Ultimate flight-price hacks: Three experts share their tips for booking cheap tickets
In a world that loves to travel, finding a cheap flight deal is the ultimate prize. We’ve grilled some of the industry’s leading experts on their insider tips for landing a bargain – aka, globe-trotting without the extortionate price tag. Say hello to smarter travel…
Nicky Kelvin, head of The Points Guy UK
Get in early and set up sale alerts
Low-cost airlines will generally sell their cheapest seats first, so getting in early will secure you the best deals. Other airlines’ prices can fluctuate hugely throughout the year, so it’s always good to set alerts on Google Flights and wait for big sales, which come around every few months.
Last-minute flights tend not to be cheaper. This is because airline fares are guided by specific fare buckets that are only available on certain pre-set dates before your flight. Only the most expensive fare classes are typically left a day or two before departure and the cheaper fares are reserved for purchases made at least 21 days before your flight.
Make the most of air miles
This can be as simple as flights to Europe on British Airways, which you can now snag for a cash outlay as low as 50p and the relevant amount of Avios (the reward currency of the BA Executive Club); but you can go much bigger, too.
My greatest ever saving was made using a little-known BA offer called a “multi-carrier award”. There were a series of key rules I had to adhere to, including booking two or more BA oneworld partner airlines on the ticket. It allowed me to fly on an epic seven-stop trip in 2018, including Hong Kong, Taipei, Perth and Singapore.
The actual pricing of this ticket can be hit and miss – you can only be sure when you call up. But because my longest sector on that trip (Singapore to London) was in business class, the entire journey was booked at business class pricing – despite some segments actually being in first class, including on Cathay Pacific. The total was 200,000 Avios points accrued plus £549.77 paid in cash, compared to a cash price of £20,000, plus Avios, had I booked the segments separately.
Use credit card and grocery store points
When it comes to earning points and miles, one of the easiest ways to do so is through credit cards. My top credit card recommendations for 2022 are the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold Credit Card, the Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard, the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Credit Card, and the Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard Credit Card. You can also earn air miles quickly through grocery store shopping.
Katy Maclure, writer at Jack’s Flight Club
Get yourself on Google Flights
Anyone can use Google Flights, but as a search tool it’s not that well known. You can use filters to search for fares with virtually all major airlines, along with departure times, number of stops and even connecting airports.
The map overview means you can play around with different factors, and see the prices fluctuate in real time as you scroll. That’s your route into some incredible deals, such as London to Reykjavík, Iceland, for £3 on Wizz Air, or London to Borneo for £400, going via Abu Dhabi on Etihad Airways and Malaysian Airlines. This handy guide has more details on how to use it.
Pick ‘n’ mix on airports and stopovers
If you have time to fit in a few stopovers, that’s a great way of whittling down flight costs. I landed one of my best ever deals from Glasgow to Martinique via a series of single routes between Paris, Lisbon and Dublin; all great destinations in their own right.
The same goes for casting further afield for departure and arrival airports, factoring in local airlines. Bali is a prime example: it’s such a popular destination and it’s rare for good deals to come up on direct flights. However, cheap deals to neighboring Jakarta are much more common (most often on Etihad Airways), and you can pick up a budget regional route onto Bali from there for around £70.
Equally, Dublin can be a great – and often overlooked – starting point for cheap flights to the States, as can Scandinavia. We recently had a Scandinavian Airlines deal from Stockholm to Chicago for €179, which was amazing. Remember, many airlines charge extra for luggage now, so pay attention to that cost, too.
For long-haul, either book over a year or three to six months ahead
For long-haul routes, it’s best to book either over a year out, or three to six months beforehand. Prices don’t tend to ebb and flow much between these periods.
This is especially true if you have to travel during peak times and you still want a bargain. For example, my friend who works as a teacher just found an excellent deal for the Easter holidays next year, flying from London to New York, via Iceland, for under £300.
Tarik Allag, founder of Secret Flying
Take advantage of error fares
An error fare is a ticket that is available for purchase at an unusually low price due to an airline or travel agency pricing mistake. It could be due to a currency conversion error, a data entry mistake or a programming error. These fares are usually quickly corrected but for anyone who manages to make good on the mistake, the original price is often honoured by the airline or travel agency.
We occasionally find these types of fares on Secret Flying and have a section dedicated to them. They account for some of our all-time best deals, including Europe to Brazil for €78, and Toronto to Sicily for C$73.
Ignore fake news
Booking on a specific day of the week or a specific time of day makes no difference. The most common myth that comes to mind is that booking flights on Tuesdays or Wednesdays is the cheapest. This is simply not true.
Flexibility is everything in scoring a cheap flight deal, especially when you follow Secret Flying. If you’re quite open in terms of dates, and even destination, you can easily save thousands of dollars every year on your trips. Booking early usually gets you cheaper flights, too. Airlines often offer discounts for booking ahead of time as an incentive to fill their planes.
And finally – sign up to a newsletter
Jack’s Flight Club newsletter gives you flight alerts, so you know when flights to amazing destinations are going really cheap; plus other travel-related content.
The Points Guy UK daily newsletter has everything you need to know about travel deals, points and miles, and even flight reviews.
Secret Flying sends you free alerts from specific airports whenever it finds deals, so you can find the cheapest flights wherever you want to go.
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