It’s the age old question we all want the answer to: how do you get cheap flights? You’ve found the perfect trip but hefty air fares mean you’re having to sit on it or, worse still, not book it at all. So, why have they risen and what can you do to still secure a bargain?
Extortionate rises are down to a multitude of factors. Disrupted supply chains following Brexit, sanctions on fuel imports caused by the Russian and Ukraine war and ongoing staff shortages following the pandemic have all had an impact.
In research from Kayak, flight prices in the UK were said to have risen by 18%. And in data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, airfares were said to have annually increased by 17.7% in 2023. Simply not good for anyone wanting to get away.
So where do you find cheap flights? Firstly, don’t fret. It is still possible. There are many routes to finding cheaper flights, you just have to know where to look. Which is where we come in. Here are some of the tips to finding cheap flights so that your adventure doesn’t haven’t to wait any longer.
What should you be paying for flight tickets?
The key to knowing if you’re finding a bargain is knowing what you should be paying for a flight in the first place. If you don’t know the average cost of a ticket to the destination you’re traveling to, it’s very tricky to spot when prices have dropped to secure a bargain. So, how do you do this without tracking fares for months?
Firstly, use a flight comparison pricing calendar to get an idea of fares across the week, month or year to your chosen destination. Google Flights has a great one. Over the course of a week, I tracked a return flight from London to Colombo, Sri Lanka. Prices started at £688, went up to £821 the next day and then dropped to £481 a week later.
You can also try Skyscanner and Momondo’s flight tools, the latter of which also offers insights, such as the cheapest month to fly. Once you have an idea of average cost, it’s then clearer to see if you’re getting a steal when prices dip.
For a good value ticket, you should be aiming to find it at least 30% less than an average fare. Check that all extras, like seat reservation and baggage allowance, are included as that will push any initial savings back up. And check which airline you are flying with, as a good value ticket on a premium airline may not be the same as good value on an average or lower performing carrier.
How not to get cheap flight tickets
You’ll find lots of tips to get cheap flights online but not all of them are accurate or verified and some could even land you in hot water with your airline. From newspaper articles regurgitating the same misinformation to ‘travel experts’ sharing unproven tips, there are lots of so-called ‘hacks’ to avoid when searching for cheaper flights. Here we debunk the common myths that won’t help you find cheap flights, including using an incognito tab to avoid live price hikes, booking your tickets on particular days of the week and hidden fares.
Using an incognito tab
It’s a common misconception that you need to clear your cookies and use an incognito window when searching for flights. It’s often thought that airlines are tracking your usage and manipulating prices, hiking them up the more you look at one particular flight. But there’s little evidence to prove this.
Instead, it’s likely a coincidence due to continually fluctuating flight prices based on a complex set of circumstances, including demand, cancellations and fuel prices. Airlines use computer algorithms to automatically adjust prices, which is why they can sometimes alter more than once a day.
Seat sales are a huge factor in rising prices, as when one group of seats has sold within the pricing structure, fares automatically move on to the next band of seats. So any increase in demand, whether that’s due to an event, popular time of year, or bargain when the tickets were first released, will send fares skyward.
Buying flights on particular days
So, when is the best time to book a flight? There’s lots of chatter online about buying tickets on particular days of the week, such as a Tuesday, but there’s not actually much, if any, evidence to back it up.
In fact, in recent research from Google, they debunked the notion that booking on a Tuesday saves money. Over a five year period, it was found that only 1.9% of flights, tracked by the search engine, were cheaper than the average fare.
And, while it’s long been considered cheaper to book flights that depart in the week rather than on the weekend for obvious reasons, the savings are still minimal, peaking at 12% on flights departing on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.
In general, your best bet for securing a cheap flight is to track prices, opt for a stopover, book an open jar ticket or book so many days in advance, depending on the route. On average, this tends to be between 40 and 60 days before departure.
Hidden fares are when you purchase a flight with a stopover but don’t return to the flight for the final leg of the journey. In many instances, you can save money by adding in the extra destination.
But this method comes with many pitfalls. For one, if you’ve booked a round-trip but don’t turn up for one segment of your flight, the whole trip will be cancelled.
There’s also the small issue of baggage which is normally checked through for the whole flight. So, if you leave the flight at the stopover, your belongings will likely carry on to the final destination.
And, finally, the airlines don’t like it. If you are a frequent flyer and use air miles, they may become invalidated for those flights. So, in general, while legal, the process isn’t looked upon favorably and could cause you more problems in the long run.
Experts’ tips for finding cheap flights
Despite fare volatility, there are still lots of tips and tricks to finding cheap flights. And you don’t have to put in hours of work or have studied the airfare market to find some absolute bargains. You simply have to know where to look.
Which is why we’ve spoken to the experts, the flight price gurus, who know exactly how to find the cheapest fare on your chosen route. From Jack’s Flight Club to The Points Guy UK to Secret Flying, we’ve got every ‘hack’ you need covered, including using flight trackers handy tools, knowing how to accrue air miles, when to expect flight sales and how flexibility is the key to everything.
Use a flight tracker
Flight trackers are a sure fire way of making the pennies and dollars travel that much further. And, best of all, they are completely free. With a host of nifty tools, they allow you to not only track flight prices for as long as you like, but send you alerts when prices change, share the typical price for a route, and display a year view to give an overview of when the best time to travel is.
Katy Maclure, an editor at Jack’s Flight Club says “We primarily use Google Flights at Jack’s Flight Club but it’s always worth checking others too, just in case. I would suggest using the flights to anywhere functions or search by month if you have some flexibility in your travel dates”.
Nicky Kelvin, Head of The Points Guy UK adds “Google Flights is great for searching pricing in general, but if you’re not happy with the price you see, set up alerts to receive emails when the price drops or rises. And it’s a great tool for discovering if prices are particularly high or low at that time compared to other dates.”
Tarik Allag, founder of Secret Flying says “Use an aggregator like Skyscanner or Kayak to ensure you’re paying the absolute cheapest price. They search the route and dates you have entered with hundreds of online travel agents) and list the results based on price.”
Flexibility is the key to finding the best deals on flights. If you don’t mind where you go or when, you have far greater flex to find the cheapest fares. For instance, if you search ‘anywhere’ in Google Flights, a map will appear with price flags, so you can quickly see where it fits within your budget.
Allah says, “Being flexible with your travel dates and times can often help you find better deals. Prices can vary significantly depending on the day of the week, time of day, and even the time of year. This is where Secret Flying comes in handy. We find the cheapest flight deals online so you may come across a flight from your home city to a destination you didn’t plan on visiting for a crazy cheap price.
Flexibility with how you reach a destination is also a great money saving tip. Katy Nastro, a travel expert from Going says ”You might not be able to be super flexible on time periods, especially if you’re taking a tour or joining a group. But if you can be a little bit flexible and expand your search radius into an area or continent or region, then you might be able to stitch together your own cheaper itinerary. We call this the Greek Islands trick. For example, New York to Athens may be expensive in summer, but if you fly to Berlin and catch a low-cost flight on to Athens, you can save hundreds of dollars.
Accrue air miles
While the whole air miles process can seem like a minefield, it’s actually a really simple and effective way of making huge savings on flights. And you can accrue them simply by doing everyday things, earning points from spending.
Lots of airlines partner with credit cards, such as British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Emirates, meaning you can exchange points for miles on numerous airlines. And, depending on which card you get, you might receive a sign up bonus and travel insurance benefits, including trip cancellation, lost luggage cover and car rental protection.
Kelvin says “The airline loyalty programmes are designed to reward passengers for their loyalty to certain airlines or airline alliances, but over the past 10 or 20 years, the programmes have become far wider in the ways that both you’re able to earn the points and you’re able to spend them”.
He continues “In the US, the signup bonuses are much bigger and earning rates are much higher. The benefits and much more. The key message is find the card that’s right for you and use it so you earn points on every purchase.”
Book within a certain time period
There’s lots of information online about the ‘ideal’ booking windows, but they all vary to some degree. Fundamentally, the key point is not to leave it until the last-minute. Nastro says “Often people think they will find last-minute flights but most of the time that is not the case.”
She continues “It’s really trying to find that balance of not booking too late but also not booking too soon. We call it the Goldilocks window. As a general rule, If you’re looking to book domestically off-peak, you should look between one and three months. If you’re looking to go internationally off-peak, around two to eight months before”.
She expands “Travelling in the peak season adds a greater booking window, so for domestic travel three to seven months and for international, four to 10 months’.
But, if you are booking last-minute, make sure you do so 21 days before your flight, Nastro says. “Air fares have something called an advanced purchase requirement written in the fine print that says the cheapest fare is only available if it’s booked at least 21 days before travel.”
Keep an eye on flight sales
Flight sales don’t tend to appear on the same dates every year, but if you have an idea of when an airline usually runs them – summer, Black Friday etc – you can be ready for when they drop.
Maclure says, “Not all of the airlines really do big sales. But some of the major airlines really do put on a nice show. For instance, British Airways has three sales a year – summer, Black Friday and Boxing Day – that last weeks at a time. Virgin Atlantic’s run similar times, while Etihad has sales every three to six months.
While there’s no real way of knowing when a sale will drop, other than keeping an eye out, Kelvin recommends signing up to website newsletters, like The Points Guy UK, so that you’ll be alerted when a great deal appears, too.
Travel on certain days
While the notion of booking fares on certain times on certain days saving you money isn’t backed up by any factual evidence, travelling on certain days of the week can be cheaper than others. A bit like a restaurant will be busier on particular days, so too can aeroplanes.
Nastro says “The days that you book on can actually affect whether or not you’re getting the cheapest price so, you know, typically, we see Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays as being cheaper prices.
She continues “Monday and Friday’s typically see a lot of business travelers, whereas Sunday’s see people returning from weekend breaks to start afresh on Monday. So, traveling on specific days of the week can afford you better prices”.
Take advantage of error fares
Error fares are when airlines or a travel agency have made a pricing mistake due to a currency conversion error, a data entry mistake or a programming error. While they may disappear not long after, that short window of time is your ideal moment to nab a bargain.
Allag says “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.
Where to find cheap flights
There are lots of ways to keep a track on fluctuating flight prices without having to check daily yourself. Flight trackers are an essential tool when looking to book cheap flights and are just one of the tools websites, such as Google and Skyscanner, offer. Here are the top sites to use to find cheap flights.
Google Flights is one of the best search engines for cheap flights. It enables you to track flight prices and updates you on any significant price changes, both up and down. There’s also a useful date chart and price graph so you can follow prices month by month.
If you’re flexible with where you go, set the search tool to ‘anywhere’ or by continent and it will list flights, highlighting their prices on a map. Click on any you are interested in and you’ll be able to see the typical flight price and if it’s likely to drop below the current price. It will also tell you when is the best time to visit and what to see and do.
Momondo’s flight price tracker has some nifty features. For a quick look, the flight tracker graph features outbound and return flights at the top of any search, making it easy to spot the cheapest time to buy. You can also set flight price alerts to keep a check on fluctuations.
There’s also a great flight insights tool at the top right that tells you cheapest month to fly a particular route, and how far in advance to book your flight to get the best price (although it does only go up to 60 days prior), and the cheapest airline.
Skyscanner offers flights from over 1000 providers, meaning there’s plenty of scope for finding the cheapest flights. There’s the option to search ‘everywhere’, and you can search by a specific date or use the whole month tool and then select the cheapest month, which is really useful if you have a bit more flexibility with your travel.
You can also set up price alerts so you’ll be notified when prices change, and there’s an option to be sent weekly deals. And, the price you see in the search is the price you’ll pay so there won’t be any surprises when you click through to the ticket seller’s site.
Kayak has a new ‘Best time to travel’ tool, which uses your start point, destination and length of trip to establish when you should travel to get the cheapest flight price. They also have a ‘flex dates’ feature which helps lower prices by having some flexibility by traveling within a three day range of your preferred time.
For US travelers venturing to Europe, they recommend traveling in shoulder season, which can offer savings of up to 27%. And, two one-way fares, known as a hacker fare, can also save money.
Flight booking tips from frequent Flash Packers
While experts can offer sage advice when it comes to finding cheap flights, fellow Flashpackers have a wealth of it, too.
Tom Howard has traveled with Flash Pack 15 times, including to Colombia, Costa Rica and Peru. He says “I always start my search on Google Flights to get a sense of what prices are like. I then start playing with what can be done to find the best deals and timings for my journey.” He continues, “For adventurous flyers you can also utilise the ITA matrix to search for flights. This is the database underneath google flights, but offers more advanced tools. You can’t book through the platform, but you can use this tool to attempt to find the flights online. Google also has a really useful how to guide.”
Umesh Kumar traveled to Jordan with Flash Pack. He says “I always use Skyscanner to research travel options. When I’ve identified them, I then have a look at the individual airline websites to check for any extra charges for things like checked baggage and seat reservations”. He continues, “For my Jordan adventure, I flew into Tel Aviv and then crossed by land. I wanted to spend a week exploring Isreal before my trip with Flash Pack began. It was definitely quicker and cheaper to cross the land border rather than to fly.”
Book your next adventure today
Now you’re armed with all the tools you need to find cheap flights and ensure you don’t miss your next adventure. But where will you go?
Perhaps you want to raft your way to a remote rainforest eco-lodge in Costa Rica or float weightlessly in the Dead Sea in Jordan. Maybe you’ve always fancied abseiling down Table Mountain in Cape Town or you’d love to dine on a sunset catamaran off Santorini’s shore.
With Flash Pack, whatever trip you have in mind, you’ll meet a like-minded group of travelers, all in their 30s and 40s. And you’ll all have the opportunity to encounter local, epic and memorable experiences, together.
Seek out the best price using a flight tracker, sign up for Air Miles, be flexible but most of all be ready to secure your next adventure.
Ready to take flight? Join Flash Pack for an adventure with other like-minded travelers in their 30s and 40s.
Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveler like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email [email protected] to be featured.
Images: Flash Pack