How to book the cheapest flights

I read advice across the internet advising people who want to travel cheaply to avoid airlines at all costs. This is simply not the case anymore. With dozens of new research tools, a growing number of low cost airlines, and a combination of cost cutting sites, there is no reason for even the cheapest traveller not to use air travel.

With the tips below, you’ll be finding cheap flights you thought couldn’t exist, like my 99p flight to Kuala Lumpur.

Similarly, on a recent trip to Thailand I found a flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai for 100฿ ($3), when the alternative of travelling via bus was 500฿ ($15). So, while using air travel may sometimes be a more costly option, with enough research, it is more and more frequently turning out to be one of the better public transport options.

Cutting the Cost of Flights

Pack Light

Firstly, make sure you are packing light. There is no need to be lugging around unecessary weight, and most low cost airlines will penalise you for doing so. There is a useful guide to find out airline baggage allowances before you book.

If you absolutely have to bring that extra blanket and electric guitar, pick an airline that has a large free allowance, as paying extra to take your gear on board often outweighs the savings on low cost flights (a flight with AirAsia from Bangkok to Phuket would cost just $10 with 7kg hand luggage. Adding a 20kg hold luggage at the airport will set you back an additional 379฿ – an additional $10!)

Go from A-to-C-to-B

There are a number of research tools I currently use in helping me find low cost flights. Sometimes going from A to B is not as cheap as going from A to Z to B. This is usually only an option for those long term travellers, and whom have a lot of time but need to watch the pennies; but that isn’t to say a short layover on a long distance flight won’t work for those who are just going away for a week.

A simple example is a one way direct flight from London to Mumbai, which will cost you around £240 (about $350) and takes 9 hours.  However, flying from London to Dubai, and then Dubai to Mumbai costs just £160 (about $235) and increases the travel time to 10 hours and 40 minutes.  So for a few extra hours kicking around in an airport you’ll have saved yourself over $100!

Ground transportation Rome2Rio will often fill you with a host of multi-transport options of getting from A-to-B, and uses SkyScanner to give you up to date flight prices. Typing in two cities will give you a combination of bus, train and plane and shows you how much each route should roughly cost. For example, if I want to go from Bangkok to Singapore, it tells me that it is far more cost effective to fly into the neighbouring city of Johor Bahru in Malaysia, and then take a M$5 ($1.20) shuttle train from there to Singapore.

If you only want to fly, there is also new tool called Kiwi (previously known as SkyPicker) that can help find these routes, and is also a great tool for working out the best cities to enter and exit from.  You can search by country, or even a particular ‘area’ so typing Thailand to Malaysia, would show me that the cheapest way to get from one country to the next is to fly from Surat Thani to Kuala Lumpur.  Being that domestic flights are generally very cheap, it is always best to find out the cheapest way of leaving a country on an international flight.  Again, Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur 1,600฿ ($45). Instead, booking two seperate flights, first a domestic one from Bangkok to Surat Thani, then the international leg of Surat Thani to Kuala Lumpur comes out at just 1,000฿ ($28).

While this tool works great, it is new, and so sometimes you may need to use your own research to find these types of flights, and this may require thinking outside the box.  I was once in Koh Samui and wanted to go to Phuket, a bus (5 hours) would cost 230฿ ($6.50) and a direct flight (1 hour) 5,900฿ ($165) with Bangkok Airways. Instead I went on a bizare route from Surat Thani back to Bangkok, Bangkok down to Phuket which still took me 3.5 hours due to the layover, but only cost me 300฿ ($8) and meant I was able to enjoy the luxury of air travel and freedom of an A/C airport terminal for an hour instead of being cooped up on a hot, sweaty bus for 5 hours.

Be Open-Minded

Google Flights is a great tool, though it is worth bearing in mind that not all airlines show up on the comparisons.  Its’ ‘Explore’ tool is fantastic for showing you neighbouring airports that you can visit for less, and their calendar also highlights the cheapest dates to fly and has always been accurate and up to date in my experience.  You can also ‘Save’ flights to watch as flight prices rise and fall.

One fantastic website for deals is HolidayPirates, and SecretFlying their team will spend their days scouring the web for deals and glitches, and its not unheard of for them to find return flights that should cost $1,000s going through at $100s instead, so worth keeping signed up to the alerts and having an open mind about where you’d want to travel to.

Find the Cheapest Rate

Many people scream praises about SkyScanner and Kayak Flights, but I do tend to find myself using them less and less as their data appears to be slightly inaccurate and out of date at times, and their websites hard to navigate.

Most people assume that the cost of a flight would be the same regardless of where you book it, or that you should always book directly through the airline.  Bizarely, this is not always the case and it is always best to research which sire offers the best deal.

So, I have decided I want to fly from London to Los Angeles next month, putting in my dates to Google Flights, I’ve been told I can straight away half my costs if I fly the day before I planned to. This comes out at £72 if I book direct with British Airways, but after a bit of searching the same flight is only £53 if I book through eDreams.

Don’t forget to combine cashback websites such as Topcashback and discount codes to try and reach the cheapest price. Also, before you book, try the website in incognito (private browsers) on (a) a mobile device, (b) a tablet or computer and (c) the company’s mobile app, before you buy.

By visiting the site in a private browser, you’ll fool the site into thinking this is the first time you’ve looked for the flight, many airlines are known to increase fares after someone has been browsing flights for a while.  Depending on the site used, different booking websites reserve different prices depending on he they are booked. Some agencies might run a promotional fare that can only be seen on its mobile app, or increase the fare for people booking on its desktop site and vice versa, so it always worth checking you aren’t paying more than you need to be.

Plan Your Exit

Finally, one of the biggest costs I find these days when travelling via airlines, is airport transfers. One website that is very useful when it comes to this is Exit The Airport, which accurately breaks down all of the options and costs of leaving the airport via public transport or private hire.