Japanese economists claim to have worked out the formula for finding low costs flights – Its ∏A = gUG + min(k – g, (1 – g)(1 – r)) which in plain English means book eight weeks in advance (for short haul flights) to get the best bargains. Unfortunately we don’t always have two months to prepare our travel plans. Sometimes it becomes necessary to arrange flights at short notice, be it for work, family occasions, emergencies, or last minute holidays.
Use these top sites to slash the cost of your flight
There’s no shortage of airlines, travel agents, and websites offering super cheap last minute getaways. Use the right site and you could slash hundreds of the cost of your flight.
- Momondo – our favourite for finding the cheapest dates to fly
- Skyscanner – huge range of providers and email notificaions too
- Kayak – for a large range of flight, fast search results and masses of filtering options
Just to be sure that you’re getting the best value for your money, here are a few quick tips to help tip the odds in your favour.
Don’t compete with business travellers
Those travelling for work purposes are likely to book flights between 8am and 8pm. Airlines have businesses over a barrel here, and hike up prices of flights between these times. Early morning and late night flights are typically cheaper than those during the working hours. Some days of the week are also cheaper for travel than others too. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are typically lower for flights than Mondays, Thursdays or Fridays. Strangely enough, so are Saturdays.
Clear your cache
Airlines and travel web sites (such as Expedia, Travel Supermarket, etc.) track you visiting their websites. In so doing, they provide different offers and deals depending on the user.
Make sure you get the best prices available when you booking flights online by clearing your web browser's cookies and cache or browsing in ‘Privacy’ mode. This will make it appear as if it's your first time visiting these sites, and you're likely to see much better prices for your next flight!
Be as flexible as possible
The more flexibility you have in the location and dates that you’re travelling the most likely you are to find a bargain. Can you travel a day earlier or later? Can you increase your stay? Small differences in itinerary can yield a large difference in price. Likewise consider your location, for example if you need to visit Vienna, rather than flying direct to Schewat, could use instead fly to Bratislava, Slovakia (50 minutes aways) or even to Linz (90 minutes away)? The amount saved could more than make up for onward travel.
Similarly, flying direct to Dresden could set you back a few hundred pounds, but Ryanair offer budget flights to Berlin to for as little as £55 return. From there is around €30 for a train to Dresden.
Watch our for small regional airports
Some regional airports in the UK charge additional departure taxes. Think you've found a cheap Flybe flight from Norwich to Alicante. Well be sure to add on another £10 per person for the Airport Development Fee. This fee has been charged for years, and seemingly has very little to do with actually developing the airport further. Instead it's a nice little money maker for the airports that charge it. Norwich and Durham charge a development fee, Newquay and Blackpool previously did too. The latter was so successful that the airport eventually shut down.
Go Direct – low fare finder
The budget airlines all seem to have upped their game recently and many now include a ‘low fare finder' the best of which is Ryanair's tool, that lists singles from just £19.99 including tax and returns from £37.50. Easyjet also has a new fare finder tool, and although it's fares aren't quite as cheap as Ryanair, it does fly to a number of destinations that Ryaniar doesn't. Including multiple airports in Morocco, where returns can be found for around £80.
Flying short is often against the terms and conditions of your ticket, but if you play it right you could almost half the cost of your airfare. This trick works for journeys with changes split between different flights, and airports.
For example. Flying from Buenos Aires direct to London Heathrow costs over £1,700, yet you can fly from Buenos Aires to Amsterdam with BA for for £944. It's the exactly the same flight, but has a change in London. If you've only got hand luggage then this is a no-brainer, but what if you have hold luggage. Strangely enough BA also offer the flight with a change of Airport. In this case from Heathrow to Gatwick.
If you have hold luggage there's nothing to stop you just taking your bags and heading home. Airlines don't like it, but there is little they can do. After all what's to say you didn't miss the connection because you were stuck in traffic, or fell ill?
What to do once you’ve found a bargain
The easy answer here is to book it, but if you don’t want to be rushed into making a commitment, find out how much breathing you room you have before the price shoots up.
Most airlines allow you to book multiple seats at a time. Make out like you are booking for as many people as the site allows. If the price per seat increases dramatically then you know that there’s only a few seats remaining at that price. If the price remains the same for 9 or 10 seats, then you’ve got some breathing room.
Look out for hidden costs
Make sure that you check the airlines booking fees and always use the cheapest method of payment. Some airlines charge as much as £4 per person per flight when paying by credit card. Others like Wizzair allow you to pay via bank transfer thus dramatically reducing this cost.
Watch your baggage
A poll conducted by Skyscanner showed that the majority of air passengers would prefer all airlines to have same baggage allowances. Unfortunately that's not the case and allowances can vary wildly from one airline to the next.
All budget airlines charge to for checked in luggage (prices vary), to keep costs down, try to travel with cabin baggage only. You'd be surprised how much you can carry in a normal size cabin bag. Make sure you check out our guide to cabin baggage allowances before you buy though.