When you're planning on taking a trip, finding a flight is going to be one of your major expenses, so it pays to do a bit of research before you book something. Flying super cheap as a courier (I used to fly from London to NY, delivering documents, back in the 90's, for as little as $150 round trip) is over. But don't despair, there are still ways to make sure your flight ticket doesn't break the bank. Here are some of my tips...
Fly with a Budget Airline
I've flown with Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, British Airways and Lufthansa (all considered top airlines). But I've also taken flights with a lot of other airlines – at much cheaper prices. Years ago, I flew with Bulgarian Airlines from London to South Africa – it involved a 5-hour stop over in Sofia but it saved me hundreds of dollars. I've also flown with Gulf Air to the Far East, stopping in Doha, and a charter aircraft from the UK to Australia – 24 hours of cramped seating, and two layovers, but a total cost of $300 round trip (yes, it was a last minute deal but, yes, it was worth it).
Flying within Europe, I'll happily use Easyjet at http://www.easyjet.com/en/
if you book in advance you can get great deals. Sure, you might not get a meal and have to pay a little for your check-in luggage, but you're still going to save money.
Check Prices on Different Search Engines Carefully
I'm a great fan of Skyscanner – http://www.skyscanner.net.
Skyscanner allows you to compare prices not just by months but weeks and even days. You put in your details and can see immediately if it's cheaper to fly at the beginning of the week or the end. I've found some incredibly competitive prices on it. In the past, I've also used Expedia and Kayak. But the main thing is to shop around – compare the prices. Sometimes it's a few dollars, sometimes it's far more.
Look for Special Offers
Airlines are constantly having special offers, and if you can face signing up for their weekly emails, you might spy a bargain. I've found great deals with KLM, Norweigian Air and British Airways, just by being on their mailing list and casting my eye through what they send me, whilst I'm drinking my morning coffee.
Be Flexible with your Dates
It's usually more expensive to fly at the weekend, just as it is in July and August, or around Christmas. Also bear in mind the national holidays of the country you're visiting. Finding a flight to the US around Thanksgiving can be pretty challenging, and arriving in Vietnam around Tet or China around the Chinese New Year is a big headache. Try and fly mid-week and also be prepared to take flights early in the morning (think 5 am) and late at night (think almost midnight). It's a bit more tiring, but I find it to be cost-effective.
Be Flexible with your Destination
If you can face being flexible in terms of your destination, you can really save money. Here are some examples:
If you want to explore Vietnam, consider flying into Bangkok and then either catching a short flight to Saigon/Hanoi or going overland. If you go overland, you'll be able to break up your trip in Cambodia, at the Temples of Angkor. Regard it as an adventure!
Say you're trying to get from New York to Paris but you find a special offer from New York to London. Fly into London then hop on the Eurostar or take a cheap charter flight with Easyjet to Paris. It takes no time at all and you'll see two world capitals on your trip instead of one.
You've always wanted to visit Florence. Fine, but bear in mind that the airport just outside this city is extraordinarily expensive to fly into. Instead, fly into Pisa, then catch a fast train to Florence (Italian trains are often quite reasonable, especially if you're not on an express)
In a word, it's good to be...