How to get cheap flights: 11 tricks
Whether you're planning a holiday in Europe or a round-the-world trip, here are a few of our favourite hacks to getting the cheapest flights possible !
With flight ticket prices fluctuating by the minute, these days you're just as likely to bag a 99p flight as you are to coughing up £200 for a flight of a similar length.
Arm yourself with our tried-and-tested hacks and discover how to get cheap flights, saving serious money on air travel.
How to find the cheapest flights
Check the cheapest days to fly out
Of course, it isn’t always possible to start booking a holiday with countless dates in mind, but if you can make yourself even a little flexible, it can make a massive difference.
Luckily, being a student puts you in the perfect position for this sort of flexibility, what with a four-month-long summer break, Christmas and Easter holidays... what essay deadline?
Choosing to fly during the working week is cheaper than at weekends, and Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are especially good for bargains as they tend to be the least popular days of the week to travel.
A lot of airline websites have made it easier to spot the cheap days to fly by offering a ‘calendar view’ booking system that allows you to view prices across the whole week you're searching for.
Comparison site Skyscanner has made this function all the more satisfying by giving you the option to display flight prices in a pretty little graph, so you can see clearly which days are cheapest to fly!
Also, think carefully about the time of day you book your flight for. It might be cheaper to go for that 6am flight, but think about getting to the airport at that time before you make a decision. Public transport probably won't be running and the chances of you getting a lift are slim to none!
An alternative option would be to show up the night before your flight and make a music video while you wait, like this guy did.
Check which locations are on offer
It's worth being aware that peak season in the UK isn't necessarily peak season elsewhere in the world, so prices can vary depending on where you're flying to.
This tip is reserved for the real wandering travellers amongst you – if you're not all that fussed about exactly where you end up flying to and are up for something a bit different, try this sneaky little trick out!
- Go to Skyscanner
- Enter the airport you'd like to depart from
- Click on the destination box as if you're about to type something and a box should appear with an 'Everywhere' option
- Select this, choose your dates and hit search
- You'll be provided with a list of all the flights leaving from your chosen airport on that date, in order of cheapest to most pricey.
This is a great option if you can't be flexible with dates, but you're up for trying somewhere totally different. Don't be turned off by places you've never considered before – do a bit of reading online and you might find it has all the sun, sea, sand and everything else you're looking for!
Use flight price search engines
You're probably sick of hearing this by now, but as with virtually everything you purchase, shopping around and doing your research is the best way to ensure you're getting a good deal.
The good news is, as shopping around for flights is really popular nowadays, there are loads of handy sites that make flight comparison much easier and less time-consuming.
Try using sites such as Expedia or Hotels.com (don't be fooled by the name – they do flights too!) to see if you can get a good deal on a bundle (flights and a hotel, for example) before checking airline websites to see if it works out cheaper to book separately.
The best flight comparison sites
Adioso is a flight comparison site that favours the flexible traveller, helping you pick the dates and destinations that are best for you. They also have a search engine that responds well to natural language, meaning you can search for terms like 'cheapest journey London to New York mid-May' and see what comes up. Pretty neat!
Momondo is another great site that provides a graph indicating clearly the cheapest days to fly surrounding the dates you've searched for. You can also alter the search to focus on the quickest route if that's more of a priority to you.
Book through travel agents for students
There are some specialist student travel agencies out there that have a good reputation for getting students where they want to go, for less – Student Universe & STA Travel are a good shout for students and anyone 25 or under.
Booking with Student Universe or STA can also lead you in directions you might not have considered, which is good for the adventurous types. Plus, there are loads of student-focused holidays that offer more activities, social events and most importantly – student discounts!
Although, if you choose to drop by STA Travel and speak to someone, don't be talked into committing to anything you're not sure about. These people are still essentially trying to make a sale, so make sure you're 100% convinced before agreeing to anything.
In fact, as the prices elsewhere can often be much cheaper, you might be better off comparing the quotes you get from these agencies with whatever you can find online before parting with your cash.
Last-minute deals aren't always cheaper so book early
Last minute deals have the reputation of being a cheap option, but in reality, they rarely are. When was the last time you waited until the last minute to book your flight somewhere and were pleasantly surprised to see the prices much lower than they were before? Yeah... never happened to us either.
The way forward is to book early – even up to a year in advance. Seats on flights tend to be cheaper when they're first released (typically about a year before the actual flight, but sometimes earlier), so get online as soon as flights come on sale.
This is especially true if you're looking to travel during the school holidays, or somewhere where a specific event is taking place (like St Patrick's Day in Ireland). These prices will rocket quickly, so get in before the crowds do!
Although costs will probably dip again before rising in the last few days before the flight departs, that's probably not a risk worth taking as there's a chance that prices won't dip at all (if it's a popular flight), or that it'll sell out before you get your ticket.
However, if you are a bit more flexible (you're probably seeing a bit of a running theme here...) then it's definitely worth checking out sites like lastminute.com, as they will post up flights that suddenly drop in price as the departure date approaches.
If you want to know whether it's worth leaving it late, the Hopper app is for you. Just enter where you'd like to fly from/to, and it'll show you when prices are likely to rise and fall, based on the prices of millions of flights over time. Ideal!
Beware of extra costs on budget airlines
When booking flights, particularly with budget airlines, don't be deceived by prices that seem inexplicably cheap.
Many promotional price points come with hidden costs and, unlike the cute cat above, they're not a welcome surprise. From air taxes to baggage fees or seat selection – there's a whole host of things that may bump the price up.
Note that air taxes are often the bulk of the price of an airline ticket, so when you see Ryanair promoting flights for £1.99, this is pretty much a guaranteed too-good-to-be-true situation.
Make sure you always check what's being included in your purchase before clicking your pennies away. Airlines can be particularly devious by adding travel insurance and other features on automatically without asking if you want it first.
Similarly, try to travel light if you can. Hand luggage is usually* free (but don't get stung by weight and dimension specifics – be sure to weigh and measure your bag before arriving!) and there are loads of sneaky tricks you can use to keep the cost of your ticket down (such as wearing multiple clothes and stashing stuff in your pockets).
So it's not to say that budget flights won't still be good value once you've added the extra costs on, but just don't get too excited straight away. Consider all the potential extra costs, and make sure you don't get stung at the airport, as that's where these airlines make their cash!
*Ryanair have recently changed their policy and you now have to pay to take a small wheelie suitcase on board – double check that whoever you're flying with doesn't have the same policy!
Go incognito when booking flights
Staying as anonymous as you possibly can during the searching stage is one of the most important keys to getting the lowest price on your flights.
Flight prices fluctuate depending on demand, meaning airlines use data on how many people are searching and buying certain tickets to work out how to price them.
As awful as it is, this means that you might find that when you've had your eye on a particular flight and have been checking back only to find the price continually increasing, this might be because the airline knows you're likely to buy it so are trying to squeeze a few more bucks out of you.
Therefore, try deleting your search cookies (yes, this is what websites keep asking your permission to use each time you visit a page!) and see what happens to the price once your browser history has been wiped.
Another option is to always search in an incognito browser (the option is there when you go to open a new tab or window). This way, your location and identity are completely concealed from airlines, so won't affect the prices displayed.
Pay for flights with a credit card
Taking out a credit card as a student doesn't come without its risks of course, but use yours smartly and you could save a wad of cash; check out our ultimate guide to the best credit cards for students before making any decisions.
The great thing about credit cards is that they protect you when you make larger purchases, so if you spend over £100 on a flight, you won't be out of pocket if the airline or travel company goes bust.
Debit cards aren't protected, so as long as you can pay off the credit card in full at the end of the month – go with a credit card. Credit cards are also much better for spending abroad and give you better exchange rates than you would get with a debit card.
Note that you can also earn air miles with certain credit cards that will give you miles for each pound you spend, and many credit cards also offer you cashback on your flights. This means that if you spend a bit more on your flight, you might see some return!
Flights with a connection can be cheaper
When booking long-haul flights it will nearly always prove cheaper to book a flight with a connection somewhere rather than a direct one. Whilst this will inevitably increase your travel time, it does give you the chance to stretch properly and will most likely save you a packet too!
Uncheck the 'direct flights only' box on comparison websites to see if prices come up any cheaper.
Warning: Be aware of the risk involved here, though – if one of your earlier flights is delayed this could result in you missing a connecting flight (bummer!). If you go for the connecting flight option we recommend you take out some cheap student travel insurance. This should have you covered in case something goes wrong.
It's also a good idea to search by country on comparison sites rather than cities. Main city airports are always more expensive, and the periphery airports normally specialise in budget airlines, so opening up your search to these alternatives could save you an arm and a leg.
If you're not in a rush to get where you're going, it might also be worth considering a layover to help keep costs down. Try searching for connecting flights individually to see if it would be cheaper to spend a day or two somewhere else en route – just think of it like another mini holiday!
Book your flights and accommodation together
Forget the stigma involved in package holidays! They're often a genuinely great option for students – they're cheap and not just for the 50+ crowd. If you've ever watched Coach Trip, you'll agree!
Book a package holiday and you're likely to get discounts on flights as well as accommodation, airport transfers and activities like bus tours while you're there.
As holiday companies book in such large quantities, they tend to get the biggest discounts – sometimes you can even get an entire holiday for less than the cost of a regular flight!
The only circumstance where this might not be a good option for you is if you tend to enjoy exploring when you're on holiday and will be likely to want to eat out a lot. As all your food and drink is included in the price (and yes, this includes alcohol), you'll save a ridiculous amount of cash by eating all your meals at your hotel.
Look for student discounts and deals
This might sound like an obvious one, but always check whether an airline will let you whip out the trusty student discount card.
This applies for both airlines and holiday companies alike, for anything from domestic to round-the-world trips – a good place to start is our own directory of student discounts on travel.
The last thing anyone wants is a whole lotta spam in their inboxes, so signing up to travel company newsletters might not sound too appealing. However, it's probably time we all just accepted that this is the only way to get notified of the best deals at the right time, and travel companies and airlines are particularly good at rewarding newsletter subscribers.
For example, Ryanair will always notify their subscribers of the massive sales that they run a few times a year before they start advertising. As seats are always limited in these instances, it really does pay off to put up with the inbox-clogging!
It's also worth considering joining a secret flight deals service, like Jack's Flight Club or Secret Flying. These sites will alert you to the very best deals, but you'll need to pay to get notified as and when the deals arise.
However, given that subscriptions cost relatively little, and the savings are potentially huge, you could make your money back in a single booking (especially if it's a big trip). That said, there's a free version of both services that's still super useful!
You can also sign up to our student deals newsletter and Telegram group to be kept in the loop with any travel deals that we come across (no spam, promise!). Another good tip would be to keep an eye on our student travel deals section which we update most days!
And here's how you can make some cash off those language skills you pick up along the way!