How to get cheap flights: tips from Jack’s Flight Club

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We love to share travel tips. And when it comes to getting cheap flights to anywhere or the best flight deals, Jack is the one to turn to: Jack of Jack’s Flight Club spends his life helping people travel the world for less, whether traveling on a budget airline or in business class. Here are his best tips for bagging those cheap flights and (if you’re lucky) free upgrades…

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What's your top tip on how to find 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 ones. The main purpose of these is to get headlines and get you to check out their flights in the 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 traveling over the summer vacation period, you’ll notice that regular sales won’t include price drops on your travel dates. But every so often, those same routes will have an ‘unannounced sale’ and will drop the 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 quickly sell enough tickets to catch up with the projection. As soon as those seats are sold (it can sometimes be in just a few hours) the prices will jump back up to their standard rates. Those are the sales you are looking for and where the real savings are.

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Are charter airlines good for cheap flights?

Use charter airlines for last-minute deals. Most people know that showing up to the airport in the hopes of getting a steal on a last-minute ticket is a thing of the past. Airlines have long learned to price up these flights as they are most often filled by less price-conscious business travelers. But late deals do still exist – just not with the typical international carriers.

For cheap, last-minute flights, look to national charter airlines. 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.

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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 travelers booking a flight as soon as they think of making the trip. Savvy travelers 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, avoid 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.

When is the best time to book if you want to get cheap flights?

The best day of the week to book flights? Statistically, there is a ‘magic’ time to book. Tuesdays and Fridays tend to be better days than others. That said, if you’re counting on your specific route being cheaper next Tuesday, you’ll likely be disappointed. If your travel dates are still at least two 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.

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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 in January/February. 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.

How can I 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, though it’s generally not that likely anymore. A nice travel hack is checking if the very last row is empty on a full flight. Many airlines, even budget ones, 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 often have all three seats to yourself and can even throw your legs up and have a kip. I’ve done this a few times.

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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 thing about business class tickets is that they are often the same price during the summer and 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 or three. That said if you’re traveling solo and aren’t sure how long you’ll spend in a single destination, I would recommend utilizing 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 Norse Atlantic Airways) 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.

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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, 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 at Jack’s Flight Club!

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