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Sally | Edited by Steve N
Updated November 2017
Leave it until the last minute and flight costs are often sky-high but plan ahead and book the right way and the savings can soar. Whether you’ve the flexibility to travel anywhere, anytime, or are looking for set places and dates, we’ve 27 tips to cut the cost of jet-setting.
Not all comparison sites are the same, so this guide takes you through the different types. Plus we’ve clever tricks to cut the cost of school holiday travel, uncover how many cheap seats are left, grab credit card freebie flights and more.
Affected by the Monarch collapse? Monarch Airlines went into administration on 2 Oct 2017, with an estimated 860,000 customers affected. If you’re one of them and you’re looking for help getting home, demanding a refund or making a travel insurance claim, see our Monarch Airlines help guide.
27 cheap flight tips, including.
Use the top comparison sites to slash costs if you know your exact dates and destination
If you know when and where you want to go, then don’t go direct to an airline; use a price comparison site to get lots of data in a very short time. However.
Different comparison sites search different firms, so check at least two.
Top pick comparison sites
All allow you to search by flight class and include travel brokers, charter airlines and budget airlines.
Kayak* for a comparison incl baggage and payment fees. We argue within MSE Towers about the very top pick, but Kayak is Martin’s favourite, so it wins. Not only that, but it also allows you to filter options based on credit/debit card fees and whether or not you want to check in bags so you can compare costs more accurately.
Skyscanner* for the very cheapest time to fly. Another MSE Towers favourite, Skyscanner gives you fare options spread over a month to find exactly when’s cheapest. It has particularly strong coverage of budget flights, searching over 1,200 airlines and travel sites in total.
Momondo* for its flight data info. We like Momondo for its nifty tool that tells you the cheapest and most expensive dates around your flight, as well as helpful insights such as the cheapest airport to fly from/into. It doesn’t do it for all destinations, but it has the biggies – New York, Dubai, Sydney, Cape Town.
It’s also worth checking Google – it can be a useful starting point before going to some of the others – plus try Cheapflights, Fly.com, Dohop. If you want a hotel too, Expedia* can be a good option. Discuss which ones you prefer in the forum.
Flight brokers can give big discounts if you’re booking a hotel as well
Flight brokers are essentially online travel agents. They allow you to book flights, hotels and car hire, often giving extra discounts if you combine them. Plus, you get extra protection for combination bookings.
While this can be a big boon, sometimes you’ll find it’s cheaper to book separately use the comparison sites above for flights, and get the best price for accommodation using our Cheap Hotels guide. But, you need to balance the gain of the protection against the extra cost.
What protection do I get?
If you make flight and accommodation bookings with the same company within the same day, you get ATOL protection even though it’s not a formal package deal. This means that if your travel operator goes bust, your money is protected, and if you’re already away, it’ll get you home. You can read more about ATOL in our Holiday Rights guide.
It’s not just how you book, it’s WHEN you book
When looking for cheap flight tickets, timing is absolutely crucial.
Unlike package holidays, flights should generally be booked early. Business folk will pay top dollar at the last minute, so prices soar.
Unless you prefer sticking with the same airline and you’re holding out for a sale you know is coming up, it’s usually best to book as early as you can.
The latest research from the comparison site Momondo* found it’s generally best to book 56 days ahead (last time it did the research it was 53) and that booking then is on average 28% cheaper than booking on the day of departure. The last cheap booking date varies by destination, though, so you can use Momondo’s ‘Flight Insight’ tab on many routes to see the data for it (see Flight Insight for info).
However Momondo’s figures are based on the prices quoted in flight searches, and that factors in sales too, so take its ‘perfect day to book’ info with a big pinch of salt, and if in doubt book early.
Momondo also found that Tuesdays and evenings (after 6pm) are generally the cheapest time to fly, while Saturdays are the most expensive. If you can be flexible, it’s worth checking prices on different days and at different times to see if you can cut the cost further.
Beat the school holiday price hikes with the Easyjet ‘book the wrong date’ trick
We’ve found a clever way to bag cheaper flights using Easyjet’s ‘Flexifares’, which let you switch dates by a few weeks without paying extra. It works the whole year round, but it’s particularly useful when prices shoot up during the school holidays. It’s just one of several tips we’ve got to flying with Easyjet – see Easyjet Flight Tricks for more.
The idea is to book a Flexifare on the same route at a less busy time when flights are cheaper. Then after 24 hours, provided there’s capacity, you can switch it to the dates you originally wanted at no extra charge. It’s not the easiest trick in the book, but if it works it could save you Ј100s.
We had to go away in the last week of May prices were through the roof because it was half term. Flights for the family, travelling at the weekend with luggage, cost Ј836 all-in. But booking flexi-flights two weeks earlier cost just Ј405. After a nervous 24-hour wait we switched them to the weekend we wanted Ј431 saved!
Forumite Green1960 saved Ј700 on flights to Lanzarote in the school hols:
When we went on the Easyjet website, the flights were over Ј1,500 including bags. We then booked the flexi-flights, which were Ј848 a saving of Ј700. A bit nerve-wracking for the 24 hours, but we know it works. There must be availability obviously on the dates you are changing to.
How to do it: full step-by-step help
It’s not guaranteed, but follow our steps to see if it works for you.
Step 1: Check at least 20 seats are available on the date you want to fly. This trick is a bit of a gamble because you have to wait before switching your flights, there’s always a risk the seats you want could be snapped up in the meantime and that you could be left with a ticket for the wrong dates.
Our suggestion then is that you pretend to book standard tickets for a large party on the dates you actually want to fly (but don’t actually go through with the purchase). If you can still get a quote for, say, 20 seats, chances are there’ll still be room once you switch flights. The fewer seats left, the more of a gamble you’re taking.
Step 2: Book a cheaper Flexifare on an alternate date. Find and book a Flexifare ticket on the same route, no more than one week before or three weeks after you want to fly. As a bonus, these tickets also include speedy boarding and one piece of hold luggage but they aren’t available on every route, so check your destination’s included.
Step 3: Watch and wait. This is the nerve-wracking bit. You’ll need to wait at least 24 hours until you switch your Flexifare tickets to the dates you want. You’ll be able to move each ticket by up to one week before or three weeks after, if there’s space on a flight. You can change the dates as many times as you like but if there’s no availability, you won’t be able to switch.
Step 4: Switch your flights as soon as you can. As soon as the 24 hours are up, log on to the Easyjet website, check the dates you’re after are still available and switch your flights.