Everybody wants a cheap holiday. You’ve probably read about people who have managed to bag a bargain flight for £1. Is it really possible? “Yes!” says the author of a guide to getting deals on the low cost airlines.
Andrew Fraser set out to prove that you can get a flight for less than a fiver. His book, Tripping the Flight Fantastic: Adventures in Search of the World’s Cheapest Air Fare, has just been published by Bradt. It documents his month-long tour of ten European cities as he flew 6,928 miles for just £144. I caught up with Andrew for a chat on the Great Destinations Radio Show.
So what was the best deal he secured? That brought a laugh. I was straight in there with the key question. The cheapest fare he booked was £3.30 from Gdansk to Warsaw. Was that including taxes – the full price? “Yes,” he replied. “That’s cheaper than the latte at the airport café.”
“How do they do it?” I asked. “Who cares” he replied. Good point.
“There’s some kind of algorithm and the price gets lower until they fill the seats,” he added, sensing a need to provide a bit more expert analyses. I was keen to probe Andrew more for the magic formula. “Don’t book a return, you’ll be hammered. Fly in a triangle.” Basically you should never follow your outbound route for your homeward journey. If your travel plan is a collection of singles, you’ll get the best deal, although the route could be rather unorthodox. Andrew flew from Skopje to Barcelona to put the theory to the test. “It’s always cheaper on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and you should avoid the weekend.”
Andrew also found that booking a flight around eighteen days before departure brought the biggest savings and he’s an advocate of the flight search site, Kiwi.com. I felt a surge of pride and cockiness. We’d recommended that website on the show a few weeks earlier.
There’s another piece of important advice for people using the cheaper carriers, whether it’s Ryanair, Wow, Wizz or Easyjet. Check that the airport bearing the name of your intended destination is really near that city. Andrew’s pet hate is London Oxford Airport. “It’s nowhere near London,” he laughs. He’s experienced some out-of-the-way terminals on his travels. “Oslo was about an hour away from the city and you can’t get a taxi. It’s so expensive. I was rich in Poland and poor in Norway,” he laughed. “You will have to get a mortgage to pay the cabbie. And that wipes out any saving you make with the cheap ticket price.”
Paris Vatry Airport is 171km from the centre of Paris, “which is ridiculous,” Andrew says. “It’s right in the middle of the Champagne region so why don’t they call it Champagne airport? Everybody would want to go there!” Another slightly misleading airport name is Barcelona Girona. Again, that’s 90km from Barcelona. But Andrew wasn’t disappointed by that experience. He thought Girona was “lovely” and he recommends the city. “It has the best food in Catalonia, maybe the best in Spain. It’s a nice, soporific place.”
He dislikes “overrated” Barcelona which he thinks is “up itself” but he loved the nearby “sparkly, beautiful seaside resort of Sitges.” Although Andrew told me he loved Italy, it sounded like he was going through a difficult relationship with the country and might give it the boot. “You can’t find cashpoints anywhere and there’s little to do,” he warns about Pisa. He also finds Italians unwilling to take credit cards and, “Romans are ruder than Parisians.”
Andrew had told me that the book had been intended as a “love letter to Europe”. I asked him to share some love. Skopje is “lovely” and the city centre statue of Alexander the Great changes colour. He liked that. Thessaloniki is often overlooked by travellers who rush through the Greek port en-route to the islands. “It’s a smoky, nautical kind of Budapest.”
He paused and started praising his top low-fare discovery – the Polish capital. Andrew curiously added that, “You can’t make plans for Warsaw – the city makes plans for you.” He then told me that you can buy hazelnut schnapps for the equivalent of 40p. Maybe the two statements are connected.
“If you really want to travel on a budget get yourself to Warsaw and fly around Poland. Avoid the Scandinavian countries, Germany and Holland,” Andrew advised. “They are lovely but you’ll end up spending a lot of money.” Head to Eastern Europe and you’ll save cash and receive a warm welcome. “They are really pleased to see tourists.”
Overall, Andrew feels you’ll have a better time if you change your approach to holidays. Instead of checking the best price for a flight to your destination, set a budget. “Find out where you can go for £10 rather than how much it will cost to go to Madrid. Let the price determine your destination. How exciting is that?” he says.
Andrew’s book is available from bookshops and Amazon priced at £9.98. “That’s the price of three tickets to Gdansk,” I joke, feigning outrage. “I know, but you’ll save an awful lot more than that if you buy the book,” he says. And I believe him.