How to get cheap flights: 11 tricks

Whether you’re planning a holiday in Europe or a round-the-world trip, here’s how to get the cheapest flights possible.

With flight ticket prices fluctuating by the minute, it feels like you can get charged anything from 99p to £200.

But, with these tried-and-tested hacks, you can discover how to get cheap flights and save serious money on air travel.

  • Check the cheapest days to fly out

    Of course, it isn’t always possible to start booking a holiday with countless dates in mind. However, it can make a massive difference if you’re flexible.

    Luckily, being a student puts you in the perfect position for this sort of flexibility.

    Choosing to fly during the week is generally cheaper than at weekends. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are good for bargains (they’re not usually popular days of the week to travel).

    A lot of airline websites have made it easier to spot the cheap days to fly. Look out for ‘calendar view‘ booking systems that let you view prices across the whole week you’re searching for.

    Comparison site Skyscanner has made this function even better by presenting flight prices in a handy graph. With it, you can see clearly which days are the cheapest to fly. Google Flights has a similar calendar function, which shows you the exact prices for the available dates.

    Also, think carefully about the time of your flight. It might be cheaper to go for a 6am flight, but work out whether you’d be able to get to the airport in time. Public transport might not be running and the chances of you getting a lift are slim.

  • Be flexible with your flight destination

    map
    Remember that peak season in the UK won’t necessarily be peak season elsewhere in the world. Prices vary depending on where you’re flying to.

    If you’re not too fussed about where you fly to, try this money-saving trick:

    1. Go to Skyscanner
    2. Enter the airport you’d like to depart from
    3. Click on the destination box as if you’re about to type something
    4. A box should appear with an ‘Everywhere‘ option
    5. Select this, choose your dates and hit search
    6. You’ll see a list of all the flights leaving from your chosen airport on that date, in order of cheapest to most pricey.

    This is a great option if you can’t be flexible with dates, but you’re up for trying somewhere totally different.

    Don’t be turned off by places you’ve never considered before. Do a bit of reading online and you might find it has all the sun, sea, sand and everything else you’re looking for.

    Our Content Editor, Nele van Hout, has used this trick to get really cheap flights:

    Nele van HoutUsing the Skyscanner ‘Everywhere’ trick, I managed to fly to destinations I otherwise wouldn’t have considered visiting.

    I found £20 return flights to Milan from Manchester. I’d visited Italy before, but I’d never considered going to Milan. I ended up booking the flights and had a great time.

    I even got to visit Lake Como from Milan, which turned out to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to in Europe.

  • Use flight price search engines

    As with virtually everything you purchase, shopping around and doing your research is the best way to find great deals.

    The good news is there are loads of sites that make it quicker and easier to compare the prices of flights.

    Try using sites such as Expedia to look for a good deal on a bundle (flights and a hotel, for example). Do this before checking airline websites to see if it works out cheaper to book separately.

    The best flight comparison sites

    Momondo provides a graph that indicates the cheapest days to fly around the dates you’ve searched for. You can also alter the search to focus on the quickest route if that’s more of a priority to you.

    As we mentioned earlier, Skyscanner and Google Flights are good sites to use, as are Travel Supermarket and Kayak.

  • Book through travel agents for students

    Some specialist student travel agencies have a good reputation for getting students where they want to go, for less. Student Universe is a good shout for students and anyone under 30.

    Booking with Student Universe or other travel agencies can also lead you in directions you might not have considered. Plus, loads of student-focused holidays offer activities, social events and, most importantly, student discounts.

    However, if you do visit a high-street travel agency, don’t be talked into booking anything before you’re sure. Remember they’re essentially trying to make a sale, so ensure you’re 100% convinced before agreeing to anything.

    You could save money by comparing the quotes from these agencies with any deals you find online. Do plenty of research before parting with your cash.

    Don’t think it’s possible to travel the world without it costing the earth? Find out how this woman went on 10 holidays in a year for half of the average Brit’s annual vacation spend.
  • Last-minute deals aren’t always cheaper so book early

    Last-minute deals have the reputation of being a cheap option, but in reality, they rarely are.

    The way forward is to book early – even up to a year in advance. Seats on flights tend to be cheaper when they’re first released (typically about a year before the actual flight, but sometimes earlier). So, get online as soon as flights come on sale.

    This is especially true if you’re travelling during the school holidays, or if your trip coincides with a big event in the area you’re visiting (like St Patrick’s Day in Ireland). These prices will rocket quickly, so get in before the crowds do.

    Costs may dip again before rising in the last few days before the flight departs. However, that’s probably not a risk worth taking as there’s a chance that prices won’t dip at all (if it’s a popular flight), or that it’ll sell out before you get your ticket.

    However, if you’re a bit more flexible, it’s worth checking out sites like lastminute.com. They post flights that drop in price as the departure date approaches.

    If you want to know whether it’s worth leaving it late, the Hopper app is for you. Just enter where you’d like to fly from/to, and it’ll show you when prices are likely to rise and fall, based on the prices of millions of flights over time.

    Last-minute flights aren’t always cheaper – and last-minute skiing trips are rarely cheaper. Check out our guide to saving money on skiing trips for more tips.
  • Beware of extra costs on budget airlines

    easyjet plane wing and clouds
    When booking flights, particularly with budget airlines, don’t be deceived by prices that seem inexplicably cheap.

    Many promotional price points come with hidden costs and they’re not a welcome surprise. From air taxes to baggage fees or seat selection – there’s a whole host of things that may increase the price.

    Note that air taxes are often the bulk of the price of an airline ticket.

    Make sure you always check what’s being included in your purchase before clicking your pennies away. Check if your ticket includes any unnecessary extras – if so, look for cheaper flight tickets that suit you better.

    And try to travel light if you can. Hand luggage is usually* free. But don’t get stung by weight and dimension specifics. It’s a good idea to weigh and measure your bag before arriving – a luggage scale is a great travel accessory to bring with you.

    Also, there are loads of tricks you can use to keep the cost of your ticket down. For example, you could wear multiple clothes and carry things in your pockets.

    Of course, budget flights can still be good value, even with some added costs. Just don’t get too excited straight away. Consider all the potential costs, and make sure you don’t get charged extra at the airport.

    *Ryanair changed their policy and you now have to pay to take a small wheelie suitcase on board. However, a backpack is still free if it fits the required dimensions. Check to see if the airline you’re flying with has a similar policy.

    Nele van Hout uses this handy trick to save money on bringing luggage with her partner:

    Nele van HoutIf you travel with someone and use a budget airline, it’s worth considering bringing one checked bag together. Especially since airlines like Ryanair charge you to bring a small suitcase on board.

    My partner and I fly with Ryanair often, and it’s almost always cheaper to share one checked luggage than it is to bring two smaller suitcases as hand luggage. Always compare the prices, as they may differ per airline and destination, but it’s worth considering.

  • Go incognito when booking flights

    Staying as anonymous as you can while searching for tickets is one of the key ways to get cheap flights.

    Flight prices fluctuate depending on demand. Airlines use data on how many people are searching for, and buying, tickets to work out how to price them.

    So, you might find that when you’ve had your eye on a particular flight and have been checking back, the price increases. The airline knows you’re likely to buy it, so they’re trying to squeeze a few more bucks out of you.

    To avoid this, try deleting your search cookies. Then, see what happens to the price once your browser history has been wiped.

    Another option is to search in an incognito browser (the option is there when you go to open a new tab or window). This way, your location and identity are concealed from airlines, so shouldn’t affect the prices displayed.

  • Pay for flights with a credit card

    Taking out a credit card as a student comes with risks, so do plenty of research if you’re thinking about getting one.

    If you do decide to get one, it’s worth keeping in mind that credit cards offer Section 75 protection. This means that, if you’ve made a purchase that costs over £100 and up to £30,000 and something goes wrong on the seller’s side, you can claim your money back.

    Debit cards don’t offer quite the same protection. So, as long as you can pay it off in full and on time, it could help to use a credit card to book holidays.

    Credit cards can also be better for spending abroad and might offer better exchange rates than debit cards. Again, do lots of research before deciding on a card to use.

    Plus, you can earn air miles with certain credit cards, and many offer you cashback on your flights. This means if you spend a bit more on your flight, you might see some return.

  • Flights with a connection can be cheaper

    When booking long-haul flights it will nearly always prove cheaper to book a flight with a connection somewhere rather than a direct one. While this will increase your travel time, you’ll most likely save money.

    Uncheck the ‘direct flights only’ box on comparison websites to see if prices come up any cheaper.

    Be aware of the risk involved here, though. If one of your earlier flights is delayed, this could result in you missing a connecting flight. Some cheap student travel insurance should cover you in case something goes wrong.

    It’s also a good idea to search by country on comparison sites rather than cities. Main city airports are usually more expensive, and the periphery airports normally specialise in budget airlines. Opening up your search to these alternatives could save you money on the flight.

    If you’re not in a rush to get where you’re going, it might also be worth considering a layover to help keep costs down. Try searching for connecting flights individually to see if it would be cheaper to spend a day or two somewhere else en route. Just think of it like another mini holiday.

  • Book your flights and accommodation together

    person looking out of an airplane window

    Package holidays are often a great option for students. They’re cheap and not just for the 50+ crowd. If you’ve ever watched Coach Trip, you’ll agree.

    Book a package holiday and you’re likely to get discounts on flights as well as accommodation, airport transfers and activities like bus tours while you’re there. We’ve listed some great summer holiday package deals if you need any inspiration.

    As holiday companies book in such large quantities, they tend to get the biggest discounts. Sometimes you can even get an entire holiday for less than the cost of a regular flight.

    However, this might not be a good option for you if you enjoy exploring and eating out a lot on holiday. As food and drinks are included in the price, you’ll save a ridiculous amount of cash by eating all your meals at your hotel.

    However, if you do decide to book accommodation separately, read our guide to getting cheap hotel deals.

  • Look for student discounts and deals

    This might sound like an obvious one, but always check whether you can get a student discount when booking flights.

    This applies to both airlines and holiday companies alike, for anything from domestic to round-the-world trips. A good place to start is our own directory of student discounts on travel.

    The last thing anyone wants is spam in their inboxes, so signing up to travel company newsletters might not sound too appealing. However, this is often the best way to discover top deals. Travel companies and airlines are particularly good at rewarding newsletter subscribers.

    For example, Ryanair is likely to notify its subscribers of big sales early on. As seats are always limited in these instances, it does pay off to put up with the emails.

    It’s also worth considering joining a secret flight deals service, like Jack’s Flight Club or Secret Flying. Both are free to join, but Jack’s Flight Club also offers a paid premium membership if you’re keen to receive extra deal alerts.

  • We have loads more tips and tricks on getting cheap flights (and upgrades!) in episode five of our podcast, all about travelling on a shoestring.

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