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How to get the best deal on your flights

By John Oates

It’s tempting to think that there’s a secret trick to booking the ideal flight. Booking on a Tuesday, for example, has long been said to yield the cheapest fares. Yet there’s a recent rival theory that Sunday may in fact be marginally cheaper.The truth is that airlines set up complicated rules for working out prices and they’re hard to second guess. But that said, there are some basic things to think about when trying to buy flights online.

1. Book ahead

For scheduled flights the best prices are found by booking ahead. Just how far ahead varies from destination to destination, but it’s best to start looking at least a couple of months before the trip. The lowest prices usually kick in around five or six weeks before departure.

Business travellers will pay a premium to fly at short notice, so prices tend to leap two or three weeks before a scheduled flight departs.

2. Be flexible with flight dates and times

It’s always good to be a bit flexible with departure and return dates. The cheapest days to fly are often Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. You can use Skyscanner’s “find lowest prices” tool to show a graph of how fares vary around your selected departure date.

Flights at inconvenient times are also usually cheaper, but may mean additional costs if (for example) there’s no public transport on arrival. It’s even better to be flexible about the time of year since airlines charge more when most people want to travel, such as during school holidays or when the weather in a destination is particularly good.

3. Consider a layover

It might be tempting to book a direct flight, but if you’re on a budget, putting up with a short layover can often knock a considerable amount off the price. Make sure you check the airport’s own website to check the proposed schedule leaves enough transfer time.

4. Know where the airport is

The airports used by low-cost carriers can be a long way from the nearest city. It might not be worth saving a small amount if it means an hour or two of extra travel.

5. Check the terms and conditions

The cheapest flights are usually the least flexible, meaning that customers may have to pay a hefty fee for a change of date. In some cases it might not be possible to change a ticket at all. This could be an issue for those whose plans are liable to change.

6. Watch out for extras

Many airlines, particularly the low-cost ones, charge extra for anything other than the basic service. By the time hold baggage has been added on, if it’s needed, the price might not be that much lower than a traditional airline. It’s possible to save money by flying with only hand luggage and taking food onto the plane.

7. Use hub airports

It can sometimes be cheaper to fly to a major hub then take a separate flight with a low-cost regional airline. Check to see that these options are included in your flight search results.

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