Cheap flight myths and tips
At this time of year, planning a holiday can be a welcome distraction from the fact it’s cold, Christmas is over and it only gets light for about 43 seconds a day.
But when it comes to bagging yourself a bargain break, some people don’t half talk a load of old twaddle. There are a worrying number of self-proclaimed personal finance gurus out there spouting complete nonsense when it comes to finding cheap flights.
In this blog, we cut through the horse manure to debunk the myths that have about as much chance of working as howling at the moon and share the tips that could see you basking in the sun scarcely able to wipe the smug smile from your face.
Myth 1 - search incognito
This classic is rolled out time and again by social media influencers who favour the Donald Trump school of thought when it comes to fact checking. It’s simply not true. There’s no evidence to suggest airlines monitor your browsing habits and then hike up prices when you’re repeatedly spotted checking out the same route. Various studies by booking companies have demonstrated it makes no difference whatsoever to prices whether you use incognito mode or not.
Tip 1 - use social media to bag great deals
Rather than ill-informed influencers, try following airlines and travel companies on social media. This is where special promotions and flash sales tend to launch. By keeping a beady eye on relevant social media accounts, you’ll be best placed to act quickly when a tempting deal lands.
Myth 2 - book flights on a Tuesday
This one used to be true, back in the twelfth century, when airlines would upload all their fares on a Monday, meaning you could usually bag the cheapest seats on a Tuesday. These days, reservation systems aren’t so predictable. According to a 2023 study by CheapAir on flight prices in the USA, average low fares vary by less than $1 regardless of the day of the week you buy a ticket.
Tip 2 - change the day you fly
Having said that, changing the day you fly can save you money. In 2023, Wednesday was the cheapest day of the week to fly and Sunday the most expensive. So, if you can be flexible, playing around with the days you depart and return could prove a profitable use of your time. You’ll usually get a better deal by flying midweek.
Myth 3 - book as far in advance as possible
Although you can find flights from most airlines up to 11 months in advance, booking as soon as they become available is not necessarily the cheapest option. Various studies suggest the cheapest fares tend to become available between four months and up to three weeks before you travel. Bear in mind though, the later you leave it, the less options you may have in terms of flight times and seats.
Tip 3 - don’t book less than 21 days before flying
Prices start to skyrocket in the three weeks leading up to departure. This is because business travellers tend to book much closer to the date of travel and care less about costs because their companies are footing the bill. Unsurprisingly, airlines like to take advantage of this.
Myth 4 - budget airlines are always the cheapest option
They tend to have the lowest fares, but once you’ve paid for baggage, to choose your seat and whatever else they decide is an added extra, budget airlines might not end up being quite so budget. When you’re comparing prices, make sure you factor in these hidden costs. Some comparison sites can help with this. Kayak, for example, allows you to specify at the start of a search whether you’ll be checking in bags so you can compare costs more accurately.
Tip 4 - consider a different airport
Smaller, less popular airports may offer cheaper fares due to lower demand. Just remember, smaller airports are often more remote so you may spend more on transfers to your final destination.
Myth 5 - making a group booking won’t affect the price
This isn’t so much of a myth, more a little-known fact, but if it saves you money, I’m sure you won’t quibble about the semantics. If there’s a group of you going away, it’s common practice for one person to book the flights for everyone, isn’t it? That way you know the mate who always leaves everything to the last minute won’t miss out because all the seats have been booked up. And you’d assume you’d be getting the lowest price for all the tickets, wouldn’t you? Wrong! FareCompare found a system quirk means all the tickets in one transaction must be the same price. So, if there aren’t enough tickets at the cheapest price available, the cost of all the tickets will be pushed up to the next price point.
Tip 5 - try booking tickets separately
To make sure you’re not paying over the odds, check the price on one ticket first. If the price is lower, try booking each seat separately.
A qualified journalist for over 15 years with a background in financial services. Rebecca is Money Wellness’s consumer champion, helping you improve your financial wellbeing by providing information on everything from income maximisation to budgeting and saving tips.
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