The Travel Room's Guide to
Finding Cheap Flights
There are so many places to buy flights - the big question is, where do you start? Well The Travel Room is hoping to make the finding of good value flights much easier. There are some great deals out there, you just have to find them and The Travel Room is here to help!
The Travel Room recommends that you search for your flights online. Of course there are other ways to book flights including visiting your local travel agent or calling them on the phone but we find that searching a variety of places online is the best way to find great flight deals - you have the control over the search and you can change your flight options as many times as you like without getting that exasperated sigh from the bored travel agent sitting across from you (because you'll be flying somewhere very cool while he/she is still sitting there!) So our reviews will concentrate on finding that perfect flight online.
There are a variety of places that you can buy flights online including buying your flights directly from the airline, using a flight comparison website (and then following a link to the airline to buy your ticket), or using a flight booking search engine which will allow you to look for the best value flights and also book all in one place. We will be examining each of these in turn, looking at the alternatives for each and combining a review of the ease of use of the site and its various tools and our own extensive experience of which places have the best options depending on your departure point and destination to hopefully help you get to your future flight quicker. We here at The Travel Room have spent many hours at a computer (actually netbook!) looking for flights and our goal is to put our research to good use so that you will not have to do the same. The attraction to flying is clearly not hours spent in front of a computer screen but the ultimate goal of getting somewhere different where you can experience new places, try new food, and check out new cultures....without breaking the bank. So instead of sounding like a broken record lets get onto some reviews and you off to somewhere exotic...
Flight Booking Search Engines
I am constantly amazed that a third party company can sell a flight cheaper than the airline themselves. It of course makes no sense, if the airlines can do it cheaper then why don't they just give it to you cheaper directly rather than pass it on to a bucket shop who will onsell it to you AND take their cut! I, as the simple end buyer, do not understand this but I guess from the airlines point of view it puts bums on seats without them having to do all the advertising themselves.
Take my recent experience with China Eastern. I originally found, using Kayak, that China Eastern had £650 flights to Melbourne for a few dates at the start of January. This was certainly the best price I had found and was keen to go (the bi-annual visit to the family and meet the new nephew born in that time) but how could I land in Shanghai and not stop to take a look around! Unfortunately China Eastern does not have a multi-stop tool on their site so what to do? I called the contact us phone number on the China Eastern site and spoke to a polite yet rather unhelpful lady who carried out a search for me and told me that to fly to Melbourne would be...wait for it...£1500. Not quite the £650 I had seen on their site and this was before I had even attempted to add in a stopover. I explained this to the lady that for those particular dates I could get it much cheaper online and she advised me that it was a separate agent who sold the flights on the website and I would have to call them directly to purchase flights for the online price.
Of course I called the number she gave me but to no avail. The agent only sells tickets online and was not interested in selling me tickets over the phone. It was suggested I should call the airline...but as I had just spoken to them I was at a loss. How was I to get the cheap price AND my stopover - I was at an impass.
Thankfully, Ted told me not to lose hope as he jumped on the netbook and found me the solution. Travelpack - a flight booking search engine, also had the China Eastern flights for £650. Hope was not lost but we hadn't crossed the finish line yet - Travelpack also lacked the facility to add in stopovers (multi-stop - why any airline or booking site does not have this now I will never know). So with trepidation I called Travelpack and I was pleasantly surprised. I know Travelpack only as an online agent, so was pleasantly surprised when the gentleman on the phone was not only very polite but also very helpful. He was able to book me flights to Melbourne for the online price, on a great range of dates than you could get online, and he could also add in a 3 day stopover in Shanghai for no extra cost except the extra taxes for leaving Shanghai airport. Job done.
The moral of the story? There are some good flight booking search engines out there that give you the same (or sometimes better) price than you could get directly from the airline and can offer you a wider variety of booking tools and options. To check out our reviews of flight booking search engines please go to our flight booking search engine page here....
Flight comparison sitesSo what is the difference between a flight booking search engine and a flight comparison site. For us the big difference between the two is whether you have to be re-directed to another website to go ahead with the purchase of a flight. With the last category, the flight booking search engine, you are able to choose and pay for your flight all on the same site, and more than that there will only be a small subset of partner airlines from which you can purchase. Flight comparison sites such as Travelsupermarket and Kayak will allow you to search for flights and compare airlines for different dates but if you do want to go ahead and purchase then you will be directed to the airline themselves for the purchase. The flight comparison sites also include all the airlines which agree to be listed, which is the majority of those available.
Flight comparison sites are great starting points, they very quickly give you a comparison of flight costs between the major players and a ball park figure. I personally start a search for flights at kayak.co.uk; which, if you sign up, will allow you to search flights with flexible dates and show the lowest price each day for a whole month at a time. This is a fantastic tool, although it has its shortcomings, as finding the lowest price even when you know on which day it should occur can be a bit like trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat...without a rabbit...or a hat...
So although they are very useful for finding out which airlines have the best prices, in all the cases we have tried this, we have been able to go directly to the airline and get the best price from there, cutting out the middle man. Or so you would think. But once you have carried out the search on the flight comparison site, a cookie will have been placed on your computer telling the airline (should you go ahead and purchase) who originally sent you in their direction and they will probably receive a payment, usually about 2-5% of your purchase. Of course for the convenience of providing you a tool where you can check out the lowest prices for a month at a time perhaps you can forgive them a cut of the profit?
For us, these sites have their usefulness, but not to be taken as gospel. You cannot guarantee their flights are the cheapest but they will usually give you an idea of what dates will be cheaper, making your search time on other sites much quicker. And don't forget some of them have great tools like multi-stop and flexible dates again assisting you with getting that great flight - even if you do have to go somewhere else to get it.
If your looking for some cheap flights from the UK to Europe then you have a few budget choices. The most well-known of these are of course Easyjet and RyanAir, but the most recent emergents onto the budget market have been Aer Lingus who are particularly good for cheap flights to and from Ireland. Starting at £20 each way to Ireland (£25 London to Dublin) including taxes they are as cheap as RyanAir but with the comfort and customer service of a full-service airline and they won't ever think about charging you for using the toilets, I promise! We recently discovered Lufthansa when we found we could get return flights to Russia from the UK for only £149 return. Not only was it a great price but we could also fly into Moscow and out of St. Petersburg for the same price - saving us a return overnight journey on the slow train (4 or so hours if you fork out for the fast train). Either way, it was the best value flights we found with full airline service both ways, the only compromise was a short transit in a German airport each way.
But for me the most underrated airline is British Airways. Here is an airline that gets a bum rap everywhere but again we have had nothing but good experiences. I still check their best deals and we have again got some cracking deals including flying to Thessoliniki (in Greece on the border of Turkey) for around £100. And I personally have flown the BA/Qantas code share flight to Australia more than once, because unbelievably they have been the lowest priced flight at the time. I can honestly say there were no complaints, for a cheap flight you get the full value service and often a smile as well.
So if you want to find out how to get great deals booking directly with the airlines - check out our The Travel Room Guide to the Airlines here...
The differences between flight costs on different sites can be massive, if you don't believe us just check out our chart showing four different journey's and their respective costs on the the main flight search and/or booking engines...
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