I was recently asked by a reader for tips as to how to find cheap flights and I prefaced that advice with this post over on Grantourismo about how to decide which airline to fly because cheap flights might not always be what I’m looking for. In fact, for long-haul flights, my priority will always be safety, convenience and comfort – lots of legroom, comfy seats, an excellent entertainment system, and good food and wine. I will go out of my way to fly airlines like Emirates, Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines.
Short-haul flights are a different story. If I’m only in the air for a few hours, I will be happy with a good book and can handle cramped conditions. That’s when I want to find the cheapest flight possible so I can spend my funds on more important things, like, um, good food and wine. So how do I go about finding cheap flights and what do I recommend you do?
Check the Cheap Flights Sites
My main strategy for finding the cheapest flights out there is a simple one. I start with a cheap flights site. There are countless websites out there that specialize in searching for the cheapest flights on low cost airlines and finding the best promotional fares on premium airlines and I’ve probably tried them all over the years, but I’ve found the best price comparison site or flight aggregator to be cheapflights.co.uk (if I’m flying from the UK or Europe) and cheapflights.com.au (if I’m flying from Australia). They also have sister sites representing other parts of the world.
What I love about this site is that it lists flight deals from everyone and anyone who is offering them, whether it’s a premium or budget airline, an online travel site like, say, Opodo, or a traditional travel agent like Flight Centre. I love how the results provide a long list of the best options and all the information you need on the first page, including taxes (so the total price doesn’t come as a shock after five clicks), departure dates (so you don’t click through to discover the date you want to fly does not fall within the deal period), and how recently the deal has been uploaded (so you don’t later find the special promotional period has ended).
All the details I need are on that first page so I can get close to narrowing down my options. There’s a little information symbol that produces a pop-up box with more info, and beneath the price I’m told whether this deal is available over the web or by phone. If I see something I like I then click through to the site – whether it’s an airline site, booking site or travel agent – to make my purchase.
If I know where I want to go, I’ll key in my destination, but if I’m not sure where to go and have some time up my sleeve, then I’ll go to the Staff Picks page where they list handpicked travel deals or Be Inspired where I can key in the dates I want to fly and whether I want beaches, a city break, ski and snow, adventure, etc, and the site will produce some options for me. I also subscribe to the site’s newsletter. Something else I love about this site – it was established by a travel journalist. I think that’s why it works so well.
After that? Here are some other considerations and tips:
Consult Low-Cost Airline Sites
If I’m not exactly sure where I want to go, but I’m in a destination that’s a hub for a decent low-cost airline, such as Air Asia, Air Arabia, Fly Dubai, Wizz Air etc, then I’ll go directly to their sites and see what promotions they have on offer. When no-frills airlines like easyJet and Ryanair really took off years ago, we used to often plan our two-month summer holidays this way, bouncing around Europe on £0.99 flights. While prices are nowhere near as low as they used to be, you can still get some extraordinarily cheap flights to destinations you probably never imagined visiting.
Flexibility is always the key when it comes to getting the best deals. If you need to fly on a specific date, you will nearly always find that there are cheaper flights the day before or day after you want to travel. Or is that just my bad luck? Build in some flexibility in terms of when you want to travel and do some research before deciding on your travel dates (and submitting your annual leave forms) and you’ll have a far greater chance of getting the best deal you can. The same goes for airports. You might find a considerably cheaper flight to a smaller airport near the destination you want to go to – for example, flying into Treviso instead of directly Venice is a good example – or to another city nearby. Just don’t forget to build in the extra travel time.
Most people who work full-time in permanent jobs or have partners or spouses who do) who are taking their annual holidays will finish work on a Friday, fly out on a Saturday and return on a Saturday or Sunday to resume work on a Monday. People heading off on a weekend break will usually leave on a Friday after work and return Sunday night or very early on Monday. Business travellers and commuters will fly on Monday mornings and return home on a Friday. All of this means that Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday are the most heavily travelled days, making Tuesday to Thursday the best days for you to find good flight deals.
What have I missed? Have you got any great tips to finding cheap flights? If you’re willing to share your secrets, do leave a comment below.