How to get the best price when dates of travel are unimportant?
December 1, 2010 8:07 AM   Subscribe

I want the cheapest possible flight to London from California.

San Francisco or LA are equally viable points of departure. I have absolutely no prefference for time of departure, length of trip (beyond a few days), length of advance notice, or dates of departure. How can I make it happen for a ridiculously low price?
posted by jsturgill to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Kayak Explore is your friend. Pick your starting airport, max budget on the slider and a broad time period (you can do it by quarter and by month) and it'll show you cheap flights on a map. Or just go to the main Kayak site and use the 'Upcoming weekends' option to search for cheap flights across the next few months.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:25 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, Kayak Fare Buzz allows you to see when the cheaper periods to fly are across the year.

Here's the cheapest I could find - going next March/April with Icelandair for $607 from Seattle.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:29 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Matrix by ITA Software is probably the most powerful fare search engine out there. You can search multiple departure/arrival airports for varying length trips as well as more specific carrier and code restrictions. That said, the cheapest I could get was $707 for SFO-LHR for 6 days in January 2011. Going within 250 miles of either airport didn't lower the price, nor did changing the length within 4-11 days.
posted by ChrisHartley at 10:28 AM on December 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think you need travel dates to get the most use out of Kayak Explore. You can search by vague terms like "spring 2011", but since prices start high and drop as you approach the date (rising again once you get closer than a month or so), it's hard to see upcoming deals. Though the "upcoming weekends" thing might help with this.

If London is one of the cities that Bing does its "price predictor" feature on, that might help.
posted by Sara C. at 11:52 AM on December 1, 2010


Enter your departure point, London (select London "Any" from the list of choices to get flights to all five airports), and then click "show all year".
posted by mdonley at 12:12 PM on December 1, 2010

I've tried to figure this out and came to the conclusion that there is no easy way to figure it out! So I narrowed it down to times of the year that seemed to have the best weather to low price ratio (which turned out to be around April and October) and then just searched Kayak and the ITA Matrix basically every week for a while. I did end up flying to Berlin from SFO for only $550 that way, but it was annoying.

If you really don't care what time of year or need much advance notice, then you might be best served by getting on the mailing lists for several airlines that fly SFO/LAX to London and hop on their deals.
posted by grapesaresour at 12:48 PM on December 1, 2010

every now and then I forget how much ask.metafilter rules... once again I am reminded.
posted by specialk420 at 1:17 PM on December 6, 2010

This really depends on how you value your time. How much is a direct flight LAX-LHR worth to you? Are you willing to spend many hours finding a great combination? If so, welcome to my world :).

Two of the tools you need have already been mentioned, Skyscanner and ITA Matrix. Use the interface in this link, not ChrisHartley's as it's more powerful. The third is Airfare Watchdog.

Stage 1: Find out where you can get to in the US cheaply
You may be able to get cheaper flights from other US cities, particularly if you get a cheap flight to the east coast. Go to AirfareWatchdog and put in your primary departure airport. You'll see a list of places in the US that you can fly cheaply. Identify the hubs, particularly those out east. So New York, Boston, Houston, Atlanta, DC and even Chicago are good choices. Make a note of those airports and get the airport codes. Separate them with the pipe symbol (|), so you should now have a list that looks like this: NYC|BOS|IAH|ATL|IAD|ORD

Stage 2: Find out where you can get from Europe to London cheaply
Similar to the previous step, there are loads of cheap airlines serving London from all over Europe. You need to be very careful with the airports as often you'll be connecting from one that's far away from the center which will take time and add up to $30 to travel costs. There's even an airport that's in a different country to the city it serves (Ryanair's "Bratislava - Vienna"). For this, Skyscanner is your friend. As mdonley says, you choose your departure airport and select All Year. You will need to manually go through the airports. Some good options are: Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, Geneva, Zurich, Frankfurt (long bus ride), Munich, Barcelona (possibly long bus ride), Madrid, Vienna/Bratislava, Rome, Stockholm, Oslo, Dublin
You can also get from these places easily/cheaply by train: Glasgow, Manchester, Paris, Brussels so don't worry if the flights are too much, add them anyway

Create a similar list to the last one, so maybe it'll look like: AMS|BRU|PAR|GVA|ZUR|FRA|MUC|BCN|MAD (codes from memory so some may be wrong)

Stage 3: Connect the dots
Go to ITA Matrix, but make sure that it's Choose the Month-long search option. In the From field, put the list from Stage 1. In the To field, put the list from Stage 2. Choose your date as January 1 and click Go.
You're now searching for the cheapest published fare between any of the airports you've listed. Increment the month, go through the year and find the cheapest.
One thing you should also do is change the duration as it can affect the price. You'll need to do another full 12 searches with it changed.

Stage 4: Profit!
How powerful is this? I'm taking a trip next year at peak time and paying 1/2 the price to fly on the same plane for the long-haul segment, just for visiting a different European city on the way.
posted by quiet at 6:46 PM on December 12, 2010 [11 favorites]

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