Ahhh the art of booking budget flights; people are always surprised at the cheap deals I manage to find online and over the years I’ve become some kind of flight mule, finding and booking flights for friends and family (you’re welcome!) so I thought I’d write this guide with a few pointers on finding better deals.
When booking my travels I never really have a fixed destination in mind and I often let price dictate where I go. I use Skyscanner and search from my airport (London-all airports) to “everywhere” and put in the month I want to travel.
The great thing about this search is that it lists countries and ALL of the possible cities you can fly into for each country. So, under “Spain” you will see all the major (and minor) airports of the country, which works out well when you’re looking to book budget flights. For example, I might know that I want to fly to Barcelona but I’ll never specify as even just a slight tweak in your itinerary could make things a lot cheaper; if you just type in “Barcelona” you might miss the fact that you could instead fly to Girona (a lovely city around an hour away by coach) or Reus (1 hour 48 minutes away). Or you could see that, actually, flying to Valencia is half the price of flying into Barcelona and you could fit in a day trip there or even a whole weekend for the same price as flying direct to Barcelona. If Barcelona was my destination, then I’d just type in “Spain” and see the cheapest options available and see whether I could do any cool day trips to the cities I’m flying into.
Skyscanner works best for inter-Europe flights as it lists all of the budget airlines and booking one way tickets is far cheaper than booking a return. I’ve seen this happen: recently I’d searched flights and found that the one I wanted to buy from Morocco to London now cost over £100, using the “return flight” option. I thought maybe in the few days I dithered over whether to book the flight or not, lots of people had nabbed the cheaper flights, but when I searched for a single ticket from Morocco to London, it was still around £60, the same price I’d seen a few days ago. For European flights, booking one way tickets is cheaper, though the opposite is in fact the case when booking to go further afield. To fly to South America for example, a one way ticket costs almost as much as a return and as most South American countries are huuuge, you’re normally going to be flying from city to city anyway, so may not necessarily want to book a return. In this case, Google Flights and STA travel do open-jaw tickets and I’ve booked one flight from London to Lima, Peru and a return flight from Rio, Brazil, using the multi-city/ open jaw function, which often costs the same as a traditional return ticket in and out of the same city, but means that you don’t have to backtrack to catch your flight home.
You can also use this function to search the entire year to see which months are the cheapest to fly to your chosen destination (“search by cheapest month” function) and even departing one day earlier or later could mean huge reductions in the price. Once you’ve found flights that work for you, write down the dates, times and airline and then close the window. Leave that shit behind! Skyscanner charges a commission if you book through their website, so always book directly on the website of your chosen airline.
If you search for flights more than once, most airlines (and Skyscanner) will put cookies onto your computer, meaning that the next time you search for flights, the prices will have mysteriously risen. There are a lot of naysayers who think this isn’t true, but I’ve seen it myself using a few different computers at the same time to search the exact same flights and seen different prices, which isn’t due to “fluctuation in demand” as airlines often claim. So, before you book the flight, clear your cookies or search on one computer and buy on another. On Chrome you can do this by pressing CTRL+ H and clear your entire browsing history, or just the cookies. Be careful if you choose to clear “everything” as you will lose passwords previously saved on your computer and you’ll automatically be logged out of Facebook and other sites.
You also get charged more on the basis of your location, so obviously a flight booked from London will be more expensive than one booked from Calcutta. I also have a hunch that more expensive models of computers pay more for their flights than other computer users, I once saw a difference in price from using my new(er) HP laptop compared to a twenty-year old bruck desktop. Don’t believe me? Just see how much information websites can gather about you without your permission by clicking here.
If you’re looking to go further afield, try Google Flights, where you can input an entire region to find the cheapest flight. For example, if you’re looking to do a three month trip in Southeast Asia, but don’t mind where you start, you can find good deals by inputting your home airport and “Southeast Asia” as the destination. I’ve generally found Google Flights to be really expensive though, but maybe that’s because I’m always searching one way (YOLO lol…so millenial of me using TWO acronyms). Don’t forget agencies like STA travel who have some of the cheapest flights around the world and you get a further discount if you’re under 31 (YOLOU31). You can visit your local STA travel and ask them to find flights to your destinations and they can print you an itinerary with details of the times and the airline, so you can either book it yourself at home (don’t let them this ;)) or do it through them. They also have an option where you can pay an extra £50 and be able to change your flights while travelling at no additional cost, if you choose a date that’s not more expensive, i.e. if you don’t move from a winter date to a high season summer one or move from a Monday to a Friday. I did this when I wanted to change my flight back to London from Salvador, Brazil and changed to a flight that was two weeks earlier and from Rio De Janeiro and I didn’t pay any extra. This was four years ago though, so check that this offer is still available. You also get £50 off your flight if you book an appointment and buy the flights there and then and I remember getting a night in a hostel free with STA.
Also, sign up to websites like Scott’s Cheap Flights and Jack’s Flight Club and they will send you a few emails a week, with the latest deals from your local airport. This is best used for non-EU and long-haul flights, as mentioned above, Skyscanner will always be the best for EU flights. You’d need to ideally book flights from Jack or Scott within hours of being emailed, as they tend to disappear quite quickly. I generally see deals for around £250 return to the USA, Costa Rica, the Caribbean and Canada. These websites always show you the same regions; I get lots of offers on North America and Iceland, but never once have I seen South America.
Sign up to your favourite airlines’ mailing lists and they will notify you when they release tickets for their flights; Ryanair and EasyJet release tickets up to one year in advance and if you prefer to travel on weekends or during half-term then make sure you sign up so that you can get the cheaper prices. They also announce sales through their mailing lists, so you’d be one of the first to grab a bargain.
Best airlines for inter-European flights:
For cheap flights to the following countries/regions, check out the airlines adjacent:
Cuba– Eurowings (from Germany but book a budget flight there or you can pay a bit more and fly direct from London with a stopover in Cologne, as I did. I went in January 2017 and paid £220 one way, but saw flights for £180 too).
Mexico– Thomas Cook (or TUI as they now call themselves, I flew in March 2017 for £250 one way Cancun-London, booked less than four weeks in advance. Belgium also came up cheap too).
Greece– Norwegian Air
Morocco– EasyJet, Ryanair
Latin America– Iberia, Norwegian Air (from February 2018 they will start flying to Argentina, ¡Olé!)
USA– Norwegian Air, WOW
From London the cheapest destinations are: Denmark, Sweden, Norway, France, Spain (Barcelona), Italy (Milan and Bologna), Germany, Poland, Romania, Macedonia, Luxembourg, it’s quite normal to see flights to these places for around £10-15 one way using the flexible “everywhere” Skyscanner function and to maybe fly into cheaper cities close to your chosen destination or even reversing your itinerary to make things cheaper. For example, it was cheaper for me to fly from Milan in the north of Italy to Sicily in the south (£20) than it was for me to fly from the centre of the country (Rome) to Sicily, even though Rome is halfway between the two places! So I just rearranged the order of the cities I visited and saved around £80, flying direct from Milan (where I was visiting friends) to Sicily and then travelling from Sicily to Rome, going from point A to point C to point B! It took the same amount of time too, even though looking at a map it would make way more sense to travel from Milan to Rome and then to Sicily. (NB: Flights from Sicily to London are also really expensive compared to Rome). All the above information also applies to buying last minute tickets.
I’ve also noticed that flying to Belgium from London is surprisingly expensive, considering how close it is, but flights to Luxembourg can be had for less then £10 and then you could get a coach or train from Luxembourg to Brussels which is only a 2.5 hour journey and you get to spend the day in Luxembourg, an additional country 😉 !
Let me know if you have any other tips you would add and if any of the above info helped you get cheaper flights, spread the word peeps!