Over the years I’ve bagged a fair few bargain flights; £20pp return to Italy, £33pp return to Valencia, a cracking package deal including a flights & 5-star hotel in Vienna for almost the same cost as just flights. I also realised that I’ve never written a post on just how to book cheap flights, even with the trips I’ve done over the years and tips that I’ve picked up.
Flying business or first class is lovely, don’t get me wrong. But until I win the lottery or my cat becomes famous, with all of the travelling I like to do, it just isn’t possible all of the time. Enter stage left the joy of picking up a cheap – usually economy – flight (which inevitably leads to an extra glass or two of something bubbly once we arrive.)
If it’s a short flight, I’m not usually all that bothered about who I fly with as long as they are reliable, safe and convenient (there are some airlines I definitely avoid though – and some that have really surprised me.) Without further ado, I present my ‘how to book cheap flights’ guide full of practical tips and tricks.
Be the first in the know when the airlines go on sale
This is a simple as surrendering your email address – sign up to those pesky newsletters of your most used airlines. Your inbox will often be the place that flight sales are advertised first – and often the early bird gets the worm. This is also an amazing hack for those ‘type-A’s in your life and how to book cheap flights for your holidays.
Use loyalty programmes wisely
We have paid £50 for 4-hour (or ‘mid-haul’) return business class flights on British Airways – which included lounge access at both airports. This was using the points and other bonuses of having a credit card with loyalty points (our chosen card is American Express with Avios points – disclaimer, if you sign up, we’ll both get bonus points) but, you have to be fully aware of the responsibilities of having a credit card. We treat our AMEX like debit cards, and automatically pay the balance off in full every month, otherwise, the charges are quite something. One thing bare in mind is that when redeeming your points, the flight has to be directly with BA (no codeshares) and you often have to be flexible with location or dates.
We also often fly with British Airways and are enrolled in their frequent flyer programme which pays off with benefits like lounge access.
Search in incognito or private mode
You’re not crazy for thinking that a flight price has changed after searching it a few times in your web browser. Based on the cookies in your browser, flight prices do increase when a particular route is repeatedly searched, as the site wants to scare you into booking the flight quickly before prices get even higher. Always search for flights in incognito or private browsing mode to see the lowest prices – essential how to book cheap flights advice!
In Google Chrome or Safari, incognito is enabled by hitting Command (or “Control” if using PC), Shift, “N”. For Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer, hit Command (or “Control” if using a PC), Shift, “P”. This will open a new browser window where your information is not tracked, thus not inflating prices as you search. Note: if you’re using an older version of OS X, open Safari then click “Safari” in the menu bar, and select “Private Browsing”.
And, your cookies are reset each time you re-open an incognito window. So if you want to start with a clean slate for each flight search (so your previous searches aren’t “remembered”, potentially inflating costs), close all your incognito windows, open a new one, and then perform your flight search.
Use the search engines – and then compare directly via the company
All search engines pretty well have inflated flight costs as part of taking a cut from the airlines – and some search engines consistently inflate base prices much higher than others. It really does pays to familiarise yourself with sites that offer the best prices. I personally tend to use Skyscanner and Google – in incognito mode – as a broad search service – narrowing down dates, location and availability. Then, once it’s decided, I hop across to the company directly and check the prices.
As of 2018, most budget airlines will now appear in the broad search engines but if you want to be 100% sure though, you can do an additional search for regional budget airlines.
Consider flight + hotel combination deals
I research the hotels first on Google, Trip Advisor and the geotag on Instagram.
Book really far in advance or completely last minute
I’m not sure that this needs much more explanation – I tend to be one or the other depending on my mood and my calendar at the time. This is key how to book cheap flights advice!
Be flexible with your dates
Skyscanner (#notspon) has a fantastic function whereby you can search a whole month at a glance for the cheapest flights:
Try to avoid school holidays and bank holidays where you can, because the airlines hike their fares. My favourite time of the year for visit Europe is in summer and autumn – the temperatures aren’t baking hot, and the bulk of tourist crowds have dissipated.
Oh, and make sure to quickly Google the average weather at your location for that month – there’s no point visiting a summer destination when it’s -2°.
Get flexible with your locations
Be adventurous. Use Skyscanner’s ‘everywhere’ function in lieu of a location, and then do a cross check with a friendly travel blogger, a quick Google search, on Twitter or on Pinterest to make sure you’re not booking an industrial city for a romantic break.
Factor in the full cost of a budget airline
A low-cost airline won’t always be the cheapest way to fly. By the time you factor in an airport hotel the night before (or after if you have a midnight landing), a 3am taxi to the airport, a £55 fine because you didn’t get your visa check or didn’t check-in online in advance, luggage fares, seat selection, the taxi at the other end > this last one is especially true for the budget airlines who land at lower cost airports – like ‘London Southend’. Southend is on the English coast for goodness sake.
Also, take into consideration the sleeping hours you could save – we used to book ridiculously early flights, only to get to our hotel exhausted from the early morning flights (and broken sleep) which would ‘cost’ us time in our location. Time that I could have been snoozing comfortably in my own bed…
Consider multistop trips
We had a wedding in Glasgow a few days before meeting a good friend in Amsterdam, so instead of hopping back and forth, we flew London Heathrow > Glasgow > Amsterdam > London Heathrow. The Glasgow > London flight we skipped paid for an extra night in a lovely Amsterdam hotel – and meant that the journey was as easy as pie.
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Do you have any topic requests that I can help with? You may also find this linked cheats guide full of practical tips for sleeping on long-haul economy flights helpful.)
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