1 // Wait for the sale
Buying flight tickets when they’re on sale is pretty obvious advice, but knowing when sales are on without subscribing to millions of junk emails from airlines is trickier. General rules of thumb apply: the most common times to launch sales are just after Christmas, early January and September. Then there are the 48- or 72-hour flash sales, which are almost invariably launched midweek. Newsflash emails from the likes of Travelzoo are handy for filtering out the best of the latter.
2 // Go outside school holidays
Supply and demand are the main drivers of flight prices, and most people want to travel during the school holidays, pushing up prices. School Holidays Europe (schoolholidayseurope.eu) is handy for gauging who’s off where and when. Also bear in mind prices will ramp up across Asia around Chinese New Year, in the US around Thanksgiving and Australia during January.
3 // Pick the right day
Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are usually the cheapest days to fly, but you can use filters on flight comparison websites to check. Kayak (kayak.co.uk) offers a grid of prices for three days either side, Momondo (momondo.co.uk) has bar charts, and Skyscanner (skyscanner.net) allows you to search across a whole month, colour coding prices by day in green, yellow and red. Generally, the best fares are advertised about 50 days ahead of the departure date.
4 // Package up if going late
If booking direct with airlines, the earlier you book, the cheaper the deal tends to be. But if leaving it until the last minute, the bargains usually come in booking a package — whether indirectly through the likes of Expedia (expedia.co.uk) or directly through Thomson (thomson.co.uk) and co. A few days before, they’re in ‘sell it cheap or not at all’ territory — providing they’ve still got pre-bought inventory leftover.
5 // Be flexible on destination
If you want a sunshine break, but it doesn’t really matter if it’s Spain, Portugal or Greece, the likes of Momondo and Skyscanner allow for price-capped searches across multiple destinations. Just let them default to the ‘everywhere’ option.
6 // Try alternative airports
Using the ‘nearby airports option’ can bring up substantial savings by adding flights from, say, Leeds-Bradford and Liverpool to a search from Manchester. The same applies at the other end, too — Treviso or Verona may be cheaper than Venice, for example.
7 // Use price alerts
If you’re hedging bets, unsure whether prices are likely to rise or fall, Momondo, Skyscanner and Kayak are amongst the companies that have a price alert service. These sites send you emails tracking the price of the flight you’ve got your eye on, highlighting any major changes.
Flying indirectly with only a short stopover can save hundreds of pounds, so it’s well worth considering a longer route, says Cheapflights.co.uk. The stopover has seen a resurgence, with Icelandic budget carrier WOW Air inviting passengers to explore Reykjavik between flights.
Published in the November 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)