How to find the best flight deals
Cheap Flights - Tips:
- There is some evidence that the best time to book is 8 weeks before flying. Guardian (UK)
- There is some evidence that the best time of year to make your booking is either end of August/beginning of September or end of December/beginning of January. Time (US). I guess this may not apply for flights within the Southern hemisphere where there may be different buying patterns and flying seasons.
- Flights on Tuesdays or Wednesdays tend to be cheapest. The most expensive airfare prices are usually for Sundays and Fridays. Source: Cheapflights (see below) meta study.
- Booking last minute is usually more expensive.
- Airline tickets on less popular early morning/late night flights will often cost you less.
- Airport choice - you may find that it pays to choose a flight from/to a neighbouring airport.
Use the following types of site to search for cheap flights:
1. Flight price comparison web-sites (aggregators):
Many sites people believe to be comparison sites are actually consolidators (see next section). The best comparison sites search and compare airfares from over 600 airlines plus major travel web sites. Neither they nor the airlines charge you for this service.
Depending on your needs:
- Skyscanner: for most circumstances, and particularly where you are flexible on flight dates.
- DoHop for one way flights, routes covered by budget airlines, journeys likely to involve more than one airline.
- Kayak if you want to travel business or first class (it's easy to limit search by seat class)
You can do both Skyscanner and DoHop searches from our our flight search page (we have chosen to affiliate with both).
The comparison sites below have all been recommended by the travel media.
Six flight comparison sites (pros and cons)
Winner of the travel industry Travolution award for the best price comparison site for the last 3 years in a row (2010 to 2012). It compares prices from over 600 airlines and major sites including Expedia and Edreams, & Lastminute.
Skyscanner wins on flexibility: You can select a whole month, or year, and sometimes a country (not just a specific town or airport) to get an indication of prices before carrying out a more detailed search.
It does not cover the same range of budget airlines as DoHop.
Dohop has been recommended by CNN and the Times, but is not as well known as its competitoDoHop might be beaten on price by other flight comparison sites for some routes; BUT it has the potential to make you BIG savings. Occasionally, I have seen prices half that of other comparison sites (because of its ability to identify connecting flights, and its range of budget airlines). It is always worth checking.
- searches 660 airlines and operators like Vayama and Opodo;
- 100 low cost budget airlines worldwide. Many not listed on other comparison sites because they don't pay commission. The one noteable omission is Southwest who have not allowed their prices to be listed (see Momondo below).
- identifies connecting flights missed by other comparison sites.
- good for single tickets and building your own multi leg journey.
- may not include as many Travel Company sites?
- you have to search using specific dates.
- the "advanced" filter options take a bit of working out.
Good reputation, popular in the US.
You can restrict your search to Business, or First Class.
The site's information pages do not reveal how many airlines are searched.
If you want to search with flexible dates you have to register with your email address.
Top for breadth - compare flight prices from 700 companies (including Southwest).
Not as flexible as Skyscanner.
Does not seem to have the same ability as Dohop to identify separate airlines to get you to your destination cheaply (as I discovered when answering a question about flights from Scotland to Iceland).
However, it is a great all rounder, and I have seen some travel media commentators rate it as their first choice.
Originally UK based but now going international; you can restrict your search to Premium Economy, Business, or First Class.
Lists the cheapest flights for parts of year by season. I found the site confusing and prices quoted did not reflect the actual price on click through to the "airline" site. However, I have friends who really rate this site. It is part of the Momondo (see above) group.
Note: sites that compare airfare prices may indicate that a journey at a particular price requires more than one ticket. In these circumstances, if one of your flights is late causing you to miss the next, you may not be entitled to a refund for the missed flight. If your flight tickets are with the same airline - you might be be provided with a replacement flight as a goodwill gesture. Always ensure there is a reasonable "wait time" between connecting flights, otherwise that cheap flight could prove very expensive.
2. Consolidators and Online Travel Sites:(this section added 20 July 2012)
Many of the well known booking sites that sell flights are consolidators.
Consolidators buy tickets from airlines in advance, and in bulk. In theory, this means they can obtain tickets at a discount and sell them to you cheap. Tickets bought from a consolidator may have different terms and conditions (e.g. refunds) to those bought direct from the airline.
Consolidators may give the impression they provide flight price comparison - by which they mean you can compare their own ticket prices for the different airlines with which they have contracts.
Major travel sites/consolidators such as Expedia are included in searches by comparison sites. However, some travel sites may offer Student or US Military discount, that won't show in comparison site results. Note: these discounts are on their own prices; and could still be higher than other airfares listed by comparison sites. Some consolidators also charge an "admin fee".
Notes on the links below:
1. They are not recommendations, they have been selected as examples of niche markets, or sites offering "specialist" discounts, and/or charging fees.
2. I have not re-reviewed the price comparison sites; they may already search prices of these companies.
Transatlantic and other flights from the US and Canada. A major Canadian Travel Agent/consolidator; its flight search includes its own negotiated bulk deals; and Airtransat and Icelandair that are ignored by some comparison sites.It sells worldwide, but I've listed it mainly for our US and Canadian readers (it is not UK ABTA registered).
We affiliated with FlightNetwork 2 years ago because it offered prices for Airtransat and Icelandair. We subsequently found that Dohop's price comparison also lists these airlines and have added its search to our site.
Listed because I've seen it recommended on Yahoo Answers. Originally for US citizens now expanded to cover the UK and Canada. It is difficult to identify if this is a consolidator. It has search options for (US) Military and (US) student discounts.When I checked (20 July 2012) the home page of this site indicated it adds a Transaction Service Fee $32 USD/£26 per person for flights. Make sure you take this into account when comparing prices.
3. Budget Airlines:
Many budget airlines don't pay commission, and some restrict access to their data (e.g. Southwest & Ryanair) and may not be listed by price comparison sites.
One notable exception is Dhop which lists prices from 100 budget airlines, whether or not commission is paid (it actually pays RyanAir for the privilege of listing its flights!). This one of the reasons we've incorporated their search engine on our sister site Flights.via.us.com
Also worthy of note is Momondo which appears to be the only major aggregator to be able to list fares for Southwest Airlines.
wikipedia - low cost airlines list of budget airlines worldwide
Canadian Affair (flights to Canada) owned by Airtransat, some comparison sites above may not list its fares.
Open jaw and multi-leg trips:
Are occasionally cheaper than a direct return flight and make for a more enjoyable holiday. In 2006 I did a flight search and found the lowest price flight to New York for a range of dates dates involved an hour stop off at Reykjavik airport. On linking through to Iceland Air's own website and by playing round with dates I found that it was even cheaper to have a 3 day stop over in Iceland (return price £263). Although you can now specify multi-legs on many flight search engines, I find many of them confusing and am not confident that they arrive at the best deal, and would check with the airlines serving those routes. If your trip is particularly complicated I would recommend using a specialist travel agent. Bear in mind that if you miss a flight you will not get a ticket refund when your failure to check in was due to your delay on earlier flight with a different airline.
"Round the World Tickets"
A round the world "ticket" can be fantastic value if you like to plan and then stick to it ridgidly. If you like to move when the fancy takes you, or change your plans to go to some location or event you hear about whilst travelling, then a round the world "ticket" is probably unsuitable.
The main drawback is you have to specify all destinations and flight dates before you set off on your travels. If you change a destination it can cost you anywhere between £75 and £250, and if you miss a flight you will then have to make your own arrangements, possibly at great expense, to get to your next departure point on time to avoid wasting more of your ticket.
There are a variety of tickets offered by different combines of airlines. The tickets vary in available destinations, number of legs options, rules etc; a quick very search (2 June 2010) indicates the cheapest start at around £700. Personally I'd want to discuss my ticket and plans face to face with a specialist travel agent who could advise on practicalities, provide information on what parts of my trip were best to do overland, and make useful suggestions that might make me alter my plans.
For more information see this Wikipedia entry.
Save money as a Courier?
Acting as a courier may be suitable for you if you can travel light and at short notice. Despite falling into this category, when I looked at the courier option a few years ago I ruled it out.
Don't assume you will travel for free, the norm is to get some discount off the cost of a flight, and some companies charge you to register. For more information see
The Decline of Courier Flights.
Update 11 June 2013: Most of the links in articles about "couriers" no longer exist. Even the "pay for a list of couriers" site (courierlist.com - not recommended) states it has ceased selling its list because it no longer provides significant value or airfare discounts to travelers. It now recommends an airfare secrets ebook (note: websites suggesting it can earn 75% commission on sales).
You could try telephoning airlines and couriers but it is probably not worth the time or money. A June 2012 post on Couchsurfing's forums mentioned calling (at "premium" rate) British Airways and finding they had Courier flights from London to one destination only (Tokyo Narita). more info.
General flight, airline, and airport information
For general information such as airline quality/ratings, WIFI directory for airports etc. see our links page.
Consolidator Section added 21 July 2012 other content added 1/06/10 |Author: Andy W+