Finding Cheap Flights on the Internet
There are 100s of routes from the UK into Europe, taking you to the familiar (Paris, Rome, Berlin), to places that have been turned from fantasy to feasible weekend destinations (Prague, Barcelona, Helsinki), and to places that you’ve never heard of (Pau, Pescara, Pristina).
Budget Airlines vs Traditional Carriers
The rise of the no-frills budget airline, fuelled by European Union deregulation and the Internet, is the biggest thing to happen to travel in this country over the last decade., And the knock-on effect means that there are bargains to be found with the traditional airlines as well.
Established carriers were first bemused then scared and finally forced into a reaction by the budget airlines. By shopping around and being prepared to be flexible, today’s traveller can find prices to match and even beat some of the ‘budget’ prices available elsewhere. British Airways slashed prices on many routes, in particular to short-haul European destinations that weekend tourists have targeted in the past decade.
The advantages of flying with the likes of British Airways rather than a budget airline aren’t limited to pre-booking your seat or free snacks. If your flight is cancelled or delayed, the established airlines will have plans and policies in place to see you switched to another flight, or placed in a hotel if necessary. They will get you home eventually. Not so with the ‘budgets.’. You’re on your own – and you’ll have to pay.
One huge advantage the traditional airlines have over the newer ‘budget’ carriers is the airports they fly to. Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen is 29 miles north of the city; Torp airport (served by the budget end of the market) is 76 miles of mostly single-lane road to the south. That can make a crucial difference in terms of cost and - if your visit is a short one - of time.
The internet has played its part as well. Booking online is cheaper for the airline. The pressure of the market means they pass those savings on to the consumer. It also allows us, the customer, to track down and to compare prices before making a purchase.
Finding the Cheap Tickets
Every flight operated by every airline will have passengers who have paid different prices for the same service, thanks to a combination of special offers, discounts and ways to pay.
Making last minute bookings can save you money, however, that won’t always produce the saving you are looking for, and other companies recommend booking well in advance to get the best price. The budget airlines tend to advertise (and sell) the cheapest seats first; latecomers are left to pay more. That is less of a concern with established airlines.
Flexibility is the key. Flights leaving or arriving at unsocial, off-peak hours will usually cost less. Some days of the week are more popular (and therefore expensive) than others. Most of these savings will be pointed out if you buy the tickets yourself using the internet.
Each airline has its own website and online booking. If you know who you want to travel with (perhaps they are the only airline flying to your destination) go ahead and make the booking direct with them.
On routes where there is a choice, someone else has done the hard work of gathering all the different prices and options for you. A number of websites allow you to select your points of departure and arrival on the dates you wish to travel and deliver the results for you, offering you a range of airlines to choose from.
Be prepared for lots of choice on the popular routes – and be ready as well to see a huge difference in prices!
Some of these sites will forward you to the website of your chosen airline. On others you will have to complete the booking process on their own website.
Our flight search is a good place to start looking for cheap flights. We also have a list of Cheap Flights sites (www.uknetguide.co.uk/Travel/Flights/) with links to all the leading online travel and flight sites in the UK.
How to Buy Online
As with any online purchase, take a moment to ensure your transaction is safe. Always make sure the site's server is secure: look for the locked padlock symbol on your browser, usually at the bottom of the page. This means that hackers shouldn’t be accessing your bank account as you sun yourself on the beach.
Membership of ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) and ATOL flight protection are further reassurances. If booking with foreign airlines, try to establish what protection they offer.
The process of buying tickets is exactly the same as if you were buying over the telephone. Select the exact flight you want, the number and type of tickets, confirm passenger and payment details… and you are done.
It is worth printing a copy of the confirmation page. Also, you should receive email confirmation of the purchase, including all details and notice of your ATOL protection. What you may not receive is a ticket.
Depending on your carrier, and how soon it is before you fly, you may receive a booking number or voucher rather than the promise of a traditional ticket. Your details will be held electronically by the airline and that booking number, together with the card you used to buy the flight and proof of identity (i.e. passport) will be sufficient.
If cost is a paramount concern, be ready to compare prices not just at your local airport but a little farther afield. However, the cost of travelling to and from a distant airport must be taken into account. This is true of your destination as well.
For the significant proportion of the UK who will fly to and from one of the airports ringing London, a useful facility when comparing flight prices online is the facility to search all London airports at the same time, rather than going through them one by one.
If you can spell your destination, the iInternet will help you reach it. Constructing multi-stop journeys becomes possible when you have mastered the many websites out there, and you can book hotels, meals and entertainment before you set out as well.
A welcome development has been the rise in low-cost flights within the UK as well. Newquay in Cornwall is a short, cheap hop from Stansted – or a long, frustrating drive by road. At weekends football fans are now flying to games that were once out of reach because they were at the other end of the country.