In this guide, we explain how you can find and book cheap low-cost flights by sharing 10 of our top flight booking tips.
Finding a cheap flight ticket isn’t rocket science. Although it is some kind of a special art which requires a certain mindset and knowledge, booking a dirt cheap discounted ticket is a skill which every person can learn if they invest a bit of time.
It is always a good feeling if you manage to snatch that 10 euro ticket for a three-hour-long flight across Europe while your seat neighbour might have payed 150 euro for the same flight!
Sure, it isn’t always possible to find a cheap flight ticket on your route and date of choice, but by taking into account 10 essential steps you can increase your chances of finding a killer deal or finding a cheaper ticket than you managed to come up with so far.
We compiled a list of 10 of our top flight searching and booking tips for low-cost airline travel which will give you a better insight into the world of budget airlines and help you understand the mindset needed to score the cheapest deals.
At the same time, we will tackle some big misconceptions and urban legends about flight bookings making the rounds on the internet.
1. Be flexible with your dates
Our top tips both have to do with a general mindset you need to have in order to score the cheapest possible flight ticket. The first of these is the simple advice that the more flexible you are with your travel dates, the higher your chances are of finding a good deal.
Simply put, this starts with avoiding high season dates such as the main public holidays (Easter, summer, Christmas etc.). Flight tickets are much cheaper in the shoulder and low season.
Make sure you are aware of any popular festivals, conferences or sports events as they can hugely impact the price of tickets. Making a city trip to Budapest might not be the best idea if it coincides with the dates of the Hungarian Formula 1 Grand Prix, for example. Going a week earlier or later will be substantial cheaper when it comes down to both flight tickets and accommodation costs.
Of course, being flexible is not something which everyone can afford. Especially working parents of schoolgoing children will often be limited to school holidays only.
Even then it pays off searching for flights in a plus/minus two or three day period around your preferred dates. Let’s say you have two weeks of holiday, starting Monday 12th July 2021 until Sunday 25th July.
Of course, you would prefer to fly out directly on Monday (or even on Saturday 10th July if you have the weekend before off as well) and only return on Sunday to get the most out of your vacation.
You will however not be the only person wanting to fly on these popular dates, especially in prime holiday season. You might find that departing on Wednesday 14th July and returning on Saturday 24th might be substantially cheaper. Especially if you are travelling as a family of four or more, a 50 euro saving on each one-way flight can add up!
Generally, the days on or around the weekends (Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays) are the most expensive with low-cost carriers, with Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays often being significantly cheaper on leisure routes (eg. Berlin to Palma de Mallorca).
On business-heavy routes it can however be the exact opposite. If you fly from Dusseldorf to Zurich the plane might be full with bankers on corporate expenses on weekdays and the flight will be priced accordingly.
On such routes you might have a much better chance finding a cheap ticket in weekends – with the added benefit that accommodation will be likely cheaper too, especially when staying in a chain hotel geared towards business travellers.
2. Be flexible with your destination
In the same way as our first tip, being flexible with your destination can also help lowering flight costs. You might for example live in London and have your mind dead set on going to Sardinia to enjoy some wonderful beaches, good food and sunshine.
But what will you do when there are just a few suitable flights around – and they all cost a small fortune? It might be a hard decision to make, but why not opt for another wonderful travel destination which ticks all the boxes?
You might for example be able to find a flight to Nice for a third of the price of any flight to Sardinia. It might not be Sardinia, but the French Riviera for sure has its own share of beautiful beaches, great food and charming little towns to explore.
There really is nothing wrong opting for a different destination. Sometimes things just don’t work out as planned. In such a case, the smart decision is to take your losses and to simply move on.
Even if you are still so dead set on visiting Sardinia – what is wrong with keeping Sardinia on your travel bucket list for another time? There will almost always be another opportunity when time, flight schedules and prices do align.
In fact, it would probably make for a better holiday if you are on a budget! If seeing Sardinia is so important to you, the last thing you should want is to spend almost your entire travel budget on flights alone, leaving little money to actually enjoy the sights and sounds of the island.
Visiting Sardinia another time when the flights are cheap and you do have more money remaining for a nice hotel and great food would be by far the better choice. When you sit next to the sea in France sipping a glass of white wine it’s likely you have even forgotten all about Sardinia!
3. Look at alternative airports
A lot of people don’t set wide enough parameters when searching flight tickets and this includes the number of potential airports as well. Of course we all prefer direct flights at suitable hours from the nearest airport to the airport which is most convenient for your destination. Unfortunately, this is not always possible if you want to stay within your budget.
Let’s say you live in the Eindhoven area of the Netherlands and want to go on a city trip to Krakow in Poland. There are direct Ryanair flights, but these are expensive (150 euro return) on the days you want to travel. The direct Eindhoven-Krakow Wizz Air flight is equally expensive.
However, when looking at flights to nearby airports you see that there is also a Wizz Air flight from Eindhoven to Katowice. Although that airport is just over 100 kilometres away from Krakow, flight prices are substantially cheaper at just 50 euro for a return ticket.
Even though you now need to add 20 euro for a return bus ticket between Katowice airport and downtown Krakow, you will still come up with a much lower total price (70 euro) than the 150 euro of your original flights.
Of course, this adds time to your trip, requires doing some additional research and might not be the most suitable for everyone, but if you are a real penny-pincher or just have a limited budget it can make a huge difference.
The same counts for your starting airport. You could for example also take a bus from Eindhoven to Dusseldorf and hop on a Eurowings flight from there to Krakow if it works out cheaper.
Websites like Momondo, Skyscanner, Kayak and Google Flights all let you search flights from or to multiple airports at the same time. Some have a handy feature that allows you to automatically select all other airports within a 100-mile radius.
Do note however that these sites do not always show all low-cost flights and even if they do, you are always better off booking them directly at the website of the airline instead of an online travel agency, especially if you require any add-ons such as checked luggage.
Another way is to take a good old-fashioned map (or an online version such as Google Maps) and see what other cities and airports lie in the immediate vicinity of your preferred destination.
A good way to see which (low-cost) airlines operate certain routes is looking at an airports Wikipedia page, which are all surprisingly well updated with new route announcement being added within minutes.
In our above example of someone living in Eindhoven, a quick look at the airport’s Wiki page shows you immediately which airlines are operating routes to different Polish airports. To search this way does however requires a bit of geographical skills and additional research.
If you find for example alternative flights to Katowice or Warsaw, you still need to research more information how to get to Krakow from there. You might need to check the respective airport websites or have a look on the websites of Polish bus and train operators what the additional time and costs would be. Only then will you be able to make a full comparison and potentially find a cheaper way to travel.
4. Search for one-way fares
This might seem like an obvious point, but you’d be surprised how many people overlook this when searching for flights. Let’s again take a look at the example we mentioned above in our second point of advice: a trip from Eindhoven to Krakow.
As we mentioned above, Wizz Air and Ryanair both operate this route. We also explored a possible third option of flying to Katowice and taking a bus from there to Krakow. A return ticket on Wizz Air and Ryanair on your dates costs 150 euro.
To get a full picture, you should search for both return flights and one-way flights. If that 150 euro for a return flight is calculated as being 120 euro for Eindhoven-Krakow and just 30 euro for Krakow-Eindhoven, there is only one right way to think. In this case, you should check if you can find an alternative option for the expensive Eindhoven-Krakow flight, while the decently priced Krakow-Eindhoven flight is worth keeping in mind.
What is thus stopping you for example of flying one-way with Wizz Air to Katowice on the outbound, and flying back on that 30 euro Krakow-Eindhoven Ryanair flight? It’s an excellent way to save some money.
5. Don’t discard full-service carriers
Many people who are looking for a budget holiday often solely look at the websites of the usual suspects in the low-cost airline world. For flights within Europe, this means they search for flights on the websites of Ryanair, easyJet, Wizz Air, Vueling, Norwegian or lesser known budget airlines such as Transavia, Pegasus, Pobeda, Volotea and Blue Air.
This is certainly a good starting point and most of the times you will definitely be able to find cheap tickets with these airlines. However, it is foolish if you discount full-service airlines altogether.
Airlines like British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France, KLM, Turkish Airlines, SAS, LOT and Swiss might often be more expensive, but it is not always like that.
Even these flagship carriers have special sales or are forced to file low fares to stave off the competition of low-cost airlines on some routes. If you want to fly from the London area to Warsaw, it might very well be that Swiss might offer flights which cost roughly the same as any of the low-cost airlines.
Instead of having to travel all the way to a godforsaken place like Luton Airport, you could leave from Heathrow or even London City Airport, change planes in Zurich, and hop on your connecting flight to Warsaw.
Although some full-service airlines now start to copy the low-cost model by switching from complimentary snacks and drinks in economy to a buy on board menu, some still offer free-flowing drinks and free seat allocation, making it a more pleasant experience.
The same counts for luggage. Even though some of these flagship carriers now also charge for a checked bag when travelling on the cheapest tickets, there are still many airlines out there which have hold luggage included in the fare. If you plan on checking in a suitcase, you should definitely take this into account when comparing prices between full service airlines and low-cost airlines.
The biggest caveat is that is that searching for flights on full-service airlines requires a different search method than you would do for low-cost airlines.
Low-cost airlines work on the simple basis that a return ticket is calculated by simple maths, namely the price of your outbound flight plus the price of your flight back combined.
Many legacy carriers such as Air France and KLM however have a different pricing structure altogether. It’s a complicated story involving fare rules and yield management which is beyond the scope of this article, but in some cases it can mean that a one-way ticket on a full-service airline airline can actually be more expensive than a return ticket!
Therefore, it is highly important that you search for both one-way and return fares of these airlines if you want to have a full overview of all available fares. Only then you can answer the question whether or not flying a low-cost airline will indeed be cheaper than a full-service carrier.
To search for tickets of legacy airlines, you can either look directly at the website of the airline itself or use a general flight search website such as Momondo, Skyscanner, Kayak and Google Flights which compare flight prices of all airlines.
For full-service carriers the ITA Matrix is a great tool as well as it has some more advanced search options and a nifty calendar view which allows you to compare flight prices within the span of an entire month.
6. Self-connect at an intermediate point
While legacy carriers offer connecting flights, low-cost airlines usually don’t. If you were to fly Berlin-Madrid-Lanzarote on Iberia, you would be protected if you miss the Madrid to Lanzarote flight because of a delay of the Berlin-Madrid flight.
As the contract of carriage basically states that the airline has a duty to fly you from Berlin to Lanzarote, they will simply book you on the next available flight at their costs – and will pay for any possible expenses such as a night in a hotel or a meal in case of a long wait.
Most low-cost airlines do not offer such connecting flights, although you can perfectly combine two low-cost flights yourself if it works out cheaper than a single direct flight. You must however take extreme care if you do!
Let’s go to the potential savings first. A direct Berlin to Lanzarote flight on Ryanair might cost 180 euro one-way, which is quite a steep price for a low-cost flight!
You could try to see if it works out cheaper to fly to any other airport in between which has direct flights to both Lanzarote and Berlin. In the case of Ryanair there are quite a couple of airports! You could fly from Berlin to Bergamo, Bologna, Barcelona, Madrid or Seville, and from there take another Ryanair flight to Lanzarote.
In case you might find a stellar deal to one of these airports, let’s say a 15 euro ticket from Berlin to Madrid, this can often work out cheaper. Even if the Madrid to Lanzarote flight would cost you 85 euro, your total price would still be 100 euro and you’d be 80 euro cheaper off.
Although in many cases this can work out as a great solution – especially so when travelling between two more remote airports – there are a few potential drawbacks which you must take into account.
First of all is that costs can add up quickly if you want to check in luggage or pay for seat assignment. Instead of needing to pay for this on just one Berlin to Lanzarote flight, you now need to cough up these extra costs for two flights (Berlin-Madrid and Madrid-Lanzarote).
More important is the second caveat. While full-service airlines protect you in case you misconnect (if your flights are on a single ticket), low-cost airlines don’t. Let’s say you have two hours in between the arrival of your Ryanair flight in Madrid and departure of your next flight to Lanzarote.
In most cases you will make this connection, but it is risky. If your first flight has even the slightest of delays, things could get tricky. This is especially true if you have checked bags as these would not be automatically transferred to your next flight. You have to reclaim them in Madrid and check them in again, having to take into account the baggage drop off deadlines!
If you end up missing your flight to Lanzarote, don’t think for a minute that Ryanair (or any other airline for that matter!) will help you. You will simply be forced to buy a new ticket to Lanzarote on the spot – for a last-minute premium.
Sure, there have been cases of low-cost airlines being magnanimous and allowing you to hop on the next flight for free but this is extremely rare. Even if end up missing your Madrid-Lanzarote flight because the Berlin-Madrid was delayed because of reasons which are entirely the company’s fault they still do not have any obligation to help you out.
Remember that buying a plane ticket basically comes down to signing a contract with the carrier. In exchange for paying a certain amount of money, they are obliged to provide you with a service in return, which is in this case flying you between Berlin and Madrid. The fact that you have a second, separate ‘contract’ for a flight from Madrid to Lanzarote has nothing to do with this.
The airline would only have a responsibility here if you would book a flight from Berlin to Lanzarote – whether this is a direct flight on Ryanair or a connecting flight on a legacy carrier. In that case you would be protected if you miss your second flight as your contract of carriage is between Berlin and Lanzarote!
Unfortunately, a lot of people booking separate flights on low-cost airlines don’t understand this and wrongly use the term “connection” when they are changing flights. It’s not a flight connection in any legal sense of the word at all. The proper way to describe it is “self-connecting to an onward flight”.
If you plan accordingly it could work out great and save you a lot of money. Make sure there is plenty of time in between your flights and if possible travel without checked luggage. Perhaps even add an overnight stay at your intermediate point!
But be aware of the risks at all times – especially when your second flight might only be operated once or twice a week, in which case missing the flight means a big, big delay.
Ask yourself as well whether the risks are worth it just to save a small amount of money. It might be worth it when the savings are 150 euro on a solo trip for leisure. But what if you need to travel to an all-important business meeting or the wedding of your best mate? Is saving 20 quid worth the risk missing a flight?
It’s one thing for a solo traveller or two seasoned travellers to attempt this, but there are a lot more potential risks and downsides when doing it as a family with young children in tow.
Researching the airports involved is always a good idea if you do plan to use this trick. Some bigger airports (Brussels or Copenhagen for example) are extremely easy to connect as you are fed directly into the departure terminal upon disembarkation of your flight, while at most of the low-cost airports you have to go through arrivals first, exit the airport, enter again, go through security and only then you will find yourself back at the gate area.
That said, crowds are often much more bearable at such small airports making the process easier, while queues at passport control and security at airports like Rome Fiumicino in high season can be a nightmare.
There really is not a single answer here as sometimes it even might depend on which terminal a certain airline uses, whether they typically use a jetbridge or bus gate or whether you come from a destination which requires re-clearing security and passing through immigration.
As a side note, some online travel agencies might show low-cost flights in the search results making it look like they are connecting flights on one single ticket. Be very careful with this, especially when it involves less reputable booking websites as often you are not making a connection but are self-connecting and are on your own in case you miss the onward flight.
Even booking websites saying they “guarantee” such a connection (such as Kiwi) are often too good to be true. That “alternative flight” they promise you in case you might miss the connection could perhaps be only five days later and you will find yourself stranded at some intermediate point. It’s always best to book directly at the airline, especially when flying low-cost.
If you book your ticket with an online booking website you have never heard of before, make sure you read some review first and understand that in the situation when things go wrong, even a simple thing like contacting such a company, let alone finding an acceptable solution to your problem, can be hell on earth.
7. Don’t forget about trains or buses
Just like you should never discard the option of flying with full-service airlines, the same counts for other forms of transport such as trains, buses or ferries. On some routes, these might be a lot cheaper and convenient than you might think!
Let’s take the example of someone who wants to travel from Amsterdam to Berlin. Taking a flight could be a convenient option, with both easyJet and KLM offering direct flights between Amsterdam and Berlin.
It is however easy to find train tickets under 40 euro on this route – even if you book just a week or two in advance. That’s a highly competitive price which is often lower than the cheapest easyJet ticket on the same route, let alone the price of that KLM ticket!
At just over six hours in length, it’s also a time-convenient option as you travel from city centre to city centre and can show up just minutes before departure. There is no need to be at the airport two hours before your flight and there is no lengthy commute to get to and from the airport at each end of the journey. In the end the total travel time door-to-door might be the same as a flight!
It’s also certainly a more relaxed way to travel than a low-cost flight. There is no airline employee with a measuring tape or scale checking your luggage in the hope of finding a small infraction in which case you need to pay a hefty surcharge. You can in fact take as many bags as you can carry!
Watching the landscape go by from a train window also gives you a better sense and appreciation of the distance covered and the areas you cross. And why not bring a picnic on board or stretch your legs and walk to the restaurant car for a proper meal?
For trains, the German Railways has the best tool to check timetables no matter in which European country you want to travel in. It can however only book tickets for trains going to and from Germany, or trains which cross German territory (eg. Netherlands to Denmark).
Checking international train ticket prices – let alone booking them – is certainly much more of a challenge than booking a plane ticket, unfortunately. By far the best website to check for information is The Man in Seat 61, which not only has detailed train booking guides for about every European itinerary possible, but also great trip reports and pictures what you can expect on board each train.
For bus travel, Flixbus is by far the largest operator of buses in all of Europe and would be your first starting point. There are also numerous national bus companies operating in a single country or European region only, which shouldn’t be too hard to find using Google.
8. Don’t forget about travel agencies, charter airlines and tour operators
If you are the kind of person who usually seeks out unusual destinations off the beaten track, this tip might not be suitable for you. But if you are the person who loves to take a beach holiday in one of the more popular European resort destinations or likes city trips to the more popular capitals such as London, Paris, Barcelona or Budapest, it is definitely something you should not forget.
Although it is extremely popular and easy nowadays to puzzle together your own holiday and to book flights and accommodation separately online, it might not always be the best bet. There are plenty of cases in which even the cheap ticket booking aces will not manage to find a better deal than the prices quoted by a travel agency.
Sometimes, classical travel agencies (you know, the one in a high street office which you visit in person!) and their online equivalents have access to lower prices as they buy up plane seats and hotel rooms in bulk.
It means that they can resell these for the price they want, which can be cheaper than you buying the exact same flight and hotel directly from the airline company and accommodation website.
This is especially common for last-minute package deals, as the tour operator might still have seats available on a charter plane which they already “bought” from the company but not yet managed to sell.
Of course, they would rather sell these spare seats and hotel rooms (whether as stand-alone flight or as part of a package deal) for a fraction of the normal price instead of not selling them at all.
Even if the flight and hotel package deal is worth 500 euro, a travel agency is better off selling it last-minute for 250 euro (and taking a small loss) instead of keeping the price at 500 euro. In that case, they risk losing the entire amount if nobody ends up buying it!
Apart from checking the last-minute offers of national travel agencies and tour operators it is also worth to look at package deals on the websites of airlines themselves.
Some low-cost airlines, as well as full-service airline, sell combined flight and hotel package deals, which can at times work out cheaper than buying them separately.
9. Don’t book your tickets too early
Our last few tips for finding the cheapest flights have all to do with timing. An error which is often made by people is that they book their flights way too early.
It is common for people to book the flights for their next year’s holiday a long time in advance. Two periods stand out here. There is a group of people who will book for the next summer straight after finishing their current summer holiday, while another group usually books their summer holidays around January and February.
Although it is certainly possible to find some deals when booking in these months, you must also realise that airlines are well aware of the booking behaviour of their customers.
They know that a huge fraction of people will book their holiday at those times even if the price might be a bit too high for their liking. These are the travellers who want early certainty above all and who are not comfortable waiting around for a better deal.
Tickets of low-cost airlines for the summer months will therefore often be more expensive if you book them during these months. Simply put, they are relatively more expensive when booking too far out full stop.
Again, there will always be exceptions and we like to emphasise that there is no hard rule. That said, it is general knowledge within the frequent flyer community that low-cost flights are usually at their cheapest level when booked just 1 to 2 months in advance.
Low-cost airlines know that early bookers will book their flight regardless of price, which is why if you book many months out prices are often slightly above the average level. They know there is still plenty of time to fill up the plane and to lower prices if required, which often is the case.
You should see low-cost airline ticket prices as a curve, starting high when the booking window opens, then dropping down as the months go by, only to rise again as the flight date approaches. Of course, last-minute tickets will often be the most expensive ones!
That said, there are always exceptions. If a route is extremely popular, ticket prices might remain high at all times as the airline knows they will most likely sell all their tickets at that price.
If a major conference or sports event is suddenly announced in a city on a certain date, the airline will know this and will immediately reprice their flights accordingly.
Bookings are constantly monitored by the airline (both by software and humans) and they will take action if they see an instant uptick in bookings (which is often a sign for them to raise prices) or if bookings lag behind (which can be a reason to lower prices).
Although the above described curve is the way how low-cost ticket prices generally develop over the course of time, there are so many variables which come into play that there will always be exceptions depending on the exact route and airline’s yield management system.
By the way, there is no such a thing as “the best day of the week to book a flight”. This is the biggest urban myth making the rounds on the internet, it not being helped by respectable newspapers writing about it like it is a hard truth.
Yes, if you throw the data of millions of flights into a computer it will always find one day where on average flight prices are the lowest. But that doesn’t mean you should always book your ticket on a Monday or so. In reality the day of the week when you book does not influence the price you pay. A flight ticket will not be cheaper because it is a Tuesday or more expensive because it’s Saturday.
A flight ticket might be cheaper because an airline decides to release a few discounted booking classes or lower the fare because sales are lagging behind. Perhaps the fare automatically rises because the cheapest category of tickets have all been sold. But such developments are not dependent on whatever weekday it happens to be. In any case, buying the cheapest flight ticket means monitoring prices on a regular basis whatever day of the week it is!
10. Wait for sales
Another excellent way to find cheap flights is to simply wait for the right moment to book. This works especially well if you are not committed to a certain destination or travel period.
In that case, you can simply wait for an airline to throw a sale or other discount offer. Especially low-cost airlines are known to run great sales in which you can book a flight ticket for unbelievably low prices.
We’ve had our own share of great low-cost sales on flights within Europe. What about Bucharest to Hamburg on Wizz Air for 9.99 euro? Or Eindhoven to Dublin on Ryanair for 0.01 euro? All cheap tickets which we managed to book in a sale!
If you do not have firm holiday plans and have a flexible schedule, it is amazingly easy to book such deals. All you need to do is to keep a close, regular watch on your airlines of choice and book a flight to whatever cool destination they are discounting.
The best way to do this is to sign up for airline newsletters and to like their social media channels so you know instantly the moment there is a sale.
Of course, at Paliparan.com we also have our own flight deals section in which we regularly post great flight deals.
Book if the price is right for you!
To sum up this list of our top 10 tips how to find cheap flights, we like to give you one bonus point of advice which probably trumps all of the above.
If you see a flight and are happy with the price, just book it. Sure, you can wait in the hope that it will decrease further in price. If you are an experienced traveller you may well end up predicting it right.
But even the most seasoned frequent flyers might sometimes be wrong with their predictions. The lower ticket prices or sale they were hoping for might not come at all and two weeks later ticket prices have suddenly doubled. If only you had booked before!
The same can happen the other way around. You might think that the price cannot fall lower so you book, only to find the price of your flight discounted to just 10 euro only a few weeks before you are set to fly! If only you would have waited…
The bottom line is that you will win some, but also lose some. This principle is well understood by frequent flyers who are experienced enough not go crazy because of daily fluctuations in tickets prices and do not mind if they might miss out on the cheapest possible price.
They know that being able to score a few of the cheapest possible flight deals automatically means that some times you will just not be able to do so because of bad luck or simply not wanting to wait for too long buying that ticket. Again, you win some, you lose some!
Set yourself a price what you would prefer to pay for that flight or holiday that you are eyeing. If you find a ticket lower than that, it means you automatically have a good deal for you.
Sure, there might be another passenger on board who scored an even cheaper ticket by booking at a different moment. But remember that this is not a game or competition. It is all about you being able to have a great trip for a great price you are happy paying. Don’t ever lose sight of this!
What is your own top tip to find and book cheap flights? Feel free to share it in the comments below!
Never miss a deal
If you don’t want to miss another great article, travel deal or special flight sale in the future, make sure to regularly check the flight deals section of Paliparan.com.