How to Find Cheap Flights and Travel Like a Boss

I grew up in the era of using travel agents and package holidays to take ridiculously restrictive and exorbitantly expensive holidays. Thankfully, (though to the ongoing surprise of my grandma), those days are long gone.

With the rise of low-cost airlines, anyone living within an hour or so of a local airport can enjoy weekend trips and mini-breaks to amazing cities, without having to sacrifice much-needed annual leave.

However, low-cost airlines don’t always offer you the best experience. Whilst there’s an element of ‘you get what you pay for’, you need to plan, pack and travel smart to make your experience as enjoyable as possible.

I love taking advantage of cheap flights to take mini-breaks to explore fantastic European cities. So far, some of the highlights have been visiting Oslo for £13, Milan for £16 and Copenhagen for £40! It’s not fair I keep them to myself, so here are my tips and tricks on how to find cheap flights.

🗞 Sign up to newsletters to stay up-to-date on flight sales

Like DFS, low-cost airlines are always bragging about their sales. If you miss one, there’ll probably be another one coming along very soon.

However, not all sales are equal! I’ve seen some sales with incredibly cheap return flights starting from £6, and others where the ‘sale’ price is the same as what I would normally expect to pay. That may mean you browse many a flight sale without booking a flight, but the treasure hunt is all part of the fun.

To stay alert as soon as sales are announced, sign up to their email newsletters for your favourite low-cost airlines – bonus points if they fly out of airports that are close to you. My personal favourites are Ryanair, Wizz Air and EasyJet, though I know there are many more that you can fly with.

It can also be worth following them on social media (Instagram being my choice) to increase your chances of finding sales as soon as they go live. Naturally, the quicker you can book, the higher the likelihood of getting the cheapest flights at the best times.

This is how I’ve managed to snag £16 return flights from London to Milan during school half-term.

Top tip: sign up to a newsletter like Jack’s Flight Club to find out when there are amazing flight sales to long or short-haul destinations!

🏷 Consider the total cost before you book

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a £5 flight but, before you book, make sure you run your maths. What are the testing requirements to fly into that country? Which airport are you flying from. How much will it cost you to travel or park there? Are the flight times realistic?

There’s no point snagging a deal for £13 return flights if you then need to spend £100 on a return taxi because it leaves from an airport 3 hours away at 4am in the morning.

🗺 Check where you’re flying into

Budget airlines, in particular, are notorious for flying into the budget airports – the ones that are in the middle of nowhere, and not at all close to the destination they advertised. EasyJet and Ryanair are the ones I’m eyeing as the main culprits of this!

For instance, flying into Barcelona Reus is not the same as flying into Barcelona’s main airport, so don’t be fooled. Their main airport has an easy and convenient train that takes you directly into the city centre, whereas Reus is a 1.5 hour car journey away.

If you’re time rich and money poor, this isn’t a bad option. However, for the vast majority, this just means you’ve lost a good few hours of valuable holiday time in your already limited weekend trip, and also added additional costs which could swamp your cheap flight.

In these situations, it may work out cheaper overall to fly into a more central airport with a different airline.

A scenic skyline view of the Empire State Building in NYC. Discover how to find cheap flights to explore beautiful destinations like this. Save money on your travels and make the most out of your next adventure

🧳 Beware of baggage fees

In the early days of low-cost airlines, you used to be able to bring a small cabin suitcase onboard for free. That was already a significant downgrade from the 23kg hold baggage that we’d become accustomed to, but they’ve since gone a step further.

Now, on Ryanair, EasyJet and WizzAir (which I would deem the three main low-cost airlines), you can only bring a personal item on board for free. This doesn’t include a suitcase that would go in the overhead lockers, but just a bag or backpack that will fit comfortably under the seat in front of you.

Given low-cost airlines make their money by added fees and fines, it’s worth checking their websites for specific measurements of the bags they allow in for free.

If you really need the additional space, you can usually bring a 10kg cabin suitcase on board for around £20 return, and hold luggage can range anywhere from £16-£40 return, depending on the airline.

If you’re travelling in a couple, family, or group, and are on a budget, it’s worth considering whether you can share suitcases and split the cost between you. Otherwise, it may work out cheapest to fly with a different airline that offers a more generous luggage allowance.

If you can get away with just a personal item, my favoured bag is the Away Everywhere weekender. Firstly, it’s incredibly chic and makes me feel I’m living my Pinterest-worthy airport dreams. And secondly, it’s almost exactly the maximum size you can take on Ryanair for free, yet easily fits under the seat in front of me without making me feel squashed in.

It can carry a surprising amount of stuff (enough for a 4 day trip to Warsaw, in winter) and all of the internal pockets let me organise my laptop, phone, passport, kindle, and toiletries really easily. No more rummaging around looking for my vaseline!

🤔 Book two singles instead of one return

In some instances, it can work out more expensive to book a return flight with a single airline. I’ve nearly fallen for this a few times, where Ryanair will have a cheap outgoing flight but all the return ones are around 4-5x the price. 

I like to use Kayak or Booking.com to browse the best flight options – they show you the cheapest combination of outgoing and return flights, even if they’re with different airlines or flying into different airports!

If you do select flights leaving from and returning to different airports, please consider how that impacts your journey home. It’s probably not a big deal if you’re planning to take public transport, but would be a real pain if you were parking at the airport.

🪑 Don’t bother pre-booking your seat

This is one of the main ways that airlines make their money, so they tend to play a little sneaky here. I’ve never paid separately to pre-book a seat on an airline, but then I’ve also never managed to get seated with my travel buddy – so pros and cons!

When booking your flight or checking in (or possibly at both times, if they’re extra cheeky), you’ll be taken through the page to reserve a seat. On Ryanair, for instance, it displays a page of all the seats on the plane, colour-coded depending on the price. Seats with extra leg room or at the very front or back of the plane get given the highest prices.

It looks as though booking your seat is the only option, but this isn’t true. Find the ‘skip’ button, which is usually at the bottom of the page, and it’ll automatically assign  you seating instead.

If you depend on their sneaky, money-making AIs to assign your seats, you can’t guarantee you’ll be seated anywhere near your friends, family, or travel buddy. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t beg a kind-hearted soul to swap seats with you so you can sit together, but this also doesn’t mean they’ll say yes.

If you’re travelling with a large group or with young children, it may be worth paying extra in order to be seated together. However, for the vast majority of travellers, it really isn’t worth the extra price. Save that money and put it towards your next bargain flight instead!

👀 Keep your eyes peeled for pre-checked boxes

I’ll repeat it once again: these airlines make their living off of added extras, and they’re experts at it! One of their favourite tricks is leading you through (what feels like) tens of millions of unnecessary pages, trying to get you to pay for extras that you probably don’t need – anything from meals to car rental and insurance.

Missing this step nearly emptied our measly budget whilst travelling through Malaysia. I felt like a Queen when we received a hot onboard meal on our short-distance flight, until I realised we’d accidentally paid an extra £15 each for the privilege. Although they were admittedly delicious, I think I could’ve made it through the laborious 45-minute flight  without! 

I implore you to learn from my mistakes! Whilst booking and at check in, make sure you take your time to read through what you’re clicking. Do a quick assessment before you take your card out to make sure you haven’t fallen for a pre-checked box.

📱 Check in online (or via their app)

Although this doesn’t apply to all low-cost airlines, Ryanair in particular charge a £45 fee if you check in at the airport vs online. They usually email you around 24 hours in advance as a reminder, so make sure you keep your organisational cap on and check your emails! For a £16 return flight, that’s not a mistake that’s financially prudent to make.

I generally prefer to use the app – in Ryanair’s case, theirs is surprisingly user-friendly. I have created an account which means all my necessary check in information (name, date of birth, ID details, passport number, vaccination pass etc) has all been stored.

This means I can check into my flight on the go, with just a few extra taps. I can then add my boarding pass to my Apple Wallet, and I’m pretty much good to go!

📦 Don’t overpack

Double, triple, and quadruple check the weight limits for your hand, cabin or hold luggage – before you get to the airport. I’ve definitely gotten away with overweight luggage a few times in my life, but it’s not something my risk-averse self likes to do often. 

If you’re slightly over (e.g. 10.5kg with a 10kg limit), you’ll probably be fine. But, given the fines they are swift to offer to maximise their bottom line, it’s just not worth the risk of getting an over-zealous attendant. I’m not opposed to putting on a few extra layers (who doesn’t like to wear multiple jumpers on cold flights, anyway?!) to get my bag under the required weight.

READ MORE | Wondering how much money I spent on a five day skiing and sightseeing trip to Oslo? Check out my Oslo travel money diaries post!

Snow-covered railway tracks winding through trees in Oslo, Norway. Discover how to find cheap flights to explore beautiful destinations like this. Save money on your travels and make the most out of your next adventure

🧼 Plan your toiletries

If you’re willing to fly on the cheapest flight you can find, chances are you’re travelling hand luggage only. This means you have to abide by the well-known, but nonetheless annoying, 100ml rule – all liquids need to be less than 100ml, and need to fit into the plastic bag provided.

Liquids are my kryptonite, and I often struggle to fit everything I need into a single bag. I’ve found the travel toiletry sizes you can get at Boots or Superdrug are often larger than I need for a single 2-5 day trip.

I’ve therefore invested in some decanting bottles and tubs from Muji, which carry my most-used skincare and haircare items. I then use travel or sample-sized makeup products to maximise the number of products I can carry away with me. The bonus of this method is that my travel toiletries kit also doubles as a gym bag!

The alternative is to purchase full-sized items once you reach your destination. Whilst I don’t mind doing this for slightly longer trips, or where I am sharing with multiple people (e.g. group trips where we may purchase body wash after we land), I generally prefer not to.

You can’t always guarantee you’ll find your preferred brand abroad, it can be more expensive than bringing it from home, and you often end up wasting product because you can’t finish it before you leave and don’t have the liquids space to take it home with you!

Top tip: if you need full-size toiletries but you’re only flying with hand luggage, buy everything you need online and have it delivered at the airport after security!

🍽 Buy food at the airport, before your flight

In the world of low-cost airlines, free onboard meals and drinks are a forgotten luxury. And I’m not just referring to the short-haul flights either – even on a 13 hour Norwegian Airlines flight to Singapore, you need to pay an additional fee for a meal. Given we all know that airline food is some of the worst out there, don’t bother spending your hard-earned money on it. 

Instead, buy something at the airport (after security!) before you board. Our holiday tradition is a Boots meal deal and a Pret coffee – so much better tasting and far cheaper. If you just want to stay hydrated, you can bring an empty water bottle through security and refill it at the nearest water fountain (or ask a friendly café to refill it for you).

📝 Planning Your Next Low-Cost Holiday

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Amazon: Sandisk Extreme Pro 128GB Micro-SD Card
Amazon: Hoya Polarising Filter
Amazon: Joby GorillaPod SLR-Zoom Tripod
Amazon: GoPro Hero 9
Amazon: Sandisk Extreme Pro 128GB SD Card
Amazon: Mavic Air 2 Fly More Combo
Amazon: Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm 1:1.8 lens
Amazon: Olympus OM-D E-M10 iii

And there it is! My guide to how to find cheap flights possible, whilst minimising all the stresses that can often come with these. Do you have any more tips to surviving low-cost airlines? Let me know in the comments below!

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