Top 10 tips to save money on cheap flights

Jo Chipchase gives her top tips on how to save money on booking cheap flights.

budget airlines: Ryanair and Wizz
(c) wikimedia/Mark Harkin
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1Book two single flights

Before booking a return flight, check that two single flights aren’t cheaper for your chosen carrier and route. The saving multiplies across a group or family booking. Check various options using WhichBudget.com

2Beware of “sales”

Don’t be sucked in by emails from airlines advertising various “sales”. This is often just a marketing ploy. Even if the advertised price of the seat is next-to-nothing, you have to pay the taxes, booking fees and other hidden extras that airlines add to the initially stated price.

A “sale” doesn’t necessarily mean that the seats will become more expensive afterwards. Easyjet and British Airways were both criticised by BBC Watchdog in April 2012 for their dubious practices involving “sales” where the seats decreased in price after the “sale” had ended.

3Don’t feel pressurised

Don’t be pressurised into making hasty purchasing decisions by statements on airlines’ booking carts such as “only 4 seats left at this price”. Again, there’s no rule as to what the price will do afterwards. It may remain fairly stable, rise just slightly, or fall.

Read also: Should you book now or last minute?

4Beware of currency conversion

Be wary of the practice of ‘dynamic currency conversion’. If your flight is advertised in Euros, there’s usually a currency ‘toggle’ option on the airline’s booking cart to convert it into Sterling. Maybe you will choose this because, for example, you’re using a UK debit or credit card. However, you may pay slightly less if you allow the transaction to proceed in Euros, so that your bank applies its own currency conversion.

In May 2012, I found this to be the case with Easyjet. A flight costing €543.84 or £455 on Easyjet’s booking cart came out as £449.89 on a Barclays debit card when transacted in Euros. This reflects a more favourable exchange rate. Dynamic currency conversions normally use an exchange rate that is 2-3% worse than prevailing interbank rate.

Read also: Currency exchange – avoid getting ripped off at the airport

5Think twice about “optional extras”

Don’t feel pressurised by a booking cart into adding “optional extras” such as travel insurance, pre-selected seats, in-flight meals and checked bags. You can almost certainly obtain a better deal by taking out annual travel insurance independent of the airline; the carrier will allocate you a seat at the airport check-in desk if you don’t choose one yourself; and in-flight meals and checked bags can be added up to 4-5hrs before departure, depending on the carrier. This gives you plenty of time to consider, at leisure, what extras you actually need without fuelling the airline’s “ancillary revenues” (profits from non-ticket sales). However, as an aside to the above, it is usually cheaper to book a hot meal – which generally comes with two courses and free refills of coffee – than to buy snacks from the trolley in-flight.

6Check child-related extras

If you’re flying with babies and children, check the cost of carrying necessary items such as pushchairs, baby car seats, etc. Many airlines carry these free of charge but some – such as Ryanair – charge £10 per item if booked online and £20 if presented at the airport. Similarly, some carriers give infants a free 5kg baggage allowance while some do not. Child-related ‘extras’ can make a difference to the final cost of your family booking.

7Beware of hidden charges when checking in online

Some airlines invite you to check-in online and then force you to pay for seat selection before progressing to the ‘print boarding pass’ stage. Monarch Airlines and Flybe both do this, for example. The Monarch website states “Online check-in is free but you must pre-allocate and pay for a seat” – meaning it’s not free, in reality. If you dislike this ‘hidden’ charge, check-in at the airport instead: you may have to stand in a queue but you’ll save the cost of seat pre-selection.

However, if an airline requires you to complete online check-in to avoid a penalty fine at the airport, be sure to proceed to ‘print boarding pass’ stage and actually print the darn thing! Jet2, for example, can fine passengers £17.50 for failing to check-in online. If you’re flying with Ryanair, the penalty fine for failing to print a boarding pass is a whopping £60 – bad luck for those whose printer has run out of ink or is having a paper jam!

8Know your cabin luggage allowance

Pay heed to cabin bag dimensions and weights. Different carriers permit slightly different sized cabin bags. The safest size is 55 x 40 x 20cm but this would be non-compliant on Flybe, which requires 50 x 35 x 23cm. If your bag is found to be non-compliant at airport check-in, you could be charged £40 or more to check your ‘borderline’ cabin bag into the hold. Also, if you’re flying with Thomson, your cabin bag allowance is a miserly 5kg.

Read also: Cabin hand luggage reviewed: which is best for you?

9Wear your luggage

Wear any luggage that doesn’t meet the weight restrictions of your cabin bag by investing in a Rufus Roo or Jaktogo “big pocket travel jacket” / “smuggling coat”. This will enable you to carry up to 10kg of extra weight that won’t go on the luggage scales, because ‘wearable luggage’ is currently in a loophole where airline check-in procedures are concerned.

10Low cost airline isn’t always the cheapest

Consider whether, with all the hidden extras and baggage requirements outlined above, you could fly with a non-budget airline for the same or similar price, giving you higher customer service levels, more comfort and less hassle.