When it comes to holidays and trips overseas, the most significant cost is often getting there. Flights can be incredibly pricey, especially to further flung locations, such as the Caribbean and the USA. However, you don’t need to let cost and distance stop you from adventuring, as there are some simple ways to find genuinely affordable flights.
1. Search in private browsing mode
You may have noticed that when you’re trying to find flights, if you don’t buy the first time you start looking then the price gradually increases. Although this may seem like other customers are buying up these precious seats, it’s actually just a trick to push you into panic buying the flight at the current price. Browse for flights incognito in Google Chrome or Safari by pressing Command (or “Control” if using PC) and then Shift, N. In Firefox or Internet Explorer it’s Command (or “Control” if using a PC) then Shift, P. This will open a private browsing window via which your information isn’t tracked and so prices don’t increase.
2. Fly on a Wednesday
Or a Tuesday…or a Monday….there are plenty of reports out there that will tell you that the cheapest day to fly is this or that. However, there is no real science to it that you can rely on every time. Instead, enter the details for the journey you want to make, choose a one-way flight and then instead of entering a departure date, choose the option for ‘whole month’ (or similar command). This should enable you to see when the prices are at their lowest in the month you want to fly.
3. Don’t fly direct
Instinctively, most of us check the ‘direct flights’ option, as the idea of hanging around for half a day in an overseas airport simply doesn’t appeal. However, if you’re searching for the most affordable flights – especially to destinations far away – direct flights are rarely the best choice. While there are some circuitous routes that will add days to your journey, some of these flights have only a few hours stopover so they are well worth investigating.
4. Check all your sources
It’s always a good starting point to check the cost of flights via comparison and aggregator websites but don’t let that be your only source of information. Once you’ve got an idea of the cost of the flight when purchased through a third party, go back to the airline itself and check how much the flight is on offer for. Many airlines are now seeking to undercut third party sites and you could well find that the flight is either cheaper – or on sale – if you buy direct.
5. Use budget airlines
There’s no getting away from the fact that it is often cheaper to fly with a budget airline – that’s the whole point of their existence, after all. However, bear in mind that the reason tickets may be cheap when you first search for them is that some airlines add on extras along the way. So, for example, your taxes might not be included in that first fare quote. Check whether your ticket includes a piece of luggage in the hold, or whether it’s a cabin luggage only ticket, and make sure you know what the limitations are for cabin bags or you may end up paying heavily at the airport to have your case put into the hold. Finally, remember that budget airlines can charge for everything, from pre-booking a seat, to in flight drinks so make sure the ticket really is as cheap as it seems before you book it.
6. Fly at unsociable hours
Few people want to be on the 4am flight out of Heathrow but if you’re determined to get the cheapest flights going then being ready to fly at unsociable hours is a big advantage. Choose the ‘redeye’ (overnight) to destinations such as the USA and look for flights that leave before 7am and after 10pm to see the prices drop the furthest.
7. Be flexible
The more flexible you can be when it comes to flights, the cheaper the choices you are likely to have. If you’re looking to have a low cost holiday but you’re not that bothered about the destination (other than ‘sun’ or ‘ski’) then keep your search criteria broad and choose the flight day and time, rather than the location. This works particularly well with last minute bookings where you can just opt for the cheapest package on offer that works with your budget. Try to allow for a couple of days either side of your departure and return dates in case there are cheaper flight options the next morning, or the night before, and experiment with ‘mystery’ breaks where airlines and holiday companies offer their unfilled seats and hotel rooms at rock bottom prices.
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Alex Hartley is a keen advocate of improving personal finance skills. She's worked at Solution Loans since 2014 and written hundreds of articles about how people can manage their money better. Her interest in personal finance goes way back to...Read more about Alex Hartley