Every week our Holiday Hero Neil Simpson takes an in-depth look at a brilliant holiday topic, doing all the legwork so you don’t have to. This week he finds out how to cut the cost of a holiday flight.
What’s worse than being squeezed into a middle seat on a packed flight? Finding out that people with more legroom paid a lot less for more comfort.
But complex airline economics mean that on most planes, almost every passenger will have paid a different fare. Here are six ways to get a cheap seat.
Find the ‘golden month’
Fare play: The best time to book a flight to Sydney, above, is eight months before departure
Most flights are released a year before departure, but that’s rarely the best time to book. Comparison site Kayak says long-haul prices tend to be high 11 months before departure, then fall and finally shoot up as the date approaches.
It says the cheapest Sydney, Tokyo or Bali flights come up eight months in advance, while the best Las Vegas, Los Angeles or New York fares are offered six months before departure.
Dubai bargains come up three months beforehand, Orlando two months and Miami, amazingly, just one month before departure.
Get a room
Airlines collect a lot of commission (and capture valuable data) if they arrange hotel deals alongside flights. To encourage passengers to stick with them, airlines make packages cheaper than shopping around separately for flights and accommodation.
For example, book two economy-class BA flights from Gatwick to Las Vegas in May and you’ll pay £1,255, while a week at the Wynn hotel costs £1,844, taking the trip total to £3,099.
But book the same flights and hotel as a BA package and the total is £2,456, a hefty saving of £643.
If you’re appy and you know it: Technology plays a large part in helping travellers maximise their chances of flying cheaply. Travellers can learn from comparison website Kayak on how long after the release of tickets passengers are likely to get the best deals
Mix and match
On short-haul trips, you can save money by flying out with one airline and back with another. For instance, you can save £25 by flying Jet2 from Manchester to Alicante and returning with Ryanair.
Comparison sites let you mix and match easily, and always check one-way fares on charter airlines too. You can save even more if you mix airlines and airports, flying with one operator out of Luton and returning to Stansted with another, for example.
Double dip for discounts
Get an airline credit card and earn miles when you pay for flights and when you fly. Using the miles for ‘free’ flights isn’t easy, but most airlines let you exchange miles for discounts on future flights.
However, make sure you stay up to date on reward-scheme changes. Last summer, Nectar card-holders automatically got points by booking trips on Expedia. Now you get them only if you go to nectar.com first, then click through to Expedia.
AV Geeks, aviation fans, are always scouring the internet looking for flight bargains – and many share their findings
Join the geek squad
A community of aviation fans (known as Av Geeks) scour the internet looking for flight bargains – and they’re happy to share their findings. Sign up for emails from experts’ choice JacksFlightClub.com and you should hear first about flash sales and sudden price drops.
A lot of the other big Av Geek sites are aimed at American travellers, though the forums on sites such as FlyerTalk.com and BusinessTraveller.com work well for bargain-hunting Britons.
Watch those hidden costs
New transatlantic ‘economy-light’ fares look good but they only work if you’re sure you can fly without frills. Basic Virgin Atlantic flights from Glasgow to Orlando in July cost £1,151 return, an £80 saving on regular economy.
But opt to choose your seat in advance and check in a bag (free on regular economy fares) and your savings disappear as your ‘economy light’ total hits £1,301.