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Every one of us budget travellers knows that the price of the flight can easily be the biggest expense when booking a trip. And to top it off, it can also feel like it’s a cost that’s completely unavoidable. Sure, we can find cheap places to stay, places to eat and things to do, but how to find the cheapest flights can be a bit trickier. With a bit of digging and planning though, you definitely can find cheap ways to fly to anywhere in the world.
Over the years I’ve bought a range of flights from around the world tickets, return flights, one-way flights, short-haul and long-haul. Learning the best way to book airline tickets online has definitely saved me a LOT of money which then means I can spend more on the fun stuff. So here are my top 25 tips on how to find the cheapest flights to anywhere you fancy going.
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- The ultimate long term travel checklist
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1. Use incognito browsing
Have you ever noticed that the prices for flights keep changing after you’ve done a few searches? It’s so frustrating! This happens because of the cookies that are logged from your browser as you’re searching. Websites use these cookies to see that you’re making multiple searches and will then increase the prices to try and scare you into booking in case the price goes up again. It’s pretty sneaky!
To counteract this, you need to be searching for the cheapest flights online using an incognito window on your browser. Searching in incognito mode does still record your searches via cookies, but the difference is that as soon as you close your incognito window and open a new one, your cookies are refreshed so you can essentially start from scratch with your searches.
To open an incognito window in Chrome, you simply go to ‘file’ and click on ‘New incognito window’. You’ll know you’re on an incognito browsing window as it will open a new window with a little detective looking logo and it will say ‘You’ve gone incognito’.
2. Use the best flight comparison websites
Flight search engines or comparison websites are the best ways to find the cheapest flight. Websites like Skyscanner and Kayak will show the flight costs and times for a range of different airlines and then take you to the relevant website where you can book them. Most budget airlines across the globe are now using these search engines but if you notice a particular airline not popping up, then you will most likely have to go to the airline’s own website to book tickets.
Websites to find the cheapest flights:
Kayak– Kayak has a handy tool which lets you compare flight prices against the prices on other flight search engine websites.
AirWander– An awesome website that specialises in adding in extended layovers so you can visit 2 places in 1 trip.
Kiwi.com – Another great search engine that mixes and matches different airlines to find the cheapest airfare. It also has an awesome feature called ‘Nomad‘ where you can create a multi-stop route or use the popular routes section to get some inspiration.
3. Find the cheapest month to travel using Skyscanner
Planning your trip based on the cheapest month to travel there is an easy way to save money. You’ll need to be flexible though in order to make the most of this.
Skyscanner has a great feature where it allows you to get an overview of the flight prices to find the cheapest month to fly and also the cheapest day in each month.
You will need to put in your from and to locations and then 1) Click in the ‘Depart’ date box. 2) Choose ‘Whole Month’ and 3) select ‘Cheapest Month’.
Once you click to search for flights, the results will be shown on a calendar view or a chart view. The calendar view has a traffic light system highlighting the cheapest flights in green and the chart view allows you to compare just how much cheaper flights are in that month versus the rest of the year.
4. Be flexible with your flight dates
As you can see from the Skyscanner results above, being flexible with your dates is one of the best ways to find a cheap flight. This might not be possible for everyone and for every flight booking, but if you can be flexible it can save you a lot of money on flights.
5. Be flexible with what time you fly
It probably won’t be much of a surprise that the cheapest flights are often at the most unsociable hours. Personally, I don’t mind getting up early for a flight as it means I’ll still have the best part of the day in my destination. Similarly, taking a late flight back home gives you a good part of your last day to see more. The biggest downside is that these flights probably won’t align with check-in/check-out times for your accommodation.
6. Be flexible about which airport you fly in and out of
Many places have more than one main airport and so it might be cheaper to fly into an airport a little further away. For example, Rome has 2 main airports (Fiumicino and Ciampino) so it’s would be worth checking the flight costs to both. If you also have access to multiple airports to leave from, be sure to check for the cheapest flights from each.
An easier way to do this is by allowing the search engines to search for flights to and from any of the airports at each location. For example, you can choose it to search for flights from all London airports to all Rome airports.
7. To find the absolute cheapest flight online, don’t worry about where you’re going
One of the best and more recent features of search engines like Skyscanner is that they allow you to search for flights to anywhere. If you’re not bothered about where you’re going or are looking for some inspiration, you can select to search for flights to everywhere. This combined with a non-specific departure airport and choosing the cheapest month option can bring up some real bargains.
8. Fly with the local budget airlines
Budget airlines work by providing no-frills flights. The cheap airfare will get you little more than your bum on a seat but they do provide a cheap way to get from A to B. When you book with budget airlines, you’ll need to keep in mind that you will have to pay to check in any luggage (this can sometimes be more than the cost of your flight itself), they will have strict weight and size limitations for carry-on luggage and you often need to check-in and print your boarding pass prior to getting to the airport. If you’re not careful about all of these aspects then you’ll often pay a lot in fines.
My usual process for searching for flights is to use a search engine first and then use the information it comes up with to go directly to the airline’s website and compare the prices there. Sometimes it comes up a little cheaper so it’s worth a quick look.
Budget airlines across the world:
- Europe – Ryanair, EasyJet, Whizz Air, Pegasus Airlines, Norwegian Air, Vueling, Aer Lingus
- Australia – Scoot, Jetstar, TigerAir
- New Zealand – Air New Zealand, Jetstar
- Asia – Lion Air, TigerAir, Air Asia, Scoot, Nok Air
9. Travel light
As most budget airlines charge extra for checked-in luggage, travelling with hand luggage only can save you a lot of money, especially if you’re going on a multi-stop trip. Take care to check each airlines restrictions on hand luggage weight and dimensions before you leave to make sure you’re not over any limits.
Some budget airlines have more recently stopped allowing small suitcases to be taken on as hand luggage for free. However, paying to upgrade your ticket slightly (for example, you can pay for priority boarding with RyanAir) so you are able to take a small piece of luggage on board.
10. Book 2 single tickets and mix and match airlines
When you’re looking to book a cheap flight online, airline loyalty doesn’t always count for anything. For many trips I have booked myself 2 separate tickets to get me there and back, using 2 different airlines. Most flight search engines including Skyscanner and Kiwi will mix and match the airlines to find you the cheapest flight.
11. Split flights yourself
Many long haul flights will involve a stopover somewhere included in the price of the ticket. However, it might be worth looking into chopping your journey up into sections yourself. For example, if you were looking for flights from London to Sydney, you could look at the price of a flight from London to Dubai and then another flight from Dubai to Sydney. To get a better idea of your route options, use a search engine and see what stopovers it shows when you search for your flight.
It is well worth bearing in mind that you will need to leave enough time between each flight as you are going to have to collect your luggage, go through immigration and security and then check-in for your next flight.
12. Choose flights with longer or multiple stopovers
If you have the time to spare on your trip, you can save money on flights by taking ones that have multiple or long stopovers. These flights are cheaper just because they are more inconvenient and can take a heck of a long time to get to your destination. On the flip side, having a long layover can be a great way to see more than one place in your trip for cheap. There are a number of airports, such as Singapore, who offer a free city tour if you’re going to be waiting around for more than 5.5 hours.
13. Students can get cheap airfares
This isn’t a common thing at all, but I know that STA Travel offers cheap flights if you’re under 31. So if you’re a student and are looking for a cheaper than cheap airfare, these guys are well worth checking out.
14. Find the absolute cheapest flights through error fares
This is one of the best airfare hacks! Error fares are literally that – flight fares that have been put online incorrectly making them cheaper than they should be. They can happen for a variety of reasons such as human error or the airline using the wrong conversion rate – but who cares! What it means for us cheap flight hunters is that we can end up with a great deal on a flight.
The best way to keep on top of the latest error fares is to sign up to receive daily emails or keep an eye on them on their social media channels. You will need to be quick when you find these though as the airline can soon realise they have made a mistake and change the price.
Also, a bit of a word of caution, airlines don’t have to honour these prices and you might find your flight gets cancelled by them. So I recommend waiting a bit before you start booking anything else like tours or accommodation.
The best websites for finding error fares:
- Secret Flying – My No.1 choice for searching for error fares. Secret Flying not only shows you the latest deals but also allows you to search for offers to and from specific destinations. They also have an app which is fantastic.
- Jack’s Flight Club – You’ll have to sign up to join this site but they send through some fantastic deals. They are there to specifically find error fares so they’re hot on it!
- Airfare Watchdog – To find the latest top airfare deals, click on ‘Today’s Top Fares’ under Flight Deals in the menu.
15. Use cashback sites to get a discount on your flights
Ok, so it’s not exactly a discount, but getting cashback is definitely a way of getting a flight for cheaper. Websites like TopCashback have a good selection of airlines like Qatar and KLM and also search engines like Opodo, BudgetAir and Kiwi. To get the cashback, you will need to create an account with TopCashback and then go through their website to buy your flight tickets. You can then withdraw the cashback funds you receive.
At the time of writing this, TopCashback is offering:
- Expedia – Up to 10.5% cashback
- STA Travel – Up to 21% cashback
- Cathay Pacific – Up to 1.05% cashback
- Air Canada – up to £21 cashback
16. Consider booking a package or all-inclusive holiday
While this style of holiday might not be what you’re looking for, there are some incredible deals out there. The fact that both your flights and accommodation (and your food, depending on the board) is all lumped into one cost can make for an overall cheap trip. Icelolly.com is a search engine specifically for comparing package holiday costs but you can also search for flights and hotels on Expedia.
17. Avoid peak season and holiday times
If you can help it, avoid travelling when it’s your local school holidays, or when your destination has a big event or holiday taking place. The demand for flights during these times increases and therefore, the price does too. I would avoid looking for flights a week either side of any holidays starting and finishing or learn to love travelling in the low season. After travelling around Thailand in the wet season, and visiting Poland in the middle of winter, I can vouch for the perks of off-peak travel!
18. Book in advance
If you’re not in the position to be flexible about dates and/or destination, then the next best way to buy cheap flights is to book in advance. There is a lot of speculation about how far in advance you should book to get the cheapest flights as well. I spoke to my friend who has worked for FlightCentre and her tip is to book international flights as far in advance as 6 months for international flights. For shorter and domestic flights, 1-2 months should be fine. I recommend signing up for flight alerts as soon as you know when and where you want to go and that way, you can keep an eye on prices easily.
19. Make the most of airline sales
Budget airlines do hold sales on flights so to make the most of them, you need to keep yourself in the loop. Sign up for email notifications and follow the airlines on social media so you know when the sales start. They are usually on for a short period of time and it’s usually to destinations that you might not have heard of before. Once again, being flexible with your ‘where’ and ‘when’ is a great way to fly for cheap.
20. Make the most of last minute flight deals
Airlines simply don’t want to be flying their planes with empty seats and because of this, you can sometimes find some really cheap flight deals last minute. It might be a cheap deal with a budget airline or a cheaper upgrade. Use Skyscanner and the other flight search engines to find cheap upcoming flights.
21. Bid to get a cheap flight upgrade
A number of airlines have now started a bid system to upgrade your seats. It’s not a method to guarantee you’ll get an upgrade but it’s possibly a cheaper way of having a go at getting an upgrade. The Points Guy is a fantastic source to find out which airlines open their seats up for bidding and what their terms and conditions are. Just be sure to not bid more than you can afford and check how much the seat would originally cost to make sure you’re not accidentally paying more than you should be.
22. Sign up for rewards programmes and collect air miles
Points travel is something that is growing and growing and becoming more accessible to more of us. I’ll be honest here and say that this is just something I have started to dabble in but if travel is your priority then collect points that can be converted to air miles is a no brainer. There are some great resources out there like The Points Guy and Money Saving Expert who put all the information about it into easy-to-understand articles.
Essentially though, you will need to sign up to reward programmes or use credit cards which have a points sign up incentive to start collecting points to use to pay for flights. At the moment, as I’m from the UK, I have joined up to the British Airways Executive Club and converted my Tesco Clubcard points to Avios Points. Once I joined (it’s completely free by the way), I also downloaded their app and added my everyday debit card I use as they also have an alliance with a number of retailers and restaurants so when I shop at them, I also collect Avios points.
Avios are part of the Oneworld Alliance which includes 13 airlines, so you can fly with any of them. Collecting Avios points is a great way to get a cheap flight or to get an upgrade for cheap. Just don’t spend money for the sake of spending it, especially if you’re collecting points on rewards credit cards. Nothing is worth getting into huge debt for!
23. Get access to airport lounges for cheap with Dragon Pass
Unless you have a certain class ticket (i.e not economy) or have access to lounges via a rewards scheme or credit card, using airline lounges can be really expensive. Fortunately, I stumbled across a great airport hack that will allow you to buy one time access to tonnes of lounges from $23.
Dragon Pass gives you access to over 1000 airport lounges globally and usually costs $99 a year. However, if you sign up and create an account with Regus (this is an office space booking company) you can actually get Dragon Pass for free. You’ll need to sign up to Regus, Airport Lounges under Service & Benefits, download the Dragon Pass app and enter a code you will have been sent via email. The app then lists all the airport lounges available, the cost to use them as well as reviews. It’s a great luxe for less tip to enhance a cheap flight!
24. Sign up for email and app alerts
To keep on top of flight error fares, price drops or airline sales, be sure to subscribe to their mailing lists and set up alerts where you can, especially if you’re looking for specific flights. Having these set up will help you track what’s going on with the prices so you can book the cheapest airfare possible.
25. Find the best seat on the plane
Last but not least, you’ve found the best and cheapest airfare online, you’ve decided to book it but then you also have to choose where to sit. It doesn’t matter if it’s a long or a short flight you’re taking, you can always be a bit tactical about where you sit. Seat Guru has seat maps of hundred of airline’s planes so you can work out where the bathrooms are, where the exit aisles are and so on. The website also allows passengers to submit a review of their seat so you can hopefully choose one where you will be comfortable. It’s completely free to use and so handy if you’re going to be on there for a long flight.
Another tip I have heard about is to book the aisle and window seat if you’re travelling as a 2, and hope that no solo traveller wants to book the middle seat. Of course, there are no guarantees though!