There’s little more satisfying than knowing you secured the best possible deal on a holiday, leaving you extra cash in the bank to spend on meals out and activities at a later date. But actually finding the best deal can be easier said than done, with prices jumping around from day to day and that constant, lingering feeling that somebody out there might be getting the same thing as you for less.
If you’re starting to look at flights for your next getaway and are keen to get the lowest price there is, here are a few things to consider – from tips you may have heard before, to some more unusual tactics.
Use bargain-hunting apps
It’s a classic, but it’s not to be overlooked. Price comparison sites and apps that can set price change alerts are invaluable when you’re planning ahead, and save you a lot of time that would otherwise be spent browsing dozens of airlines and comparing a handful of flight options at a time.
If you can be flexible with your flight times and dates then you’ll get even better deals, with price comparison options often giving you the chance to see an overview of over week’s worth of departure and return flight prices. When you see flights that look to be both low-cost and suited to your needs, make sure you set fare alerts if you aren’t booking right away. This way, any time the fare drops down or starts to rise, you’ll know about it and can snag a good deal before it’s too late.
Unlike price comparison trawling, this is one tactic that not enough people take advantage of, despite the fact that flight operators will often give different fare rates to people booking in different parts of the world. Fly with AeroMexico for example, and a traveller booking from the UK may be quoted a price much higher than someone booking from Mexico itself – for the same flight.
Obviously you can’t try to book all your future flights while you’re actually out of the country, but you can use a virtual private network, or VPN, to help. They’re generally thought of as being a security tool, but VPNs allow their users to browse the internet as if they’re in another country of their choosing. That means that when you’re shopping around for flights, you can look to see whether someone in France, Thailand or any other location might be getting them for less.
In some instances it might not make a huge difference, but research has shown that VPNs can save people hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars on the cost of flights. All you have to do is download, switch on and pick the country you want to shop from – not bad for the savings involved.
Know when to book, and when to fly
Whether it's way ahead of schedule or with just a few days to go, the best time to book a hotel to score a discount is something that is hotly contested online. As a general rule, you’re likely to get the best prices in one of two time periods. The first is if you’re booking the year before you plan to travel – making the most of standard fares before the prices creep up as more and more people start to browse.
The second, which is the more useful option for many last-minute planners, is a window between six and eight weeks before your planned departure. This gap is the sweet spot for everyone from package holiday retailers to luxury airlines to temporarily drop their fees, in a cautious move designed to avoid being faced with half-empty flights on departure day. Leave it much later than this and prices can sometimes jump up again, but time it right and on average you could get your flights or a whole holiday for around 70% less than the going rate.
Keep an eye on package deals
On that note: it may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes package deals can come in so cheap that it’s actually less expensive to book a whole holiday than it is to just book flights. Seriously.
Even outside of that perfect six-to-eight-week discount window, package sites are worth investigating. Because they sell spaces on chartered flights and rooms in operator-run hotels, there are often gaps to be filled that can’t be sold separately in the same way that they would with a budget airline. That means that if there are more spaces left in either a hotel or a charter jet than they’d like, the package price can be dropped right down to entice an eagle-eyed shopper to come and stay.
This does mean you’re limited to specific venues and may have a smaller pool of flights to choose from, but with past headline-grabbing deals including an operator who sold two-week holidays in Europe for under £100 – a lower cost than the price of return flights alone – you’d be foolish not to check the package holiday sites when researching your trip.
Consider alternate airports
Last, but by no means least, is the option of flying to a ‘plan B’ airport. For example, if you’re looking at a trip to Barcelona, you could fly to Reus. Or if you’re flying to Glasgow, you could fly to Glasgow Prestwick.
Landing further from the city centre might seem like a bad idea, because you’ll then need a taxi or additional public transport to get to your end destination. But flights to the less popular airports are often much cheaper than flights to key air transport hubs, and you can wind up saving so much on the fare that even adding a private taxi transfer afterwards still leaves you with more cash to spend than first expected. And of course, if you were planning on heading out of a city anyway, you may find that smaller regional airports are actually closer to the getaway you want.