The best airport hacks: how to get cheap flights, save on airport parking and get a free upgrade with tips from experts
Find airports stressful, hate spending too much on airport parking and always wondered how to get a free upgrade? We’ve spoken to the experts to give you some of the best travel tips and airport hacks.
It might seem obvious, but the majority of travel problems centre around one place: the airport. Here we are tested both physically, mentally, and financially. Around every corner, there seems to be an added charge waiting to attack your pocket.
There’s also the distress caused by delays and queues, which are now synonymous with UK airports. But, what if we told you that travelling doesn’t have to be like this and it could be more relaxing? Ever wondered why good things always seem to happen to seasoned travellers?
The answer to saving money could lie in airport hacks. These tips and tricks can make your airport experience more convenient, efficient, and enjoyable. That’s why we’ve compiled this guide to airport hacks and have got the help of several experts to share their travelling knowledge.
How to find cheap flights: four tips on saving money on plane tickets
Before you’re even on the way to the airport, maybe even months before, the preparation can begin. This doesn’t take place inside the airport, we hope, but you won't be going to the airport if you don’t have a flight, so how can we find a cheap one?
To help answer this question, we’ve got the expertise of Cat Jordan, communications director of Travelzoo. Here she helps the comparison site provide travel deals to holidaymakers across the world, and they have helped millions save money. Here are her best tips:
1. Book early
Cat explained that “the benefits of booking in advance are that you can benefit from early booking discounts and free child places that are on offer. As well as having more holiday options available from duration, airport and hotels – booking early also helps you budget as you’ll know how much it will cost and can stagger payments.”
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2. Be flexible
Cat also advised travellers to be open about the dates they want to go away. “Be flexible – if you can be flexible on the dates, location, and airport, it makes it easier to find the best deals. You can then often compare dates and see which ones match your budget.”
A great way to save money on flights is by preparation. As Cat explained, “you should make sure you do as much research as possible on your holiday before booking. This means you won’t be hit by any extra costs. Also, read the small print to ensure there are no hidden costs to be found here on things like baggage, weights, etc.”
4. Avoid peak times
Cat’s last tip was to stay away from the crowds, advising to “avoid peak times if you can – for families, teachers and anyone else tied to school holidays, this won’t be possible. But, if you can travel outside of the peak periods, then you will be able to save money on your holiday. Airlines bump up their prices during peak times because they know more people want to travel at this time- so try and avoid them.”
How to save money on airport parking
Now you’ve booked your flight and hopefully followed Cat’s advice to find the cheapest option, it’s on to another cost which can sometimes be unexpected: airport parking. It can come as a surprise to most people how much parking can set you back, and it can turn a budget holiday into a much more expensive getaway.
For example, Heathrow Airport charges £30-40 a day for parking, so could cost up to £280 for a single week! To avoid these charges, we’ve got some tips on how to save money and reduce the cost of your trip away.
Use comparison websites
There are many websites that allow you to compare parking options and prices at different airports. Here you can choose the airport and find the cheapest deals in the area. Good websites to use for UK airports include TravelSupermarket, MoneySavingExpert and SkyParkSecure.
Consider off-site parking
Many private parking lots and garages are located near airports and offer cheaper rates than airport parking. These off-site parking options often provide shuttle services to and from the airport. They are typically cheaper, but it’s important to check reviews and Trustpilot scores to make sure your car will be safe when you go away.
Book in advance
As Cat has told us previously, booking in advance can help you save money, and this is the case for parking as well as flights. Many parking providers offer discounts for early bookings, so it's worth checking out their websites or calling them directly to inquire about any available deals. Also, as it gets closer to the time, the car parks will fill up, and prices become more competitive as there is limited space.
How to prepare for airport security
Once you’re inside the airport, the preparation doesn’t stop. There are often queues and delays throughout the different boarding stages, so taking time to ensure you’re ready for each one is key. The first step is checking in and baggage. If you need help with cabin bag sizing and how to avoid extra charges with these, we have a whole guide on how to pack your cabin bag here.
Once this is sorted, it’s on to the next hurdle: security. Security experts at SkyParkSecure, an airport parking comparison brand, have explained to us how to make it through security with ease. They have decades of experience in travel and gave us some tips and tricks to make this process easier.
They explained that one of the main causes of airport security delays is when liquids remain in the cabin bag at security, but the rules on this are soon to change, saying that “by June 2024, there is a deadline to install new scanners, which means the 100ml liquid rule will be scrapped.
“However, only London City Airport and Teeside Airport have the scanners installed at the moment, so if you’re flying from anywhere else, you’ll have to carefully consider what you’ll be bringing with you.”
To avoid liquid-related delays, you really need to consider what liquids you are bringing in and what actually counts as a liquid. They said all of the below should be avoided:
- Any drink, including water and alcohol
- Partially or fully liquid food, like soup, baby food or sauces
- Toiletries, including shampoo, perfume, creams, and lotions
- Pastes, such as toothpaste
- Gels, such as shower gel and hair gel
- Cosmetics, including foundation, mascara, lip gloss, and lipstick
- Sprays and aerosols, such as deodorant, hair spray, and dry shampoo
- Contact lenses solution
Other delays at security include metal detection and lack of preparation. The experts also advised to “take off belts, shoes, and jewellery before getting to the gates and remove the above liquids from bags, coats, and pockets”. Their final tip was to “always listen to security staff”.
How to get an upgrade at the airport: tips from travel experts
Another way to bolster your flying enjoyment would be to get a first-class upgrade. Usually, to get to sit in first class, you would have to pay between 50-70% more than an economy ticket. This would mean a £250 economy return ticket could be up to £425 in first class, and for more luxurious airlines, this could be even more.
However, if all the seats in first class haven’t been sold, then sometimes people sitting in economy class can get an upgrade to first class for free, but how do you do this? Independent writer and travel blogger Gilbert Ott gave some tips.
1. Use airline miles
Gilbert said that one way to get an upgrade for your ticket is by using the airline miles you've collected. For example, you can upgrade from economy to business class by booking a premium economy ticket.
Gilbert pointed out that “some airlines (British Airways, for example) only allow you to jump one cabin, while others, such as Virgin Atlantic, will allow you to go all the way from economy to business class. If an upgrade is not immediately available when you book, don’t forget to check back regularly.”
2. Bid for an upgrade
Another way to get an upgrade is by bidding for them. Some airlines have their own auctions where you can do this. Swiss, Etihad, Qantas, Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa, Singapore, and Cathay Pacific are among these. You just choose a price you’re willing to pay and then bid as you would on eBay.
Gilbert says to be careful when bidding, and he advised that “it’s important to keep a level head while participating in these auctions since winning bids can occasionally exceed the price of just paying for business class from the start.”
3. Volunteer your services
Another way that you can get an upgrade is by volunteering to take a later flight. Airlines often overbook planes on the assumption some people won’t show up. When they do, in fact, show up, people can be asked to volunteer for a later flight, and sometimes this can be in business class.
Gilbert says that “travelling solo and light on luggage can be crucially helpful” in getting you this upgrade. That way, you’re more likely to be picked because it’s easier for you to be transferred to another flight and more likely, there will be enough seats for you.
An air hostess’ advice for getting a free upgrade
Lisa Wilkes, a flight attendant for 15 years, author, and travel guide writer with eShores, said that from personal experience, the best way to get a first-class upgrade is through a gift. She said: “Small items, such as snacks or a Starbucks voucher, are always appreciated by cabin crew, and giving gifts has led to better seats or even First-Class upgrades.
“We see a lot of super difficult and mean passengers, so when someone does something nice, we really appreciate it. Often, even if you don’t land that upgrade, you’ll get extra special service or even complimentary snacks.”
Lisa continued and said that another way to get one is simply by asking. Most people are afraid that they will be laughed at or told no, but if there is one spare, you’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t just ask. Other tips for an upgrade are being “polite and friendly, telling crews it is your birthday, and smiling!”
How to make a long-haul flight more comfortable
If you’re going on a long-haul flight (anything above 6 hours), the amount of time travelling can become uncomfortable. If you’ve failed at getting a first-class upgrade, you’ll find yourself among plenty of other travellers in quite a small seat with little space to manoeuvre.
To help make those longer flights more comfortable and easier to deal with, we’ve got the help of David Doughty, an aviation expert with over 20 years of experience in the industry. He is the CEO of Admiral Jet, a leading private jet charter company that provides luxury travel solutions for individuals and businesses. He gave us some tips on long-haul flying.
David explained and said, “when it comes to long-haul flights, I always advise you to come prepared with a few essential items that will make the experience more comfortable. I recommend always packing a carry-on bag with a neck pillow and earplugs. An eye mask will also help with rest and relaxation during the flight as well as block out any annoying light or noises from other fliers or windows.”
Stay hydrated and take breaks
Next, David says that water is key. “It's also important to stay hydrated, so I suggest drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol and caffeine, as they can dehydrate you and make you feel more restless - a bad combination when in close quarters.
“I also always advise my clients to take breaks to walk around the cabin and stretch to improve circulation and reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis (blood clots), especially on long haul flights.”
Dress comfortably and wear layers
Carrying on, he also said to think about what you’re wearing when going on longer flights. “Wear loose-fitting clothing that allows for a full range of motion. There is nothing worse than being stuck in a cramped seat with a belt or stiff pair of jeans digging into you the entire flight.
“It's also a good idea to wear layers, as the cabin temperature can fluctuate throughout the flight. Be sure to pack an extra jumper in your carry-on in case a chill sets in - most flights will have blankets available to you, but there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get one, so it’s best to be prepared."
What to eat and what to avoid eating when travelling
Airport food is pretty infamous and has been criticised for years. You can hardly blame the airlines as they don’t exactly have perfect cooking conditions thousands of feet above the earth. So, if you want an alternative, what are the best foods to eat before and during the flight?
Anna McEntee, a travel expert at Comparethemarket, helped us with this one. She has over 25 years of experience advising customers about trips away and their health abroad. She gave us some great tips:
What not to eat when travelling
Anna says to “avoid fatty and fried foods. Avoiding anything that’s deep-fried and high in fat before travelling is advisable because the chances of heartburn and indigestion are increased when these types of food are consumed. This is because the digestive system is under more stress while flying, and high-fat foods place additional stress on your gut.
“Also, steer clear of caffeine and alcohol. The high altitude when on a flight causes you to expend more water than usual through your breath, leading you to dehydrate at a much faster rate, so alcohol and caffeine should be avoided before flying.
“Hydrating with water before the flight as well as regularly during the flight will help improve hydration levels. Nervous flyers should also consider cutting out caffeine both before and during a flight to minimise caffeine-induced anxiety.”
Foods to eat when travelling
Instead of these, Anna suggests some better foods and advises that “you should opt for bananas which are packed with potassium, which helps to regulate blood pressure and minimise any muscle cramps during a flight. Oranges and pineapple are also high in vitamin C, which helps to boost immunity.
“Whitefish is a great source of vitamin B6, helping to fight inflammation in the body and support the immune system whilst also low in LDL cholesterol. Nuts, seeds and dried fruits also make for perfect in-flight snacks and are all healthy options for a long-haul journey.”
Finn Byrne is a Digital Writer for Immediate Media. He works across several brands including The Recommended, RadioTimes.com, MadeforMums and BBC Gardeners’ World. Finn has previously written for publications including MyLondon, The Mirror, The Express, and The Star. When not writing Finn enjoys spending time on the football pitch and getting stuck into a book.