because they offer youth fares for travellers who are under the age of 26. You can buy an ISIC student identity card or Youth Card and get some fantastic discounted fares.
When I book with airlines I sign up for their newsletters so that I will get an email when there is a flight sale. Often the flight sales are very short, maybe only lasting 24 hours, so it’s easy to miss them. By subscribing to a mailing list, you’ll know all about the best flight deals and you can also receive offers to earn more frequent flyer points. It can be annoying to check your inbox and find it filled with emails, but occasionally there’s one in there with an unreal deal not to be missed!
With Airfarewatchdog.com you can sign up for alerts so you’ll be informed when airfare prices drop. The site uses real people instead of web crawlers to help you get the best deals.
I am a huge fan of Priceline when traveling in North America, and I’ve saved hundreds of dollars on flights using their bidding tool. I’ve booked flights with them from San Francisco to Las Vegas, and Toronto to Los Angeles.
No joke, this was a deal I got on my last minute flight from Toronto to LA:
Basically you can search for flights on the dates you require, then use the “Name Your Own Price” option to save up to 40% on flights. For handy hints on what price to bid, you can see examples of recent winning bids, and I usually do a quick search first to see what the average price of a flight is on that particular day. I then calculate a 40% discount on the flight and enter my bid.
IF the price you enter is accepted, Priceline will let you know what airline you’re flying with and the time of your flight after you’ve booked. You might get a direct flight, or it might have stopovers. If your bid is rejected, you have the option to change your date/airports, or wait another 24 hours to bid again.
I wouldn’t use this tool if you need to be somewhere for a particular time, as you can’t guarantee what time your flight will be, or the duration of the journey.
Collecting air miles is a great way to get free flights. If you’re from the UK, read my guide to collecting air miles. The best way to collect air miles is to sign up for a credit card that allows you to gain points every time you spend. You should also sign up for a couple of airline frequent flyer schemes from each of the major alliances- oneworld and Star Alliance- so that you may collect air miles every time you fly.
Here are some other sites you can check out:
Try these sites and guides for more information:
The Points Guy– focused on US frequent flyer schemes and points
Head for Points– UK travel credit cards and points
MoneySavingExpert.com Air miles credit cards– for people from the UK