When searching for cheap flight deals, timing is crucial. In the opposite fashion to package holidays, last-minute deals can rarely be found, as most airlines structure their prices to increase as the number of seats available decreases. Start your search well in advance of your dates of travel, and use the internet to quickly search for the cheapest option.
There are four different ways to find cheap flights specifically, depending on your plans and requirements.
- If you know precisely where you’re going and when, use a ‘screen-scraper’ website.
- If you want a combined flight & hotel break, use a flight broker website.
- For traditional package holiday-style deals, use a charter comparison service.
- To find super-cheap flight sale deals anywhere, use an online service like ‘Flightchecker’.
‘Screen-scraper’ websites are advanced price comparison websites which use sophisticated software to search-and-report from multiple websites in one fell swoop. You enter the dates and destinations you wish to fly between and the website automatically searches budget airlines, regular airlines, and flight brokers – presenting you with a price comparison of the results with the cheapest at the top. It’s best to try a number of ‘screen-scraper’ websites to find the best deal as they don’t all search the same sites, try this selection for starters: ‘Kayak’, ‘Travelsupermarket’, ‘Sidestep’, ‘Kelkoo’, ‘Nowfly’, & ‘Openjet’.
Flight brokers have commercial partnerships with airlines to offer special deals, which can extend to hotels too. Many ‘screen-scrapers’ check the major flight brokers, but for long-haul destinations they may have deals not listed elsewhere, and can give uniquely good deals on flight and hotel packages. Good flight brokers to try are ‘Netflights’ – especially good for long-haul destinations, ‘Expedia’, ‘Opodo’, and ‘Travelocity’ – which many screen-scrapers miss.
Charter flights are bespoke flights chartered by package holiday companies to ferry their passengers. If you’re headed to a popular package holiday destination, you may be able to find one-off cheap deals, as operators often fill spare capacity on their planes by selling seats cheaply to flight-only customers. You can try charter airlines and travel agents direct and local travel agents, or use an online charter flight comparison such as ‘Flights Direct’ or ‘Avro’.
Budget airlines often announce sales with “x number of seats available for £1”, yet these can be hard to find. ‘Flightchecker’ is an online tool from ‘MoneySavingExpert’ that collates searches of the latest offers from nine major budget airlines, and can be used to search by date, destination, or price. It is important to remember that prices quoted by budget airlines are often ‘fare only’ and do not include taxes, baggage charges, and check-in fees.
When making holiday plans, it is important not to discount the traditional package holiday. D-I-Y flight and hotel deals have become popular in recent years, but for week, 10 day, and fortnight-long trips, flight and accommodation packages can often be competitive. Package operators have the advantage of being ATOL protected which can mean a full refund if your trip is cancelled.
You may consider booking a package but not staying in the accommodation as a way to get a cheap flight. If there are no charter flights available, booking a package holiday but not using the hotel can still be much cheaper than booking a scheduled flight to some destinations.
Free European flights can sometimes be found through promotional flight sales as mentioned earlier, but also with airline-linked credit cards that offer a free return trip as an incentive for applying. Alternatively, if you’re a student or under twenty-six, specialist agent STA Travel guarantees to beat scheduled flight prices and can be very competitive. One final method worth trying is to use a ‘location specialist’ – depending where you’re looking to fly to. In areas of the UK with a significant immigrant population, niche travel agents exist and can offer very good deals to the countries linked to that community. These are not widely known of, and can come up with real bargains.