If 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:
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.
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.”
“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.
“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.”