Flights are getting more expensive, but here’s the good news:
I think you will all agree, the pursuit for cheap flights is a stressful and complicated endeavor. The choices on deal finders seem endless and the more you look around on sites like Jet2Holidays, the more you become overwhelmed with last minute decisions. One of the biggest expenses on anyone’s holiday is international and domestic flights, so the more we spend, the less we have left over for hotels, tours, city breaks, restaurants and activities. But as we dive deeper into the rabbit hole of discounted flights, we discover that every flight has a long list of pro’s and con’s. Inevitably what happens is we give into the frustration of sorting through them all and we concede defeat by booking the more expensive direct tickets. It’s no surprise that this leaves a bad taste in the mouths of passengers.
You might be wondering:
Will airlines always have the upper hand? Are we condemned to accept that our future is filled with fewer and fewer deals? The airlines such as Jet2Holidays are certainly doing well lately with very low fuel prices and purchasing more efficient modern aircraft which are earning them higher profits than ever.
But here’s the worst part:
They’re not even passing on the savings to us passengers. They’re keeping all the extra profits to themselves and opting to slash less profitable routes and filling up their planes on the more profitable ones. So were left with packed out planes and super expensive ticket prices.
Ready for the good news?
Believe it or not, you can still drastically increase the odds in your favor and steal a bargain ticket price on sites like Jet2Holidays. I’m going to explain to you step-by-step the ways to find these secret deals and guarantee you will feel like you won the airline ticket battle. With over 10 years as an airline pilot, I know what it takes to get the best deals on the web because I work closely with the people who set the pricing. Let’s get started:
1. Coupon Codes
One of the easiest ways to save money on your holiday is with a coupon code. Typically, coupon codes will provide either a fixed discount (such as £200 off flights) or a percentage discount.
Easily our favourite tip for getting cheap flights and undoubtedly the least well known in the industry. Every time you pay online at the checkout you will see a blank section to insert a “coupon code” or similar. Sadly, this section is usually ignored and left blank due to travelers not knowing any relevant promo codes; not understanding their importance and sometimes just innocently accepting that they’ve already scored the best price possible.
The truth is, the ultimate savings are only found when you insert a discount code at the checkout.
The way it works is Airlines, hotels, tour and car rental companies offer these codes to advertising firms or affiliate marketers to spread the message to travelers and in return these companies gain a small percentage of the sale. The real winner however is you the consumer.
For example, Qatar airways might have a promo code in circulation whereby you can receive a 50% discount on business class tickets but only with the correct, updated promo code. When the code is entered at the checkout page you receive a discount of 50% off your already low price and can complete the purchase instantly.
1. Error Fares
One of the easiest ways to save money on your holiday is with a coupon code. Typically, coupon codes will provide either a fixed discount (such as £200 off flights) or a percentage discount.
This one is rarely discussed so don’t be surprised if this is the first time you are hearing about it. What happens with error fares or mistake fares, is that technical glitches occur in airline pricing software, leading to an extremely cheap ticket price. Sometimes the price mistake is human error, but these are generally picked up much quicker and you won’t have a chance to purchase them.
Even if these error fares are around long enough for you to book, they may not be honoured by the airline and you will be simply refunded. Some airlines still honour the ticket and you could get to your destination for the cost of a taxi ride to the airport.
Overall the key here is to setup an alert from sites such as Google alerts or Airfare Watchdog and you will be emailed as soon as they detect an error fare.
This one is rarely discussed so don’t be surprised if this is the first time you are hearing about it. What happens with error fares or mistake fares, is that technical glitches occur in airline pricing software, leading to an extremely cheap ticket price. Sometimes the price mistake is human error, but these are generally picked up much quicker and you won’t have a chance to purchase them. Even if these error fares are around long enough for you to book, they may not be honoured by the airline and you will be simply refunded. Some airlines still honour the ticket and you could get to your destination for the cost of a taxi ride to the airport. Overall the key here is to setup an alert from sites such as Google alerts or Airfare Watchdog and you will be emailed as soon as they detect an error fare.
Use a VPN
This is another rarely discussed method for finding the absolute cheapest prices. VPN software can be easily downloaded and used on computers or smart phones to change your “internet location”. Why is this useful?
Well its important to understand that ticket prices are usually cheaper in countries with lower living standards or lower salaries. This makes sense because not everyone has the same budget for travel and airlines will adjust prices based on the market they’re selling to. Let’s say you plan to fly from London to Bali, Indonesia. If you use a VPN and change the location to Indonesia, you are likely to get the cheaper local price for Indonesians instead of the overpriced United Kingdom rate. One thing to note is you will be paying in another currency so make sure you use a credit card that doesn’t charge international transaction fees.
My personal favourite app is HMA (Hide my ass) VPN because it allows you to choose the country you want to pretend to be in without suffering internet speed issues. It’s by far the most reliable VPN app I have used and its available for both computers and smart phones.
Don’t book directly on the airline website
The first search you make for cheap flights should always be on a variety of well-known comparison sites. Let’s say you’re flying from London to New York and you don’t mind which airport you fly in-out of. If you go directly to an airlines official website, then you’re usually presented with only one option. But with comparison sites such as Momondo, Google flights, Kayak or Kiwi, they present you with up to 30 different airlines and multiple airports and stopovers. This opens you up to a world of choices so that you can find the most cost-effective flights to suit your budget and schedule.
Booking 6 weeks in advance
Great news! There have been numerous studies that have analysed over 600 million flight searches and the results were conclusive in their findings that ticket prices generally dropped below the average ticket price at these times. The best time to find and book the cheapest tickets for international flights was between 11-12 weeks before departure and 7 weeks in advance for domestic flights. You would also be smart to avoid booking too early (5 months or more) and too late (less than 2 weeks). We also suggest using comparison websites such as Kayak or Google flights because they have a tool that will show you their predictions on whether your particular flight will increase or decrease further in price.
Sign up to airline e-newsletters
Just like the tip for error fares, its important to sign up for airline deal alerts or airline newsletters where you will get advanced notices of upcoming major deals. Airlines all over the world offer huge discounts to their loyal customers who follow them via email because it’s the cheapest form of advertisement and one of the most effective. Don’t be surprised if you wake up to an email from your favourite airline with discounts of over 50% on flights. Many travellers miss out on this simple tip, but it is so effective.
Set price alerts
No one has the time to sit and watch airline websites all day long, nor should they have to with the technology employed by flight comparison websites such as Google Flights. Simple enter your departure airport, destination, approximate travel dates and you’ll be alerted whenever the price drops significantly. It will also present you with historical data to assist you in understanding if it will drop further or if you should buy now.
But for those who aren’t patient? Then I suggest going to websites that upload the best deals throughout the day. My favourites are Holiday Pirates, Airfare Watch Dog and Secretflying.com because they manually scour the web for super discounted flights, so you don’t have to.
Book a connection you won’t make
This secret isn’t for those risk-averse travellers, because it has the potential to totally payoff bigtime and get you on a better, more expensive direct flight. But it also has the chance to absolutely backfire. If you’re still interested, then keep reading.
First step is to book a super cheap flight with a connection to your destination that is very close to your arrival time. Let’s say you plan to travel to Miami from Amsterdam with a stopover in Manchester. Make sure the connection is less than 1 hour for this to work or else you may be told to keep your original itinerary. Next step is to politely ask the gate agent in Amsterdam to book you onto a direct flight to Miami because you will have no chance of making the connection. This flight is obviously more expensive as it leaves at a reasonable time of day and if you’re lucky you won’t be charged any extra.
24-hour price drop rule
Many airlines offer this 24-hour rule but they don’t all advertise it for obvious reasons. How does it work?
Imagine you booked the cheapest flight possible to Spain for $200 USD but then you wake up the next day to see it only costs $120 now. First thing you should do is check if the airline has the 24-hour rule, then if they do, go ahead and cancel your ticket and rebook on the new price. Simple as that!
The other option is to use the Price match guarantee from sites such as Holidaygems.co.uk or Orbitz.com
Take last minute trips
For those who are willing to patiently wait for last minute deals and are more flexible with their travel plans, then these prices are going to be a sweet reward. Airlines occasionally issue last minute deals on flights when they can’t totally fill their aircraft seats in time. This is common when new routes are opened or during shoulder seasons when demand is lower. It’s important to be using price alerts or signed up to airline newsletters as explained earlier, otherwise you probably won’t be aware of the awesome deal.
Chase the price, not the destination
This is exactly as it sounds. Don’t rely on your intended destination to always have good deals. Imagine you plan to go to a tropical beach destination, but your primary choice is far too expensive. Then obviously it means you need to choose your next best beach spot. But what if you don’t know an alternative location?
Simply use the Skyscanner Inspire map or Google flights to see a map with prices for different destinations originating from your chosen departure airport. Remember, it’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey.
Fly on Wednesday
Don’t listen to the nay-sayers who continue to spread false truths that there is no perfect day to fly. The statistics have proven time and time again that some days are better than others. It makes perfect sense that most people are working on Wednesday, so there goes the majority of holiday tourists. What about business travellers? Well sure, they might take mid-week flights but it’s more likely they will fly out on a Monday and home on a Friday to get the most out of the work week.
Book on Tuesday
I’ll admit that there is a lot of doubters to the evidence supporting the claim that flights are cheaper to purchase on Tuesdays, but a recent investigation by well-know travel website Farecompare.com discovered that this was the actually the absolute perfect time to buy airline tickets when travelling on domestic routes. We were not able to find any supporting claims for international flights, but honestly can it really hurt to give it a try?
Facebook and twitter
In the modern age of social media, it pays to be following your favourite airlines, so you’ll get crucial alerts when deals are about to happen. Much like email newsletters, the expense for airlines is very low when they advertise on Facebook or twitter and they can reach a large audience of loyal fans who are ready to book when they are presented with great holiday discounts. It’s also comforting to know you can speak directly with Airline representatives via Facebook instead of spending time and money waiting to speak to call centre agents. Remember this is a free service that could save you hundreds, so what are you waiting for?
Try different airlines
Just because you found a cheap deal going to your destination, doesn’t mean you’re going to get an equally good one on your way home. Mixing and matching airlines is the key to getting a good deal because these days airlines offer very competitive one-way deals. Using sites like kiwi.com are great because they will present you with heaps of airlines to choose from (even the low-cost carriers). Remember, loyalty is for marriages, not airlines!
Frequent flier membership
Free, free, free! Signing up is free, so do I really need to say any more? Frequent flier membership allows you to accumulate points for every flight you take and sometimes for everything you buy onboard. This can come in handy if you’re flight is overbooked in economy and they need to start upgrading passengers to business or first class. They will always choose their “loyal” members because they believe you will be willing to fly with them more often if they give you a free upgrade (as opposed to a non-member).
Additionally, the more points you earn, the closer you get to cashing in your points for free flights or free upgrades to business class. Some airlines even allow you to cash in your points for travel vouchers that you can give to friends and family.
Fly early or late
I know it’s probably extremely obvious to you all, but the cheapest time of the day to fly is when we should all hopefully still be sleeping. That’s right, airlines tend to give discounted rates for red-eye flights or early morning flights. This is for a few reasons but the main one is that less people want to travel at these times and another is that airlines can operate these flights at much lower expenses than peak-hour flights. The reason is simply due to less delays which means less fuel burnt. Additionally, airports charge lower fees if airlines use these “time slots” so it’s a win-win for everyone.
Take advantage of student and seniors discounts
Remember that many travel companies and airlines out there are willing to offer sizeable discounts to both ends of the age spectrum. Students up until the age of 26 are entitled to big savings through companies such as STA Travel because they understand these travellers are more price sensitive and have a major desire to see the world. On the same token, seniors have a big desire to travel now that they are retired and have more free time on their hands so I suggest using CheapOair.com.
Use airline credit cards
Probably one of the hottest topics in the discounted travel market at the moment is airline credit cards. They offer major sign-on bonuses such as cash rewards and tens of thousands of frequent flier points to anyone who is eligible to use the card. Additionally, they offer flier points anytime you shop online or in selected stores across the world.
What’s my favourite choice?
I personally use the Cathay Pacific Platinum Card by American Express, because I can earn plenty of airline points with small everyday purchases such as grocery and clothes shopping. Overtime the points build up and before you know it you’re able to cash in the award points and get a free round-trip ticket to anywhere in world.
But that’s not all:
Every time I go to an airport, I use the card to get free access to Plaza Premium lounge which is available in over 1000 airports world-wide. This helps me relax before a flight and get a free meal because who wants to pay for over-priced airport food.
Be flexible and use connections
Remember what I said earlier about trying to miss your connection? Well if you’re not game enough to try it then I suggest you continue with your connection and maybe even take a layover on the way so you can rest up, relax and even see the sights. I can’t emphasise enough how important it can be to be flexible and accept a connection (even if you prefer direct flights) because the money you can save is astounding. As we concluded earlier, not all days of the week are priced equally, so if you must travel on peak day then I suggest taking a connecting flight to a destination which is on-sale or much cheaper. At the very least, you will get to spend some time in a new place and explore it before continuing home.
Try low cost carriers
Gone are the days of only using low-cost airlines on domestic routes. Many of todays carriers are really comfortable as well as being cost-efficient. Within the North America I suggest using a combination of Southwest Airlines, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines because they are really cheap but comfortable at the same time. Steer clear of airlines that don’t offer reclining seats because no matter how cheap they are, you’re going to regret it when you arrive at your destination. In some cases it will end up costing you more because you lose productive time on your vacation while you try to catch up on lost sleep.
Believe it or not, international low-cost carriers are becoming increasingly popular! The favourites in this category are Norwegian (Europe/USA/Asia), WOW Airlines (Europe to USA) and China Southern (USA/Europe/Asia). Whilst they don’t aim to be like full-service airlines, they sure do give them a run for their money.
The main thing to watch out for is the extra charges these airlines will hook you on at the check-out. At all costs you need to try to avoid things like onboard meals or extra baggage if you want to keep your ticket price low.
Do book directly on the airline website
Remember what they say about rules and how they’re meant to be broken? Well I’d appreciate it if you followed this because I clearly said in tip number 2, do not use airline websites. This is a half-truth, because they can come in handy once you have checked all the options first on a comparison website. Now if you know the exact flights you need, and you’re not satisfied you’re getting the best price on a third-party site, then try directly with the airlines official site. Often this is over-looked by travellers, but you may be missing out on exclusive discounts that the airline only offers on its site. We also need to address the fact that third-party sites tend to add service charges to the checkout total. So make sure you investigate all sources before making a decision.
Free baggage and travel insurance
Baggage fees can be super annoying if you’re only slightly over the limit but have to pay a fortune in extras. Having an airline credit card or frequent flier membership can actually help you waive these fees. Some airlines even give you up to 9 check-in bags for free!
As we always recommend, do not go traveling overseas without travel insurance. Sometimes we forget but if we all remember to use airline credit cards that include free travel insurance then we will never need to stress. The only stipulation is that you must pay for the flights with that credit card, but hey, you were going to do that anyway to get the frequent flier points right?
Book legs separately
It’s funny how airlines tend to charge more for the most convenient booking options isn’t it? One of these situations is when paying for long-haul journeys. Let’s take a flight from Los Angeles to Paris and compare it to the same journey but with a stop-over in London Heathrow. Then lets book each leg separately instead of one-package.
Believe it or not:
The savings were on average $200 USD cheaper to break up the journey and book it separately. Now lets look at the same LAX to Paris return flight booked direct without a stop-over. But instead of paying for the return flight in one go, we booked LAX-Paris and Paris-LAX separately.
Over $100 USD cheaper this way! This proves that convenience can be much more expensive when it comes to travel, so it pays to be flexible and try all your options.
Fly out of season
This won’t come as a surprise to anyone that cheaper deals are outside of peak seasons. But what do we mean by peak season?
Cheapest time of year to fly (Northern Hemisphere):
- Mid-January to May
- September to early December
Cheapest time of year to fly (Southern Hemisphere):
- May through early June
- Late-July to September
Keep in mind that it’s nearly impossible to calculate the exact times that discounts will occur because every country and even city, is different. But in general, the cheaper prices can be anticipated based on colder temperatures (excluding skiing destinations) and outside of holiday periods. Skyscanner offers a feature where you can search by “cheapest month” so it would be useful to try it out.
For me personally, I love travelling to Europe midway through Autumn as there are less tourists (i.e. lower prices) and the temperatures are milder, with less rainfall.
Book a flight with a layover that’s actually your destination
As always, we save the best until last. In recent years this technique has gained a lot of attention from both passengers and airlines. Now the passengers absolutely love it because it’s a kind of hacking way to save big dollars on your flights. The airlines hate it because it bypasses their pricing software and enables us to gain an upper-hand. Another name for this technique is “hidden city ticketing” and it involves booking a one-way ticket from point A to point C, with a layover in B. Now the reason we all do this is because on popular routes, flying from A to C is too expensive. So we go via the less popular point B.
But here comes the “wow” moment:
Point B, is actually our final destination and we never intent to continue from B to C. What? Yes you heard it correctly. Many of you might be thinking, why not just book A to B to save money? Valid point. But have you considered that this was more expensive in the first place? So airlines do a short stop along the way to pickup more passengers but they don’t expect you to get off.
But be careful:
Never check-in bags for this “hidden city ticketing” trick, because you bags will continue on to destination C. And most definitely don’t tell the airlines you intend on doing this because they generally frown upon it. Either way, you will understand the concept and huge-savings more if you go to www.skiplagged.com.
Without question the main point to takeaway from this long list is that you need to be flexible with your plans and book early if you want to get consistent noticeable savings on your flight. This list will mostly work for solo travellers or couples without children. As parents know all too well, less time spent travelling with kids is far more worth it than saving a few hundred dollars. Everything on this list is guaranteed to work some of the time, but certainly not every time. Try as many as possible and you’ll increase your chances of booking an incredible deal for your next journey.
Dan Boland is an International long-haul airline pilot based out of Hong Kong. He has contributed to articles in major media sources such as MSN.com, WashingtonPost.com and News.com.au. If you would to collaborate on other travel related stories, please get in touch via [email protected]