There are a few ways to make sure you get the best deal on flights. However, it does take time to research, just as finding the right destination, accommodation and many other things, all take time, when planning a trip. I tend to approach my flight booking considerations, for any trip, in the same way. Although, to be honest, sometimes when it gets tough or there are few flights available, I find it’s easier to get an agent involved.
Flexibility on destination and dates is a good start, but usually I’ve got my heart set on a particular location. Not leaving it to the last minute is important. The best booking window is 6-8 weeks before you plan to fly, or approximately 3 months if your heading to a destination during peak season. Here’s what else should you consider when booking flights.
The low cost flight airlines in Europe change their terms all the time, so it’s difficult to keep up. In June Wizz Air joined Ryanair in charging customers extra to guarantee carry on baggage. Splitting up fellow travellers when checking-in (in order to charge for assigned seating) seems to be becoming more common. In November, Ryanair will start charging for baggage, which was previously not guaranteed as carry on, but put into the hold for free. Others are bound to follow suit if they haven’t done already.
It’s simply a fact, that most low cost airlines have extra charges nowadays, so by the time you add all the little extras up, flights are becoming less low cost. Always check what’s included and the small print.
On a more positive note, I experienced quite the opposite when flying in and out of Minsk in Belarus, recently. Via Belavia, not only was 23kg of luggage possible to be checked into the hold, the carry on baggage allowance was fairly reasonable at 8kg, although you can only take 1 bag.
In addition the drinks (soft drinks only) were free and we were presented with a little box with a sandwich and snack during a 35 minute flight.
The plane was tiny with just 2 seats on either side, but we were also lucky enough to have the emergency exit row so extra leg space, and again with no additional charges.
All of this is how it used to be, with all airlines, so a breath of fresh air to re-experience the stress free and easy way of times gone by.
If you only travel once or twice a year the changes since you last took a flight may impact you. It’s good to keep up to date. Check out my post ‘Europe flight restrictions‘ for my most recent info when flying to Europe.
As mentioned above, flexibility on destination and dates may help with keeping the cost down. You may also want to consider alternatives, such as overland travel for parts of your trip, alternative airports or going via another destination. However, don’t waste hours focussing on ‘cheap’. Sometimes saving money might not be so good when you factor in the extra time spent getting there, just for a lower price. Life is too short – just consider paying what you are comfortable with, but be flexible to your needs.
Momondo is good for searching all major airlines including non-English sites. Skyscanner is by far my go to site for common destinations as it allows you to tweak dates, and check for the whole month to gage when the lowest prices might be. Sign up to sites such as Scott’s Cheap Flights or Airfarewatchdog and you will get some good deals but you have to be quick to look and book, as well as suffer a heavy inbox.
For long haul flights I always recommend contacting an agent to compare deals. Agents have access to a much larger pool of flight options which can be more accurate. Plus they often offer an option to hold tickets and/or ATOL protection which will give you the extra peace of mind.
Take longer trips
There’s definitely a good argument for taking longer trips or travelling and/or perhaps working remotely to make the best of the time/cost. Although of course this isn’t an option for everyone. Many employers are offering opportunities with more flexible working and this often gets more out of people as well as benefitting the individual. It’s worth considering/asking if you job may allow you to work remotely.
Limit baggage weight
Taking carry on baggage only will reduce the cost for hold luggage. However it’s hard to cram everything into 1 bag.
I feel like I take as much for a long weekend as I carry for 2 weeks. It does depend on the destination. For some, in Europe at least, where I don’t need a choice of shoes and outfits for different climates; I have managed to fit everything into a carry on case. Even on EasyJet (or with no handbag option). That was with my laptop for work too.
The trick is to have around 3 or 4 changes of clothes with good layering choices. Book accommodation with a washing machine or ensure there is a laundry nearby. No one wants to be doing washing on their holiday. If you’re organised it can be easy to fit this into your schedule. It’s certainly cheaper than paying for the extra bag.
However, if you expect to need the extra bag it’s best to take this option when booking, as the price can go up if paid for retrospectively. Perhaps consider sharing 1 hold bag with your fellow traveller (assuming you’re not flying solo).
I mentioned ATOL protection above which generally only applies to flight packages departing from the UK. However packages generally also require the operator to protect the consumer so it’s worth considering the small print and making sure you are getting the benefit.
Travel insurance is a must. Make sure it covers repatriation and cancellations by the airline. In the event of a claim, insurers will make it very difficult so check your cover terms and be sure you’re not at risk.
There are many things to consider when trying to find a cheaper flight, so at risk of this post running on for a few more pages, here is are a final few thoughts/tips:
- Search as 1 person, then add seats for additional travellers at the checkout.
- Look for tickets in other currencies. Although you will need to use a card with no foreign transaction fee. Always consider paying in the currency amount as conversion rates usually makes the total cost more expensive.
- Get the cheap deals early – they tend to only be available for 24 hours once released.
- Mix and match airlines – but make sure you have at least 1 hour between connecting flights with no checked baggage and 2-3 hours if you have checked baggage.
- Search budget carriers – Air Asia for example often doesn’t come up on a – Skyscanner search, and hence the use of Momondo first.
- There is no evidence that searching icognito results in cheaper deals.
- It is no longer cheaper to buy a flight on a Tuesday.
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