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Cheap Flights

Bag cheap scheduled & charter flights

Leave it until the last minute and flight costs are often sky-high – but plan ahead and book the right way and the savings can soar. Whether you've the flexibility to travel anywhere, anytime, or are looking for set places and dates, we've 27 tips to cut the cost of jet-setting.

Not all comparison sites are the same, so this guide takes you through the different types. Plus we've clever tricks to cut the cost of school holiday travel, uncover how many cheap seats are left, grab credit card freebie flights and more...

Use the top comparison sites to slash costs if you know your exact dates and destination

If you know when and where you want to go, then don’t go direct to an airline; use a price comparison site to get lots of data in a very short time. However...

Different comparison sites search different firms, so check at least two.

Top Pick Comparison Sites

All allow you to search by flight class and include travel brokers, charter airlines and budget airlines.

  • Kayak for range, speed & filtering. We argue within MSE Towers about the very top pick, but Kayak* is Martin’s favourite, so it wins. It allows you to filter options based on credit/debit card fees and whether or not you want to check in bags so you can compare costs more accurately.
  • Skyscanner for the very cheapest time to fly. Another MSE Towers favourite, Skyscanner* gives you fare options spread over a month to find exactly when's cheapest. It has particularly strong coverage of budget flights, searching over 1,000 airlines in total.
  • TravelSupermarket for extra breadth. What it lacks in charm compared with the sites above, TravelSupermarket* makes up for in its additional coverage. It includes some flights they don't, such as Jet2 and Thomson.

It's also worth checking Momondo*, Kelkoo*, Fly.com, Dohop, Mobissimo and TravelSpec. For long-haul flights, also try Travelocity*, which some of the above sites can miss, and Expedia*. Discuss which ones you prefer in the forum.

Flight brokers can give big discounts if you're booking a hotel as well

Flight brokers are essentially online travel agents. They allow you to book flights, hotels and car hire, often giving extra discounts if you combine them. Plus, you get extra protection for combination bookings.

Our top sites are Expedia* Opodo* and Travelocity*, but also check Lastminute.com*, Ebookers* and Netflights* for long-haul flights.

While this is can be a big boon, sometimes you'll find it's cheaper to book separately – use the comparison sites above for flights, and get the best price for accommodation using our Cheap Hotels guide. But, you need to balance the gain of the protection against the extra cost (though booking by credit card also provides protection).

What protection do I get?

If you make flight and accommodation bookings with the same company within the same day, you get ATOL protection even though it's not a formal package deal. This means that if your travel operator goes bust, your money is protected, and if you're already away, it'll get you home.

It's not just how you book, it's WHEN you book – and at least 53 days in advance is often best

When looking for cheap flight tickets, timing is absolutely crucial.

Unlike package holidays, flights should be booked early. Business folk will pay top dollar at the last minute, so prices soar.

Unless you prefer sticking with the same airline and you're holding out for a sale you know is coming up, it's nearly always best to book as early as you can. Flights get continually more expensive closer to the date you need to travel. But with a bit of digging it's possible to get a rough idea of when prices are likely to really jump.

The latest research from the comparison site Momondo* found it's generally best to book at least 53 days ahead (last time it did the research it was 59) and that booking then is on average 29% cheaper than booking on the day of departure.

The last cheap booking date varies by destination, though, so you can use Momondo's 'Flight Insight' tab on many routes to see the data for it (see Flight Insight for info).

For example, when we looked at a London-New York return, the price 53 days ahead was £389. The next day it was £397, and by 20 days before travel £477.

Momondo also found that Tuesdays and evenings (after 6) are generally the cheapest time to fly, while Saturdays are the most expensive. If you can be flexible, it's worth checking prices on different days and at different times to see if you can cut the cost further.

Beat the school holiday price hikes with the Easyjet 'book the wrong date' trick

We've found a clever way to bag cheaper flights using Easyjet's 'Flexifares', which let you switch dates by a few weeks without paying extra. It works the whole year round, but it's particularly useful when prices shoot up during the school holidays.

The idea is to book a Flexifare on the same route at a less busy time when flights are cheaper. Then after 24 hours, provided there's capacity, you can switch it to the dates you originally wanted at no extra charge. It's not the easiest trick in the book, but if it works it could save you £100s.

MSE Steve used this trick (read his blog here):

We had to go away in the last week of May – prices were through the roof because it was half-term. Flights for the family, travelling at the weekend with luggage, cost £836 all-in. But booking flexi-flights two weeks earlier cost just £405. After a nervous 24-hour wait we switched them to the weekend we wanted – £431 saved!

Forumite Green1960 saved £700 on flights to Lanzarote in the school hols:

When we went on the Easyjet website, the flights were over £1,500 including bags. We then booked the flexi flights, which were £848 – a saving of £700. A bit nerve-wracking for the 24 hours, but we know it works. There must be availability obviously on the dates you are changing to.

How to do it: full step-by-step help

Charter can be cheaper if you're heading to a traditional resort

Charter flights are run by package holiday companies to ferry their passengers. As such, they typically cover traditional holiday destinations, so if that's where you're headed, you could bag a flight super-cheap if they sell off unreserved seats. Tough luck if you're flying to Timbuktu, but quids in if you're flying to Malaga.

Top pick comparison sites for charter flights

  • TravelSupermarket for ease and price. It's not the prettiest site, but TravelSupermarket* is easy to use and includes the likes of Thomson, Monarch, Avro and FlyThomasCook. And importantly, it found some of the cheapest prices when we looked.

  • Flights Direct for simple, easy-to-read results. Flights Direct* has good charter flight prices, plus it's part of a travel agent, so you get ABTA/ATOL cover.

Also see Expedia*, Kayak*, Momondo* and Skyscanner* as they now include some charter airlines in their searches, plus try going direct to charter airlines and travel agents.

Further tricks to try

Go direct to charter airlines for belt 'n' braces

Book a package but don't stay

Booking a package holiday can be cheaper if you're heading to a popular resort

The internet's great for flights or DIY city breaks. But if you're going away specifically for seven, 10 or 14 days to a traditional holiday destination, package holidays, where everything's wrapped up in one, are often best. See the Cheap Package Holiday guide.

What's more, most package operators are ATOL-protected (though always check before you book). So if the company goes bust or something goes wrong, your holiday is automatically protected. This means that you'll get a refund if you haven't left yet, or that you could carry on the trip and still get home if you're already there.

Check ethnic travel agents for specific destination bargains

The UK's a melting pot of different immigrant and ethnic communities, and this can be used to great advantage for a cheap flight booking. Niche travel agents often specialise in finding deals to those communities' linked countries.

For example, Shepherd's Bush in London and the surrounding area has some Caribbean specialist tour agents, or buy the Jewish Chronicle, which has firms advertising cheap flights to Israel. You've also told us about Chinese travel agent Omega, which has two branches in the London Chinatown area, as well as Birmingham and Edinburgh.

Don't forget to check prices elsewhere before you buy to make sure you're getting a good deal. If you know of a cheap specialist travel agent, please add your finds/read others' in the forum.

Stopping over when flying long-haul could save you £100s

Direct flights are always more convenient, but if you've a bit more time (and sometimes an indirect flight only adds a couple of hours to the journey) you can often cut the cost by stopping over.

What's more, if you fly out from a different airport (and take a separate flight to get there) it's sometimes possible to uncover stonking hidden bargains – eg, a £295 return to New York. The airlines don't want to shout about this, though, so shhhh... 

How to save

We looked at return flights in mid-September 2015 from London to 10 popular long-haul destinations and checked how much you could save by stopping over. The results are in the table below – as a rule, we found the bigger savings were on longer, non-US flights.

Table: How direct vs indirect flights stack up

To look yourself, search via the big price comparison sites we've used above. Kayak*Momondo* and Skyscanner* all show you, and allow you to filter by, direct and indirect flights, so you can easily compare prices.

Further tip:

Push savings to the limit with the long-haul 'extra flight' trick

Use the 'codeshare' trick – buy a seat on the same flight via a partner airline for less

If you like flying with a specific airline or know the exact flight you want, 'codesharing' could be a way to get a flight with that airline via another one. It's when airlines buddy up to sell seats on each other's flights, sometimes at a different price.

For example, an American Airlines return flight from Heathrow to New York's JFK airport for the beginning of October is £438 if you book directly with American Airlines but £403 if you book via Finnair – saving you £35, even though it's exactly the same flight.

Codesharing flights are included in comparison site results, so you'll find them using the sites above. You won't spot them if booking directly with an airline. It should be clear on the comparison site, eg, if you book with Virgin, but it's a Delta flight, it should say so. This works best on popular medium- or long-haul routes – simply book via a partner airline to grab a seat on the same plane for less.

Quick question

Which airlines can this work on?

Pay by credit card for extra protection – and know your rights if an airline goes bust

Even if you think an airline's safe as houses, it's important to protect yourself as fully as possible. The easiest way is to book on a credit card, as when the transaction's more than £100, Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act means the card company's equally liable if something goes wrong (see the full Section 75 Refunds guide, or the Chargeback guide for protection on debit card purchases).

So if you book a flight and the airline goes bust, you can at least get your money back from the card company. Always pay your card off in full at the end of the month so you're not charged interest.

With package holidays, most operators are members of the huge ATOL and ABTA travel protection schemes. This means if the firm goes bust or there's another issue, your getaway's protected that way. However, if you book flights and/or hotels directly, this won't apply unless the provider's ATOL-registered.

If you book a flight and/or a hotel via a travel agent, you won't be covered by Section 75, because there's no direct relationship with the supplier (though you may still be covered by ATOL/ABTA). But flights and accommodation or car hire booked from the same company within a day of each other are covered by ATOL, even if they're not part of a formal package.

Quick question

Will my travel insurance policy cover me?

Flying Easyjet? If your flight drops after you book, you could get the difference refunded

If you've booked a flight with Easyjet, check the price afterwards to see if it drops. The airline's little-known price promise guarantees that if you do find the same flight for less after booking, you'll get the difference back as a credit voucher. You'll need to have booked direct, though, and you won't get the difference back if the lower price you've found is a sale price.

MSE Guy tried this:

I booked a flight back in January 2015 to travel in September. In April, I went to book someone else on the same flight and found tickets were £16 less than what I paid. I called Easyjet's customer services, and after confirming the details, it emailed the voucher instantly – all it took was a quick call.

Joan also emailed us with her refund success:

 I managed to get a £199 voucher refund on flights for four of us to Dalaman. Thank you, MSE – we were delighted when it worked so smoothly after reading the site.

Quick questions

How do I make a claim?

Does it work on other airlines?

Don't forget travel insurance – get it from £13/yr

If you book but don't have travel insurance, then if you get ill or need to cancel, you won't be covered, so buy it straight away.

But beware – some cheap airline and holiday websites automatically add expensive travel cover when you book. Always double-check the full cost, and remove any rogue policies before paying (usually by unchecking multiple boxes).

Holiday firms' own insurance is usually a massive rip-off and offers more limited cover. Instead, check out our Cheap Travel Insurance guide to see how to undercut their prices. A summary:

Clever tools tracking routes' cheapest prices can help if you've complete flexibility on dates

If you're flexible on your dates or have an open mind about where to go, try using internet tools to home in on the cheapest destinations and times.

Momondo Flight Insight

Momondo is a metadata search engine and works similarly to the likes of Skyscanner. However, its standout feature is the 'Flight Insight' data it gives you on some routes. It helps pinpoint when to book, which day to fly and even which airport's cheapest.

For example, when we checked, London-Phuket prices were cheapest in April and most expensive in December. Yet for a London-Hong Kong search, prices were lowest at 47 days before departure and November trips came up cheapest.

The results are a useful average to help plan your trip dates rather than a cast-iron guarantee. Once you've got these, don't assume Momondo will always come up cheapest – try the other comparison sites to see if you can beat it.

Quick questions

How do I use it?

Which routes does it work for?

Can I get it cheaper by booking even earlier?

FlightChecker

Our FlightChecker tool searches 11 budget airlines, including Easyjet and Ryanair. Simply enter your travel dates, destination and how long you want your trip to be. Alternatively use the handy 'I'll Go Anywhere!' feature – enter the maximum price you're willing to pay, including taxes and charges, and it'll find all the flights that fit.

Plus, to help avoid nasty surprises, it includes the option to factor in baggage and card payment charges from the start, or you can add them later.

You'll find a range of different graph views to help see at a glance when it's cheapest to go within your date range, plus filters to instantly hone your results.

How does FlightChecker work? The technology behind FlightChecker's slightly different from that used on other sites. Rather than 'scraping' data for each query, it uses spidering technology to trawl sites every few hours and build a massive database of more than 900,000 flight prices. This is the only way to do it speedily. The only minor negative is that very occasionally a few flights listed may have sold out once you check them.

As well as FlightChecker, if you're set on a British Airways flight, it's worth checking BA's cheap fares finder for its lowest prices to worldwide destinations.

Check the real cost of your ticket and look out for hidden extras

Credit/debit card fees, luggage, check-in, reserved seats and food are just some of the extras you may have to fork out for with a flight booking. And what's worse, they're not always made clear.

To help, the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) website has a useful airline charges comparison table which shows extra fees for a host of big airlines, as well as luggage allowances, credit card charges and even whether a meal's included with your ticket. While you should always double-check these with the airline before you book, it's handy to see the real cost of your ticket so you can make a more accurate comparison.

Budget doesn't necessarily mean bargain

Booking budget airline flights can be a minefield. Outrageously, budget airline 'extras' can include taking bags, checking in or even just paying. The Budget Flight Fee Fighting guide has tricks to beat those nasty charges, from paying the right way to beat the fees to multi-pocket jackets so you can take extra carry-on luggage.

Some tips may even work with non-budget airlines. If you're flying British Airways, for example, you can save about £10 each way on short-haul hand-luggage-only trips compared with its cheapest singles with checked bags.

Book parking in advance if you're driving to the airport

While public transport usually wins, for large families or groups, driving to the airport can be cheaper. Yet booking early is crucial. Wait till you get to the airport and you're a captive customer – a dream for airport parking companies, not so for MoneySaving. Even booking in advance on the day could save money.

Some inspiration from MSE forum user Bigdaddy10:

I paid £40 instead of £115. Granted we booked for the August bank holiday in March, but it goes to show there are bargains to be had by booking ahead.

To maximise savings, book well in advance and shop around. Just as with flights, comparison sites are the best place to start, but it's also worth trying booking direct, combining parking with a hotel room or renting a personal space near the airport. Our Cheap Airport Parking guide has full step-by-step help, plus we've blagged extra discounts on top to help bring costs down further.

Grab free flights with the airline credit card loophole

Free flights may sound like a pipe dream, but they're often possible, and not just for budget airlines. There's a way to manipulate credit cards to get free flights at no cost (or just pay taxes). Many airline-linked credit cards offer free return trips as an incentive if you successfully apply for a card.

To get them, you need to spend above a trigger threshold. Often this is set very low, so simply buy an apple or anything else you'd usually buy. In short:

Spend the trigger amount on the card, whether 1p or £1,000, ALWAYS repay it in full so there's no interest, then get the free flight and cancel the card.

Of course, if the card has any other useful features, such as a high-performing rewards scheme, you may want to keep it, not cancel it. For dedicated frequent flyers, see Airline Credit Cards.

The only reason not to do this is if you can use your credit score for something better, such as cutting the cost of your debts, though it's also a good idea not to apply for too many cards in quick succession – full details in the Credit Card Freebies guide. With all these deals, the redemption flight is subject to availability, but there's usually a decent range.

Quick question

Should I get the 'insurance' with the card?

Flying then driving? The earlier you book car hire, the better

Holiday car hire can save a hefty whack on taxis to and from the airport, as well as transport costs while you're there, providing you do it right.

If you're going to need it, book the right way and as early as possible to grab it cheaply. What can be £9/day months ahead can be £20/day just before you go and far more when there, adding £100s overall.

You can find full details of current deals and tips 'n' tricks in the Cheap Car Hire guide, but here are the key points:

  • Work out what you need. There's often a mass of costly add-ons on offer, including air-con, sat-navs and extra drivers. Before you book, work out what you need and ditch the rest.
  • Quickly compare quotes. Next, take the legwork out of your search by using the right comparison sites to grab the most quotes in the least time. Our top picks are Kayak*, CarRentals* and TravelSupermarket*.
  • Check for extra discounts. See if you can squash the price further via fly-drive package deals, cashback, specialist travel brokers and online vouchers.
  • Get cheap excess insurance before you go. The hire firm will want you to get up to £25/day excess cover on top of the included insurance. Instead, get Cheap Excess Insurance for as little as £2 before you go.

Loyalty sometimes does pay – join airline schemes to earn 'free' flights

Many mistake Avios (which replaced Air Miles in 2011) for a frequent flyer scheme. Actually it's a points scheme like Nectar and Clubcard, earnable in Shell, Tesco and by spending on credit cards, though its rewards are travel-focused. For example, convert £37.50 in Clubcard vouchers to Avios points and you've got a BA return to Prague (excluding taxes).

Unlike the old Air Miles system, Avios charges passengers taxes and fees on flights, wiping out some of the gain. These can be up to £100 for European return flights with BA, for example. But if you opt for its Reward Saver scheme, you pay a fixed £35 fee on most short-haul economy flights, as long as you earn at least one point the year before you book.

For full info, plus 30+ ways to push it to the max, see Boost Avios Points.

Try splitting flight tickets and booking each leg separately to shave costs on longer journeys

If you're planning to visit multiple destinations or heading to a destination that can't be reached via a direct flight, check the cost of breaking up the journey rather than doing it as a single booking – in short, splitting your tickets.

For example, if you're flying long-haul to Bangkok and there's a stop in Dubai en route, see what it would cost to go to Dubai, then from Dubai to Bangkok.

It's not a guaranteed MoneySaving tip, but it's worth checking to see if you can cut costs, often on exactly the same flights you were going to take anyway.

Alternatively, consider altering your journey slightly, especially if you're planning an open-jaw - where you fly into one airport but return to/from another - or multi-stop trip anyway.

MSE Guy tried it and saved £170 on a trip to Singapore and Malaysia.

I wanted to book flights from London to Malaysia and Singapore, including a trip to the Malaysian island of Penang.

I originally searched for open-jaw tickets from London to Singapore, then Kuala Lumpur to London with the intention of booking internal flights from Singapore to Penang and Penang to Kuala Lumpur. The initial cost, including internal flights was £910.

Being a MoneySaver and to fully compare costs, I tried searching London to Penang then Kuala Lumpur to London. The quote dropped to £760. But as the outbound flight was via Singapore anyway, I broke it down further – London to Singapore, Singapore to Penang, Penang to Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur to London.

New quote: £740, a huge £170 less than tickets on my initial search.

Plan where to sit and check out food reviews before you fly

Once you know what the flight is, there are a few sites which should help you improve your experience on it after booking (or do it before if you want to check out an airline/plane). Use Seatguru to check out the plane's seating plan so you can see whether 18E beats 19C. Also try similar site Skytrax, which includes airline reviews and rankings.

FlightStats details punctuality on current flights and other data, while if you'd prefer to know what you'll be eating on the flight before you board, AirplaneFood.net has photos and reviews to whet your appetite.

If you're flying Stateside, don't forget your ESTA

Everyone from the UK going to the USA by air or sea, even those just passing through, must fill out the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) in advance. Once you've got it, it's valid for two years, providing you keep the same passport.

For full info on how it works and how to avoid paying more than the official $14 per-person fee, read the ESTA guide.

Sign up to airline email bulletins to monitor upcoming sales

If you're flying a good number of months away, sign up to the email lists of all the relevant airlines. Often they email details of short-term sales, so if you've definite plans, you can be ready to pounce at the right moment (and of course this site's weekly e-mail includes the best of them).

Ones to try for sales are the newsletters of British Airways, Opodo*, American Airlines, Air France* and KLM. Remember, though, before you book in an airline sale, always use a comparison site to check that you've actually found the cheapest price.

Check if you're due an Air Passenger Duty refund

APD is charged on all outbound flights from the UK and is based on the distance flown. For example, you pay £13 on an economy flight to Europe and £71 on a flight to the USA.

Air Passenger Duty (APD) was scrapped for children under 12 from 1 May, but if you booked before it was announced (in the Autumn Statement on 3 Dec 2014) and paid the APD, you may be due a refund.

From 1 May 2016, the Government is also getting rid of APD for under-16s, so if you're booking flights now for next year, check you're not being charged it.

Quick question

How can I reclaim APD?

Beware – having multiple web pages open could lead to a wrong booking

A few forumites have reported problems booking flights while having two or more web pages open, where the flight details get booked using the wrong details from an older search.

If you're using more than one page to search, it's a good idea to close the other pages before you book, and try deleting your browser's cache to ensure you're seeing the most up-to-date price. Forumites recommend clearing your internet cookies and starting with a new browser page, too, or even using a different browser altogether to look for quotes.

Always double-check the exact details of the flights before you book.

If it's happened to you, contact the airline or booking site straight away to see if you can get it amended (see How to Complain for help). Let them know it's a known fault others have reported too. Yet sadly you've few rights if the airline refuses to correct it, as it'd be difficult to prove it's their error, and it may charge you fees to amend or cancel.

If it's happened to you, let us know in the Wrong Flights Booked forum discussion.

Planning on treating yourself at duty-free? Opt to pick it up on the way back

If you're looking to buy duty-free goods but don't want to have to carry them on the plane, website Duty-Free On Arrival has a handy airport search that gives info on whether you can buy duty-free when you arrive.

Travelling within the EU? You can go one step further: do your shopping on the way out and ask to 'shop & collect'. Your items will be safely stored and ready for collection after you pick up your luggage and clear customs on the way home.

However, don't assume buying duty-free is always cheapest. If you're after an item, use the MegaShopBot to quickly check prices online before you go. This'll help give you a benchmark to compare with the duty-free price when you get there.

Cut airport transfer costs with shuttle buses or splitting airport travel with others

The Resorthoppa* site lets you book transfers between airports and popular resorts across the globe. It offers basic shared shuttle buses, as well as private transfers, and forumites report it can turn up some very competitive prices (though always check these for yourself before you book). It charges £1.50 for paying by debit card and £3 for credit cards, though, so watch out for these.

Allow plenty of time, and don't expect anything too fancy. Here's how MSE Jenny found it:

From my experience, don't expect anything too posh if you opt for a shuttle bus, and allow plenty of time to get to the airport. After all, if there are hordes of other passengers to pick up, you don't want to miss your flight.

Feedback's generally positive, though there are reports of occasional problems with missed pick-ups, so factor this in if you're considering it. If you've used it, please let us know how you've got on in the Resorthoppa forum discussion.

Alternatively, try sites such as TransferWithMe.com. It matches travellers heading to the same airport so you can opt to share your airport transfer.

It's free to register and search, and the site's simple and easy to use, though there's no guarantee you'll find a match. Still, it's worth a try to see if any others are going in the same direction. If you've used it, please share your feedback in the forum discussion.