10 Tips for Cheap Airfares from the U.S. to the U.K.

If you need to pop back to the U.K., here are some tips to finding cheap flights. (Rex Features via AP)

Airfares have shot up in recent years, largely because of increased taxes and fuel charges. We are all feeling the impact of the recession and want to save money. So the pressure is more intense than ever to find the cheapest flights between the U.K. and U.S.

A dozen scheduled airlines fly to the U.S. from the U.K. They are your targets and your benchmarks. But many variables affect airline ticket prices, from landing fees to booking flows, pension costs to lawsuits, so the fares change constantly (sometimes hourly). It’s a jigsaw puzzle tossed into the middle of a minefield, so here are 10 Ways to Beat the System:

1. Be flexible.
Fly when no one else wants to – or, at least, avoid peak times. Easter, Christmas and New Year are expensive on both sides of the Atlantic. Other major U.S. holidays increase the cost of tickets: Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Labor Day and the Fourth of July. Just as U.K. airports are packed on the last weekend in July, immediately after the school summer holidays begin, study U.S. school schedules too. Flight prices immediately before or after a big period may be cheaper. Some international carriers typically offer cheap transatlantic flights in the days after Christmas and after the New Year.

2. If you have frequently flying friends, ask if they will sell you some of their air miles.
You’ll have to do the sums, but you should be able to save money – and it will mean cash in hand for your friend.

3. Avoid high street or telephone travel agents.
Nowadays, thanks to the internet, they probably won’t know much more than you and they may try to guide you to the deal that pays them more rather than costs you less. But it costs nothing to ask for a quote, so you could use them to give you an introduction – then tell them you’ll think about it. Best online agents are Trailfinders, Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, and Netflights. STA Travel can be helpful for students, teachers and adults under 26. Check the Charter Flight Centre. It has only a limited range of destinations, but you might strike lucky.

4. Try to buy either 22 weeks before your planned departure date, or three weeks before.

The early date should give you most choice, but the later one is the period of maximum uncertainty for the airlines, when they are trying to guess whether they need to cut fares to fill the plane. The strategy can work against you if it is a really popular flight – but see tip number one above.

5. Mid-week flights are often cheaper than weekend flights.
Note that airlines are increasingly tough about their definition of mid-week: Wednesday certainly, Tuesday and Thursday maybe. Monday or Friday — forget it. Night flights can save you money and maybe a night at a hotel, but study the timings so you don’t have to fork out for a hotel room near the airport.

6. As a rule, use large airports.
However, some secondary airports – like Newark (NJ) instead of LaGuardia or JFK (NYC) – can be cheaper because they want the business. If you are flying to London, check the “London, All Airports” button in case of special deals at Stansted or Gatwick. Glasgow and Edinburgh often compete, too.

7. Try to fly out of a U.S. airline’s hub airports.
These are where they have the biggest overheads, so they want the traffic. For example, American Airlines has hubs at Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW), St. Louis (STL), Miami (MIA) and Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), Delta at Atlanta (ATL), Cincinnati (CVG), New York (JFK) and Salt Lake City (SLC).

8. Look at other routes with one or two stops.
Going through a hub can mean changing planes, but the airlines will often reward you for that inconvenience as it makes more seats available on the prized non-stop flights.

9. Check add-on fees for bags, meals, pillows, blankets.
Nothing is for nothing now, and the airlines are constantly testing what passengers will tolerate. Online bookers use tell-tale small print like “baggage fee information.”

10. Once you have bought your tickets, don’t change them.
Airlines see this as a major opportunity to rake in profits, because passengers who want to switch usually have no choice and therefore no bargaining power.

Tell us about your cheapest flight to the U.K.!


William Kay

Bill Kay was a London business journalist until he emigrated to Pasadena, ten miles north of Los Angeles, from where he writes a financial advice column for the London Sunday Times. He was City Editor of The Times and the Mail on Sunday and has written a dozen books, including a Pasadena murder-mystery novel, as well as dipping into screenwriting and stand-up comedy. He attended Westminster City School and The Queen's College, Oxford, and still manages to follow Chelsea Football Club. He has two adult sons, Andrew and Ben - and two grandchildren, Jackson and Indiana - all in London.
View all posts by William Kay.
  • Grace

    Delta does not hub at CVG or JFK anymore. The switched to two Midwest hubs after acquiring Northwest. They now hub out of Detroitt (DTW) and Minneapolis (MSP).

    • HM

      Delta still has a hub at JFK, yhey also have hubs in Detroit and Minneapolis as well

    • Val

      I was just at CVG with Delta, as it’s one of my favorite small stop overs. Maybe someone forgot to let Delta know? 😉

  • gn

    If you’re on the West Coast, then investigate flying Air Canada via Vancouver (YVR).

    Not only is Vancouver one of the nicest airports I’ve ever experienced (it’s by far the nicest in North America), but it’s almost bang on a great circle between the West Coast and London, so you will lose very little time compared to a nonstop flight.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_R6ODYVHCB23JAQC33NPS5RLUN4 Kifre

      Air Canada via Toronto is pretty good for East Coasters in terms of price and airport quality (Toronto is gorgeous). However, I’ve never flown Air Canada without having a delay or weird layover.

  • http://profiles.google.com/brainlock72 Brain Lock

    School year: you need to know what it is where you are headed.
    I have friends living in different areas here in St Louis and they all have different schedules. One has her children on a 5-6 week rotation schedule, another saw hers off this week. My one niece said on FB she doesn’t start for a few weeks yet, while another niece in a neighboring district I believe starts next week.

    For the end of school year, it can be anywhere from May to mid-June, usually depending on how many days were lost to snow. Mine used to have a two week “spring break” until a heavy winter 30 years ago had us going Saturdays just to catch up, now it’s still Good Friday and the following Monday.

    As for the rest, I will keep that in mind when I get the chance to go visit the family hof, and run up to the UK, like I am planning with my friends. My sister made plans to visit last year and was gone in two weeks, only telling a few people she was leaving. I only found out because she replied to an email with “when I get back” and I assumed she had driven out of town until I asked my aunt! LOL

  • Val

    The family I have live all over England. A good number live in the The Lakes area. So, I have flown into Glasgow as it was cheaper and closer than London. Personally, I prefer any airport other than Heathrow. With England being such a small country, one can rent a car and just drive to other areas. Or my preference, public transportation! Love that about all of Europe. Ok, will end here as I am going off topic.