Get some helpful hints and tactical tips on how to buy the cheapest flight available online. We’ve tried and tested all of these techniques for ourselves and have always come away with a good holiday bargain...
Book separately when you fly together
You have more chances of getting a better deal if you book all tickets individually. Contrary to common sense (that you get a stronger offer if you buy more), buying flights online is ruled by seat availability. This means that if there is only one cheap seat left and you are trying to buy two tickets for the same flight, the airline will automatically exclude you from the cheaper offer.
Most airlines’ online shops “opt you in” for all their extra costs – or at least their less obvious extra costs. So when you go through an airline shopping basket, be sure to un-tick all options that you are really not interested in. For example, when you pass through the “Passenger Details” options, some companies automatically tick your choice to “add 1 bag” or “online check-in”, or automatically add travel insurance to your purchase.
Get a flight for free
If you are flying a long distance you should join “Frequent Travellers” schemes. Accumulating air miles could get you a free ticket on a short flight somewhere closer to where you live. For example, going on a trip to New Zealand from London will fly you from London to San Francisco and back, almost for free, on another holiday.
Clear your browser's cache
Some websites track how many times you have checked a flight’s price and increase it the more you look at it. Internet tracking methods are harmless and generally allow for a better service, but certain companies will misuse them to increase the price of a flight every time that you check it.
To be sure that you don’t fall into this trap, clear your browser’s cache before checking again. Different browsers call these methods by different names. For example, if you use Microsoft Internet Explorer you will need to clear your “Cookies” and “Temporary Internet Files”, but if you use Mozilla Firefox you will find everything grouped under “Private Data”. So, when you look for a flight and you don’t buy it straight away because you are not really sure about it, be sure instead to clear your browser’s records before checking again, or you are likely to be presented with a more expensive price – even after 10 minutes.
Buy locally or buy as you fly
Airline tickets, even the online ones, always cost less if bought locally or closer to the destination of your arrival. So if you are holidaying in a country but you need to fly internally several times, it will be cheaper to book local flights online when you arrive instead of doing it at home before leaving. Same thing if you are on a long journey that covers many countries, on a gap year or a career break: it’s worth doing your research in advance and then buying your flights as you travel.
For example if you are on a trip in South East Asia and you travel from London, buy your Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City ticket when you are in Singapore. This way you will find better deals and calm your fear of not finding a ticket. All this is the reverse in Japan, where you can only obtain a Japan Air Pass if you buy it from outside the country (for more info on Japan Air Passes have a look at japan-guide.com).
Break your flight
Most of the times it is more expensive to buy a direct flight than to buy a flight that stops one or two (or even three) times on the way. Especially when using an online travel or flight agency, indirect flights will be cheaper, as you'll be likely to fly with various companies at the lowest prices available. So if time is less precious than money, opt for an indirect flight.
Save on card fees
It might just be a small amount, but paying by debit card instead of credit card, can sometimes save you that extra £5 that is added on top of the flight's costs.
Don’t settle for the first deal
Spend more time searching for a flight or wait to buy your ticket when the sales are on. Unless you immediately find what you want, it is likely that with a little more research you’ll get a better deal.
All major airlines will have sales at some point during the year, but the best periods to find great discounts are at the end of summer and at the end of winter when holiday trends slow down. And it’s generally during the first few days of September and January that you can find really superb offers.
Buy accommodation with the flight
If you're booking a flight and need accommodation too, it’s cost-effective to get both in a bundle. A lot of travel companies reserve more flight options for customers who book car hire or accommodation together with their air ticket.
Use famous flight comparison sites and airfare listing and alert sites
It’s worth spending some time checking through various airfare search sites when looking for a cheap flight and then comparing the prices found with the single airlines’ website prices. This is useful in two ways that are almost contradictory: on one side, the more the flight comparison site is renowned and popular, the higher the chances are that they would have access to further discounts or even better deals from both airlines and travel agencies.
On another side, it is likely as well that the local airlines will give you a better deal. In this case checking a flight search site is useful because it will give you access to information about the airlines and their prices. In both cases a double search will allow you to really find the best deal online.
Another interesting point to make is the difference between what are called “flight comparison sites” or “airfare search sites”, and “airfare listing and alert sites”. While the first (big giants like Expedia.com, Lastminute.com, Travelsupermarket.com, Kayak.com or Skyscanner.net) simply search, compare and list airfares, the second not only search air prices but give you a list of low fares and/or alerts about such fares, either delivered by email or posted online (check the American Airfarewatchdog.com, Farecompare.com, Orbitz.com, Travelocity.com, and Smartertravel.com). However...
Don't rely solely on flight comparison sites or airfare listing and alert sites
A lot of cheap, local and very reliable airlines are often not included in either high street or online travel agencies' searches. Companies like Ryanair.com for Europe or VirginBlue.com.au for Australasia are in fact only available through their own websites. It is then useful to browse through the first few result pages of your search engine and then compare what you find. Quite often, very good, independent and reliable information is posted on travel blogs or chat forums, like , that might not appear in the first page of your Google or Yahoo results.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are the days to fly if you want to save money. Not only are weekend cheap flights more difficult to catch, but sales and discounted tickets tend to be on midweek days too.
Watch out for local events or holidays
Don’t try to fly into or out of the USA around Thanksgiving or in Italy for Ferragosto, because all flights will be packed or really expensive. It will be the same on all other national holidays or for sport or musical events, religious celebrations (did you ever find a cheap last minute Christmas ticket?) and political elections.
Travel with a parcel
Some air shipping companies or major airlines still offer what are called “Courier Flights”, although this is a less common service nowadays. The deal is you get a really cheap ticket in exchange for taking care of a parcel, letter, or an item that has to be handed over upon arrival at a destination.
This might mean that the amount of luggage you can take is restricted, that the cheap flight is only applicable one-way, and that you don’t have much flexibility with the travel dates, but you’ll generally pay half the price of a normal ticket on long-haul flights.
A good website to get information on courier flights is Air Courier International. Alternatively, check Jupiter Air Oceania.
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Author: Margherita Poggiali