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Cheap Flights Bag cheap scheduled & charter flights

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Cheap Flights

Not all cheap flight comparisons are the same – there are four key types. This guide takes you through the right ones to save time, minimise costs and bag the cheapest flights.

We also show you how to grab free return flights by manipulating credit card introductory deals, so you can jet off for free.

Key facts before you start

When looking for cheap flight tickets, timing's crucial:

Unlike package holidays, book flights early. Business folk will pay top dollar at the last minute, so airlines hike prices.

Whenever you need to travel, the internet's a powerhouse for super-speedily finding the cheapest flights. Before you start scouring for deals, here are the key facts you need to know.

Choose the right flight site

There are two types of flight: scheduled, where you fly with big name airlines; and charter flights, where package holiday firms provide flights for their holidaymakers. Which site to use to find the cheapest flight tickets depends on your plans.

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Know specific dates and destinations?Use screenscrapers to uncover cheap scheduled flights

A screenscraper's a type of price comparison site that uses clever technology to find and compare cheap flights which match your criteria. Enter your trip details and it zips them to scores of normal airlines, budget airlines and flight-broker sites.

In other words, they're search-and-report sites that 'scrape' the data off other sites' screens to get your prices. They don't all search the same sites, so...

Always use at least two to be sure.

Top picks (click 'use it' to go there or 'full info' to read more):

Skyscanner

Best for:
Ease, speed and price

Travel Supermarkettravelsupermarket

Best for: Extra breadth (incl some charter flights)

KayakKayak

Best for: Gadgets, gizmos and filtering

Further screenscrapers to extend your search, many with other strong features, are Momondo*, Kelkoo*, Fly.com, Dohop, Mobissimo and TravelSpec*. For long-haul flights, also check the flight brokers below - most importantly Travelocity, which some screenscrapers can miss, and Expedia*. Discuss which one you prefer in our forums.

Need a flight and hotel?Try flight brokers for extra discounts

Hotel bell: ring for assistanceFlight brokers have direct commercial relations with airlines and can offer their own deals. Many give extra discounts if you book hotels with them too.

The big benefit of this is that if you book a flight and hotel with the same firm (ie a travel broker) within a day of each other, you now get ATOL protection – the same that package holidays have had for years.

This means if the airline or tour operator goes bust, you get your money back or an alternative holiday. See the MSE News story ATOL Travel Protection Extended for full info.

This advantage is strong, but sometimes you’ll find it's far cheaper just to buy separately - use screenscrapers to compare flights, and get the best price for accommodation using our Cheap Hotels guide. In that case, you need to balance the gain of the protection against the extra cost.

ExpediaExpedia

Best for: Range, hotels and offers

OpodoOpodo

Best for:
Filter options and deals

TravelocityTravelocity

Best for:
Exclusive offers, often missed by scrapers

If possible also check Lastminute.com*, which can offer extra discounts if flights and hotels are booked together, Ebookers*, which is similar to Expedia, and Netflights* for long haul.

Time for some serious bargain hunting...

If you're willing to put in some extra effort, there are further tricks to find cheap flights.

Totally flexible on your trip?Nerdy tools to uncover when and where's cheapest

If you're totally flexible on your trip dates and just want to find when's cheapest to go, two canny tools help you hone exactly when and where to go for dirt-cheap fares.

1. The FlightCheckerFinds when and where for the best deals

Budget airlines commonly promise 'a million seats for £1' - yet try to book and suddenly they're nowhere to be found. Our FlightChecker tool is designed to beat this. If you're flexible, it'll tell you when - and even where - to go for ultra-cheap flights in Europe.

FlightChecker

MSE FlightChecker
Find when & where to fly cheapest

2. Momondo's 'Flight Insight' toolCrammed with stats to hone when and where's cheapest

Search via flight comparison Momondo*, then click the 'Flight Insight' tab if available for your route. This nerdy fun tool reveals how to hone perfect prices for 150+ popular routes from the UK. Overall, it found it's generally cheapest to fly on Tuesday, and book 59 days ahead.

MomondoMomondo

Best for: Nerdy data to hone when's cheapest

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Off to a traditional holiday resort? Try cheap charter flight finders for dirt-cheap deals

Cheap charter flightsCharter flights are bespoke flights run by package holiday companies to ferry their passengers.

If you're off to a traditional package holiday destination, you may be able to find one super-cheap. Tough luck if you're flying to Timbuktu, but quids in if you're off to Malaga.

As the operator books the whole plane, there's occasionally spare capacity which they can offer very cheaply to flight-only customers - after all, it'll only go to waste if unsold. The top charter flight comparisons are:

TravelSupermarket

Best for:
Ease and price

Avro

Best for:
Charter deals

Flights Direct

Best for:
Belt 'n' braces

It's also worth noting Skyscanner*, Momondo* and Expedia* now include some charter airlines in their searches too, so it's worth trying these as well if you can.

Extra CHARTER flight tricks to slash costs

It's worth trying a final few tricks to see if you can cut the flight price further:

Free flights loopholes

Free flights may sound like a pipe dream, but they're often possible, and not just for budget airlines. Loopholes will get you on Flybe, Ryanair and more through Amex and others. There are essentially two ways to fly gratis:

Man on a plane with a credit card

1. Credit card freebie flights

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.

Free European flight with Flybe (YOU PAY taxes and charges)
No min spend

Grab Flybe's credit card and once you've spent anything on it, you'll be sent a voucher for a return flight on any of its European routes.

Taxes aren't included, so you'll have to pay these. But the beauty here is that there's no minimum spend. Buying a bag of crisps (or an apple for the health-conscious!) still qualifies for the freebie. Just make sure you pay the card off in full to ensure you avoid the 18.9% representative APR.

Freebie: Free European flight voucher. Representative variable APR: 18.9% APR. Min spend trigger: No minimum. Taxes included: No. Official APR Example

Free European flights with Ryanair Ryanair credit card

Take out a Ryanair credit card and you'll get a European flight once you've spent £100, a European return if you spend £3,000 over a set six-month period, and a further European return if you spend £3,000 in the six month period after.

The non-transferable free flight vouchers last eight months from issue, but you have to pay taxes and charges on top when you use them. Ensure you repay in full to avoid the 19.9% representative APR.

Freebie: Ryanair flight. Representative variable APR: 19.9% APR. Min spend trigger: £100. Taxes Included: No. Official APR Example

TWO FLIGHTS TO PARIS or ONE TO Turkey Amex Gold CHARGE CARD, spend £2,000 in first 3mths

Get a Amex Gold* charge card, do £2,000 of your normal spending on it within three months, and you'll get 20,000 reward points.

These can be transferred to 11 frequent flyer programmes and redeemed, for example with BA, for two return flights to Paris, Milan or Berlin, or one return flight to Istanbul.

You'll have to pay taxes and charges for these flights, but it's still a great deal.

How do CHARGE cards work? Charge cards allow you to spend on them, but require you to pay off in full at the end of EVERY month - set up a direct debit to ensure you don't forget. There's no interest charged, but there's a £12 fee - and a default on your credit file - if you fail to fully repay within 10 days of getting your statement.

There's also a £125 fee for the card, but Amex waives this for year one. You need to earn £20,000+/yr and to pass a credit score to get the card, which is accepted in all retailers which take Amex. One supplementary card (for a partner/friend) is provided free.

Freebie: 20,000 reward points. Representative variable APR: N/A. Min spend trigger: £2,000. Taxes included: No.

Think before adding the 'insurance'

Payment protection insurance is commonly sold with credit cards - the idea is it'll make some payments for you, usually for a year, if you are unable to (eg if you lose your job).

There have been hundreds of thousands of cases where it has been mis-sold. Either borrowers didn't realise they were signing up for it, or it was totally unsuitable for them, and some big lenders have been fined.

The protection isn't always bad, though policies sold with cards are often overpriced (you pay a monthly amount depending on the size of your balance). If you want it, compare the lender's cover with standalone providers such as Paymentcare or Best Insurance.

Always be vigilant and check you aren't getting more than you bargained for when you fill in the application, then check your statement each month to be sure you aren't inadvertently paying for extras you didn't ask for.

2. Earn 'free' flights with Avios


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 Clubcard vouchers into Avios points and £37.50 buys 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 £30 fee on most short-haul economy flights (£35 from 11 July 2013), 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 our Boost Avios Points guide.

Quick flight tips 'n' tricks

There are some other canny tricks that can help you find the cheapest flight for your needs, get the best seats, find transfers and more.

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Cheap Flights
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