Bargain Flights

ImageIf you want a bargain flight, it’s almost always better to book as far ahead as possible. Avoiding school holidays and travelling on weekdays rather than weekends are obvious ways to cut costs, but Chris Brown, co-founder of sunshine.co.uk, has a few more tips: “The time of day you book an also make a difference. A flight you find midweek, after midnight, may well by much cheaper than one on a Saturday afternoon, because of when airlines update their systems.”

Brown adds that now is a good time to book flights. “Many airlines have ‘goodbye winter’ sales,” he says. “The downside is the flights are for February/March and not later in the year.”

The good news for consumers this year, says Leo Purcell of Opodo (opodo.co.uk), is that “airlines are having to work hard to stimulate demand, which means we are seeing deflation. Opodo saw average ticket prices drop by 5% to 10% in many areas, and by as much as 20% at times on competitive routes like London to New York.”

When it comes to seat sales, Bob Atkinson, TravelSupermarket.com‘s travel expert, says: “Our biggest tip is to sign up for email alerts from your favourite travel companies so you are aware of sales as they happen.”

Here’s the lowdown on making savings to popular destinations:

United States

Claire Bentley, managing director of British Airways Holidays (ba.com/holidays), says: “We are already seeing strong bookings to the States, with travellers taking advantage of the exchange rate (£1=$1.56).” For BA’s low-price fare finder, see tinyurl.com/BAlowprice.

Adam Cooper from Netflights.com says that the cheapest times to travel to the US are January-March and November. The company has considerable savings on Delta fares for travel until 31 March 2012 (book by 2 February), such as New York from £349 from Heathrow (compared with £456 for 1 April-22 June).

STA Travel’s (statravel.co.uk) cheapest fare to New York is £345 return – book before 2 February, for travel 12 January-31 March. To find the cheapest fares to the US, kayak.co.uk is a brilliant resource that compares dozens of airlines.

Latin America

Laura Rendell-Dunn, of Journey Latin America (journeylatinamerica.co.uk), says: “Book early. At the moment there are some terrific special offers, such as Lima for £546 return.” You must book by 24 January but you can fly any time until June. Destinations in order of popularity are Lima, Peru (£546); Rio, Brazil (£576); Havana, Cuba (£587); Bogotá, Colombia (£658); and Buenos Aires, Argentina (£685). Santiago in Chile is usually the most expensive. Generally, airfares are highest from July to August and in December.

She adds: “If you plan to fly to other destinations within a country, it is far cheaper to book your domestic flights as part of the international ticket – typically you save about £100 per ticket.”

Australia/New Zealand

“Traditionally the cheapest time to travel to Australia is May/June,” says Joel Saunders, managing director of Austravel (austravel.com), “and there are some extremely competitive fares if you book right now. A return to Perth or Melbourne with Cathay Pacific for April-June costs from £699, as opposed to more than £1,000 if booked later. If you’re looking to travel towards the end of the year, aim for September to November, rather than the peak times of December or January, when the same flight will cost around £1,500.”

For New Zealand, fares are lowest around May-June, but sometimes you can cut the cost by flying on a secondary, more indirect route. Air New Zealand (airnewzealand.co.uk) offers a ticket flying out via LA and back via Hong Kong. This trip in May would cost around £870 return, compared with £840 for a direct return. There’s a good overview of flights on the Tourism New Zealand website,newzealand.com/uk/getting-here.

Asia

“The best-value time to travel to Thailand tends to be the hot season, from April to June,” says Cooper of Netflights.com. November and December are peak season. Book with Netflights.com by 20 January and you can get flights from Heathrow to Bangkok before 30 November from £475 return. Fares in July and August are from around £630.

James Mundy from InsideJapan Tours (insidejapantours.com) suggests booking now for flights up until the end of March for a cheap Japan trip. “You can catch the early cherry blossom in Tokyo, or try the epic skiing. Peak season is for the cherry blossom, late March until late April. To avoid the rush, go to lesser-known destinations or to the sub-tropical Okinawan islands, where the blossom is out as early as the end of January. May, late October and November are warm but cheaper than peak season.”

Tips on finding cheap flights

The best time to Airplane taking offtravel each year is during January and February, as flight prices plummet after the holiday season when consumers try to cut back on spending. So for those not burnt out from holiday travel and can spare some extra change, the Internet is bursting with great flight deals.

“People are spent and traveled out, and there aren’t as many destinations that are desirable for mid-winter travel since a lot of the bigger cities in the U.S. are experiencing colder weather, such as Boston, Chicago and even Atlanta,” George Hobica, founder of AirfareWatchdog, told Mashable. “Airfares are always lowered from about now until Mid-February, when the school vacations start up – with the exception of some higher fares around Martin Luther King weekend.”

1. Look for Airline Tweets

A low fare could pop up at any minute of the day or week, so shop around, follow tweets  — because the best deals, even if they’re good for travel over a long period, last only a few hours — and be prepared to go wherever it’s cheap rather than where you can’t afford, Hobica advises.

2. Sign Up for Alerts

First, sign up for AirFareWatchDog’s fare alerts and email newsletter that sends cheap flight deals based on your home airport. Most domestic deals are under or around $200 – and some right now are so low, it’s mind-boggling. A roundtrip trip to Chicago from New York, for example, could cost as little as $54 and you’ll find airfare to Florida for less than $100.

In addition, non-stop, round-trip flights from New York to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines are unusually inexpensive ($565), including taxes, and that fare has been steady for a few months. Other popular deals include a non-stop roundtrip flight to Liberia, Costa Rica under $400, taxes included, on JetBlue’s new service route.’

3. Let Web Sites Do Your Legwork

Another site worth checking out is SkyScanner, which is perfect for flexible travelers. By typing “everywhere” into the destination search and selecting when you want to travel, the site reveals the cheapest options out there – from New York, fares to the Caribbean right now are under $300 and there’s even an option to Ireland in the $400 range.

Kayak also lets you search “everywhere” through its Explore feature, which shows on a map the prices to fly to certain destinations.

4. Know When — Exactly — to Buy

While searching for deals, remember that traveling on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are the cheapest days to fly, while Friday and Sunday are the busiest travel days and the most expensive. The most cost-efficient time to fly is also first thing in the morning and red-eyes, according to FareCompare.com, followed by lunch time and dinner-hour flights.

The best time to purchase an airline ticket, however, is Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET, as discounted flights hit the sites. Most of these specials are pulled by Thursday, FareCompare said.

The deals are good, but not the best ever. Rock-bottom airfare is actually slightly higher this time of year than it’s been in the past, according to Hobica. For example, a standard roundtrip fare from New York to Los Angeles this time of year usually costs about $198, but it’s priced at $238 now. Even so, the route is significantly less expensive than it was just a few weeks ago during the busy holiday-travel season when it inched close to $500.

International airfare is also more pricy thanks to mergers and less seat availability.

“Airlines are getting better at making use of their planes when they can to make the most money – some such as Delta were flying domestic routes usually reserved for 757 aircraft with larger 767 planes reserved for Europe,” Hobica said. “Since European traffic was soft and certain domestic routes were strong, it made sense for them to take this approach but it cuts back on seat availability for the European travel and doesn’t help the price.”

But all is not lost. You can still get great deals now and all year round by putting in a little time (and using a little strategy) to get what you want.