Flights are usually the most expensive part of backpacking so it’s important to find the best deals in order to stay on the road for longer. In my 10 years of travelling I’ve been to over 70 airports across the world and have never spent more than £400 for a single flight (London to New Zealand), the lowest being £10. In this article I’ll be sharing with you my best tips, tricks and hacks to show you how to find cheap flights too.
1. BE FLEXIBLE WITH DATES
This is the holy grail tip to finding cheap flights. Flight prices can vary from one day to the next – therefore moving your flight forward or back by a single day can have a huge impact on cost. But the more flexible the better; having a week’s leeway means you can avoid weekend flights, for example, which can often cost more. Generally I try to have about 2-3 week’s flexibility, but often more.
Comparison sites like Skyscanner are great for searches like this – you type in the month you want to leave and it shows you a table of all the prices.
EXTRA TIP: Skyscanner won’t always show you the most up-to-date price on its results table and sometimes they’re just an estimate. Click on every day individually to double-check the price. Often the flights are a lot cheaper than what they first say.
See what other airports are close to your chosen destination in order to find cheap flights. This works especially well for Europe as it has such a high density of airports. For example, after a trip to Austria I saved £100 by flying from Bratislava to London as opposed to leaving from Vienna. It was a €10 train ride between the two capitals and it was a lovely journey. I made a similar saving in Italy by flying home from Pisa as opposed to Florence… the list goes on. Another bonus of this is that you get to see more of the country or perhaps another one entirely.
One thing to remember: airports offering budget flights are sometimes out of the way. Do some research beforehand to make sure that the extra transport costs getting to the airport don’t counteract the money you’re saving on the flight.
Or if you don’t know exactly where you want to go, search cheap flights by country and let the price dictate where you go! Or go one further – choose your departure airport then select ‘everywhere’ in the destination drop down menu. You can end up going to amazing places you’d never even considered before.
3. DON’T BOOK A RETURN FLIGHT
I nearly always buy two single flights when flying somewhere. This is because buying a return ticket takes away a lot of the flexibility you need to find the cheapest flight – you’re limited to one airline and usually one airport, ignoring the huge number of other potential deals available. If you’re following the two above tips and are looking at different departure days and/or different airports, it’s very likely that you’ll be taking advantage of two different airlines.
There are always exceptions of course, particularly with long haul flights and small countries with small airports, so it’s always worth checking prices for a return flight and two singles to see what’s best.
Sacrifice some sleep and opt for late night or crack of dawn flights; they’re often the cheapest because most people don’t want to hang around in an airport or plane for the night!
5. LAST MINUTE FLIGHTS AREN’T ALWAYS THE CHEAPEST
I remember getting amazing last minute deals with budget airlines years back, but they’re getting fewer and further between these days. I’ll see a number of deals for more expensive airlines or for package deals, but this doesn’t really help backpackers, and typically they still won’t be as cheap as budget airlines.
I’ve found that long haul flights, in particular, are cheaper about 4-7 weeks beforehand and sometimes further (of course this will depend on the airline and the country). When it gets to the last minute there are discounted spaces but this is risky business; often these prices last only a few hours, leaving you left with the expensive options only. Prices are more stable the further in advance you book.
Short haul flights are a little more forgiving for last minute bookings. If you’re just looking for a spontaneous getaway and you’re flexible with where you can go you shouldn’t be disappointed by the last minute deals around.
6. MAKE MULTIPLE STOPS
Increase your travel time and fly indirectly to where you want to go. I once flew from Rome to London via Oslo for £15 – it was £50 less than flying to London directly!! I also flew from Hawaii to Glasgow for £270. Insanely cheap, right? Well I did stop in Vancouver, Toronto AND Halifax. But when you’re a backpacker with no money but a whole lot of time at your disposal it’s perfect. I spent the day in Vancouver and it was awesome.
EXTRA TIP: Don’t forget about baggage charges! If you’re using more than one airline during your multi-connection flight you might have to pay the baggage fee for each individual leg of the flight. This can sometimes be the case if you’re only using one airline too. Make sure to check.
I compare the prices between sites like Skyscanner and Momondo to find cheap flights. Though often the prices are similar, sometimes there will be a better deal on one.
Ever noticed the little flag at the top of Skyscanner/Momondo? This indicates your home country and the currency you’re using. Try changing the country – to the one you’re currently in (if different), or one that you’ve got family or friends from, etc. You’ll sometimes get a completely different set of results. That cheap flight from Hawaii to Glasgow was only available when I changed my location to USA and it saved me £100.
To take advantage of these country-specific offers you often need to pay using a bank account from the country you selected. Bring on your international connections! This way you can open up even more options and often find cheap flights.