Jack’s Flight Club members know a thing or two about snapping up cheap flights, but we still get questions about best practices when searching for a specific flight. Together with our flight experts, I’ve put together this ultimate guide, with tips for finding cheap flights to anywhere in the world.
Before we jump into it, there’s one important fact to keep in mind: Flight deals occur ALL THE TIME and are virtually impossible to predict. The only sure way to avoid missing a price drop or cheap flight deal is to check for price changes constantly, each day (spoiler alert: That’s what we do!). That said, there are a number of general guidelines that you can follow to help ensure you’re buying cheap flights rather than overpaying.
1. Know the best tools to use: Google Flights, Skyscanner & Momondo
Not all flight search tools are created equal. Give yourself a head start by familiarising yourself with the best ones and learning how to use them together for the best results. The most efficient way to find cheap flights to anywhere is combining Google Flights and a powerful price-aggregator, namely Skyscanner or Momondo.
Why use Google Flights:
It’s simply the most powerful flight browsing tool out there for finding cheap flights to anywhere. You can create complex searches with numerous filters and use the map or calendar tool to identify the best destination and/or cheapest dates for your trip - all while showing you accurate, live airfare prices.
Google Flights’ advantages:
- Incredibly fast
- Powerful price-calendar tool
- Allows for complex search filters
- Map tool for regional fare browsing
Why use Momondo or Skyscanner:
Unlike Google Flights, Momondo and Skyscanner function as Online Travel Agent (OTA) price aggregators, which basically means that, in addition to listing the ticket price offered by the airlines, they also show you the price offered by dozens of agents who sell tickets for that flight. OTAs will often sell tickets at a cheaper rate than the airline (especially for long-haul flights) and both Momondo and Skyscanner show you the OTAs which offer the cheapest prices for your route.
Skyscanner & Momondo advantages:
- Show the cheapest prices
- Display more error fares
Combining these tools into a single workflow, you will be able to find the cheapest routes, the best travel dates, and then find the lowest price for your trip.
Sidenote: We’ve found these tools to work so well together that we engineered a free Chrome Plugin that allows you to convert and compare Google Flights searches to equivalent searches in Skyscanner and Momondo. You can grab that here.
2. Be reasonably flexible
Roaming the world with no schedule or responsibilities obviously gives one an advantage, but you certainly don’t have to be a nomad to score a good deal. Just be reasonably flexible and you’ll already be ahead of the game.
While flight deals DO come up for all destinations eventually, simply changing the way you search for cheap flights can boost your chances of grabbing a cheap flight immensely.
- Instead of setting your sights on a single destination during a single set of dates, come up with a list of destinations that appeal to you. The wider the list, the more likely you’ll be able to score an awesome deal.
- Use Google Flights’ flexible price-map tool to identify which destinations have cheaper options during the time of year you plan to travel.
- Check nearby departure airports. It’s not uncommon to cut a long-haul ticket price in half, simply by selecting a different, nearby departure airport, leaving plenty left over for the extra train ticket or budget flight within Europe.
- Keep an eye out for nearby destinations, too – if you’re flying to Koh Samui (Thailand), you might be better off getting a long-haul fare to nearby Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, or Singapore and grab a cheap regional flight onto the island.
- Once you’ve chosen your route, always check nearby dates using Google Flights price-calendar tool. Moving your travel dates by a few days might mean a better route or a much cheaper flight.
3. Know the cheapest travel seasons
The cheapest months to fly from the United Kingdom & Europe, in general:
- January – March
- May – June
- September – early December
Flights in the Northern Hemisphere are often cheapest during late October – March, especially to beach-adjacent destinations. Flights to South America, Africa & South Asia are less season-dependant.
The most expensive months to fly will be:
- Mid-July – August
- Mid-December – early January
- Early – mid-April
As you might’ve guessed these are all associated with western holiday periods and, likewise, some destinations will also have their own holiday price hikes. Flying to many parts of Asia during Chinese New Year will cost more. Likewise for Carnival in Brazil, Octoberfest in Germany, etc.
4. Know when to book a flight (when flights are at their cheapest)
The way airlines price their flights means that it’s very difficult to predict when flights to any particular destination will come down in price, but there are some general guidelines that tell us when it might be wiser to buy:
The months when buying flights is cheapest are, in order: January, February, August & September.
Meanwhile, the months when airfare prices are at their highest are May & June, followed by April & October – December.
International flights are also statistically cheapest between 4-7 months in advance. There are also some studies that show booking flights early in the morning (5-7am) is wiser as you’re more likely to see higher fares in the evening (7pm – 11pm).
5. Know the cheapest (and most expensive) days to travel
The cheapest travel days can vary heavily by route, but there are some days that are generally cheaper to fly on than others. This is especially noticeable on long-haul routes with daily flights.
Mondays, Tuesdays & Wednesdays are the cheapest travel days, followed by Sundays and Thursdays as the next cheapest. Meanwhile, Friday and Saturday are the two most expensive days to fly.
For short-haul flights, you’ll notice Monday flights – especially Monday evening departures - will be more expensive, as people will often use those to return from a long weekend. The other rules generally don’t change.
6. It’s worth checking other currencies
For flights with budget airlines like Ryanair & Norwegian, it’s worth checking if your fare is somewhat cheaper when booking using a different currency and changing your home country to a different one. This is especially common during advertised “sales”. The airline may advertise £39.99 return tickets in the UK while advertising the same routes as 39.99€ elsewhere. The savings can be even greater on long-haul routes.
For full-service long-haul airlines, this is unlikely to work, but it can be worth your while to check Online Travel Agent prices on regional versions of price aggregators like Momondo, Kayak & Skyscanner. Searching Skyscanner.com (US version) vs. Skyscanner.net (UK version), for example, will sometimes show different prices for the same routes.
7. Use multi-stop trips to visit multiple destinations
Planning a trip to Thailand but also want to spend a few days surfing Bali? If done incorrectly, booking multi-stop trips to visit two or more destinations can get very expensive, very quickly!
However, there are 3 ways to make multi-city flights work to your advantage to create a cheaper itinerary:
The Extended Layover: This works by taking a one-stop (or even two-stop) return flight with a number of major carriers and extending your stopover by a day or more to visit a second destination.
Multi-City Hopper: This works by adding in 1-2 additional regional/local destinations into a standard long-haul journey.
Open-Jaw with a local connector: Flying into one city and out of another, while booking a separate local, budget flight in between the two (if needed).
You can read more about booking each type of there flight in our full multi-destination flight guide here.
8. Use the Hidden-City airfare trick (carefully)
A hidden-city ticket is a flight hack where a traveller purchases a ticket that includes a stop before their final destination, but rather than continuing to take the final leg of the trip, they instead finish their trip early and don’t board the final flight.
This is a successful cheap flight tactic because direct routes are always in more demand than journeys with multiple stops. Airlines price those direct flights higher in accordance with their demand, whereas multi-stop flights will often have more competition driving some of the prices down, even though you are flying more miles.
As you can imagine, airlines aren’t particularly big fans of this tactic but it is in fact completely legal for a traveller to skip the last leg of their trips.
There are some caveats, such as limitations on when you can check a bag. Read our full Hidden-City Ticketing guide here.
9. Using Online Travel Agents (OTAs) can make your flight cheaper
Booking via Online Travel Agents (OTAs), instead of buying your ticket directly from the airline, will often make your flight cheaper, but not always!
When this is true:
This is especially true for most long-haul flights with traditional full-service airlines like British Airways, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, etc. This is not true in all cases however, as you’ll find some full-service airlines such as KLM & Air France offering the cheapest fares only on their own website.
Online Travel Agents sometimes get ‘exclusive’ fares from specific airlines, allowing them to sell add-ons like checked bags for far less than the airline sells them, even if the base ticket price is the same. We often see this with Norwegian and Virgin Atlantic – you might see a no-frills, basic economy fare to Rio with Norwegian at £380 return on their website, while OTAs might sell the economy-standard (bags & meals included) fare for around £410 return – an upgrade that would cost £100+ if buying on Norwegian’s website.
When this is not true:
European budget airlines, like Ryanair, Easyjet & Wizzair, almost always offer the cheapest fares on their own website.
While still in the minority, a few full-service carriers like Delta, KLM & Air France have decided to buck the trend and offer the cheapest fares only on their website.
There are some drawbacks to buying flights with Online Travel Agents, but overall it's generally safe and can make your flight cheaper.
10. Book an error fare if you spot one
An error fare is quite simply a mistake that’s occurred when systems are pricing up flights. These happen surprisingly often, but they generally don’t stick around for long. If you see a fare that seems outrageously low (sometimes cutting as much as two thirds off the standard price) for the route you’re keen on travelling, be prepared and know what to do, both before and after booking.
Sidenote: Error fares can be cancelled and refunded by the airline, but over 70% of them are honoured. Follow these error fare guidelines and you won’t lose out.
11. Be quick when you’ve found a flight deal
Knowing what is or isn’t a good deal can certainly be difficult if you’re not aware of what the standard fare is for a specific route. That said, if you’ve spotted a flight that you know is cheap, be quick to book it! Fares fluctuate ALL the time and the best flight deals won’t stick around for long.
12. Know what is (or isn’t) a good deal
Knowing a cheap flight from a mediocre fare is no easy task. Tonnes of variables at play such as airline quality, routing, standard price, season, dates, etc. For some general guidance, however, here’s what a good deal from the United Kingdom or Europe looks like:
- East Asia: £450 or less (500 €)
- China: £380 or less (425 €)
- Southeast Asia: £400 or less (450 €)
- US or Canada: £300 or less (350 €)
- Mexico and Central America: £400 or less (450 €)
- South America: £450 or less (500 €)
- Middle East: £275 or less (320 €)
- South Asia: £350 or less (400 €)
- Subsaharan Africa: £350 or less (400 €)
- North Africa: £150 or less (200 €)
*No more than one stop and reasonable layover en route.
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If you still have more questions, feel free to drop me a message on [email protected] and I’ll be happy to help.