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Travel Q&A: How to find the cheapest flights

Conor Pope: The earliest bookers don’t always get the cheapest seats - but there is sweet spot of when to book to get the best value

Don’t search by destination. Obviously there will be times when the only thing that matters is the destination, but if you’re looking for a holiday or an adventure and are flexible about where you end up, focus on the date and departing airport on Google Explore or Skyscanner and see what destinations they offer. Do remember that sometimes travel search engines will send you round the world to get the cheapest flights, so don’t be fooled by the bottom line. A €10 flight to Málaga might look attractive, but less so if it involves a 14-hour stopover in Frankfurt.

Pay close attention to the days of the week you are travelling. Most leisure travel happens at weekends, while most business travellers go to and from their destinations at the start and end of the working week, so concentrate your searches for the cheap seats on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Generally, the cost of flights climb closer to the departure date as the supply of seats shrinks. The earliest bookers don’t always get the cheapest seats, though, and the sweet spot is six to eight weeks before you go. It is also worth doing a bit of research into the airlines you might fly with to see if the internet can throw up any theories as to when their automated systems make blocks of unsold seats available. One persistent idea suggests that Wednesdays between midnight and 1am in the time zone of their home city is when unsold seats are put online. It may or may not be true, but it could be worth checking out.

And speaking of online rumours, another persistent one suggests that if you visit an airline’s website and look up a particular fare and then come back and look a second or third time, cookies – the small pieces of computer code that track us as we surf the web – will register your interest and jack up the price accordingly. Airlines rubbish this, but many people insist they have seen prices climb on one computer and fall on another. If you want to be 100 per cent sure cookies are not being used against you, look for flights in incognito mode and clear your cache before going in search of flights.


November is the cheapest month to travel from Ireland, while July is by far the most expensive, for obvious reasons.

The days of getting cheaper flights when booking return are long gone, particularly if you are flying short haul – and it is quite possible that it will work out cheaper to fly out with Aer Lingus and home with Ryanair or vice versa.

When flying long haul, we tend to look at Irish and British airports but Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt often have much better deals, and can be cheap to get to. Helsinki and Finnair are also worth a look. And look at travel-specific search engines such as Skyscanner, Kayak and Momondo to see what deals they offer.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor