Booking affordable flights can seem like an impossible task these days. Ticket prices are sky high, and it's hard to know where to find the best deals. However, with some strategic planning and insider knowledge, scoring cheap airfare is possible.
This guide will provide you with 12 smart tips to help you buy discounted plane tickets, no matter your destination. By following these tricks of the trade, you'll save pounds on your next airline booking.
1. Be Flexible with Dates and Airports
One of the easiest ways to find a cheap flight is to be flexible with your travel dates. Fares fluctuate frequently, sometimes day by day. If possible, look at flying a day or two earlier or later. Even switching from a weekend to a weekday can make a big difference.
Similarly, consider flying into or out of alternate airports in the area. Nearby airports often have varying prices, so check fares at all your options. For example, you may save money by flying into Luton instead of Heathrow when visiting London.
While last minute deals do occasionally happen, they're rare. In most cases, booking at least a few weeks in advance will save you the most money. Being open to variable dates and airports gives you the best chance at snagging a cheap fare.
2. Sign Up for Price Alerts
One of the best ways to catch discounted plane tickets is to sign up for price alerts. Airlines, online travel agencies, and flight deal websites like Scott's Cheap Flights all offer this free service.
When you enter your ideal route and travel dates, you'll be notified by email if prices drop. This allows you to swoop in and book when airfare dips. As cheap seats are usually limited, it helps to be one of the first to know.
Sign up for alerts from a few different sources for the widest coverage. Turn on notifications as deals can disappear in hours or even minutes. Being ready to act fast is key to nabbing those coveted cheap seats.
3. Avoid School Holidays
It's no secret that school holidays equal peak travel times. Prices for flights skyrocket when kids are out of school, especially over the summer, at Christmas, and during half term breaks.
If you're able to schedule your holiday outside of these prime weeks, you'll have much better luck securing an affordable fare. Even traveling a week or two earlier or later can make a big impact.
Of course, we all have to work around school schedules. If you must fly over holidays, book as far in advance as possible. This increases your chance of getting one of the limited cheap seats before they sell out.
4. Take Advantage of Sales and Deals
Airlines frequently run sales and promotions to boost bookings during slow seasons or on new routes. Signing up for airline and travel deal newsletter emails is the easiest way to learn about these offers.
Social media can provide details on limited time discounts too. Following airlines, travel agencies, and influencers on platforms like Instagram and Facebook can help you find and take advantage of deals before others.
Some additional places to look for cheap flight deals include The Telegraph travel section, Travelzoo, HolidayPirates, and Jack's Flight Club.
5. Consider Indirect Flights
Non-stop flights are convenient, but they also tend to be more expensive. An indirect flight with a stopover is often cheaper than flying direct. The extra hassle may be worth it to save on airfare.
Try looking at fares into a major hub city near your destination first. For example, you may save money by booking a flight to Frankfurt with a connection to Prague rather than flying direct to Prague.
Another option is to look for open-jaw tickets. This is when you fly into one city and out of another, with travel in between. It essentially gives you two trips for the price of one flight.
6. Use Flight Comparison Sites
Rather than checking individual airline sites, use a flight comparison tool to quickly see all your options in one place. Comparison sites like Skyscanner and Kayak aggregate fares across hundreds of airlines and online travel agencies.
Simply enter your route and travel dates to view a comprehensive list of available flights ranked from cheapest to most expensive. This makes it easy to find the best deal at a glance. Most sites also allow you to track prices and set price drop alerts.
Be sure to still check airline sites directly as they may offer sales not listed on aggregators. But comparison sites provide a convenient overview of all your flight possibilities in one spot.
7. Book at Cheaper Travel Times
Flight prices fluctuate not only by date but by time of day as well. When possible, book very early morning or late night flights. Mid-day flights are generally the most expensive.
If you don't mind red-eye flights, departures from 10pm to 6am typically offer the best savings. Arriving late or leaving early also allows you to maximize time at your destination.
Additionally, try to avoid the busy Friday to Sunday period. Leaving mid-week is often cheaper, especially if you can fly and return on weekdays. Again, flexibility pays off when it comes to cheap plane tickets.
8. Use Incognito Browsing
To avoid this, open an incognito or private browser window before searching. This prevents cookies from tracking your browsing activity. Prices should remain consistent with each new search.
Also be sure to delete cookies and cache regularly. Consider using a different browser just for flight searches to maintain privacy. Taking these steps can help you avoid inflated fares.
9. Consider Budget Airlines
However, watch out for hidden fees that may drive up costs. Things like assigned seats, carry-on bags, and boarding passes can incur additional charges. Factor these in when comparing to standard airlines.
Also be aware of airport locations. Budget airlines may use alternate airports farther from cities that are less convenient. Check routes and transit options to factor in total time and costs.
10. Use Points and Miles
One of the best ways to get cheap flights is by cashing in airline miles or credit card points. Sign-up bonuses and rewards programs allow you to earn free flights quickly.
Cards like British Airways American Express Premium Plus offer bonus Avios points for signing up. These can then be redeemed for flights on BA and other partners.
Even regular spending on a travel rewards card can rack up points over time. Paying your bills with these cards may be enough to cover an annual free flight or upgrade.
11. Watch for Local Events
Certain destinations will spike airfare due to large events or festivals. For example, Oktoberfest hugely increases demand for flights to Munich. Similarly, the Monaco Grand Prix makes flights to Nice pricey.
Research what major happenings coincide with your travel dates and factor in potential cost increases. You may want to plan your trip before or after big events to avoid inflated airfare.
On the other hand, some local occasions like shoulder season festivals can make for a cheap flight strategy. Just be aware of what's happening at your destination when booking.
12. Avoid Unneeded Add-Ons
As you search for flights, you'll be offered plenty of add-ons like seat selection, priority boarding, baggage fees, and travel insurance. While convenient, these quickly drive up the total fare.
Avoid selecting any extras that you can do without. Most airlines now charge for seat assignments but you can usually still check-in early for a good free seat.
Only pay for priority boarding if you really need early access. And don't pay for baggage until you know your load – many airlines allow a free carry-on.
Scrutinize your entire order before purchasing to weed out unnecessary fees. These add-ons are how the airlines make their money, so don't let them tap your wallet.
Finding cheap flights takes a bit of work, but it's worth it to save on airfare costs. Being flexible, opportunistic, and thorough in your search will help surface deals. Sign up for alerts, consider all options, and be ready to book quickly.
Avoid school holidays and peak times when possible. Use incognito browsing and flight comparison sites to find the best fares. Consider budget airlines but watch for hidden fees.
Most importantly, don't give up if cheap flights don't appear instantly. Airfare fluctuates constantly, so keep checking back. Persistence and creativity will pay off with scoring a discounted plane ticket!