How To Find Cheap Flights. The Holy Grail of travel. Today we will share all the hints and tips we have learnt whilst working in this industry for the past 10 years.
Travel agents aren’t always the best option
Now I know this will make a lot of Travel Agents unhappy to read but it’s true! I’ve worked for the two big UK Tour Operators as a travel agent and it is tough. As more and more people become travel savvy it does get harder to sell holidays and make some money. In terms of package holidays, if you don’t feel safe booking on the internet and like having an agent taking care of everything for you then that’s fine, but please before you go into book check the tour operators website. You could make a saving of up to 10% which may not sound like much but on a £2500 holiday that’s £250 in your pocket towards your spending money.
If you are booking a non-package holiday or perhaps just a set of flights, I would advise against using a travel agent unless that agent is the operator of the flight. The only exception to this rule is if you are booking something more niche such as round the world flights or long haul flights. In this instance there are deals to be had with agents such as Trailfinders and STA Travel. BUT….do your research! Double check all prices online before heading into the agent to make sure you aren’t paying more than you should be.
Skyscanner is a great resource….but don’t believe everything you see
As a business travel agent, Skyscanner was the bain of my LIFE! At first glance it looks like a great system! You type in what you want and it brings up all the available options. But all is not as it seems…..If you are searching for flights last minute then be extra careful. It could look as though you’ve found a bargain of a flight but alas, when you click to book and the website redirects you the price is no longer available and has jumped up by £500. Unfortunately Skyscanner is not based on live availability. It is only updated 2-3 times throughout the day which means that bargain price may have been available at the last update but has now been snapped up. I know a lot of people really like Skyscanner and that’s fine, but just be wary that bargain price is not always as good as it seems!
Make sure you check out Low Cost Airlines…
Many search engines will not bring up low cost airlines in their search results and these can sometimes be half the price of scheduled flights. The best way to find these is to simple Google ‘Place A to Place B Low cost airline’. I’ve done a search for flights from London to Barcelona:
British Airways have brought back a price of £71:
However after searching low cost carriers I’ve found that Monarch have a flight for only £33:
The BA price will include a bag however with Monarch I have to add this on for £19 which still makes the low cost carrier cheaper:
…But beware of Low Cost Carriers hidden extras
The price you see on low cost websites is for the flight only, no frills. So if you need baggage this needs to be added. On a longer flight and fancy a bite to eat, that’ll add even more. Some baggage charges are crazy. Ryanair charge £25 per bag per flight so for a couple travelling on return flights that’s already adding £100 onto the cost of the flights! Always go right through the website booking process until you get to the payment page to make sure you are getting an accurate cost. It could be that those British Airways flights are cheaper on this occasion.
Don’t book last minute
It may seem like an obvious one but gone are the days of airlines reducing their fares before the flight to encourage more sales. Before travel the fares will just keep going up and up. I find the best time to book is as soon as fares are released which is anything up to 11 months in advance or around 3 months before travel. Now not everyone can do this as plans sometimes come out of nowhere. Ideally you need to be booking no later than 6 weeks before travel.If you are flying somewhere for a specific event then book as soon as you can as airlines will push the prices up if they know people will travelling more than usual.
Sign up for airline newsletters and frequent flyer cards.
It costs nothing to join an airlines frequent flyer programme. You don’t even need to have flown with that airline before, By doing this you will receive emails about flight sales and special promotions that the airline are doing. You can sometimes get a really good deal with these! Frequent Flyer programmes such as Avios allow you to earn points by shopping in certain stores and also have credit cards that you can use to bump up your points. (I only recommend this if you pay the card off in full each month and check the small print for interest rates etc first)
Travel with a friend who works in the travel industry
Staff discounts are nowhere near as good as what they once were but they do still exist. Some airlines are stricter than others and will only allow immediate family to travel on the discounts, others will allow friends and family. Get befriending your local travel agent now! Oh how i will miss those discounts…
The main way we save money on airfares is by being flexible with our dates and times. Avoid weekends if possible. Mid-week flights are almost always cheaper and less busy. Try to stay away from flying on or near holidays such as Christmas, Easter, School holidays etc. You might actually find a couple of days after these holidays prices plummet. And if you’re really looking for a bargain, why not fly the day after Christmas or even on Christmas day itself? There really are some flight bargains to be had if you are willing to tweak your travel dates by a day or two.
If prices are high check how much a return ticket will be
Same if a return fare is high check out two one ways. More often than not on long haul flights a return fare can be cheaper than a one way. It is frowned upon by the airlines but when flights are busy it can be cheaper to book a return rather than a one way. Just don’t let on to the airline that you won;t be using the return. On the flip side, with some airlines it can be cheaper to book two one ways instead of a return ticket. (Just make sure you have a copy of your return ticket in case there are any questions at check in).
Private browsing isn’t just for looking at dirty pictures…
Airlines leave tracker cookies on your device which means if you keep searching the same flights they could show you a higher price than what is actually available. If you use a private browser/incognito window then the airline will treat your visit as the first time. It doesn’t always show a cheaper fare but it’s worth a shot! And if you forget to do this just clear your cookies before returning to the site. Sometimes you get lucky!
Don’t book risky flight connections
So you’ve got a great deal from Heathrow to Los Angeles but you actually want to end up in Vegas so you book a flight with a 3hr layover with American Airlines & Virgin America. BIG mistake! By booking split tickets with such a tight connection you run the risk of not making your connecting flight and having to pay for a brand new ticket. In order to be protected you need to book your flights on ONE ticket with the same airline or airlines in the same alliance (ONE world, Star Alliance, Skyteam etc.) If you are booked on one ticket and miss your connection then it is the airlines responsibility to get you to your final destination.
Thor is flying Heathrow-Los Angeles-Las Vegas with American Airlines on one ticket with a 3hr connection at LAX.
Hulk is flying from Heathrow-Los Angeles with American Airlines and then Los Angeles-Las Vegas with Virgin America with a 4hr connection at LAX
Unfortunately the American Airlines flight is delayed due to bad weather in London and so arrives into LAX 3hrs late.
Upon arrival Thor clears US immigration and approaches the American Airlines transfer desk who inform him that they can rebook him onto a flight later on this evening. Thor accepts this and goes off to explore duty free before catching his new connection.
Hulk on the other hand, is not so fortunate. He clears immigration, collects his baggage, changes terminals and finds a Virgin America ticket desk. As helpful as the young lady was she explained to Hulk that as he did not arrive into LAX on a Virgin flight there was nothing she could do to help him. His original ticket was non refundable and has now been lost and the only option is to rebook a brand new ticket at Hulk’s expense.
Well….you can imagine how that situation went down….
The moral of the story: Don’t be like Hulk. Be like Thor.
But in all seriousness, it is a very risky business to split tickets, especially somewhere like the US or UK where you will have to clear immigration before catching a connecting flight. Always check the minimum connection time between flights and also take into account if you have to change terminals at the airport. I would recommend that if you do want to use different airlines then perhaps add in an overnight stay or, if time allows, why not spend a couple of days exploring this new destination?
Advance purchase/minimum stay
A lot of fares, especially to/from/within North America will have an advance purchase on them which means in order to get the best prices you need to book at least 21 days in advance. Another way to grab a cheaper fare is to include a Saturday night stay. I’ve searched flights for clients and saved close to $1000 just because they have added in a Saturday night stay! Always check the fare rules on the ticket you’re buying. If your trip changes and you now only need to stay 4 nights instead of 5 you might end up paying more than your original ticket cost as it has a 5 day minimum purchase on it.
My secret weapon….Skiplagged.
You’ve got some time off work coming up and have no idea where you want to go but know you where you want to depart from and when, Enter Skiplagged. This website has helped us save so much money on our trip. It works in a similar way to a ‘Fare Shopper’ which is what i would use on a GDS to make sure my client was getting the best possible fare. It searches for the ‘normal’ options that other search engines would, but it also looks at Hidden City Fares. This is where you book your flights via a specific city in order to get the cheaper fare. They also search for any kinks in the airlines system, for example the airline has perhaps loaded a fare incorrectly via a certain airport and fares are cheaper than the should be. I have blog post *here* about how to use Skiplagged and how much money it has saved us on this trip.
In a nutshell what you need to do to achieve some great flight savings is as simple as:
1- Check low cost airlines
2- Look at minimum stays
3- Don’t be tempted by risky flight connections, they aren’t worth the hassle,
4- Travel agents are not always the best option
5- Take Skyscanner with a pinch of salt when it comes to last minute flights
6- Get on Skiplagged!
7- Be flexible
8- Befriend a Travel Agent so you can share their discounts
9- Avoid booking last minute
10- Check return tickets and 2 one ways
11- Sign up for airline reward programmes
12- Private browsing isn’t just for mucky viewing…
What’s your favourite way to find cheap flights? Do you have any tips to share? Pop them in the comments below.