Nine tips to save money on flights – and one to avoid!
Flight costs often represent a big chunk of your holiday budget but there are ways for the savvy traveller to save money. Here’s how to free up more cash for your holiday.
Airlines are keen to lock you in to a date and offer enticing early bird fares. Once sold, prices are likely to go up (though this isn’t guaranteed!) If you are certain about when you will travel – a birthday celebration perhaps or fixed school term dates – then it is worth booking in advance. It also has the advantage of spreading the cost of the trip over a period of time compared to the shock of a large bill from a tour operator a couple of months before departure. Scheduled flights become available about 11 months before you fly, while some budget airlines, such as the US carrier Southwest, publish the date flights will be released for the new season on their websites. Make sure you take out travel insurance to be sure you’re covered in the event something doesn’t go according to plan.
Sign up for offers
For UK budget airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair, the easiest way to keep abreast of the schedules is to sign up for their email newsletter. These will regularly send you details of special sales, release dates for particular routes and new destinations. Follow your preferred carriers on Facebook and other social networking sites to be the first to be notified of their latest promotions. It’s also worth looking at the news and media sections of airline websites to get wind of what’s coming up.
It’s not everyone’s idea of fun to spend some of their precious holiday stuck in an airport waiting lounge. That said, the savings to be had from an indirect flight can be too tempting to resist. Use an online agent like Opodo or Expedia to compare the savings on your chosen route or by mixing airlines. Be careful of very long layovers as the cost of booking an airport hotel could negate the savings you’ve just made. Using indirect flights with long daytime layovers can be a good way of seeing a city knowing that your luggage is safely checked ready for the second flight. Some airports such as Singapore Changi even offer free trips for eligible passengers. Make sure you’ve checked the visa requirements if you’re planning to sightsee along the way.
Look for alternative destinations
Horror stories abound in the media of airlines that deposit their unwitting passengers at obscure airports far from their intended destinations. It is possible, however, to make this work for you rather than against you. Travelling from an alternative airport can not only save you money, but it can also save you time. Factor in journey times, rail fares, airport parking and the availability of public transport at your destination to get an overall price rather than the basic flight price. Don’t dismiss a smaller airport until you’ve scrutinised the schedule; you might find an indirect flight is still quicker than travelling to a larger hub such as Heathrow.
Shop around for the best baggage allowance
Depending on how long you are away for and what kind of gear you need to take, the cost of transporting your belongings varies enormously between airlines. Think seriously about hand baggage only fares; some airlines offer generous cabin baggage allowances and some hotels provide many of the products you might be thinking of carrying with you. Check websites and email hotels in advance to make sure you only take what you need. If you really can’t leave the suitcase behind, compare airline baggage fees to ensure you choose the cheapest option. Often headline “deals” don’t include baggage fees.
Choose when you fly
Midweek fares tend to be better value than weekend to weekend deals as many people like to take their holiday in complete weeks. If you are going away for a weekend, look for Saturday to Monday flights rather than Friday to Sunday. Hotel room rates are often lowest on a Sunday night giving you further savings. Think about whether you can travel on the early or very late flights; if you’re not tied to public transport these may offer considerable savings on the more convenient middle of the day departures. Even the time of day that you search for flights might be a factor; some people say that booking late at night throws up better deals than if you surf at peak times. It’s anecdotal rather than based on scientific fact but it can’t hurt to try.
Travel in the shoulder seasons
It’s worth doing your homework on the weather. Missing the peak months doesn’t have to mean missing out on sunshine. Consider travelling in September for the Med or in winter for a city-break. Temperatures in Australia are much more conducive to sightseeing in the Antipodean winter – and it’s dry season up in the north too. Try the Caribbean in November or May; check out historic hurricane data to make an educated guess at which islands are least likely to get a direct hit if you want to visit between August and October.
Travel outside festival times
Depending on how badly you want to celebrate, you might consider flying out or back on a public holiday. Returning on New Year’s Eve rather than after the hangovers have lifted can save you money and you’ll be able to party back home with your friends instead of strangers.
Consider alternative methods of transport
Depending on the journey you wish to make, it might be a realistic alternative to take an overnight sleeper train or take your car on the ferry. Booking well ahead is just as important on popular train routes, such as Eurostar, as it is with flights but you have the added advantage of arriving in the centre of the city rather than a long taxi ride away on its outskirts. Some long distance bus companies offer one dollar fares if you book sufficiently early – and it is possible to get hold of them.
And one to avoid…
There’s one tip for saving money on flights that could actually cost you a small fortune. Taxes vary from airport to airport, meaning that the long-haul savings travelling from Paris or Amsterdam could be significant compared to, say, Heathrow. However, don’t be tempted to use a different airline to cover the first leg on a separate ticket. If that flight is delayed or cancelled and you miss your second leg, the second airline is under no obligation to honour your ticket and you could be left considerably out of pocket.