Graham asks: “I’m trying to get some flights booked, but they are so expensive. I need to book a one-way flight and the cheapest flight is pushing £1,000. How can I find this flight cheaper, and what are some other good tips to find cheaper flights?”
Question 14 – How Can I Find Cheaper Flights? – Shownotes
I’m cheating a little with today’s question, as it was actually me who is asking the question. However, I found something today when trying to book some flights that made me want to share this with you. So, the question I was asking myself was:
I’m trying to get some flights booked, but they just seem so expensive. For instance, I need to book a one-way flight from Newcastle to the US for a couple of months’ time and the cheapest flight I can find is pushing £1,000.
So, how can I find this flight cheaper, and what are some other good tips for saving money on flights?
So, Graham, thank you for your question…to yourself!
How To Find Cheaper Flights – Be Flexible
Before this process, I used to use the comparison site skyscanner.net, but I’ve since changed my preference to Google Flights as the prices seem more reliable and the interface is a little more manageable for changing searches quickly.
I’ll share my exact search: Newcastle, United Kingdom to Greenville, South Carolina. I enter the details into Google Flights for the date I want to go on and see that the cheapest option is a 18h 28m journey and will cost £962.
So, my first tip is, if you can, be flexible. By choosing other dates, you may be able to find cheaper options. For example, by going on the day after, my fare is reduced to £913, and by going the day before, I have an option for £871. However, being flexible on your travel date often isn’t that easy if you need to be somewhere at a specific time or date.
The other part of flexibility is your choice of airport. If I needed to fly on that exact date, for example, by flying to Charlotte, I could get a ticket for £866 (almost £100 cheaper than the original fare). Google Flights kindly points this out to me, and tells me that Charlotte is 75 miles from Greenville, which allows me to research how much it would cost to get myself between the two towns.
Book Return Flights – TOP TIP
Both of these tips are useful, but they have still only dropped my price to £866 for a single flight, which is out of my budget. But wait, here comes the biggy, and something I didn’t fully appreciate before. Return flights (for the total price of both flights) can be cheaper than single flights. A LOT CHEAPER.
It doesn’t matter when I book my return for if I’m only taking my single flight, so I can be completely flexible on my return. Again, Google Flights is really good here as you can fix your outbound and it tells you on one screen the price of the return on all different dates.
The cheapest is to book a return exactly one week after. This brings the price of my single flight which was £962 down to…wait for it…£453. Want to know the worst bit – it’s the same airline companies, and very similar flights (the outbound is actually even quicker).
It’s under half the price to book return than single. I wish I could explain to you why, but I don’t know. I think it’s probably something related to airlines being able to charge business much more than individuals, and individuals take single flights less often. This phenomenon may also explain why there are often empty seats on flights that come up at the airport.
There you go, over 53% reduction by adding another flight!
Also, check both ways. It may be cheaper to book a return flight and actually take the inbound than booking the return flight and taking the outbound. If you do this though, make sure you check with the airline as I’ve heard of instances where passengers weren’t allowed to board a second flight because they’d not checked in for the first.
You can see this here, because if I try to book at outbound from Greenville to Newcastle, and plan to take the return on the date I wish, my cheapest return option is £855.
I thought this might be a US only thing, or a one off for this flight. So, I checked Manchester (UK) to Montpellier (France) for a random date in January 2016. Single flight – £274. Return flight – £199.
So, when booking single flights, make sure to check the cost of return flights and simply don’t take the other leg of the journey!
How Can I Find Cheaper Flights – Other Ways
Other tips to get cheap flights are:
- Check other search comparison sites (Google Flights, Skyscanner, Expedia, Opodo, NetFlights, etc etc)
- Search “incognito” or “private” mode, especially if booking in big groups. The airlines are clever soldiers, and they actually monitor searches and then bump up the prices for flights that have been frequently searched for. Don’t let them know you want it before you’re ready to book.
- Consider fees for baggage when comparing flights. This won’t be done by the comparison sites, but the extra charges with “budget” airlines can sometimes be more than offset by their luggage policy.
- Book your own flights if there is more than one leg to find cheaper deals. For instance, if you can be flexible with times, Newcastle to somewhere in the US may be via Paris. By booking a return to Paris and a return from Paris to the US you can sometimes save a fair amount of money – often enough to pay for your day over in Paris!
- Search for the hidden cities. Again, this is ridiculous, but a flight from Liverpool to Rome via Rotterdam (I hope you appreciate those choices of cities) may actually be cheaper than the flight from Liverpool to Rotterdam. Therefore, book the longer journey and just leave at the half way mark. I’ve included a real life example in the shownotes that shows that this does happen. NCL to Rome (via Paris) is £173 single. NCL to Montpellier (via Paris then Rome) with the same flights up until Rome is £141 single.
- Book further in advance. The cheapest prices are usually on the day they are released, and research from Momondo suggests that it’s generally best to book at least 53 days in advance. Prices will fluctuate almost daily, but will generally over time get more expensive. So, rather than trying to guess when the sales might be, it’s better to be safe than sorry and book early.
- Try to avoid school holidays. If you do need to book in the holidays, there is a nice trick where you can buy “flexi” tickets when you can book in the cheap period and then change your flights into the school holidays free of charge. The risk is obviously that you won’t be able to move your flights if the capacity isn’t there.
Ask Your Question
This show runs three times a week and answers all of your personal finance questions. If you have any questions, please don’t be shy to ask. You can ask in three ways:
- Leave a comment on any of the Q&A podcast shownotes (including this one)
- Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Leave a message on the Speakpipe App which you will find below and on our “submit a question” page: