Finding a cheap flight is a complex beast.
One time it may be a 10 minute job, the next you may spend hours going round in circles, feeling like you’re the main character in a heist movie.
This post is a little epic (Homer eat your heart out) as I wanted to compile all the information in one place so I definitely recommend saving for when you’re about to book and then clicking on the scenario that’s most relevant for you:
- Before you book
- When you’re flexible on dates and destination
- When you’re flexible on dates but know the destination
- When you’re flexible on destination but know your dates
- When you know your dates and the destination
- When you need to think outside the box to get the price down
The first five are fairly straightforward but the latter is my ultimate checklist.
This is something I’ve added to over the years and that I use to squeeze out extra deals. It’s literally all my trade secrets in ONE PLACE ??
So if you’re somewhat travel savvy already, then I’d head straight there.
Unless, like me, you love this kind of thing, this is a bit of a long read and so remember to bookmark or pin this article so that you can pop back when booking any flights in the future.
This post does include some affiliate links. They won’t boost the price for you, but they will help me to continue running this site!
Before we get cracking, here’s a few things to bear in mind off the bat:
- Always do your searches in private or incognito mode so that sites don’t inflate prices that you’ve searched repeatedly. This isn’t always needed, but it doesn’t hurt to use it as standard.
- If you’re spending more than £100 per ticket, always book on a credit card as you’ll have payment protection if the seller goes bust, or the product isn’t as described
WHEN YOU’RE FLEXIBLE ON DATES AND DESTINATION
- Head to Skyscanner, type in your departure airport, click on ‘whole month’ and then select ‘cheapest month’ for your dates
- You can also type in just your city, e.g. ‘London’ or country, e.g. ‘United Kingdom’, and tick ‘add nearby airports’ for even more options
- If you’re overwhelmed by results, try selecting whole months instead
- Good to know: Skyscanner vets all of the travel agents they use and monitor them closely.
- Similar to Skyscanner, you can use Kayak’s flight page to search ‘Anywhere’, however more fun is their ‘explore‘ function which can be accessed by clicking on ‘explore’ in the homepage’s menu (this may be hidden in ‘more’) and pop in your date range and duration
- Here you’ll gain a map view of potential destinations which is a great visual tool!
- (Skyscanner actually has a map view too but… I prefer Kayak!)
- Head to Ryanair’s Fare Finder – yes, you can only search their flights but the search options are AMAZING. If only all sites had this functionality!
- First things first, get past the initial page as you can really tailor your search on the next page
- What I love is that not only can you search ‘anywhere’ and ‘anytime’, but you can also look at the next 3 months and, my favourite, date ranges!
- Get some travel inspo from Secret Flying, Jack’s Flight Club and Scott’s Cheap Flights who all compile the amazing deals they find
- Before booking, check your chosen flights on momondo – sometimes they’ll find cheaper prices, though this tends to be for long haul flights
WHEN YOU’RE FLEXIBLE ON DATES BUT KNOW THE DESTINATION
- Head to Google Flights, type in your destination and click ‘reset’ on the dates to reveal a calendar that clearly shows you the best prices
- Don’t worry if you don’t know your trip duration, the calendar shows all options so just ignore this at the bottom
- What is fantastic about Google Flights is that once you’ve selected your dates, you can also add in a range of filters including bags, stops and times that really help when you need to be specific.
- It also suggest tips, such as the fact you can fly the same route Premium for £753.
- Google Flights is amazing for spotting patterns of when cheap flights land however, they often do not show the cheapest prices so once you have your dates, remember to check against Skyscanner and momondo
- Head to Skyscanner, type in your intended destination, click on ‘whole month’ and then select ‘cheapest month’, or, if you know what month you’d like to travel, select that instead
- Similarly, you can try Kayak’s flight page which allows you some flexibility on your dates but personally, I prefer Skyscanner’s offering
- However, there is a weekend option which is good for finding those annual leave friendly flights
- Also, I really like the explore option that allows you to search a map
- The explore function also has a ‘holidays’ option that lets you search school holiday dates
- Once more, before you book, do check your chosen flights on momondo as you may be able to get a cheaper deal here
WHEN YOU’RE FLEXIBLE ON DESTINATION BUT KNOW YOUR DATES
- Head to Skyscanner, type in ‘everywhere’, and then pop in your dates
- Head to Kayak and peruse their explore function to visualise where you could go on a map!
- Again, remember to whack in your chosen details into momondo as you may save a few bob using this site
WHEN YOU KNOW YOUR DATES AND THE DESTINATION
- Head to Google Flights, fill in what you want and use their clever filters to navigate the best price once you’ve added all your preferences – check in bags, departure times, stops, etc.
- This is handy as other search engines may only allow you to search these extras once you’ve selected a flight and so if a particular airline has a cheap fare but an astronomical price for luggage, you’ll be able to spot that using Google easier
- Once you have this knowledge, or if you simply want the cheapest of the cheap, head on over to Skyscanner and momondo to double and triple check the costs
- As flight prices can go up and down, it can be sometimes difficult to gauge if you’re getting it for the cheapest price possible. Whilst there’s a lot of theories about when is the best time to book, on a Sunday for example, but it often comes down to market demand – which can be very hard to plot!
- However, a more scientific way to gauge this is using apps and the Hopper app uses stats to tell you whether to pounce or wait it out
- I’ve used the app for over a year now and I will admit that I have totally ignored it’s warnings, and gone on to find cheaper flights, HOWEVER, what it is very good for is flagging when you’ve found a KILLER deal – particularly on long haul
- I’ve also picked up that in general, the closer you get to the date of departure, the more expensive it’s going to get. Just because a flight isn’t sold out, doesn’t mean they’re going to flog the seats for cheap. I once paid £355 (okay fine, work paid) for a last minute flight to Luxembourg and when I got on board, there were only 10 other people on it!
You still with me? Good. Because now is the time to reveal all those little tricks I’ve picked up over the years that can save you hundreds of pounds.
They won’t all work for your specific trip, but what I hope they’ll do is help you develop alternative methods that will not only help you save money, but make you feel like a TOTAL TRAVEL GURU!
Here we go.
THE ULTIMATE CHEAP FLIGHT CHECKLIST
- Find your accommodation first
- Well. This isn’t what you expected, was it? But before we get down to the nitty gritty, I wanted to just pop my head up and go ‘yes cheap flights are brilliant and all that but…’ – do not let a cheap flight distract you from the fact that accommodation tends to be the biggest cost when going away.
- SO. Do have a look at that first because if it means paying an extra £50 for your flight, it will be well worth it if your accommodation is £300 cheaper for that period
- Top tip: It can be hard to find when hotels are cheap so why not look at Airbnb instead? Whilst there’s lots of choose from, I recommend their ‘Plus‘ range (the creme de la creme of Airbnbs) or try googling ‘best Airbnbs in New York‘ (replace with city of choice, obvs). These places do get booked up quicker but you can use their availability calendar as a starter for dates, and have the peace of mind that you’re staying somewhere lush
- Oh go on have another tip: the Airbnb app displays the prices in a calendar format but the website doesn’t so definitely get that bad boy downloaded for the easiest way to see prices
- One last thing: Why not try and get free accommodation by house sitting?
OKAY I’M READY TO CHAT FLIGHTS NOW.
- Check nearby airports
- Sometimes ticking ‘search for nearby airports’ isn’t enough – you need to manually search for alternative airports
- For example, did you know that you can reach Birmingham International airport for as little as £7 and it’s only 1 hour and 10 minutes away from London?
- I used this trip when I needed to find a cheap flight from New York to Miami. Everything was so expensive, but then I discovered that I could fly from Long Island (just over an hour’s train away from NYC) for just £30! I saved myself so much money.
- Book a multi-city trip to fly from/return to a different airport
- Travel jargon alert – when you fly from and back from different airports, this is called an open jaw flight
- If your flight is coming up pricey, it may be that one of your legs is much more expensive than the other. Therefore, why not look to see if you could swap the pricey one to/from a different location?
- I did this when flying to a wedding in Perugia. The flight out was £30 – SOUND AS A POUND LAD – but the flight back was £270. WITH RYANAIR. I was horrified. So instead, I looked at other Italian airports within a two hour radius and not only did I find a flight back from Rome for less than half the price, it was also BUSINESS CLASS ?♀️?♀️?♀️ (could literally not be more smug).
- What’s more, the train from Perugia to Rome was a chilled two hour £10 trundle through the Italian countryside with a bottle of prosecco. As I said. Smug AF.
- Turn your connection into another destination with multi-city
- Does your long haul flight have a stop? Then why not turn that stop into another destination?
- Using the multi-city function, enter the flight details that you’ve been presented with flight by flight but instead of a measly 3 hour stopover, change the date so that you can spend some time in that destination instead.
- So often this will cost the same, or even, if you’re lucky, even cheaper!!
- Flying to an International hub? Super serve your holiday by adding another destination!
- If your destination also happens to be one of the world’s largest airports – think Atlanta, Beijing, Dubai and Los Angeles – there could be a chance you could add on another destination for not much more
- I wrote a blog post about how you can super serve a trip to Dubai by adding in Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and Vietnam for less than £100
- If flying to multiple destinations, try flying with the same airline
- If flying with multiple airlines, try booking your flights individually
- Flying one way? Try searching for a return
- Yep – sometimes it’s cheaper to purchase a return flight than just one way. Madness.
- Searching for two people? Try searching individually
- There may be one ticket left at the cheapest price, so check how much it would cost if you selected the tickets individually in case it adds up to less
- You could also try booking the cheap rate simultaneously – but most websites won’t be fooled that easily!
- Not travelling on your own? Make sure you’ve changed your search to reflect it
- It can be easy to search for prices on the preset of ‘1 adult’, but strangely, you can sometimes get cheaper rates when you’re booking more than one ticket so give that a go too
- Go on a holiday someone else can no longer make
- Transfer travel is a site that lets you book unwanted holidays and the great news is that the price you see INCLUDES the name change fees
- There’s flights, hotels, package deals and even bus and train fares on here!
- I also really like that some people tell you why they can no longer go – one fella lamented that it was intended as a romantic getaway but they’d unfortunately broken up… ???
- I haven’t used this site yet, so can’t vouch for it, but I am SO INTRIGUED
- Go for a dump
- I mean a FUEL DUMP obviously (I’m 29 and in desperate need of a better sense of humour)
- As well as referring to when a plane needs to dispose of fuel, the secret meaning is when you have a connecting flight, but you sack off the last flight and leave halfway through
- For example, you may find a cracking deal from Inverness (oddly, Inverness often gets airfares cheaper than the rest of the country!!) but you could do with jumping out at London Heathrow on the way back
- Well, you could technically do this as long as you didn’t check in any luggage
- Now, this is FROWNED UPON but it’s very unlikely that an airline would take action about you not turning up for your final flight (though some have!) since people miss them all the time, but definitely read up on it before you do this
- Skipplagged is site that exploits this, though they’re pretty US centric
- It’s definitely worth saying that you cannot join a flight midway through – you can only ‘dump’ the final leg!
- Check the departures and arrivals board of your wanted destination
- If you know exactly where you want to go, it’s definitely worth checking to see what flights are coming in and out. This is because new airlines, or new routes, can sometimes take a while to filter through
- I saw this recently when looking for flights for a friend travelling to Shenzhen in China. Neither Skyscanner or momondo showed me that a new route served by Shenzhen Airlines was a whopping £300 cheaper than the direct options they were giving me (they are finally coming up in the search results now!)
- Try foreign search engines
- Search engines local to the destinations you’re heading may be able to offer you a better a deal – but remember to book with a card that doesn’t charge you a foreign transaction fee
- When travelling around Vietnam, I came across Baolau‘s search engine and not only did it offer train fares, it consistently offered plane fares for less money than the likes of Skyscanner – and having just checked, it still does!
- Baolau also works if you’re travelling around China, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Philippines or Indonesia
- Try booking in a currency that’s seen a sudden dip in value
- This is quite a new tip I’ve heard about but I like it in theory! The thought is that if a currency dips, you could try to book a flight in said currency and save a lot due to the conversion rates
- It’s likely that airlines will be across this, but if you’re quick, you might just catch them out!
- Of course, remember that when booking in a currency different from your own, you may incur a foreign transaction fee so check what rates you have on the card you’re purchasing with!
- Check business class
- Now this sounds WILD I know, but sometimes, just sometimes, someone makes a blunder and you might find a better class of seat for the same or less money – it’s happened to me ONCE where it was £25 cheaper to fly business than economy with British Airways. Absolute insanity mate.
- Double check how much it would cost you to upgrade
- Often, you can only select different classes for a return journey if you’re booking direct with the airline (which often costs you more that third party travel agents) however, do double check as I once missed a £100 upgrade to Premium Economy when booking with TravelUp (booked via Skyscanner) for a 12 HOUR FLIGHT from Mexico City which I wasn’t allowed to add on after purchase
- When I got to the check in desk, they said it would cost me £800 to upgrade. I was FEWMIN’
- Check vouchers and promo codes
- Now, money off and promo codes aren’t the norm when it comes to booking flights but some third parties, such as opodo, do often flaunt these from time to time so it can be worth a quick google
- Book an error fare
- An error fare is exactly that – when someone makes a f*ck up and you reap the benefits
- You can technically find these yourself but it will take a lot of man hours without the certainty of finding a deal so instead, take a look at the sites listed next who will flag error fares as and when they arise
- Also heed their advice on booking them – they’re not always honoured!
- Check Secret Flying
- Secret Flying is my FAVOURITE website when it comes to a place that compiles the best deals, open jaw flights, error fares – the works! The only problem is that there is just too much on there ?
- What’s more, most of their deals are completely free to access
- My tip would be to sign up for daily emails as you can choose your departure location
- Also, the search options on their website is pretty helpful
- Sign up for Jack’s Flight Club
- Jack’s Flight Club also compiles the best deals out there. There’s a free option that will get you one or two deals a week, but as a paid member (which I’ve been for three years running – it costs £35 a year), you’ll get sent ALL the deals and lists of weekend friendly flights
- What I will say is that I will rarely see a deal via Jack’s Flight Club that I haven’t then seen for free on Secret Flying, HOWEVER, they do send you an email as and when the deal is found and since you have to react quite quickly to them, I do find this really convenient
- Sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights
- Scott’s Cheap Flights is a similar offering to Jack’s Flight Club.
- I’m not a paying member of this one so alas, I cannot comment further!
- Check Airfare Watchdog
- Airfare Watchdog is yet another option, but if you’re searching for that particular flight, it may be worth checking in with what offers they’ve got there as well – JUST IN CASE
- In general, I find that once one group reports a cheap deal or error fare, they all start circulating it so don’t be overwhelmed by the choices. Perhaps choose just two and check those more often
- Seen a great deal but it doesn’t fit your dates?
- All these cheap flight groups are amazing but they may not list all available dates or, if they do, they may have missed one
- Head to Google Flights and add in the locations and dates that have been given as an example
- Do not worry if Google Flights aren’t showing the same cheap price – this is normal, as you tend to get the best prices by checking with other websites
- However, what Google Flights is amazing for is spotting the patterns. So, if the example dates are showing up as say, £400, you can then hit ‘reset’ on the dates, scroll through the calendar and look for other £400 dates
- Then, whack those newly found dates into Skyscanner and momondo and hopefully they’ll also show the same bargainous price!
- In general, I find that once one group reports a cheap deal or error fare, they all start circulating it so don’t be overwhelmed by the choices. Perhaps choose just two and check those more often
- Need a specific fare? Set price alerts
- If you’ve already download the Hopper (the app that uses stats to give you hints on when to book) and have decided to wait it out, it’s worth setting price alerts on the routes you’re after
- On Skycanner, you can find this to the right labelled as ‘Get Price Alerts’ after you’ve made your initial search
- They’ll then email you when prices change – be that up, or down
- Need bags? Know the airlines that offer them for free/cheap
- With more and more airlines (we’re looking at you, Virgin and BA) offering fares without bags, if you need to add in some luggage, that cheap rate may not be so cheap after all
- Google Flights allows you to add in carry on bags to your search
- Otherwise, keep scrolling through your results on the lookout for an airline that offers bags as standard.
- A few to look out for are Cathay Pacific, Emirates and Etihad
- Whilst on the face of it, Ryanair has one of the worst baggage policies since they only allow you a small personal item on board HOWEVER, you can make it work for you since you can add a 10kg piece of checked luggage from £10 each way (used to be just £8 – the scoundrels!)
- Ignore the ‘upgrade to plus’ nonsense, select a basic/standard fare and on the next page, you’ll be give further bag options
- This means that from just £20 return, you can go wild on 100ml+ products and even pack a bottle of voddy (no?? Just me???)
- easyJet also offer a ‘Hands Free’ service where you pay £6 (or £14 for a group of 3 to 6 people) to drop your cabin bag at an easyJet Bag Drop before security – where you’ll receive a tote bag for the items you’ll need on the flight
- The idea behind this is that you don’t have to drag a case around with you but the total winner is that since it’s BEFORE security, you can have liquids over 100ml in there
- What’s more, your bags will be tagged as ‘priority’ so will be out first
- If you have a Pay Monthly deal with Three, you can currently get this service for free but only for the flight departing the UK
- Bag Drop is not available on all flights so check and book ahead!
- Lastly, if you’re flying from London, it may be worth checking British Airway’s Holiday Finder as they offer a free checked bag for all flight + hotel deals (they also have a really fun search engine that lets you search destinations by temperature!)
- Check British Airway’s Holiday Finder
- As mentioned above, not only do you get a free checked bag if you book with British Airway’s Holiday Finder, you can also get a cracking deal
- A few times I have found the price of the entire deal to be cheaper than the flight alone – winner – however, do always check the costs individually because on the flip side, you could end up paying more
- As well, you can pay just a deposit on bookings over £300 from £75 per person
- Check package deals
- Now, I love making life hard for myself so I’m not always a huge package deal fan BUT, after my mate managed to blag flights and a five night stay in a 4 star New York hotel for just £600, I realised that I was probably missing out on a cracking deal or two
- My favourite place to check is lastminute.com
- Buy a ’round the world’ ticket
- Genuinely thought these only existed in 50’s fiction but no, they are indeed a real thing!
- Skyscanner have done an impressive job of summarising here and have given these following reasons for why you should book one of these rather than doing it yourself via multi-city:
- Your trip is less than a year
- You’re not bothered about flying with budget airlines (like Ryanair or AirAsia)
- You have a set travel plan
- You’re buying tickets on behalf of a group or family
- You’re part of a frequent flier programme and collect miles and perks
- Get a free upgrade – sign up for frequent flyer programmes
- Now, I wish I could tell you how to nail this but alas, the last time I got a free upgrade was 13 years ago – BLIMEY!
- However, one thing you must do is sign up for the frequent flyer programmes. Not only will you collect points (that one day may equal prizes in the form of free flights), but you’re just giving yourself that boost up for being selected for a free upgrade
- Obviously, you’ll be up against all the frequent flyers but HEY, this is a very free way to get your foot on the ladder!
- Fly for free with points
- Now, I’m not the best person to talk about collecting miles as I’m a total floozy and will cast aside all brand loyalty to save money
- However, there are credit cards out there that will reward you with free miles but first things first – DO NOT GET ONE UNLESS YOU ARE WILLING TO PAY IT BACK MONTHLY
- As someone who’s not so good with money, I was wary of this so ended up signing up for the American Express Gold card (I’m not gonna link to these as I do not want to encourage anyone to get into debt!) because it is in fact a charge card rather than a credit card meaning that I HAD to pay it off every single month
- I got 10,000 points by spending (and paying off) £1k in 3 months and with my spending throughout the rest of the year, I earned another 15,000 points which I transferred out to Virgin miles
- These were the very ones I used recently to upgrade to premium economy for £78 when flying to LA, which would have cost me £800 otherwise
- So yes, it can work, but be wary and check additional fees
- Top tip: Shop with Tesco? You can turn your clubcard points into points too!
- Is there another form of transport cheaper?
- Don’t forget to check trains, ferries, car hire and even car shares if you’re struggling to find a flight within your budget
- One of my FAVOURITE money saving tips is to do a relocation. This is when a hire company has rented a car or campervan for one way hire, and instead of spending a lot of time and money getting it back, they let you hire it for as little as £1 to chug it back to them
- My favourite sites for this are imoova, Spaceships, Wicked Campers, driiveme, Jucy, transfercar North America, transfercar New Zealand and transfercar Australia
Right. I need a bloody drink. And so do you if you’ve got to the end of that.
Overall, I hope that’s given you some ideas about how you can make your money go further when it comes to booking flights.
Got any more tips? I’d bloody LOVE to hear them so please comment below.
And remember to let me know if you use any of these so that I can holiday vicariously though you all!