Updated: 8th March 2016
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Cheap flights – we all want them right? Let me tell you a secret, the biggest bullshit in the travel world is ‘You can fly for free’ or travel for nada, even all the credit card hacks in the world require you to have some money in the bank to spend.
People ask me how I travel so much and it is because I save money on flights and other big ticket items such as hotels. I’ve flown to Milan return for £2 all in, considered a detour to Marrakech and Barcelona (instead of a two-hour train home) and added weekend breaks in the Maldives and Rome for cheaper than a direct flight.
So if you want cheap flights without the hassle of travel hacks, follow my lead.
The first thing you are gonna need is Skyscanner, the second thing is patience, but I promise it will pay off.
#1 Be flexible (or lucky)
The biggest way to bag the cheapest flight possible is to be as flexible as possible. I’ve always been lucky that I can work anywhere and before that, I worked in Hospitality for eight years, so I could get days off in the week. Sometimes, it might be worth booking that extra day off work to go earlier.
#2 Go anywhere
Skyscanner lets you search from point A to point everywhere – if you are like me and have an ever growing list of places to visit, chances are somewhere in the cheaper flights part is gonna jump out to you. This is ideal for booking weekends away in Europe or a last minute beach hop in Asia both last minute and in advance. Book up a few weekends away throughout the year in advance and you will get some mega bargains.
#3 Go anytime
The other amazing feature of Skyscanner is you can search anywhere, anytime making it really easy to find the cheapest flight that suits your schedule. If you have the app, you can even scroll left to right to search beyond the websites month limitations. I promise you, this is the main way I fly so cheaply.
#4 Be secret
#5 Enjoy a bonus mini-break
Last night I was about to book a flight from London to Bali, with Singapore Air, it was £546 (image on the left) then I thought, why not break the flight up?
Flying from Rome on the same airline was £346 – huge saving! I grabbed a £15 flight using my air miles to Rome and can use all that saving to explore a new city. Even without points, the £73 flight with Ryanair would still make it cheaper. Different airports and airlines have huge variants in their taxes which mean flights are nearly always cheaper from a different hub.
#6 Take a detour
It’s crazy how much money you can save by taking a detour. This isn’t exactly environmentally friendly or my top tip for getting cheaper flights, but if it includes visiting somewhere you would eventually then why not?
The downside to this is often you can end up taking a much longer flight which personally I don’t mind but can drive some people crazy. Be sure to check out these tips to survive long flights if you are in the latter category!
Last year in rage against the crazy train prices in the UK I planned to skip the £55 train back to visit my parents by going London > Marrakech > Barcelona > Bournemouth. The total of those three flights came to £39 and I could have had a couple of days in each place which would be plenty. I also threw together a random flight itinerary London > Sri Lanka > Maldives > Sri Lanka > Indonesia by searching different combos with different airlines. It turned out to be pretty much the same price as London > Sri Lanka (Essentially, three free flights), Point being – Get creative!
If you want to know how to book a free stopover specifically, check out that post by my pal Laura, she has you covered!
#7 Sign up for deals on Cheap Flights
‘I want more spam’ said no one ever. But if you are heading to do a longer trip around say, Asia, sign up with all the relevant airlines before you go so you can get the best deals live to your inbox. Jetstar in Australia do some insane Friday sales and when Ryanair emailed me about the £2 (including taxes) return flight to Milan I booked it the second it hit my inbox.
#8 Be an undercover country cheap flight ninja
The best search hack I have found is to put in the country you are departing from as certain agents/airlines are restricted on where they can sell flights too. I saved £160 doing this before, so if you are looking at an extended trip or booking out/inward flights separately give it a shot.
I just searched a quick example. Same dates, Bali to London. Right search is with my location ‘UK’ left search is with my location ‘Indonesia’ – Sure, it’s only a £35 saving but that’s not bad for 30 seconds work.
#9 Book direct…
I nearly always book direct with the airline, especially long haul, as the T&C for cancellation/change are usually better and cheaper. You will also usually find the flights cheaper here than if booking through say Expedia which acts as an agent, unlike Skyscanner which just searches for you.
#10 …But don’t ignore the agents
When I was in Australia I was amazed how obsessed people were with agents rather than booking online. I was proved wrong however when Flight Centre offered up a Finnair flight back to London for £200 cheaper than I found online proving it pays to shop around.
#11 Be your own search engine
Not all airlines are listed on search sights or with agents, so use Wiki to find the airlines in the country you are with. I found FireFly in Malaysia this way who offered much cheaper flights than I had seen on my route. Check out point 20 however for my advice on this.
#13 Pick when to book
Midweek flight booking is usually cheaper, though it is not the firm rule. Check throughout the week or sign up for a ‘Price Alert’ on Skyscanner and they will ping you through the deals when the price drops.
#13 Get on Rome 2 Rio
Rome 2 Rio is the ultimate app for working out connections and your answer to all those ‘Where the hell is that airport’ questions that come from budget airlines. You can also use it to check out alternative routes. Say, you want to go to Florence, but its way cheaper to fly to Rome a few clicks on here will tell you its less than an hour and a half by train and your cheapest options. Who doesn’t want a bonus visit to Rome?
#14 Book in advance
I’m the king of last minute travel, so usually ignore this but my cheap flight to Indonesia last year was £300 6 months in advance and £900 the week before when I checked again, so get in early and lock down a price. Sure, you can wait to see if it goes down but if it is already cheap compared to normal the gamble usually takes off.
#15 Weekday or Weekend?
Everyone has an opinion on when it is cheaper to fly, but really it depends on your destination. Certain routes are more popular with business passengers so cost more during the week, where as some places are just for leisure so those weekend tickets rocket. Wherever you are heading, if you can be flexible on times you stand the best chance of a cheap airfare.
#16 Travel light, don’t eat, squeeze in and quit your complaining
Skip all the additional costs that budget airlines impose, but don ‘t start complaining about them – embrace it, it’s how we can fly cheaper.
I can do a month on hand luggage, survive a five-hour flight without a meal, squeeze into that hated middle seat and suck up all the onboard advertising for shit that comes with it – Why? Because it saves me heaps to spend when I get there. If you are struggling to squeeze all your stuff in the cabin, check out this great list of the best carry-on luggage backpacks – there’s a whole host of options to suit even the pickiest of packers.
#17 Get a points credit card
Once you have an Airline or Alliance you want to be a part of, grab yourself a credit card that earns you air miles. This can lead to some really cheap flights (BA/OneWorld who I am with has saved me hundreds of pounds before). There are also some great sign up bonuses. For more on ‘Travel Hacking’ check out Nomadic Matts guide.
#18 Look for stopover deals
Many airlines now offer stopover deals, especially those in the Middle East and China. They can include anything from two free nights in a hotel to transfers and activities. By taking up one of these the actual flights might not be the cheapest, but when you take into account the freebies they work out better value than the other options. Your search engine is not gonna find these, however, so you have to do your homework.
#19 Check for charter airlines
Charter airlines are those who normally just fly on package holidays, think Thomson in the UK. As such, they usually release flights relatively last minute as if there are not enough people booked on the package, it’s better to have you in the seat than it empty. If you are flying last minute, this can be a good option to find a cheap flight.
#20 Check the safety rating
Not all airlines, countries or safety officials were born equally. For example, when I was traveling Indonesia flights having disasters seemed to be way to common – before you book that dirt cheap flight on DeathAirways, check out this airline safety ranking site to be sure it hasn’t got a one star kinda history. Sure, accidents can happen on all airlines but it’s kinda worrying how common they are on others.
Do you have any other tips or tricks on how to book the cheapest flight?