How to find the cheapest flights
Knowing how to find the cheapest flights is essential for anyone wanting to get abroad on a budget. Following two years of travel restrictions, holidays abroad are finally back on the agenda. But with energy bills, food prices, air fares and other costs on the rise, households should be aware of the tactics they can use to find the cheapest flights.
Brean Horne (opens in new tab), personal finance expert at Nerdwallet (opens in new tab), told us: “While many UK households are eager to go abroad this summer, financial pressure from the cost of living crisis means that finding the best value for money is essential. Flights tend to be one of the more expensive costs to cover on a trip, especially for long haul journeys. Taking steps to find the cheapest flights can help bring down the cost of a holiday and help you save money while enjoying your trip.”
If you’re hoping to nab one of the cheapest flights around for your summer holiday, make sure you’ve got your passport in order before you book (opens in new tab).
(If you’ve sadly had your flight cancelled recently through no fault of your own, check out our flight cancellations guide to see how you could get your money back.)
How to find the cheapest flights
There are a number of steps you can take to help find the cheapest flights. We’ve outlined 15 of them below.
1. Search multiple sites
To find the best deal, make sure you search at least two comparison sites as they tend to compare different firms. There are numerous airline search engines to try, including Skyscanner (opens in new tab), Google Flights and Kayak, so take the time to go through two or three of them.
2. Be flexible with travel dates and times
The more adaptable you can be with the date and time of travel, the more likely you are to bag a bargain. Flying mid-week is often cheaper than weekends. Skycanner data shows flying to the USA on a Tuesday during the summer holidays instead of a Saturday, will save a family of four an average £380. Check whether you could also save by flying early in the morning or late at night.
Charles Stewart (opens in new tab), managing director at foreign exchange provider eurochange, explains: “If you allow yourself to be flexible and forward plan, searching via month will help you to find the cheapest flights to your chosen destination.
“Using this search function will allow you to choose your holiday dates based on when the flights are at their cheapest which in turn could lead to huge savings.”
3. Be flexible on destination
Likewise, if you don’t have your heart set on a particular destination, it’ll be easier to save on flight costs. Websites such as Skyscanner and Kayak offer the option of typing ‘everywhere’ or ‘anywhere’ into the destination box, alongside the dates you wish to travel and the airport you want to fly from. You’ll then be given a list of flights in order of cheapest to the most expensive, so you can select the one that’s most suitable.
4. Consider non-direct flights
If you’re happy to break up your flight into separate journeys, it’s worth checking whether you’ll save money by choosing a non-direct flight. If you’ve got young children and a lot of luggage to carry, the idea of switching planes mid-journey and the extra flying time might fill you with dread, but if you don’t mind the extra hassle, the potential savings on offer could be well worth it.
For example, when we checked, a family of four could get a return flight from Gatwick to Kefalonia in October for £1,993. But by splitting up the return journey with stopovers in Athens and Istanbul, the flight price falls to £1,257.
5. Mix and match airlines
When running your flight comparison, check whether you’ll save money by flying out with one airline and returning with another. It might mean booking single tickets, rather than a return, but you could find some decent savings.
6. Switch your airports
You might also find it cheaper to fly out from one airport and fly back to another – for example, you might fly out from Gatwick but return to Stansted. However, this can make travelling to and from the airport trickier, unless you’re happy to jump on public transport or someone is willing to give you a lift each time.
7. Sign up for reward schemes
Consider joining airline loyalty programmes or reward schemes to earn free flights (you will still usually need to pay taxes and fees).
Several credit cards enable you to collect Avios or Virgin Atlantic points as you spend. For example, the British Airways Amex card gives you 5,000 bonus Avios when you spend £1,000 in the first three months, plus 1 Avios for every £1 you spend. Similarly, the Virgin Atlantic Reward credit card lets you earn points when you spend on everyday purchases and direct with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays.
8. Book early
It can be worth signing up to receive airline emails so you’ll know as soon as tickets go on sale. Airlines usually release tickets around 11 to 12 months in advance.
Booking early will give you more choice and guarantee you a seat on the flight you want. In some cases, it will also be cheaper but this will depend on your destination and how popular the route is.
9. Go last minute
If you’re happy to take more of a risk, you might be prepared to wait to see if you can find any cheap last-minute flight tickets. Less popular routes may still have empty seats close to the departure date, and prices could be cut as a result.
10. Use voucher codes
Looking for discount codes is an easy way to slice some money off the cost of flights. Use sites such as Savoo.co.uk and our sister brand myvouchercodes.co.uk (opens in new tab) to search for offers. For example, single parents can save up to £100 on Easyjet family holidays with the code ONEADULT until 30 September, 2022.
11. Sign up to cheap flight alerts
Flight alert sites such as Jack’s Flight Club (opens in new tab), Holiday Pirate (opens in new tab)s and Secret Flying (opens in new tab) are a great way to hunt for bargain flights with minimal effort. You can sign up for email alerts or get notified via an app of the cheapest deals available.
12. Get cashback
Another easy way to save when booking flights is to use cashback sites like Topcashback and Quidco and claw back some of the money you’ve spent. It can take around 30 days for your cash to be payable, but you can use these funds to save on other holiday costs.
13. Consider add-ons carefully
When comparing prices, make sure you check exactly what’s included – and what’s not.
Tristan Sire (opens in new tab) of Jack’s Flight Club, says: “Some airlines give you more than others with their “base” fares. Work out everything you need (checked bag, seat selection, etc) first, and check airlines with similar prices to see if you get them included without paying extra.”
14. Avoid major holidays or events
If you’re able to, travelling during the term time, rather than school holidays, will be far cheaper. Always check in advance when the school holidays fall, remembering that they can vary by area.
In the same vein, check whether there are any sporting events on the dates you’re thinking about travelling. Airline providers know demand will rise at these times and ramp up ticket prices as a result.
15. Consider package deals
Booking your flight and accommodation in one package with an online travel agent could work out cheaper overall, so run a comparison to check. What’s more, most package operators are ATOL-protected which means if the company went bust, you wouldn’t lose out.
There are several websites and tools you can use to find the cheapest flights. These include:
- Kayak (opens in new tab) – a flight comparison site that lets you select your destination, budget and desired flight duration. You’ll be able to add whether you want to check in bags to get a complete cost comparison.
- Momondo (opens in new tab) – a nifty flight comparison tool that also lets you view flight insights for your chosen route, including the cheapest time of year and day to fly.
- Google Flights (opens in new tab) – a flight comparison tool that allows you to add baggage options during your comparison, helping you to compare costs more accurately. You can also set up flight price tracking.
- Skyscanner (opens in new tab) – allowing you to compare flight prices and set up price alerts so that you are notified when prices rise or fall on a specific route.
- Fly.com (opens in new tab) – a flight comparison tool that also enables you to view the best fares each day, as well as the cheapest dates to fly to thousands of destinations.
- Expedia (opens in new tab) – a comparison site for flights, car hire, and holiday packages. Select whether you want to include seat choice and hand baggage in your comparison.
- Hopper (opens in new tab) – an app that predicts future air fares, so that you can book at the best time.
Are flights cheaper closer to the date you want to travel?
Whether flights are cheaper the closer you get the date of travel depends on the destination and the airline.
Tristan Sire from Jack’s Flight Club, told us: “Usually we’d say flights are not cheaper closer to the departure date, but things have changed a little post-pandemic. For short-haul flights with Ryanair (opens in new tab) and Wizz Air (opens in new tab), in particular, there have been some deep discounts on flights in the next two to six weeks.”
“It does depend on your destination – Spain hasn’t felt this as much as Greece or Italy. If you’re looking for something super last minute, and you see the flights in the next two weeks are more expensive than those more than two weeks out, it won’t be worth waiting to book.”
Do flight prices go up the more you search?
The theory that the more you search for flights, the more airlines will track what you’re looking for and increase prices is a myth. This means clearing the cookies on your internet browser or going ‘incognito’ won’t make a difference.
Charles Stewart from eurochange says: “It’s long been suspected that airlines use your recent searches to increase prices on flights that you’ve already searched for, but data suggests that this is not the case. There is little evidence to prove this theory and instead, the price of your flight is probably increasing due to reduced availability.
“From my experience, it’s much more valuable to make sure that you’re doing your research on the best rates, providers and dates to travel, than spend time worrying about your search history.”