An Expert’s Guide On How To Find Cheap Flights
POSTED BY Mavy | April 4, 2017
Label: Travel Tips
Ever found the perfect deal on flights, only to come back a week or two later to find that the price has shot up?
Or left things right to the last minute, hoping that you’ll get a late deal, only to get burnt and end up paying over the odds?
Well fear not, because here at Globehunters, we’ve spoken to a number of experienced travel bloggers as well as some of the airlines themselves, to bring you our expert guide to finding cheap flights.
What Affects the Cost of Plane Tickets?
As you’ll be aware, airline ticket prices can change at the drop of a hat, fluctuating on an almost daily basis at times.
So why is this? Well, the simple answer and obvious answer would be that the airlines want to be able to make as much money as possible on each flight!
But why do they go about it like this? It’s all part of a pricing structure called ‘yield management’, which we’re going to attempt to explain in a little more detail!
Yield management is a strategy which is based on ‘understanding, anticipating and influencing consumer behaviour.’
Here’s where things get a little complicated, so we’ll do our best to keep it simple!
The airline’s dilemma is this:
While there are certain passengers such as business travellers who will be happy to pay more or less anything for flights, if the airline charged an extremely high rate, they would receive a large amount of revenue from this small group, but would have a lot of empty seats because nobody else would be able to afford a seat!
On the other hand, if they charge a lower rate that everybody can afford, they’re giving away cheap seats to those who would actually be willing to pay much more, such as the business travellers.
Essentially, the airlines want to have their cake and eat it and get as much money from each passenger as they’re willing to spend.
So, instead of having one flat rate, the airline will have several different fares for each seat, which will usually vary wildly in price, despite the fact that whichever fare you pay, you’re getting the same seat.
The airline will then try to funnel their passengers into the highest fare which they’re willing to pay, using a number of complex restrictions.
For example, perhaps ten seats will be available at the lowest fare, 20 at the next cheapest fare, 30 at the next and so on.
They may also restrict some fares to certain days such as Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, and other times when people are less likely to want to fly.
As you can see, this is all pretty complex stuff, and airlines have computer programs which constantly monitor the flights and booking patterns and change the fares in real time.
So if a flight is selling up faster than expected, the airline may decrease the amount of seats available at their lower fares, or if they’re struggling to sell, suddenly you might see fares appear at a lower level.
Still with us? Good! The upshot is that airline prices fluctuate with demand, so you’re always taking a bit of a risk, but in this guide, we’re going to try to make things a little bit easier!
Best Time to Book
So, is it best to wait until the last minute? Or get in there early? We’ve looked at data analysed by comparison site Skyscanner, who looked at thousands of flights booked through their site between 2014 and 2016 to produce the following infographic, showing the optimum time to book flights to some of the most popular holiday destinations and how much you could be saving.
You can access Skyscanner’s ‘Best Time to Book’ tool here, and we recommend you do so, even if just to give yourself a better idea of the kind of time to book.
Tools such as Skyscanner, Kayak and Momondo are invaluable when scouring the web for cheap flights, so be sure to keep referring to them, and use them in conjunction with one another for maximum effect!
||How many weeks in advance to book
||% cheaper than average|
As you can see, how far you need to book in advance varies a lot depending on destination and there are, of course, lots of other variables, but the general trend is that you should book sooner rather than later.
Generally, it seems that for short haul flights, you should book no later than six or seven weeks in advance, and for long haul flights, this is bumped up to 21-22 weeks.
In terms of which day is best to book on, most airlines know by a Tuesday if their weekend flights are fully booked, and will drop their prices to fill any empty seats on this day, with their competitors following suit to match them!
As for when is the best time to actually travel, it goes without saying that avoiding peak times such as school holidays will save you a lot of money, as will flying at less popular times such as overnight, first thing in the morning, or at meal times.
Research from Opodo also suggests that weekends are a good time to book and found that booking on a Saturday could save the average passenger 3.95% (5.78% domestic, 3.43% short haul, 2.63% long haul) while booking on a Sunday is 3.37% cheaper (6.68% domestic, 2.58% short haul, 0.84% long haul).
They also found that booking in the autumn tends to be cheaper, with flights booked in October saving 10.6% on the yearly average (13.89% domestic, 13.29% short haul, 4.62% long haul) and those booked in September saving 10.18% (9.07% domestic, 13.67% short haul, 7.81% long haul).
And further research from Momondo has backed these trends up, with their data finding that 53 days (seven and a half weeks) is the best time to book, saving you up to 29%.
As useful as all of this data is, it’s wise to take it with a small pinch of salt. For example, there are lots of factors which could skew this data, such as school holiday dates changing, or perhaps more people booking last minute holidays over a certain period because of a particularly wet summer.
For this reason, the figures presented should generally be used as a guideline and not treated as an exact science!
Booking Last Minute
Largely speaking, it appears that hanging on for a last minute deal is no longer the way to go, because as we explained, airlines know that there will be business travellers and people flying in an emergency that will be willing to pay heavily inflated fees at the last minute.
With this being said, it may be worthwhile signing up for email alerts from some of your favourite airlines.
This will take all of the legwork out of looking for last minute flights, and give you a constant stream of all the latest flash sales and last minute deals, which could throw up destinations which you’d never thought of.
This is also ideal if you’ve got somewhere where you’re dying to go, but can’t quite justify the price tag, as it means that you can just jump on a bargain fare if and when it pops up.
Beware though, if you do choose to take this route, you could find yourself getting burnt when fares get hiked up at the last minute!
And whatever you do, don’t just turn up at the airport expecting to bag a bargain.
If you’re happy to be flexible, not only will you find yourself exploring all kinds of new places which you’d never usually have planned to go to, but you’ll also find that you’re able to pick up some great bargain fares.
For example, Skyscanner have a search function which allows you to find out where in the world is cheapest to travel to from your chosen departure airport.
You never know where there might be a cheap flight available to, but more excitingly, you never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll end up seeing and doing.
Booking at the right time can certainly save you a pretty penny, but it’s not the only way to cut down on your air travel costs.
Here are some more tips on some smart ways which you can potentially catch a bargain for your next flight.
- In some instances, you can actually save money by booking two one-way tickets instead of a return one. This isn’t always the case, so make sure to do your research, but if it works, not only could it save you a bit of money, but it also gives you more flexibility, as you can choose to fly back whenever you want, or maybe even choose to fly back from a totally different airport!
- Also, once you have booked a flight, keep an eye out on the prices for the next day or so. If you notice that a cheaper fare has become available, some airlines will allow you to cancel within a period of 24 hours. Just make sure that they don’t charge a cancellation fee!
- Taking a connecting flight instead of a direct one will obviously be more inconvenient, but it can save you as much as 50%!
- Similarly, if you’re willing to set off from an airport that’s a little further away from home, you could make savings too, especially if it’s a big hub airport. Airline reservation has a quirk whereby if you buy multiple tickets together at the same time, they have to be sold at the same price.
- So for example, if there was one ticket available for £75 and the rest were all £150, you’d have to pay £300 for two. For this reason, it might be worth booking all your tickets separately.
- Loyalty schemes such as Avios can be a good way to save money on flights if you travel frequently. Schemes like Avios are not actually ‘frequent flier’ programmes and are a points scheme, more like Nectar and Clubcard. They can be a great way to save on long haul flights, and you can build up your points on day to day purchases such as grocery shopping.
- While you might get a bit of spam, it can also be worth signing up to airlines’ newsletters and following their social media feeds, where they’ll often release the first news about their latest tickets and sales.
We’ve also reached out to some top travel bloggers and airlines for their insider tips, and here’s what they had to say:
“For the last few years, I’ve tried to book my flights last minute, taking into consideration their current price. So basically I don't choose a particular destination, rather go to a place wherever there are cheap tickets. This technique took me to places such as Qatar, South Africa, Philippines, UAE, Thailand, and India.”
“One of the best ways to save money with flights is to be flexible with time. It might not be the most appealing time to travel, but if you can catch those 6 am departing flights you're almost guaranteed to save yourself a pretty penny. The same goes for the other way around - depart late in the evening and there's every opportunity that you will save.”
"Know where you want to go and what it usually costs so that you can identify what a good deal looks like and pounce when it arises -- and follow TheFlightDeal.com so you know when it does."
“When booking your tickets, consider flying on weekdays instead of weekends as they tend to be cheaper. As I have observed, Tuesday and Wednesday are most cost-effective while Fridays and Saturdays are the most expensive. Also, don't book your trip on dates with festivals, it is more expensive than the regular rates and usually not part of the seat sale.”
“Travel agencies and airlines don't always advertise their best deals direct to you as a consumer. Make sure to sign up for newsletters on travel deal sites and other 3rd parties. When airlines need to sell seats they offer special prices to partners and you can be first to take advantage of that and get the insider scoop on the best prices.”
“47 days is the magic number. 47 days before a flight is the cheapest time to purchase airline tickets. Prices don't always fall to their lowest at exactly 47 days prior but it's usually around that time. I watch airline fares like a hawk sometimes and I can confirm this to be true. Try it sometime.”
“My one tip that often saves me a lot of money is to not to fly to your destination direct. Direct flights are the most convenient, but also the most expensive. Accept a layover. Better yet, turn a layover into another adventure. An eight-hour layover in Vienna led me to a fancy downtown restaurant to eat traditional wiener schnitzel.”
“Mix and match your flights to make sure you get the best deal possible. For instance, don't feel like you have to stick with flying Easyjet there and back – if a Ryanair flight back is cheaper, grab that ticket asap! Just make sure your flight back has enough baggage allowance...”
"One thing we are always sure to do is to check all surrounding airports, sometimes you can save hundreds of dollars if you fly out from an airport just a few hours away. What you use in gas you can make up in the cost of the flight."
“Book a multi-city ticket for long-haul flights instead of a one-way ticket. Sometimes you can find a cheaper fare, for example, from Nairobi to Frankfurt, if you search for a flight from Nairobi to Dubai and then a flight from Dubai to Frankfurt. Doing so increases the options for both airlines and lower airfares, frequently resulting in a much better deal.”
“What most people don't know is you can sign up for notifications on Skyscanner and set the max price you want to spend. If your dream destination flight drops in price to match or is lower than your max price you will get notified. No more checking every day for the best deals, let the website do the work.”
“I have discovered Google Flights and never looked back. I have saved on average £1000-2000 on business class flights by finding availability on other airlines’ allocations on the flights that I want.
“For example, I recently booked a trip to LA on a British Airways flight that was coming up at £4500 directly with BA and then ended up booking with American Airlines, on the exact same flights for £2000. I like how you can search for flight results by alliance (I favour OneWorld) and as a result have even tried other airlines, like Royal Jordanian, which were a very pleasant surprise.”
“Our pricing is demand-led, which means that as more seats are booked on a flight the price will rise so our fares start low and increase the closer it is to the date of departure, so we always recommend that all customers aim to book as early as possible to secure the lowest fares. We also have useful online tools like Inspire Me which can help customers find options within their budget.”
Flybe’s top tips include:
- Book for mid-week travel and you could be surprised at how much you might save
- Book as far in advance as possible
- Sign up to e-mail alerts for special offers
- Pre-book any holiday extras in advance, e.g. airport parking
- Weigh your luggage before you get to the airport so that you don’t have to pay overweight charges
- If you’re thinking of using the train, you can most likely get to your destination quicker and cheaper by air
While we hope that this guide helps you to make some savings on your next flight, it’s important to remember that there are no golden rules when it comes to booking flights, or one set date which is the best time to buy.
All airlines and destinations vary, and ultimately, there’s a lot of luck involved, but by using the right tools and keeping your eye on the ball, there are plenty of bargains to be had.