Fly me to the moon: How to book cheap flights
Booking a flight can be like taking a gamble. Whether it’s a last minute deal you’re looking for, or, quite the planner, you’ve been scouting the internet comparison sites for months on end trying to find the cheapest deal, getting flights sorted can prove to be quite stressful. Which are the best sites to buy from? Are any airlines a no-go? What about cancellation fees? And more importantly, when’s the best time to buy...
1. Airline carriers vs travel agents
Really, if time’s on your side, you should check both online and in person/over the phone. The problem with internet sites is the fact that they are not usually controlled by real people over the weekend, thus flights can shoot up as more seats are being bought rapidly, without much notice. Having said that, working online gives you the chance to search outside of office hours, which means you may come across a flight that is actually cheaper for only a set amount of hours. It is essentially to do with a question of timing. Speaking to flight agents directly can also help you discuss your plans with them and get a better deal. They may find a cheaper alternative based on your date flexibility, willingness to travel to a different airport etc. Though travel agents make a commission on flights sold, they can prove to be cheaper than speaking to the carrier directly, as the former buy in bulk. As such, they can sometimes offer discounted flights, so as to try and get rid of their remaining lot. If you have the luxury of having the clock work in your favour, you best ask around...
2. Flight comparison sites
...If you don’t, or you still think you can find something under budget, check flight comparison sites. The bigger ones, such as Kayak and FareCompare, are both good places to start. SkyScanner also offers a range of flight options, giving you the chance to play around with dates, departure and arrival airports, and get fare alerts delivered straight to your inbox. Signing up to these will give you the chance to track fares automatically, thus avoiding the hassle of going back and forth onto sites. Some sites, such as Kayak, offer a fare chart service, essentially enabling you to see price fluctuations by date both for buying and travelling. Check them, and you might avoid a nasty surprise when your peer bangs on about how cheap he got his flight for, when you’ve forked out the best part of your savings...
Which neatly brings us onto timing - the key factor here. If you have a couple of months ahead of you, you should be able to get a very good deal by putting some research in, both online and offline. Experts claim you can wait up to 14 days pre-departure to still snag a pretty good deal, but if you’ve got 3 weeks to spare, all the better. Buying tickets on weekends, if you’re planning on getting them online, is generally a big no-no. As mentioned above, websites are automatically updated then, and you might not get the best bargain for your money. Instead, try and book flights on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, when the best deals come up. If your flight includes a stopover, it might be wise to check the same to and from destinations, but making it multi-city; occasionally, the end price may drop ever so slightly, so it’s worth bearing in mind. Check out the brilliant app Hopper "Know when to fly and buy. Score the lowest fares."
4. Changing your flight
It can work out more cost-effective to book flights for a shorter period of time, only to change your return date once you’re booked, saving you in the region of £50-100 at times. However, if you are planning on staying out longer, make sure your insurance and visa requirements are in check - if you’re not covered or are prolonging your stay illegally and get caught, the money you saved could end up being swallowed up by nasty fines, legal costs and more... You have been warned!
5. Airline fees
Once you’ve found 2 or 3 possible routes, you should check the airline policy on fees, surcharges, baggage allowance and cancellation/date change fees, as these all vary across the board. Some are cheaper than others, naturally, but what may seem more economical on first glance is not necessarily the case once you get on board. Certain carriers have a bad reputation for delaying flights, or don’t provide enough leg room, drinks on board etc...It’s wise to check all these things out before you book. For fees and charges, check individual airline sites, for reviews and sob stories, look into review sites such as AirlineQuality to avoid nasty surprises.