How to get cheap flights online

It was my goal this year to fly away somewhere one weekend a month. I’m living in the UK now and it’s so easy to duck across to Europe anytime you want, right? I feel like I have to make the most of living in the second most visited city on Earth, and therefore a transport mecca! Back in Perth Australia, the nearest city to us was about 3-5 hours flight away. From London you can be in another country in about the time it takes to watch an episode of The Big Bang Theory.

London Bridge

I expected to just be able to jump online every payday and just book a nice, cheap, quick trip for a weekend city break – heading off to the airport after work on a Friday and back in time for your 10am team meeting on Monday. I always understood it to be so cheap and easy to fly around Europe from London, especially with budget airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet. But as I started exploring online holiday shopping, I started to get a sense that there is an art to stretching your pound to get away without having to take any time off work.

Through trial and error, and by getting some tips from someone I know who designs travel websites for a living, I’ve learned some tricks to navigate your way to booking your own weekend trip online.

Find that ‘sweet spot’ to get the best prices

It didn’t take long to realise I had to plan a little bit further ahead then just that immediate month. In fact, the current payday should pay for the trip the following month. This is also consistent with how airlines price their flights. You can usually get the cheapest deals 6-8 weeks out from flying, so I had to be a bit more patient and strategic with my travel planning.

airport_flight status_board

I’ve also discovered the best time of the week to get cheap deals is on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Who would have thought? I had sometimes wistfully looked at flight prices mid-week and thought to go back on the weekend when I had a bit more time and book it properly – also to make sure I wasn’t just impluse buying! Needless to say, I was often dissapointed and angry at those blood-sucking, greedy airlines for upping the prices just a couple of days, even minutes, later. So really, it’s probably best to do your research over the weekend and head back to book it during the week. You’re more likely to be pleasantly surprised with cheaper flights then what you were expecting.

Beware the cookie!

That brings me nicely to the other frustrating thing I found about online booking. Cookies. I wish I could say that I was talking about sweet delicious desserts, but alas, no. The cookie I’m talking about when you visit some sites, the server gives you (your computer) a ‘cookie’ that acts as your identification card. Upon each return visit to that site, the server checks for cookies. The main purpose of a cookie is to identify users and possibly prepare customised web pages or to save site login information for you.

computer_cookie_tea

Airline websites love the use of cookies to see what flights you’re interested in, so that it can make some assumptions about your likely buying behaviour. If you return to a website, it registers your past search (it usually already shows your last search for you, how convenient) and assumes you are likely to purchase that trip if you search it again. It therefore nudges the price higher for the exact same flight since your likely to buy it anyway.

The best way to try and avoid this when you know what flight you want to buy, is to open a ‘InPrivate Browsing’ page in Internet Explorer, or to go in to ‘Incognito’ mode on Chrome, to help prevent you from leaving a trail on your computer, or from the server accessing stored cookies. You can also view and remove cookies stored on your computer, or change the settings so you don’t get cookies – however they are kinda convenient sometimes, especially for saving login details!

Think about the time

This is two-fold. First of all, it is pretty typical for airlines to increase prices for popular flights – which is not great for weekend getaways as Friday and Sunday nights will typically be pricier. If you can leave on an early flight Saturday morning it’s usually cheaper. I know your weekend time is precious so it’s up to you to weigh up if you would rather spend a bit more and have that extra night away. The same goes for the end of the weekend. If you can somehow wing a late start at work on Monday morning, it’s a bit cheaper to take an early morning flight then Sunday night.

sign seasonal_JayMantri

If you want to go so far as to take a day or two off work, returning on a Tuesday is actually the cheapest. I’ve just recently booked a quick trip to Copenhagen; booking about 8 weeks ahead, and by choosing to flying out 2pm Saturday and returning Tuesday afternoon, the whole trip cost only £34 return with all taxes (approx $50 USD). Bargin!

The other thing of course is seasonal fluctuations. Popular times of the year will be more expensive, but uisng these tips you can probably still find the best prices for that time of year. The first 3 weeks of January is when airlines have major sales and you can get absolutely fantastic deals. If you want to plan ahead, you can get excellent prices in the ‘shoulder’ seasons of Spring and Autumn, particularly May and October.

The next step

Once you have your flights locked in, the next cost is booking accomodation. If you’re smart about this too, you can keep the prices down. Check out my previous post on good apps for booking accommodation. I tend to use AirBnB these days as you can find a room about the same price as one in a hostel. Again, by booking 6-8 weeks ahead you can find some great deals.

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I hope these tips help you book your next trip, and keep an eye out for more posts on my weekend travel adventures, such as my trip to Belgium.

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