How to get cheaper flights

Learn when and how to book and much more in our top tips for squeezing the most from your flight budget.

Amy Smith
Updated 12 January 2021  | 4 min read read

Key points

  • Be a bit flexible with your dates and try to book as far ahead as you can
  • You can also look out for price drops just before your departure date
  • Try to avoid Monday mornings and Friday evenings, if you can, as well as peak times like summer holidays or Christmas

Cheap flight tips

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) currently uses a 'traffic light' system to define the rules you must follow when returning to the UK after flying abroad during the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic. Check which colour your destination has been classed as before you travel.

As the world begins to open up, airlines and travel agents are vying for business. All that choice can make it harder to find the best deals.

See if you can cut the cost with these top tips for booking cheap flights.

Book flights in advance

Despite romanticised legends involving simply turning up at the airport to find a last-minute bargain, the hard facts say that booking in advance gives you the best chance of a good deal.

This is especially true if you're off on a city break, as companies and organisations sending people away for business are willing to pay top dollar until the last minute, meaning that prices can rise as the departure date nears.

An airline may well charge somewhere between five and 15 different prices for the same seat over the course of its shelf life.

Fly off-peak

Avoid weekends, peak-season holidays such as Christmas, and prime flying hours if you can. There are significant savings for flying at quieter periods.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays can be cheaper times for flying, as well as early morning and after-dinner departures.

Using the internet to find a flight

Instead of trawling around individual airline websites, use a price comparison tool to find the bargains.

If you want to be really thorough, check more than one.

Be flexible with your flying plans

Search for flights a few days around your departure and return dates.

Flight prices can be significantly different even a day or two apart, so if you can adjust your travel plans slightly you could make a saving.

Consider indirect flights

Breaking up your journey with a stopover at an airport might be cheaper -especially if money is more important to you than time.

Choose a different airport

Most major cities and many holiday destinations are served by more than one airport.

While it might be more convenient to fly to the airport closest to your accommodation, check how much you could save by flying to one slightly further out.

You may find that the savings are substantial enough to more than cover the costs of transfers to the hotel or extra petrol for the hire car, making the extra journey time worth your while.

Think about one-way and return flights

A lot of travel companies and airlines lure customers in with the promise of a great deal on an outgoing flight, only to recoup their losses on the return flight which they assume you'll book at the same time.

Found a great outgoing deal? Consider using a different airline - or even a different airport - on the return leg in order to maximise your savings.

Book accommodation with your flight

Flights are usually included in the cost of a package deal, but if you're off for a city break or more of a DIY holiday, consider booking your accommodation at the same time.

Combining your flight with your hotel is also worth thinking about if you go through a more traditional travel agent or a flight broker.

They're likely to have direct commercial relations with airlines and can offer good deals, but may give extra discounts when you book hotels through them, too.

Just make sure you also compare the cost of booking hotels separately, to make sure it really is cheaper to bundle it with your flight.

Consider ethnic travel agencies

There are many niche travel agencies that specialise in finding flight deals to their communities' linked countries.

Tooting in London has a number of Indian flight specialists, for example, while Shepherd's Bush is home to several Caribbean tour agents.

These experts will have comprehensive knowledge of flights in and out of their countries, and could help you find a bargain.

Book a package holiday - but don't use the accommodation

It sounds surprising, but occasionally it can actually work out cheaper to book a package holiday and simply not use the hotel, than to just book the flight on its own.

This is particularly the case for holiday destinations like Orlando, where packages can be extremely cheap.

Check social media

Signing up to airline newsletters and loyalty schemes is one way of trying to find out about great deals ahead of the pack, but it could be worth following them on Facebook and Twitter too.

Be prepared to act quickly - the deals are often sold out in hours.

Get free flights with airline credit cards

Air miles or Avios credit cards could see you earn points on your day-to-day spending that can be put towards flights, upgrades or other travel extras.

All you need to do, if accepted, is hit the minimum spend criteria (which is often extremely low), repay it in full, get the free flight, and then cancel the card.

Remember, though, that multiple and/or failed credit applications can damage your credit score, so do some research to see if you're likely to be accepted for a card before you apply.

Parking, baggage and transfers

Getting a cheap flight is one thing, but it's easy to undo any savings once you get to the airport and start racking up charges on parking, baggage and taxi/transfer fares at your destination.

Booking these in advance is usually cheaper than paying for it on the day.

Don’t forget to weigh your luggage at home so you're not hit with extra baggage fees either.

Better still, travel light and fly with hand luggage only. That way you'll avoid bag check costs entirely and save time at the airport.

Food and drink

Airport dining can be extortionate and, even when you're on board the plane, many airlines now charge for in-flight food and drink.

Of course, security checks mean that you can't take liquids past the passport desk at departures so - short of relying solely on water fountains - you're going to have to buy any drinks you may want either during the flight or from the airport shops, but it should be fine to take food to eat at the airport or on the plane.

Just make sure you don’t pack anything that you’re not allowed to bring into your destination country.

Know your rights

Make sure your trip goes without a hitch and know your rights if you hit a problem.

Check that your passport's in date and find out whether you need a visa for the country you’re visiting.

If you check in on time but are prevented from boarding as the plane is full, the airline must offer you financial compensation

If you're delayed for more than five hours, the airline must offer you a full ticket refund

Find out more about flights delays and cancellations.

You should also triple check that you're flying to the right airport – lots of cities have more than one.

A lot of airlines allow you to check in online, giving you more time and less stress at the airport.

A lot of airlines allow you to check in online, giving you more time and less stress at the airport.

If you check in on time but are prevented from boarding as the plane is full, the airline must offer you financial compensation

If you're delayed for more than five hours, the airline must offer you a full ticket refund.

Choose your flight ticket

Most airlines have several different ticket classes. Not all these options will be available with every airline and the standard of service will vary between companies.

Standard economy

Usually the cheapest option, with a standard seat.

Premium economy

A bit more leg room, maybe some leg rests and some nicer food.

Business class

Double the leg room as well as extra in-flight entertainment options, some nice food and possibly an eye mask

First class

Plenty of leg room, a bit of privacy and maybe even some pyjamas

Don't forget travel insurance

It can help with the cost of delayed or cancelled flights - you’ll be covered from when you buy it if your trip can’t go ahead for reasons outside your control

Compare travel insurance quotes

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