Quick disclaimer! I’ve grown up flying (4 long haul international flights by the age of 2 hollaaaaaaaaa) but HATE the environmental effect planes have. Unless it’s long haul I opt for train/coach/car. These tips will likely work for a short haul flight but with costs so low, something else is paying the rest of the price, and I am not happy with the “something” being undervalued human workers OR the environment. I don’t want to tell you what to do but it feels wrong passing on tips for cheap flights and basically encouraging you to jet off, so, here’s to mindful travel! Anyway, on with the tips!
Welcome to the TapeParade guide to cheap flights! If you’ve not gathered by now I LOVE travelling and exploring. I’m famously stubborn about flight prices (my Dad often says “maybe just walk?) but it’s led to me scoring some cheap flights through the years. I first mentioned some of my tips back when I talked about planning big trips, but here’s a more thorough breakdown! Here are my main tips for finding cheap flights.
I’ve literally never just booked the first flight that came up. Dear God. What kind of masochist traveller would do that?! Compare and compare again people! There are many sites that allow you to do this. I would recommend Google Flights as the best, and Kelkoo is another favourite. Rome2Rio and Expedia are also pretty good. Skyscanner is the worst imo and I’m not sure why they have such a good rep. I have never found the overall cheapest price via Skyscanner so definitely avoid! They routinely price everything higher than everything else.
Yep! These are the cheapest times to fly. Avoid doing anything on a Monday or Sunday, and Thursdays tend to be cheap as well. I also highly recommend looking for late night flights and avoiding anything that takes off before 12pm. These are “awkward” times and traditionally a hard sell, so tend to go for cheaper. As a nice bonus, there tend to be next to no kids on flights at those times. THANK GOD.
Also worth looking at dates. Ryan and I saved £150 each on our last two holidays by flying late on Christmas Eve/landing Christmas Day. That’s about half the price in some cases!
Also: obviously avoid weekend breaks, bank holidays, and school holidays like the plague as these are peak times. The summer bank holidays especially are ££££; if you want to pay five times more for a “quick Europe break” during peak family travel time then that’s your call, pal.
I just wanted a dramatic subheading. But basically, you’ll always find cheaper flights off your own back! I have never found cheaper accomodation, flights, activities or anything via a travel agent, or an ad, or a “cheap flight newsletter” or anything like that. I usually look at prices given as a kind of guide line of what’s available and then hunt out something a bit cheaper.
It’s a bit like the estate agent conundrum in Freakonomics; if a travel agent gets 10% comission on your booking then there’s not a lot of incentive to find you something £50 cheaper, is there? They’ll give you something that’s less than average, sure. But we want THE CHEAPEST.
I cannot believe there are people out there flying long haul and NOT saving up their air miles, and by “people” I mean “my own parents”. I’ll never get over the amount of family airtime we’ve clocked up without an air mile to show for any of it. Learn from our mistakes and don’t be like us!! I’ve been collecting my miles for about 5 years now and the best way to get cheap flights is to basically have a bank or an airline pay for them instead of you.
Frequent flyer miles are basically just a points-based system and you don’t even need to be flying. A lot of shopping schemes and cards offer points! I like the BA shopping system (RIP Avios) and also recommend American Express for their rewards cards. Hello, bonus 50 000 miles (genuine figure!). Most airlines now are in alliances with other airlines; my flights to Japan and Sri Lanka this year were with different carriers, but all fell under the “OneWorld” alliance. OH HEY BALANCE. You also don’t need to have booked the flights yourself. My trip to Nairobi was work, so I didn’t book/pay, but as I was physically taking the flight I clocked up the miles. If you want to get really involved you can start clocking up points daily. I gain about 10 miles just going into work, for example!
For long-haul flights, choose a carrier and look at their flight maps. The best airlines in the world are the Arab airlines (don’t @ me but it’s true) so I normally check how much something is from London, but then also look at flights from Doha or UAE which are major transport hubs. Heathrow and Singapore are a couple of other big transport hubs so you’ll often find cheap flights from there! It can be cheaper to fly into a big hub and swap, rather than getting a direct. I also personally see that as a bonus because breaking up a 16-hour flight into two 8-hour flights is surely only a good thing!
If you live in the UK then you’ve probably got a whole slew of airports on “reachable” distance. We have about 5 London airports, but it’s under 4 hours to get to Manchester, Bristol, Southampton etc etc. (And the Midlands? Is there one on the Midlands?). It’s not next door, but if it’s reachable, why not check and you might find something cheaper?
This point more goes for people outside of London; as I said before, Heathrow is a major air travel hub and I’ve never found anything long haul cheaper outside of Heathrow BUT when I was living up north we quite often found Manchester flights were cheaper than Edinburgh and so on.
If there’s somewhere you specifically want to go, look in advance what time of year is cheap but also has good weather. You’ll also notice prices peak around 6 and 3 months beforehand, and drop once you get to 8 weeks prior (usually. I’ve seen the opposite happen as well!). This ties in to what I’ve said about planning big trips: research is knowledge and knowledge is power! This way, you’ll also have a rough idea of what flights cost through the year. Which leads us nicely to…
If you’re following all the above tips so far then there is no way you’re paying more than average anyway, but to really make savings you have to be stubborn and keep scouring. Get your ideal price in mind and then just wait for that. I tend to aim for about 1/2 the “average cost” and come up still a lot cheaper. Leave it to everyone else to bring the average up! Let’s break it down:
Japan average: £800 (off peak), £1000+ (peak)
Half of that (my aim): £400
First trip to Japan (during peak season): £410
Second trip to Japan (off peak season: £110
Travelling off peak for the second season definitely helped me, but we got our first flight during peak cherry blossom season due to flying at traditionally “awkward” times, leaving on a Tuesday, having a stopover and flying to Narita rather than Haneda. Manifestation, luck, or sheer stubbornness: it is possible! It’s helpful to research where you want to go and make your own guidelines, because retailers and those “cheap fly” newsletter things will try and tell you something is a “great deal” when it’s actually just slightly lower than average. Here is my list of what I’d expect to pay for various destinations. In all these, the low number is what I’d aim for (but obviously lower is fine too) and the top number is my absolute top spending limit. (These are all long haul from UK 🤓)
I’d say those above are a happy average mostly, although you can find cheaper if you really hunt around.
One thing I will say is keep it in perspective. This isn’t a cheap flight advice but more a bit of life advice! In the past, I’ve sometimes found myself opting for the cheapest flight, and when it gets down to the wire it’s maybe a £15 price difference. I know none of us have got spare money to throw around, but do weigh up the pros and cons!
I once got £400 return flights to San Francisco in my late teens to see my cousin during a peak April week. The catch was on me: my return flight home left at 5:30am, had two stopovers and took about 32 hours total to get home. (Wasn’t helped by us going on out the last night and me spending the entire first flight off my face and the entire second flight on a comedown. Never again). Should I have coughed up the extra £20 or whatever for a flight with just one change? Absolutely. So, as much as it’s nice to save, don’t be a dick to yourself: there’s likely a catch somewhere and don’t let that be you (or the environment 🤗).
What are your tips for cheap flights?
You Might Like: How I Plan Big Trips