These days, the huge amount of competition between airlines means that you can get some great flight deals. The problem is, it’s not always that easy to find them.
Booking early used to be the best way to secure the cheapest price, but that’s not always the case any more, with sophisticated software tailoring the deals offered by many airlines to specific points in time, depending on previous years’ sales on the route and how well they’re currently selling.
There’s now a huge range of low cost, short-haul carriers in Europe, North America and the Far East, but these companies don’t always show up in flight searches and it helps to do a bit of local research.
And what about the long haul market, which still seems to be dominated by the big, national ‘flag carrier’ airlines like British Airways, American, Air France and Qantas?
Here are a few tips to find the best deals:
- Use A Good Flight Search Engine
Airlines’ own websites will usually only give you flights operated by that company or their code-share partners. But a flight search engine will compare prices from a whole range of airlines, including low cost carriers like Easyjet and Ryanair.
The best ones, like Kayak or Skyscanner, let you check a range of dates, say within three days or a week of when you want to go, so if you’re flexible, you can bag a great price. A good example of this is flights to European weekend break destinations like Amsterdam, Prague or Barcelona, which are often more expensive on Fridays and Sundays than Thursdays and Mondays.
A search engine can also show you if there are cheaper times of the day to fly. Leaving very early in the morning or arriving late at night can be a lot less, although check to see that you can get transport to and from the airport at the times you’re planning to travel.
Early afternoon can be cheaper on routes popular with business travellers, like Paris, Frankfurt or Madrid because workers usually want to make the most of their day.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays are usually the cheapest days for long haul flights. And of course, if you can, try to avoid school holiday periods when prices rocket.
- Try Finding A Connecting Flight
The most convenient flights, which fly direct, aren’t always the cheapest. Airlines will often offer cheaper fares to attract passengers from outside their home market. So for example, if you want to fly return from London to Singapore in January, Expedia is currently showing a price of £707 flying direct on British Airways. But if you go on Emirates, breaking your journey for a couple of hours in Dubai, you can travel for just £530.*
You need to check how long your ‘layover’ will be. More than 4 hours can make the journey very long, although bear in mind that travelling in economy, it’s often good to get out of the aircraft and stretch your legs, especially in a nice modern airport.
And some airports offer facilities specifically for passengers in transit. At Changi in Singapore, you can book a hotel for a few hours in the terminal or even go for a swim without leaving the airport. You can also take a free two-hour bus tour of the city, which takes you to and from the airport so you don’t have to negotiate unfamiliar public transport and risk missing your connecting flight.
If you don’t live in London, or near an airport with connecting flights to the capital, this can be an even better way to travel long haul. You could try getting a connecting flight from, say, Bristol to Amsterdam or Paris, then on to the Far East. It will save you the cost (and time) of travelling to London by car or train.
- Book A Separate Outward And Return Flight
The arrival of low cost airlines has changed the way people book flights. These companies tend to charge a separate fee for outward and return journeys (as well as adding all sorts of other fees for booking seats, adding baggage and food).
But most travellers still tend to book both legs with the same low-cost company. You don’t have to do this.
Popular destinations like Barcelona, Malaga and Palma have multiple flights a day from the same airports. So you can search around and find the cheapest price for each sector. Expedia, Skyscanner and Kayak, will offer you outward and return flights on different airlines, although with larger companies like British Airways, it’s often cheaper to get a return.
- Business Class For Less – Start Somewhere Else
Everyone dreams of travelling a bit further up the plane, in premium economy, business or even first class. But for most of us, it’s just way too expensive. But there is a little trick that can save you massive amounts on premium fares – start from a cheaper European city.
Some airlines are keen to attract passengers from certain countries, especially Norway, Sweden and Ireland, with fewer direct flights to long haul destinations. So you can often pick up a huge bargain by starting in Oslo, Stockholm, Milan, Madrid or Dublin. Conveniently, these cities are also great for a short break before jetting off on your long haul trip.
For example, a business class flight on British Airways from London to Melbourne, via Hong Kong in November is currently showing at £4,200 return on Expedia.
But a flight on British Airways from Oslo to Melbourne, via London and Hong Kong is £2,250.* That’s almost half the price and the only difference is the initial flight from Oslo – the rest of the journey is identical. You just need to book a low-cost flight to get out to Oslo in the first place (I recommend Norwegian Air Service).
Now you have to be a little bit careful with these flights. The airlines don’t like you doing this. You MUST start your journey in Oslo. You can’t just hop on at Heathrow as the ticket will be declared null and void. And, in theory, you must continue back to Oslo on your return, although there’s nothing to stop you getting off at Heathrow on the way back. It helps to avoid checking in your bags, as the airline will try to send them all the way to the final destination on your ticket. Luckily you get a big hand luggage allowance in business. Or for a few pounds extra, you could break your journey in London for a few days and then just not check in for the final flight.
These flights take a bit of finding, but it’s worth putting a few different starting points into Expedia or Kayak when you’re searching just to see if you can bring up an unmissable business class deal!
* Prices quoted were obtained in April 2016.