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Cheap Flights Bag cheap scheduled & charter flights

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Cheap Flights

Not all cheap flight comparison sites 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.

Booked a flight for a child under 12 departing on or after 1 May 2015? You may be due an Air Passenger Duty refund

Cheap Flights The Government has announced it's scrapping Air Passenger Duty (APD) for children under 12 from 1 May 2015 - and if you've already booked ahead, you may be due a refund.

Air Passenger Duty 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 £69 on a flight to the USA (though that's set to rise to £71 from 1 April 2015).

Under the changes announced in this year's Autumn Statement, children under the age of 12 on the day of travel will no longer have to pay the duty from 1 May 2015.

If you've already booked a flight which will be affected by the change, the Treasury says that airlines will be responsible for refunding eligible customers. Here's what the airlines have told us they're doing:

  • British Airways, Monarch and Virgin Atlantic are still working on how they are going to refund passengers, and will make an announcement soon.

  • EasyJet has contacted 45,000 customers with affected bookings - further instructions available on its website.

  • Flybe has created a claims form for eligible customers to fill out.

  • Ryanair will automatically refund the duty paid on flights from 1 May - and will also go further, refunding an equivalent amount to the duty on flights from 27 March.

  • Thomas Cook customers with flight-only bookings will be contacted by email within the next 28 days with details of how the refund will be made.

  • Thomson says its customers will be refunded automatically.

For a full list of what all the airlines are doing, see the How to reclaim Air Passenger Duty airline-by-airline MSE news story.

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. We've seen some examples where it's cheaper to go via one of these sites rather than going direct to an airline. However because they don't all search the same sites...

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 flights.

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 dates and just want to find when's cheapest, 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 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.

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.

Free European flight with Flybe (YOU PAY taxes and charges)
£250 min spend

Grab Flybe's credit card and once you've spent £250 in the first six months, you'll be sent a voucher for a return flight, which can be used on most of its UK & European routes.

Taxes aren't included, so you'll have to pay these. But the beauty here is that the minimum spend is relatively low. 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: £250. Taxes included: No. Official APR Example

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 £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 our Boost Avios Points guide.

Easyjet trick - beat the flight price hike

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 anything extra. It works the whole year round - but it's particularly useful when prices shoot up during the school holidays.

Easyjet trick - beat the flight price hike

The idea is to book a Flexifare on the same route at a less busy time, then switch to the dates you originally wanted. It's not the easiest trick in the book, but if it works it could save £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."

Here's how to do it:

Step 1: Check at least 20 seats are available on the date you want to fly. This trick is a bit of a gamble - because you have to wait before switching your flights, there's always a risk the seats you want could be snapped up in the meantime and that you could be left with a ticket for the wrong dates.

Our suggestion then is that you pretend to book standard tickets for a large party on the dates you actually want to fly (but don't actually go through with the purchase). If you can still get a quote for, say, 20 seats, chances are there'll still be room once you switch flights. The fewer seats there are left, the more of a gamble you're taking.

Step 2: Book a cheaper Flexifare on an alternate date. Find and book a 'Flexifare ticket' on the same route, no more than three weeks before or one week after you want to fly. As a bonus, these tickets also include speedy boarding and one piece of hold luggage - but they aren't available on every route so check your destination's included.

Step 3: Watch and wait. This is the nerve-wracking bit. You'll need to wait at least 24 hours until you switch your Flexifare tickets to the dates you want. You'll be able to move each ticket by up to one week back or three weeks forward if there's space on a flight. You can change the dates as many times as you like - but if there's no availability you won't be able to switch.

Step 4: Switch your flights as soon as you can. As soon as the 24 hours are up, log on to the Easyjet website, check the dates you're after are still available and switch your flights.

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.

Join in the Forum Discussion:
Cheap Flights
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Cheap Travel Money

Find the best online rate for holiday cash with MSE's TravelMoneyMax.

Find the best online rate for your holiday cash with MoneySavingExpert's TravelMoneyMax.