20 tips + hacks for cheap flights
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Updated: 8th March 2016
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 and pick somewhere underrated
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.
How to use Skyscanner for a Spontaneous Weekend!
A few years ago at my 70 hours a week restaurant job it was all about the last-minute getaways and spontaneous weekends and it is not mission impossible. Sure, going last minute can cost more in the peak of summer but during the offseason, there is still some insane deal. Here’s the seven steps I recommend to getting yourself on a last-minute adventure after being invited to play a little game by Skyscanner. Watch the video or read the tips below, either way, go and explore!
FIVE HOURS FROM BED TO BOOKING TO BOARDING IS MY RECORD… LETS #SKYSCANNERROULETTE
1. Search Everywhere, End up Anywhere
The best thing about Skyscanner is the ability to search flights to everywhere. On the website it’s as simple as putting in your starting point, destination: everywhere and then either searching a particular date or the month.
On the swanky new app (which you need to download if it’s not a staple on your phone) simply hit ‘Explore Top Deals’ and you can take your pick from city breaks, longer trips or go for that famous everywhere search to see where is cheapest, that’s the key to last-minute escapes – flexibility.
2. Pack light, play hard!
We’re talking a last-minute getaway for a few days here, not hiking Kilimanjaro so pack light! Not only will just having hand luggage save on flight fees it also makes it a lot easier with hotel check out times to wander around with just a backpack and not have to leave it in storage.
Don’t panic, you can buy anything anywhere (unless Skyscanner sends you to Antarctica) so if you forget something no sweat. Forget heavy and lumpy items like tripods and trade them in for balancing the camera, don’t bring hair dryers or the like but spend the money you save on checked luggage on a nicer hotel. Three outfits are plenty, one for the day, one for the night and something for dressing up. Keep it simple, keep it light.
Last Saturday morning I gave the new app a spin at 11 am and was waiting at the airport for a flight to Amsterdam by 2 pm!
3. Pick a Handy Hotel for weekend adventures
I’m all for saving cash on accommodation when I am travelling long-term but for weekend escapes you are going to want some comfort and to be as central as possible to maximise your time. On the app it does the same as for flights and searches all the main booking sites – you can then filter it by price if you want the cheapest, or my recommendation for city breaks, by distance and then find something in your budget as central as possible. Less time finding the hotel, more time exploring!
4. Skip the Queues.
If you are lucky enough to live by a small regional airport then security queues are likely to be super short already and you can breeze through less than an hour before take off with your hand luggage. If not, most major airports offer a priority security skipping service which can be paid for at the desk or a machine on arrival – If you are making a super last-minute weekend dash to the sunshine these can be worth the extra pounds so you can start the trip with a beer airside instead of clutching onto your mini toiletries for 45 minutes in line!
5. Last minute airport research and mapping
Cool. You’re at the airport? You’ve got that beer? Now it’s time to plan your last-minute escape. Here’s how I do it:
1. Check out some travel guides online to get an idea of what’s going down or an awesome travel blog such as DanFlyingSolo.com :P
2. Head to Instagram and search the hashtag of the city – you’ll get a great idea of what the weather’s like, any events going on right now as well as an unfiltered view of things to see in the city from the perspective of both travellers and locals.
3. Go to Google Maps on your mobile, make sure you have the whole of the city shown on your phone (so when you lose wi-fi the map still works on GPS). Then, search for everywhere you now know you want to visit and click save. Hey presto, a free city map built for your preferences!6. Walking tours, people watching and public transport
6. Free walking tours and people watching
Oh no! You drank more than one beer airside and forgot step 5? No sweat! Most major cities offer free walking tours around 11am, check with your hotel and tag on to one of these. It’s a great way to get a quick city overview and suss out what you want to head back and spend more time visiting. If you escaped last-minute, you don’t want a lack of planning to make you miss out. Remember to tip these free walking guides for their awesome knowledge and time.
If you are heading to a city where the airport is not well-connected jumping in a private transfer on arrival could save you a heap of time which can be invested exploring a new city. Personally, no matter how long it takes I’ll grab a two day public transport pass for a last-minute weekend getaway. It’s a great way to start taking in the vibe of the city straight away.
Also, People watching and café culture FTW – nothing gives you a better insight to a cities atmosphere on first glance than this.
It may seem obvious but so many people I know rush around on a weekend escape and come back stressed, angry and glad to be back in the office on a Monday. Trips are to be enjoyed so do just that. You missed a famous sight? Who cares! It’s your escape, just enjoy it.
Another little cheat is if you are taking a longer weekend then looking for one way flights on Skyscanner and then seeing if you can come back from another city can always be fun. For example, when I was in Albania it was cheaper to get a boat to Corfu, Greece and then fly back from there. That afternoon of Feta, well worth it!
Ready to take a Gamble? Search Everywhere right now or download the app ready for your next spontaneous decision or nightmare week at work!
* Thanks to the awesome Skyscanner Team for inviting me to play #SkyscannerRoulette and covering the cost of my weekend adventure – My love affair with this app goes back way before I teamed up with them so never fear, all opinions (and empty bank balance from using it too much!) are my own
Great article, thanks for sharing it Dan!
Thanks for reading Francisco!
Great post and I absolutely agree with “squeeze in” on an airline. I’ll always take the cheapest flight to my desired destination (making sure I know the rules regarding all the hidden charges) because I want to use my hard-earned dollars enjoying great food and wine and sumptuous accommodations. I certainly don’t want to blow half my money just for the ride there.
Thanks for the insight.
Thats my number one rule for travel – have the money for when you are there not getting there :) Glad to see someone else is firmly in team ‘squeeze in’ :) Safe travels Ann!
I think my biggest mistake has been focusing on buying a ticket in advance instead of just being super flexible. That pic of you selecting a flight for “Anytime” really opened my eyes, Dan. Thanks for that and all these other wonderful tips. Cheers, man.
Obviously its a pain if you need to be somewhere specific but I like to try searching ‘Everywhere’ and sometimes you end up on the most random (and dirt cheap!) adventures! Sade travels!
Tuesday and Saturday can be good because the airlines are trying to fill seats because of the low demand for these days.
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Thanks for the info! I am always looking for cheap ways to fly around the world. I agree with you that breaking up the flight and looking for different airports to fly out of always results in a cheaper flight. We are looking at flights to Vietnam and have found that if we fly out of LAX it will be cheaper. It takes some work to find cheaper flights but it is always worth the research in the end.
It really is worth it if that extra hour saves some serious dollars. It’s crazy how the taxes can vary so much between airports. Have fun in Vietnam :)
Very good info Dan! I’ll be putting some of those hacks to use! xx
Enjoy! I found it really surprising in both the US and Aus how few people use Skyscanner – but I guess we are lucky in Europe to have such a choice of airlines. x