Ask LH: How Can I Book A Cheap London Flight?

I will be travelling to London in either the September school holidays or over the Christmas holiday break — the time of the year when flying costs change dramatically. British Airways cost around $2600, whilst Virgin Atlantic cost $1799 for dates in September/October. Which airlines have you used to London Heathrow? Should I travel on Virgin or another carrier? Can travel agents actually get airfares cheaper than the internet? Any other suggestions? Thanks, Overwhelmed

Photo: Ewan Munro

Dear OW,

Finding cheap flights requires persistence and luck. I've personally only flown Qantas and BA into London from Australia, but that's because I'm a frequent flyer points hoarder. I have flown many other airlines into London from Europe and the US, and you have a lot of choices: there are more than 90 airlines which service Heathrow. For your particular situation, I'd offer these observations:

  • Both those periods are (relatively) expensive. As a general rule, Christmas-period flights are pricier, so if you have a choice, the September school holidays will be a good option.
  • There are many more airlines to choose from when flying to London, so don't restrict yourself to just BA and Virgin. The cheapest options often involve using an Asian carrier and changing in their hub city. Check stopover times in that case — it's not uncommon for the wait to be eight hours with some carriers, although in a few cases, you'll be offered a hotel room if that happens.
  • Use a flight comparison site such as Zuji or Expedia to identify possibilities. My cheapskate advice is to use these to find flights, then check with the relevant airline sites — you'll often find a cheaper option that way. Rome2Rio is also useful (it covers services other than flights as well but is still excellent for identifying options in the air.)
  • Remember that Heathrow isn't London's only airport. Some carriers also fly into Gatwick, which can potentially be more useful if your final destination is in the south of the city.
  • It's rare these days for travel agents to find cheaper flights than what's available online, but it's not impossible. If you're not having any luck, it doesn't hurt to ask — but make sure you do online research first so you know if a genuine bargain is on offer. Double-check for any service charges, and resist any attempts to upsell you insurance, hotels or other services.

Good luck with the search! For more tips, check out our 10 best tactics for finding cheap domestic flights — most of those tactics are also applicable to international services.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    How about an intercontinental flight to Frankfort, then take a local flight to England. I've been told there's a big saving by doing this.

    I flew JAL when I went (although they went bankrupt between booking and flying, which was a bit scary!), and they flew Sydney to Tokyo Narita, then on to London the next day. We got a free overnight stay in Tokyo, and a free night's accommodation on arrival in London, too.

    As it was my first long-haul flight, I have to say, I really appreciated the break in the middle. After a day's flying, it's great to be able to get off the plane, walk around a bit, get some dinner, have a sleep and a shower, and then start again in the morning. It makes the overall travel time longer, but the rest was worth it. We even went into Narita proper for the evening, and had a look around.

    It's no good for people in a hurry, but if you're not used to long-haul flying, it's a good way to go.

    (PS: if you want more baggage, go via the US. Flights in and out of America have a higher luggage allowance, and while you do need to make some more arrangements to deal with US customs - which you'll have to go through, as they don't allow you to transit without passing through - it could end up being cheaper than paying excess baggage on a more direct flight.)

    I'd be inclined to fly Sydney > Singapore with Scoot ($200) then Singapore > London on whatever is cheapest from there. Check Orbitz.com then go to the carriers individual websites to check, or to Expedia for their price match.

    The other option would be to go with Air Asia which would mean you'd be stopping over in KL. Air Asia stops at the LCCT which is pretty bare boned - but if your stop over is more than a couple of hours, head out and explore the city!

    Adioso.com is excellent for finding flights. You can do a natural language query, eg "Sydney to London in September returning 15 days later" and it will return a list of cheapest flights and dates, and a chart showing prices on other dates.

    The above search found flights with China Southern air for $1514.30.

    Just double-check the prices when you click through to the link as the prices have sometimes changed a bit since Adioso last queried them.

    Buy a China Southern return flight to Paris via Shenzhen, China for under $1500. Then Eurostar it over to London. Cheap as chips. Or fly into Amsterdam and do the same thing. Flying into London incurs a mass of taxes and levies.

    If you are flexible on the days, I'm a fan of www.skyscanner.com. It provides you with an overview of all days in the month you are looking for and indicates which days yield higher and lower prices - and on which day it's cheapest to fly back.
    (Note: You need to select 'Whole Month' in the dates section to get to the overview)

    Another vote for adioso.com Its been my goto search engine for flights for the past few years, and has been great. set a auto alert for the flights you want, for under the price you want and sit back. odds are something will come up soon enough.

    I know that saving $100-$200 sounds like a good idea.....But it is a bloody long way and the seats are cramped and uncomfortable. My tip is to NOT purchase the cheapest on-sale flights as there are never any spare seats. The other tip is to move your seat to the very back of the plane and deliberately pick one of the last rows as there is a much greater chance of getting a spare seat next to you.

    Try and stop over for a few days somewhere - the better deal is to get free night or 2 stop over rather than get the cheapest flight.

    The other tip is to book from the UK if you can - you need a UK credit card and address though :-)

    The stop over in mainland Europe is a good idea - but again, only if you stay for a day or 2. Doing a 4 leg flight straight through turns a 26-28 hour trip into a 32-36 hour trip and if you are anything approaching average height then this is nightmare trip. You might have save $100, but your first couple of days of your holiday will be a write-off.

    Definitely use sites like Expedia and Zuji to do research but think twice about booking through them.

    While you may find they are a bit (or sometimes a lot) cheaper even with booking fees, they may institute extremely hefty change or cancellation fees on top of what the airline may impose.

    I got burnt once by travel.com.au and my rule now is to always book directly with the airline.

    I am used http://www.cheapflightstrip.blogspot.in/ for the travel information (flights, hotels and holidays).

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