No time wasting. No long winded intros. Let’s get straight into my tips for how to get cheap flights that will save you time and money.
How Far In Advance To Book
Most airlines release seats for sale just under one year before the flight date. This gives a long potential booking window for your flights. I’ve searched thousands of long haul flights and I find the cheapest time to book flights is usually around 2 – 8 months in advance.
Note that I say usually. This isn’t a hard and fast rule. There will be times when seat sales come up for flights outside this window. So don’t give up on finding a great value long haul flight if you want to go in less than two months time.
This is particularly true if you want to travel during a traditionally slow time of the year for the airlines. For most routes these are November to early December, and mid January to mid March. Flights at these times of the year can sometimes be discounted right up to only a few days before departure.
If you’re departing from the UK you can also subscribe to my long haul flight alerts. I’ll let you know about the best long haul flight deals that I see from hundreds of searches ever week.
Which Day Of The Week To Search And Book
You might have seen articles reporting that the cheapest day of the week to book your next flight is Tuesday. (Or Wednesday. Or Thursday, or any other day of the week…)
Let me clarify something right now: No one day of the week is better than any other day of the week to search and book your flights.
It used to be the case that some days of the week were cheaper to search and book flights. This was because airlines were more likely to update their fares some days over others.
But that was years ago and this isn’t the case any longer. Today, airlines control air fares using very complex automatic algorithms that monitor and change fares every day considering many factors.
Manual air fare updates still do happen, but they aren’t restricted to certain days of the week.
So, search and book your flights whatever day of the week you want to. It won’t make any difference to the fare you pay.
Flexibility Will Save You Money
Whilst the day of the week that you book your flights doesn’t influence the price, the day of the week that you travel sometimes does. Weekend air fares for long haul flights do still tend to be higher than fares during the week. The cheapest days to fly are usually Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
However, there are exceptions to this, so there’s one word that sums up how to get the cheapest air fares: flexibility.
The more flexible you are about when you go and even where you go (more about this below), the more likely you will be able to find a cheap long haul flight.
If you can be flexible about the date of your flight, or even the week (or month) then you will get a much wider choice of fares.
This also works for the airport you’re flying from. If you’re prepared to travel to or from UK airports that aren’t the closest to you, you’ll have a much wider choice of air fares. This doesn’t always mean having to travel to London for the cheapest deals as other airports sometimes have better prices.
And if you’re flexible with your destination you are very likely to find great deals as you can take advantage of the very best offers at the time of year you want to travel. Doing this you can save a huge amount of money on long haul flights.
Make The Longest Flight The Best Value Flight
Being flexible is all well and good but what if you have a specific destination in mind?
Well, the most expensive part of any trip is usually the longest flight in the trip. This is great if your final destination is a major international city that often sees great flight deals. But if your destination rarely sees deal does that mean you can’t take advantage of great long haul air fares?
No, you can still save money. Again, you’ll save most by being flexible. Flexibility here is about finding a cheap long haul flight to an airport in the region you want to visit. You can then look for cheap short haul flights from the city you arrive in to your final destination.
For example, say you want to visit Luang Prabang in Laos. Getting a cheap fare from the UK to Luang Prabang is rare. So instead you could find a cheap flight to Bangkok, which is much easier, then book a flight from Bangkok to Luang Prabang.
I’ve recorded a short video to show you how I do this.
One thing to note about this. I always make sure I have plenty of time between my long haul and short haul flights when I’ve booked the flights separately. I like to spend a night in my ‘connecting’ city so that if there are any delays I won’t miss my next flight.
Where To Find The Cheapest Long Haul Fares
To find cheap long haul flights I always use a two-step search process. First, I search on Google Flights to find the cheapest dates for my trip. Then I search on Momondo, Skyscanner and/or Kayak to find the very best fares for those dates.
I’ve written a separate detailed blog post with all the details of how this search works. It also includes a shortcut for searching on Momondo, Skyscanner and Kayak: How to Find Cheap Flights Using Google Flights, Momondo, Skyscanner and Kayak
How To Get Cheap Flights To Your Final Destination
When I’m looking for cheap short haul flights, for example, within south east Asia or within the USA, I use Skyscanner. Skyscanner has flexible search options and covers almost all of the ‘traditional’ and low cost airlines around the world.
When I’m searching for cheap flights in the USA I also search on southwest.com. Southwest is a huge US low cost airline which isn’t included in the search results of any other website. This means you have to go to southwest.com to check their fares and book their flights. They are often the cheapest option, plus they have great service, so they are well worth an extra few minutes to search alongside Skyscanner.
Using Low Cost Airlines
Low cost short haul airlines have been around for a few years now and have driven down the cost of flying short haul in many areas of the world. Most of us are used to booking short flights with the low cost carriers and know what to look out for when we book.
But what about low cost long haul airlines? Are they worth looking at?
Well budget long haul airlines, like Norwegian, Eurowings, Level and Scoot work in a similar way to budget short haul airlines.
When I book a short haul flight with a budget airline I know I’ll need to pay extra for a checked bag and for food and drink on the plane. With a budget long haul airline the same principles apply.
The basic air fare can be superb value but make sure you add on all the extras you’ll need. This includes a bag checked and the cost of food and drink on the flight.
This is important when comparing flight prices, whether the flights are with budget airlines or not, so that I know I’m comparing the final price I would actually pay.
Cheapest UK Airports To Fly From
If like me you live outside London, you’re probably used to having to pay more to fly from your local airport. However, increased competition in recent years means that this isn’t always the case. Sometimes flying from an airport outside London can work out cheaper.
The UK airports that are usually cheaper to fly from are Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Edinburgh and, perhaps surprisingly, Inverness. This is mainly because of competition between a larger number of airlines that are flying from these airports. In the case of Inverness, fares tend to be cheaper as flights from there are exempt from Air Passenger Duty. Other UK airports do still sometimes see great deals, but they tend to be less frequent.
It’s worth looking at the fares from these cheaper airports when planning a long haul trip to see how much you can save. Remember to consider the cost of transport to get to the airport and potentially hotel accommodation before/after your trip.
Consider Long Connections
Sometimes when I’m searching for a cheap long haul flight, I see superb fares that have long connection times between flights. This is particularly common with Turkish Airlines connecting in Istanbul, TAP Portugal connecting through Lisbon and China Southern connecting in Guangzhou, but I’ve seen it on some other airlines too.
It can be easy to dismiss these long connections and to only focus on the shorter journeys that will get you to your destination in the shortest time.
But a long connection can be an opportunity to get out and explore another city. It’s a great way to break up a long journey and get to see somewhere new. You’re getting a mini two centre trip and you’re saving money on the air fare!
A couple of things to note here: If you have an overnight connection you may have to pay for a hotel. Make sure you factor this into your flight price if you’re comparing against other routes and airlines.
Some airlines do offer free hotel accommodation and/or free city tours if you’re on a long connection. For more information about this have a look at my article How To Get A Free Hotel From Your Airline to see if you qualify.
Also, if you’re planning to leave the airport in a connection city check if you need a visa. You don’t want to be forced to spend a long connection in an airport because you don’t have a visa to enter the country.
Cheap One Way Long Haul Flights
One way long haul flights tend to be expensive compared to return flights. Most airlines have fare rules that mean it can be cheaper to buy a return flight than a single ticket. Bizarre, I know.
This used to be the case for short haul flights too. Then the budget airlines changed things by selling all of their flights as one way tickets.
The same is starting to happen for long haul flights. Budget long haul airlines are shaking things up by selling their flights as one way tickets.
With this in mind, the best place to start looking for a cheap one way long haul flight is with the budget long haul airlines.
If you want to fly somewhere that isn’t covered by a budget long haul airline, and a one way flight to your destination is looking pricey, look for a one way flight to a city in the same region as your destination, then separately book a flight to your final destination.
Alternatively, look at the price of a return flight and if it’s cheaper, book it. Strictly speaking this is against airline terms of carriage but if the airline asks why you didn’t take your return flight you just need to say your plans changed.
Not Taking All The Flights You’ve Booked On A Ticket
The other option is to buy a return flight, if it’s cheaper than the one way, and don’t use the return part of the ticket. Be careful if you do this though. It’s against the airlines’ conditions of carriage and I recommend you only consider this for occasional trips.
This brings me to another situation I’ve seen where I want to fly from B to C but the flight prices are high. So I do some research and find a much cheaper ticket flying from A to B to C. I’ve been asked if it’s ok to not take the A to B part of the ticket and just fly the B to C part.
Unfortunately, this won’t work. Airlines expect you to fly all the flights you’ve booked in the order they are on the ticket. If you don’t turn up for a flight, the airline will automatically cancel all your other flights on that ticket.
Booking tickets where you’re not intending to actually fly all of the flights is called hidden city ticketing. It’s a controversial way to lower the cost of your flights as it’s technically against the conditions of carriage. Airlines know this happens and, in some cases do little more than frown upon it. However, some airlines track customers who do this repeatedly and one or two have started to try and recover money from these customers.
I’ve never done this myself but plenty of others have and there is some solid advice about this on skiplagged.com. The same site is also a search engine that hunts out routes where you can save money by including a hidden city.
Cheap Last Minute Long Haul Fares
If you want to get away in the next few weeks and you’re flexible about where you go, look at the TUI late deals page*. TUI often have cheap flights to Florida, the Caribbean, Mexico, Costa Rica and Vietnam within a few weeks of the trip. This includes flights from regional airports too so you can save time, money and hassle getting to the airport.
Other than the TUI deals, finding a cheap lastminute long haul flight can be difficult. The general rule is that the closer to the flight date, the higher the fare gets.
Sometimes you can find cheap flights at short notice, especially if it’s low season in your destination. Flexibility is even more important here if you want to find a good deal. Look at all of the flexibility options I mentioned earlier and you might still find a cheap flight.
How To Get Cheap Flights If You Don’t Have Flexibility
Whilst it’s great to be flexible, sometimes you just want to go to your chosen destination on your chosen date. Make sure you get the best fare possible by searching on Skyscanner*, Momondo* and/or Kayak.
There isn’t usually much difference between the prices on these three flight search engines but if you want to be absolutely sure you get the best deal you should search all three.
When you find a fare you’re happy with, book it. If you’re not sure if fares will come down then search on Kayak as it often shows if it expects the fare will come down or go up. Want to wait and see if the fare will come down? Set up an email fare alert in Kayak, Momondo and/or Skyscanner so you’ll find out as soon as the fares drop.
Premium Economy, Business And First Class Long Haul Deals
Cheap fares in premium classes are less common than in economy. This is partly because the UK Air Passenger Duty is much higher for premium classes, so this bumps the fare up. It’s also because the airlines tend to discount these classes much less.
One of the best ways to find cheaper premium class fares is to look for flights leaving from an airport in Europe instead of from the UK. Even when you add in the cost of a return flight from the UK to the European departure point, and maybe a hotel for a night on the way out and on the way back, you can still sometimes save hundreds of pounds over the lowest fare from the UK.
Finding cheaper than usual flights in premium economy, business class or first class is a whole separate subject and I’ll write another blog post on this soon.
How Quickly Do I Need To Book A Cheap Fare?
The better the deal, the faster you need to book. Airlines and travel agencies typically offer cheap fares for a limited time, e.g. during a sale, and the great fare you’ve found can be taken off sale at any time.
Also, airlines limit the number of seats available on each flight for the very cheap fares. Remember you’re not going to be the only person looking at the super cheap fare you’ve found and if you don’t act fast the cheap seats can sell out.
So, when you see a deal you’re interested in, do whatever research you need to before booking and then book asap.
Flexibility is the key to getting a very cheap long haul flight. If you’re flexible around your travel dates, are prepared to fly with budget airlines, on flights with more than one connection or long connections you are likely to save a lot of money.
And even if you haven’t got much flexibility you can still save money by knowing how to search and where to look.
How do you find the best air fares possible for a trip? Do you have any tips and tricks that I didn’t mention in this post? Add them to the comments below.
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