5 tips for finding cheap flights

Planning an overseas trip this year? In this article, NimbleFins explores 5 ways you can cut the cost of flying overseas, from maxing the value of Avois points to finding cheap 'hidden city' deals.

Average spending per holiday has risen 5% this year according to the Advantage Travel Partnership. This suggests many Brits are prioritising their annual getaway despite the rising cost of living.

If you're planning an overseas trip this year it's likely the cost of flights will take up a large proportion of your budget. So, in this article, we're going to explore 5 ways on how you can cut the cost.

How to save money on flights

The price of flights have soared over the past year or so. It's been reported global airline ticket prices rose 25% between November 2021 and 2022 which is well above the rate of inflation.

So, whether you're planning a far-flung trip or a short-haul adventure, finding a bargain flight simply isn't as easy as it used to be. That said, there are still some effective tips and tricks that can help cut the cost of travelling by plane. Let's take a look at them...

1. Use multiple screenscrapers to compare prices.

Screenscrapers are nothing new. They're essentially price comparison websites for the skies with Skyscanner, Kayak, and Momondo three of the most well-known.

On any of these sites, simply enter the airports you're flying to and from and you'll be given a list of flight times and prices. Some screenscrapers also offer a calendar view of dates, which can help you work out the cheaper periods to fly.

Screenscrapers can save you big compared to going directly via a travel agent or an airline's website. However, a common mistake people make is to only use one screenscraper. It's far better to try several, or two at the very least. That's because screenscrapers list prices from third-party providers as well as the traditional travel agents, airlines and major booking sites.

This means you've a wider number of providers to choose from which raises the possibility of finding a cheaper deal. Some may even have access to exclusive prices. This is precisely why it can pay to complete multiple flight searches on multiple websites.

2. Visiting more than one place? Explore 'Open-Jaw' flights

If you're travelling to more than one destination booking an 'open-jaw' flight could be for you. This is where you fly from one airport to another airport, and then fly out of a third airport back to your original destination.

For example, say you're keen to take in both coasts of the USA from West to East - starting in California and ending in New York. For this trip you could book a direct flight from London Heathrow to Los Angeles. And for your return journey, rather than heading back to Los Angeles you could instead fly back to Heathrow from New York.

In this example you'll avoid having to backtrack Los Angeles, saving yourself valuable vacation time. Plus, open-jaw flights can, in some circumstances, be cheaper than the cost of buying a return ticket.

Unfortunately finding open-jaw flights isn't as easy as comparing prices of traditional return tickets. It requires patience and some imagination. The 'Multi-city' option on Google Flights is a good place to start for open-jaw deals. It's a speedy tool which makes comparing costs of multiple legs rather painless.

Secret Flying is another website that regularly spots open-jaw deals.

3. Understand 'hidden city' ticketing

Hidden-city ticketing is a nifty, if unethical, trick among frequent travellers to cut the cost of flying between cities. It's where you book an in-direct flight with the intention of leaving the airport at your layover destination. In other words, hidden-city ticketing is where you disregard the final leg of your trip, even though you've paid for it.

For example, say you wish to fly from New York to London. You find a one-way flight from New York to London costing £400. However, you use a screenscraper to discover a flight from New York to Amsterdam, with a short layover in London. This flight is on sale for just £350, even though a direct flight to London with the same airline is more expensive (this isn't an unusual phenomenon ). If you book this flight to Amsterdam with the intention of exiting in London, then you would be engaging in hidden city ticketing.

Just for the record, there are rarely transatlantic hidden-city deals, so the above is nothing more than a theoretical example!

Most of the time, hidden-city ticketing isn't a 'thing'. Generally, the further you fly, the higher the ticket price. Yet there are some routes where hidden-city ticketing pays off. Secret Flying is a good resource for flying hidden city deals.

If you're interested in hidden-city ticketing there are a few need-to-knows to be aware of.

1. It's usually against airline Ts&Cs. First and foremost, hidden-city ticketing is like card counting on the blackjack table. It's legal but massively frowned upon by the business you're taking advantage of. In other words, airlines would much rather you didn't do it. In fact, while it may be legal it will almost certainly be against an airline's terms and conditions. As a result, if you engage in hidden-city ticketing and the airline finds out, there's a chance you could find yourself in hot water.

2. It doesn't work for return flights. Whenever you miss a leg of a flight ticket, any subsequent legs on your ticket will be canceled automatically. This is why hidden-city ticketing can only ever work on the final leg of a journey.

3. You can only travel with hand luggage. If you miss the final leg of your ticket there's a real chance you won't be re-united with any checked luggage. That's because luggage for an aircraft's hold is often checked to your final destination. So if you want to pursue hidden-city ticketing you'll only ever be able to travel with bags that you keep with you in the cabin.

All in all, hidden-city ticketing is certainly an interesting travel quirk. It can also help to cut the cost of flights. However, due to the drawbacks, it isn't something we recommend. If you decide to explore it further, please understand it's at your own risk!

4. Consider a specialist credit card to earn airline points

If you've Avois points you can redeem them for discount flights on British Airways and other Oneworld partner airlines such as Iberia and Aer Lingus. With BA you can also part-pay for flights with Avios and cash, which can give you more options to find a deal, especially if you use its online 'Fare Finder' tool.

If you don't have Avios then don't despair. There are specialist reward credit cards that allow you to earn Avios, either through an introductory bonus or for simply spending on your card.

Two fee-free credit cards that allow you to earn Avios include the Barclaycard Avios and the BA Amex.

The Barclaycard Avios pays a 5,000 Avios points bonus if you spend £3,000 within three months of getting your card. You also earn 1 Avios point for every £1 you spend. The representative APR is 25.9%.

Similarly, the BA Amex also pays a 5,000 Avios points bonus. You also earn 1 Avios point for every £1 spent (27.2% rep APR). However, this card is issued by American Express, which isn't as widely accepted as cards issued by other payment processors, such as Mastercard or Visa.

For more ways to earn Avios with credit cards, take a look at our best reward credit cards guide.

5. Try to fly into a 'Hub'

Our final tip is quite a straightforward one. If you're interested in flying to a particular country or region, but you're pretty flexible, then you might be able to save big by flying into a major airport hub. That's because many airlines often price flights cheaper if they depart from one of its hub airports. Hub airports are often where airlines park their aircraft or regularly fly in and out of.

For example, London Heathrow is a major global hub and one of the busiest airports in the world. Because of this, you'll often find the cheapest flights departing and arriving into the UK do so from Heathrow.

Other popular airport hubs in Europe include Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Madrid, and Paris. Further afield, JFK (New York), Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, and Los Angeles are all major hubs across the the pond. Meanwhile, Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Dubai are all Asian hubs. So, fly into any of these and it's likely you'll find more competitive fares.

Taking the train instead?

If you're eager for UK staycation this year it's probable you'll want to travel by train. If this is the case do take the time to read our article that explores 5 tips for cheaper train travel.

Karl Talbot

Karl is a personal finance expert who specialises in writing about savings accounts, credit cards and cheap personal loans. Karl has worked for a number of personal finance publications including The Motley Fool and MoneySavingExpert.