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Is finding the cheapest flight a false economy?

Vapour trails left by a planeTravellers should be wary of using different domestic and even European airports in search of cheaper fares, as often the savings made are nominal or non-existent.

Research by Sainsbury’s Finance found that 46 per cent of British travellers would take Air Passenger Duty (APD) avoidance measures such taking long-haul flights from other European countries, to avoid the tax.

Frugal flying

The survey showed that long-haul passengers to Cape Town would typically pay £460 in taxes and fees from London, but just £318 from Paris – a difference of £142.

However, this would only be beneficial if the cost of travelling to Paris from the UK was less than the saving made on the flight. It could also be a viable option if you decide to incorporate a stay in Paris or France into your original holiday plan and budget.

Even within the UK, it’s not uncommon to hear of travellers seeking out the cheapest possible flight but neglecting to consider costs like travelling to the airport, parking, or even having to stay in a hotel the night before.

You also have to think about whether the time of the flight is convenient for you. Would you consider paying a little more for a better departure time?

That’s not to say you won’t find a good deal elsewhere, but it pays to explore all the costs involved rather than just buying the cheapest flight you find.

Andrew Wong, director of flights at Tripadvisor, said: “The cheapest advertised price is not always the least expensive when you factor in things like baggage and food.

“You should also watch out for the airport you’re flying into. For example, Girona airport is often advertised as Barcelona, but it’s about 100km away from the city itself.”

Comparing Barcelona

As a Cardiff resident, I decided to look at for flights to Barcelona, and compared the difference between the cheapest advertised UK price – £38 with Ryanair from Liverpool – and the price from Cardiff, which was £67 with Vueling.

I used exactly the same information for each inquiry and included one checked-in bag, which always adds an extra cost. The final price for Ryanair from Liverpool came to just under £82, and with Vueling from Cardiff the price was £105.98.

But when I factored in the cost of a train to Liverpool, which was £30, compared to the train to Cardiff airport, which was just £8, the difference between the two was only £4 in Ryanair’s favour.

The flight times on Vueling were also shorter, but the airline’s return flight did depart at an unfriendly 9am, whereas Ryanair’s took off at 3.45pm.

In addition, Vueling’s website was a lot easier to navigate than Ryanair’s, and they were more up-front about trying to sell you extra things like travel insurance. With Ryanair, you have to opt out of adding it to your bill.

You can usually always find a better level of cover and a cheaper price on travel insurance by shopping around.

Assess your options

It’s personal preference whether you would opt for the convenience and short travelling distances of the local flight or the £4 saving and better return flight time of the Liverpool option.

But it goes to show that it pays to spend some time considering all the costs and options available to you before you jump to buy what appears to be a bargain flight, but actually ends up costing you more time and money.

Wong gives these top tips: “Use a flight comparison site and always consider extra fees. Flights booked through travel agencies will sometimes use different airlines on the outbound and return flights, which can save you money.

“Check prices often as they do fluctuate, except for peak times like Christmas. Always make sure you book early for the best prices – the cheap ‘last minute’ flight is a myth and is risky if you can’t find an appropriate flight.”

Have you found that cheap flights end up costing you more? Do you have any tips for bagging the best airline deals? Let us know in the comments section below.

*All prices correct as at 7 June 2012

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Paul Drury

Paul Drury

Paul was a contributor and techy person at between 2011 and 2013.

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