You’ve booked your solo travel trip, but you need to get there. In this interview, Jack from Jack’s Flight Club, the cheap flight alerts newsletter and mobile app, tells us how to get cheap flights
You’ve booked – or are on the verge – of booking your dream holiday. You’ve decided that group travel is for you, decided on a destination, the kind of activities you’re into, and that you are definitely excited about meeting new people. There’s just one major factor left to sort out: the flights.
Now, we love to give you travel tips here on our humble travel blog, but when it comes to getting cheap flights to anywhere or the best flight deals, there’s only one man to turn to: Jack of Jack’s Flight Club, who spends his life helping people travel the world for less, whether on budget airlines or business class flights.
We had a chat with him and he gave us some great tips, from free upgrades to foxing the airlines’ systems.
What’s your top tip on how to find and when to buy cheap flights?
Announced airline sales aren’t exciting. The unannounced sales are what you’re after.
This is probably the most important tip of them all. Airlines have seasonal sales. Some airlines have monthly “sales”. The main purpose of these is to get headlines and get you to check out their flights in hope of you buying a ticket.
But, in reality, most sales hardly lower prices at all – and usually only for the off-peak dates rather than throughout the year.
If you’re planning on travelling over the summer holidays, you’ll notice that regular ‘sales’ won’t even include price drops on your travel dates. But, every so often those same routes will have an ‘unannounced sale’ and will drop in price without any notice at all.
Airlines have complex Revenue Management Systems which use historical data to forecast how many sales any particular flight should have at any given time approaching the departure date. If at any point the flights are undersold versus their projections (as in more seats are still unsold than expected), the airline will briefly lower the fare, sometimes by as much as 50%, to quick sell enough tickets to catch up to their projection.
As soon as those seats are sold (can sometimes be a few hours or a day or two) the prices will jump back up to their standard rates. Those are the sales you are looking for and where the real savings are.
Are charter airlines good for cheap flights?
Use charter airlines for last-minute deals. Most people know that showing up to the airport in hopes of getting a steal on a last-minute ticket is a thing of the past. Airlines have long ago learned to price up last minute flights as those are most often filled by less price-conscious business travellers. But last minute deals do still exist – just not with the typical international carriers.
For cheap, last-minute flights, look to charter airlines – namely TUI and Thomas Cook in the UK. These airlines count on package holiday goers to fill the majority of their seats, but when those tickets go unsold, they will dramatically drop their fares in the week or two leading up to the departure date.
Think £259 return to Cancun or £300 return to Barbados. A nice bonus is that these carriers will also often have direct flights from some of the smaller airports like Bristol or Birmingham – routes you won’t find other airlines flying and would typically take you one or two transfers to reach the same destination.
What are the biggest mistakes people tend to make when searching for flights?
Booking right away, rather than tracking the fare. If you find yourself asking, “how far in advance should I book a flight,” – know this: airlines count on travellers booking a flight as soon as they think of making the trip.
Savvy travellers know that it’s all about timing.
Prices fluctuate all the time, so there are hundreds of pounds in savings out there if you’re booking when the prices are low, rather than when they’re at their peak.
Also being loyal to a specific airline or airline alliance just for the points. Booking the cheapest convenient flight for any particular destination will almost always save you more than sticking to a single airline to collect points. Points are just not that valuable anymore.
What should you do if your flight dates and destination aren’t flexible?
If your travel dates are still at least 2 months out, you should still set a price alert in Google Flights to track the fare. If it seems high to you, it’ll likely still fall in price during the next few weeks. Book it when it drops and save some money for your accommodation.
When is the best time to book flights?
The best day of the week to book flights? Statistically, there there is a ‘magic’ time to book, yes. Tuesdays and Fridays tend to be better days than others. That said, if you’re counting on your specific route to be cheaper next Tuesday, you’ll likely be disappointed.
Is it cheaper to fly to certain destinations at certain times?
Of course. Off-peak travel is always going to be cheaper, but there are also other things to look out for, like local holidays. Much like flying anywhere in the west is very expensive during our December holidays, you’ll find flying in and around China to be expensive around Chinese New Year. If you can avoid local holidays, you can grab some great fares.
Flights to South America are often cheapest in March. South Africa is often cheapest in January–March, even though destinations like Cape Town have fantastic weather during that time. Flights to the USA are always cheapest during the colder months (November–March), while fares during the warmer seasons have to be bought just at the right time, as they usually sit higher.
Are there any ‘hacks’ for how to get upgraded on a flight?
Be early, be very nice and don’t be too shy to ask. It’s not often, but I’ve seen it work.
Otherwise, it’s not likely anymore. A nice travel hack is checking if the very last row is empty on a full flight. Many airlines, even budget ones like WizzAir, will not sell tickets in the last row of economy class, even though they don’t mind people sitting in it.
Once nearly everyone is seated, go to the back and have a look if it’s empty – you’ll usually have all three seats to yourself and can even throw your legs up and have a kip. I’ve done this a few times myself – I call it the poor man’s business class.
How do you get cheap business class flights?
These are slightly harder to come by as they don’t fluctuate quite as often as economy class tickets, but all the same rules still apply. If you track your fares, you should see them come down after some time. The best price about business class tickets is that they are often the same price during the summer & December holidays as they are the rest of the year. You’re much more likely to get a business class flight over Christmas at a relative bargain.
Are there any advantages to flying solo?
It’s rarely cheaper to fly solo and large group tickets (10+ passengers) are actually more expensive, so that’s not a way to go either.
There aren’t really many advantages or disadvantages to booking one ticket versus two. That said if you’re travelling solo and aren’t sure how long you’ll spend in a single destination, I would recommend utilising budget airlines for one-way flights. Major carriers (like British Airways, Virgin, etc) nearly always overprice one-way tickets, which makes flexible holidays much more difficult.
On the other hand, most budget carriers (including long haul ones like Norwegian) will usually price them more fairly – at around 50-60% of a return ticket. Keep this in mind if you plan to make your way around a country, or continent, without a fixed return date.
What’s the biggest bargain you ever found?
An £18 return fare to Belize, but that was ages ago. My personal best is a return trip I made to Bali for £112. In the past year we’ve found flights to Tokyo at £268 return and had peak summer flights to New York City at under £200 return. Great deals really do come up all the time, if you’re out there searching for them – which is what we do!