How to bag a cheap flight

Why pay over the odds?

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Airplane in flight near   Heathrow airport.

With the weather outside looking distinctly unsummery (at least in the South East), many people's thoughts are turning to sunnier climes. And with a wealth of online options, there's never been more choice when it comes to booking a flight.

But, precisely because of all this choice, it can often become a nightmare trying to find the best deal. We look at the best ways to bag a bargain.

Book in advance
According to Expedia and the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), the cheapest deals are to be had by booking early - really early. Prices tend to be lowest around 170 days, nearly six months, before departure. If you can't manage that, prices also tend to fall around two weeks before departure; some websites, such as Kayak, will send automatic alerts when a fare drops.

Clear cookies
Travel retailers use every trick at their disposal to get as much money as possible, and they know that if you've searched repeatedly for a flight then you're probably pretty set on going - and prepared to pay more.

Websites track your activity through the use of 'cookies' and display different prices accordingly, which is why the cost often seems to shoot up overnight. Clearing the cookies from your computer before every search means that your browsing history won't be visible to the website, meaning you'll get the original price every time.

Be flexible about time...
Flights leaving on a Friday or a Sunday tend to be most in demand - and therefore the most expensive - as do flights during the middle of the day. Flying out on a weekday can often be significantly cheaper - as can a late-night or early-morning flight.

...and route
It's worth checking out prices from as many airports as possible, as there can often be big differences in cost. It also helps if you can be flexible about your route, with indirect long-haul flights generally much cheaper than direct ones.

Shop around
If you do find a good deal on a flight website, check the price with the actual airline before you fly. It isn't always the case, but the airline may well be selling seats on the same flight itself for less than the price available elsewhere.

Check what's included
That budget flight may not be so budget after all, once you've added on the cost of a meal, extra luggage, priority boarding and all the rest. Don't assume that the lowest headline price is necessarily the lowest price overall - check out exactly what you'll pay.

Sign up for alerts
Many travel websites offer automatic alerts, letting you know when fares drop. It's also a good idea to get on their email list, or follow them on social media.

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