Budget charter flights could be a great option if you’re looking to get away for a bargain holiday. Here's a rundown of the whats, wheres and whens of getting a great deal.

What is a charter flight?

Charter flights are made to order flights by package holiday operators – Thomson, Thomas Cook, First Choice and the like – for ferrying their holidaymakers to their chosen destination. As the holiday operator books the whole plane, there's often spare capacity on the flight which they can offer very cheaply to flight-only customers.

Where do charter flights go?

If you thought charter flights only fly to sun and sangria destinations, think again. They do take package holidaymakers to the Canaries, the Spanish Costa and plenty other popular destinations us Brits can't resist! But charter airlines also fly all over the world. Barcelona? Check. Rome? Check. You can get as far afield as Mexico, Florida, the Caribbean or India. If you’re smart and book at the right time, it can also be the cheapest way to book flights to London or bag that last minute city break. Find out when the best time to book cheap flights is with our comprehensive report on all your favourite destinations.

How do I find the cheapest, most convenient flight?

The short answert: it's all about being flexible and shopping around. Here are a few tips to take on board before you book:

Leave it late or book ahead?

With charter airlines, good late deals are often available. When a charter airline has sold the majority of its seats, it then decides to sell the spare seats at cheaper prices. The savvy, web-smart traveller can use this to their advantage. The travel operator has booked the flight already, so you hold the cards in many respects. There’s often spare seats which they want to fill, and they’ll sell them off very cheaply – hey, it’ll only go to waste if you’re not onboard, so why not? You’ll also feel pretty smug all the way there, knowing everyone else has paid way more than you have for the same service! And once you’re off the plane, you can leave the package holiday-makers behind and explore for yourself. Find out how to set up a price alert to make sure you know exactly when flight prices drop.

Last minute deals on Monarch from Birmingham to Alicante can weigh in at between £187 and £69*; the flights are within the space of ten days. That's a big price difference, but how to get around it? Flexibility: if you don’t mind delaying your trip a few days and shop around you can get the cheap tickets. Read more on how to find a last-minute deal.

However, if you're looking to book in advance, check out our best time to book cheap flights guide to find out just how much of an early bird you need to be to bag a bargain - no matter which airline you plan to travel with.

Use the airport's location to your advantage

Alicante serves as the airport for package deals to Benidorm. So while the other passengers pile on their coaches headed for sun, sangria, and fish and chips in English pubs, you can say adios and get into exploring the real urban Spain or hop on a train and go pretty much anywhere in Europe. You may need to be more flexible than you would on a scheduled flight, but if you can be, then you’ll be rewarded with extra cash to spend when you get to your destination.

Choose a city airport with options

The bases for the big package holiday companies include main city airports as well as smaller regional ones: Birmingham, Bournemouth, Bradford-Leeds, Cardiff, Coventry, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Gatwick, Luton, Manchester, Newcastle, Doncaster-Sheffield and Teesside. Flying from a regional airport could save you a trip to Heathrow, and the extra cash getting here, for that flight to Mexico.

Key points to remember:

  • Leave it late or book early. Anywhere in between and the costs are considerably higher
  • Don’t set your heart on a particular date. As with any kind of cheap flights the more flexible you can be the better the deal you’ll get
  • Think outside the box. A charter flight to Alicante doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend your holiday in Benidorm
  • Look at smaller or regional airports that are usually out of the question for bigger scheduled flights - Bristol to Florida for £400 return, anyone?

Want more tips on how to bag a bargain flight? Read on:

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  • Prices correct at time of publication.

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