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guide on booking flights

This section is useful not only for those people building their trips themselves. Most tour operators do packages including flights, but you can sometimes save money by finding flights cheaper yourself and paying for the tour only. Booking yourself onto scheduled flights is not hard, but with a little knowledge you could save a significant amount of money. But how much you spend really depends on a few general rules:

  • Departure Dates - if demand for travel to your destination is seasonal then prices will vary depending on time of year - save by going in the 'low' or 'shoulder' season and consider flying midweek rather than weekends.
  • Ticket Conditions - flexible fares (open-dated or no/low fees for changes) are far more expensive; the cheapest fares are non-refundable and sometimes have high fees for making changes to the booking - only purchase flights when you have firm plans and make sure you have travel insurance to cover the cost of the flights if you later can't travel.
  • Timing - prices always rise closer to the day of the flight - it always pays to book early; get the cheapest fares by booking as soon as the flight starts selling, which for most airlines is a year in advance. You should also look out for sale periods - many airlines have a January Sale at the same time.
  • Booking Channel - high street agent, online agent, add-on to a tour, or direct with the carrier; there is no rule for which of these will be cheapest, to be sure of the best price you should always check different options for buying the same flights - compare agents and check the airline's website too.

Some people have favourite airlines that they always book with, others simply care only about price. This guide assumes you will consider flying with any airline and therefore have maximum choice and flexibility. There are so many airlines that you really do have the luxury of choice - see our Airline Directory for a list. However, when searching for your flights you should first consider what options you have specific to your destination, which depends on whether you're travelling long- or short-haul.

Short-Haul (European) Flights
  • You have a greater choice of airlines for short-haul. You will no doubt be aware of 'no frills' low cost carriers and wondering if they are a better choice than the full service national flag carriers - read our extensive guide which helps you determine the cheapest price with everything included.
  • Short-haul flights tend to be cheaper at unsociable or off-peak hours when demand is lower.
  • The great thing about short-haul is the number of airports open to international flights. If it's too expensive flying to Vienna, for example, you might find much cheaper flights to Bratislava, only an hour away from Vienna over land.
  • These days, return fares are calculated as two separate one-way fares, so you don't necessarily lose out by flying back from a different city - you should assess fares on each journey separately.
  • Consider making use of the choice of airlines by flying back on a different airline than the one you flew out with - it depends how prices compare.
  • Search for cheap flights on low cost carriers using, Wegolo, OpenJet or SkyScanner.
  • Search for flights on full service carriers using online travel agents such as Opodo, Expedia, ebookers or Last Minute, who can also offer excellent deals on flight + accommodation packages.
Long-Haul (Inter-Continental) Flights
  • For long-haul, return flights with the same airline and between the same cities generally works out cheapest.
  • Open-jaw tickets (returning from a different city) are generally more expensive but it could be worth paying extra if it saves returning to your starting point.
  • On long-haul routes it may be cheaper to make a stop en-route rather than fly direct since you have a greater choice of airlines and the price of the two separate flights might be much less than the price of the direct flight.
  • Multi-stop round-the-world fares are quite complex but you shouldn't look to buy individual flights separately; instead, booking them all in one go with the same alliance (e.g. OneWorld) can work out excellent value - consult an agent (see next point below).
  • Search for long-haul flights using online travel agents such as Opodo, Expedia, ebookers or Last Minute for excellent deals on flight + accommodation packages.

Once you've booked your flights, don't forget to organise travel to the airport, airport parking or booking airport hotels - find specific information on your departure airport in our UK airport guides.