How to find cheap flights
Ever got on a plane and wondered if you’ve paid more for your ticket than the person next to you? Here’s how to bag the cheapest flights every time.
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Knowing where to look to snap up the cheapest flight deals can save you money and make the difference between being able to afford that holiday in the sun or staying in your back garden.
After two years of travel restrictions, it’s great we can all travel again. But with costs including energy bills, food prices, and fuel on the rise, you need to use every trick in the book to find the cheapest flights.
Kalpana Fitzpatrick, editor of The Money Edit, says: “The cost of living means your budget to get away may be tighter this year, but finding the cheapest flights, best deal on airport parking and getting the best rate on your currency exchange can all help you stick to your planned budget.”
Here are our top tips to help you find the cheapest flight for you next getaway.
How to find the cheapest flights
There are lots of ways to track down cheap flights to save some money.
Use flights comparison tools
To find the cheapest flight. It makes sense to check more than one site as they may have different offers. Here are some sites worth trawling through.
- Kayak (opens in new tab) -lets you select your destination, budget and flight duration. You can also add in if you want to check in bags to get a complete cost comparison.
- Momondo (opens in new tab) - a flight comparison tool that lets you view flight insights for your chosen route, including the cheapest time of year and day to get away.
- Skyscanner (opens in new tab) - you can compare flight prices and set up price alerts for notifications of when prices rise or fall on a specific route.
- Fly.com (opens in new tab) - a flight comparison tool that enables you to view the best fares each day, plus the cheapest dates to fly.
- Expedia (opens in new tab) - a comparison site for flights, car hire, and holiday packages.
- Hopper (opens in new tab) - an app that predicts future air fares, so that you can plan ahead.
Get cheap flight alerts
Google Flights (opens in new tab) is an excellent tool to help you find some amazing deals. It allows you to search a wide range of dates and multiple destinations at the same time.
Flight alert sites like Jack’s Flight Club (opens in new tab) Holiday Pirates (opens in new tab) and Secret Flying (opens in new tab) can help you dig out bargain flights with minimal effort. Sign up for email alerts or get notified via an app to get notified of deals as soon as they are available.
Be flexible with travel dates and times
The more flexible you can be with the day of the week and the time you travel, the greater your chance of bagging a bargain.
According to cheap flight alert site Jack’s Flight Club (opens in new tab), Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the cheapest days to travel, followed by Mondays and Sundays. Try to avoid Friday and Saturday as they’re the two most expensive days to fly.
Be flexible on destination
Likewise, if you’re not fussed about a particular destination, you can save on flight costs. With Skyscanner and Kayak, you can search for flights using the ‘everywhere’ or ‘anywhere’ into the destination box, alongside the dates you want to travel and the airport you wish to fly from.
EasyJet also has an ‘Inspire Me’ (opens in new tab) option where you set your departure airport and budget and it finds cheap deals.
Book a non-direct flight
If you’re happy to split your flight into separate journeys, then non-direct may be cheaper. Non-directs flights can be a hassle (especially if you have kids travelling with you) but potential savings on offer could be worth it.
To demonstrate the savings, when we checked, a family of four could bag a return flight from Gatwick to Kefalonia in October for £1,993. But if they split the return journey with stopovers in Athens and Istanbul, the flight price drops to £1,257 – saving a whopping £736.
Mix and match airlines
When comparing flights, check if you can save money by flying out with one airline and returning with another. It might mean booking single tickets, rather than a return, but you could save money.
If you can, you could also save money by flying out from one airport and then back to another. For example, you might fly out from Gatwick but return to Stansted. But before you do this, make sure it is practical - for instance, you may have to use public transport as you may not be able to take advantage of airport parking.
Sign up for reward schemes
Sign up to airline loyalty programmes or reward schemes to earn ‘free’ flights (you will still usually need to pay taxes and fees).
There are a number of credit cards that allow you to collect Avios or Virgin Atlantic points based on your day to day spending. The British Airways Amex card gives you 5,000 bonus Avios when you spend £1,000 in the first three months, plus 1 Avios for every £1 you spend. The Virgin Atlantic Reward credit card lets you earn points when you use your card on everyday purchases plus with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays.
Book early to bag flight deals
It can be worth signing up for ‘early bird’ airline emails so you can be first in the online queue when tickets go on sale. Airlines usually release tickets around 11 to 12 months in advance.
Booking early will give you more choice and guarantee you a seat on the flight you want. However worth knowing with budget airlines, even if you book a ticket, you’ll need to pay more if you want a specific seat or to sit together as a family. To save money - make a note of the date online check-in opens and go online early that morning for the best chance of getting seats together without paying more.
Go last minute
This can work, but it's a case of taking your chance; less popular routes may still have empty seats close to the departure date, and prices could be cut as a result.
Nicky Kelvin from the Points Guy says: "Last-minute flights tend not to be cheaper, and this is because airline fares are guided by specific fare buckets that are only available at certain pre-set dates before your flight. Only the most expensive fare classes are typically left a day or two before departure, and the cheaper fares are reserved for purchases made at least 21 days before your flight.”
Use voucher codes
Use sites such as Savoo.co.uk and our sister site myvouchercodes.co.uk to search for offers. For example, single parents can save up to £100 on Easyjet family holidays with the code ONEADULT (valid until 30 September, 2022).
Get cashback on flight purchases
Use cashback sites like Topcashback and Quidco and claw back some of the money you’ve spent.
It can take around 30 days for your cash to be payable, but you can use the money towards other expenses. We found current deals from TopCashback (opens in new tab) including up to 10% cashback when booking with Expedia (opens in new tab), up to £42 on Jet2Holidays (opens in new tab) and a not so generous, but still worth having 1.1% cashback on British Airways (opens in new tab) flights.
Consider add-ons carefully when booking flights
When comparing prices, make sure you check exactly what’s included - and what’s not.
You’ll usually get an inclusive luggage allowance on scheduled flights but you’ll pay for everything with budget airlines. So bear in mind that super cheap ticket could cost you six times the price if you book a bag in the hold each way. With Ryanair (opens in new tab) this can be another £80 per bag on a return flight. Check the size of any free cabin bag you can take on board as this varies between airlines and you don’t want to be clobbered with penalty fares at the gate.
When is the best time to go on holiday to save money?
Travelling during term time, rather than school holidays, will be far cheaper. Check in advance when the school holidays fall, keeping in mind that they can vary by area.
It’s also worth checking for any major sporting events or festivals on the dates you’re thinking of travelling as these can ramp up ticket prices.
And if you’re flying long haul check your cheap ticket isn’t at the expense of arriving in the middle of the rainy season. You may bag a January flight deal to Australia thinking you’re flying into the Australian summer but in Darwin, January is the wettest month.
Are package deals cheaper?
This doesn’t have to be an ‘off the peg’ package. Booking your flight and accommodation through the same company counts as a ‘package’ and can work out cheaper than booking both bits separately as agents may have deals on hotels or apartments.
Plus this boosts your consumer rights – as you get ATOL protection which means if the company you book with goes bust, you’ll get your money back or a flight home. Worth double checking any ATOL accreditation on the Civil Aviation Authority website (opens in new tab).
Are flights cheaper on an airline's own website?
With budget flights like EasyJet, Ryanair or Wizz it’s worth booking direct - as you’ll be hard pushed to beat the airline’s own prices.
And with any flight deal – even if you find a cheap ticket – it is always worth checking back on the airline’s own website so you can know what their best rate is.
Are flights cheaper closer to the date you want to travel?
Whether flights are cheaper the closer you get the date of travel depends on the destination and the airline.
Tristan Sire from Jack’s Flight Club, said: “Usually we’d say flights are not cheaper closer to the departure date, but things have changed a little post-pandemic. For short-haul flights with Ryanair (opens in new tab) and Wizz Air (opens in new tab), in particular, there have been some deep discounts on flights in the next two to six weeks.”
“It does depend on your destination - Spain hasn’t felt this as much as Greece or Italy. If you’re looking for something super last minute, and you see the flights in the next two weeks are more expensive than those more than two weeks out, it won’t be worth waiting to book.”
Sue Hayward is a personal finance and consumer journalist, broadcaster and author who regularly chats on TV and Radio on ways to get more power for your pound. Sue’s written for a wide range of publications including the Guardian, i Paper, Good Housekeeping, Lovemoney and My Weekly. Cats, cheese and travel are Sue’s passions away from her desk!