Charter flights are synonymous with summertime travel. Think of airplanes standing on hot tarmac at Gatwick, Luton or Manchester airports full of happy holiday makers on their way to destinations such as Alicante, Fuerteventura, Kefalonia, Lanzarote, Hurghada and Orlando. In recent years, more and more companies have added winter charter flights to popular ski-holiday and winter sun destinations.
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Travellers do not buy an airline ticket for a charter flight from the company operating the flight; they will purchase from a tour operator. In this way, charter flights differ from scheduled flights. Another difference is that charter flights generally operate only during the summer months (May to October) or November to April for ski flights whereas scheduled flights operate year round.
- To find the cheapest fare with a charter flight, think strategically. Delay buying a ticket until just before you want to travel. The price generally drops a day or two before the flight because charter airlines must sell seats or lose money on the flight.
- Do lots of research by telephone or online before you commit your cash.
- Know your airports. Manchester and London Gatwick and Luton airports are just three of the main bases. Thomson Airways, for example, flies charter from 18 UK airports including London Luton and London Stansted. Don’t expect to find many charter flights departing from London Heathrow. The airport is far too busy with scheduled flights.
- Know where you are flying into. Charter flights often land at small or out-of-the-way airports. Travellers on an all-inclusive holiday will usually have transport arranged as part of the package, but flight-only travellers may not. Check out local transport links or taxi companies to avoid being stranded.
- Make sure you know exactly what is included in your ticket. Will you get a complimentary meal? What is your baggage allowance? Can you pay extra for a seat with more legroom? Is there a fuel surcharge / credit or debit card charge / ticket on departure charge?
Scheduled airlines include the big names such as British Airways, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic and KLM and the low-costs such as easyJet and Ryanair. These airlines operate according to a strict schedule. To find a cheap flight with a scheduled airline keep an eye on the following:
- Shop around for the best deal. No company will always have the cheapest price. Be patient while you are searching. It will be worth it.
- Be flexible with your flight times. Try flying on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday rather than at weekends. Go for early morning or late-evening flights, but make sure you will be able to get to and from the airport cheaply and safely.
- Generally speaking you will get a cheaper fare by booking early. The closer to departure time, the more expensive the ticket.
- Remember that travel agents do not search all the low-fare airlines.
- Be flexible, if possible, with your airports. Flying to or from a nearby or secondary airport can save you money, but remember to add in the cost of transport to and from the airfield.
- Compare like with like. Watch out for taxes and surcharges. Some airlines are more comfortable than others and will allocate seats or provide food and drinks. Price is not always the only factor.
(Featured image: Simon Turkas)