You hear about people getting great deals on last minute holidays. But I wanted to see what kind of offers were available at Birmingham Airport – quite literally last minute – when flying out that same day.
I rocked up to BHX on a Thursday morning in the middle of the school holidays and, after driving round in circles for what felt like forever, trying to find a space in the multi-storey car park, I headed into departures, determined to hunt down a bargain holiday.
The airport was pretty busy, but it looked a lot different to the last time I was there. There’s a huge £40 million renovation project going on until summer 2024 to build a brand new security hall, so queuing systems and walking routes are working a bit differently in the meantime.
I made my way around the terminal and stopped at each ticket desk along the way to ask the same question – “what’s the cheapest flight I can book for today?” – then compared the prices to online. Here’s how I got on…
The woman behind the Jet2 desk looked a little confused by my request – even more so when she asked me where I wanted to go and I said, “wherever’s cheapest”.
It turned out she couldn’t search the system without a location, so I asked where’s usually cheap. She suggested Zante in Greece. A one-way ticket for a single person, leaving that day, would set me back £116. Dalaman in Turkey was a little cheaper at £111.
The helpful employee told me the cost of last minute flights depends on how full the flight is. “But it’s usually always cheaper to book online than at the airport,” she said.
And she was right. When I checked on the Jet2 website for the same, same-day flights, the difference in price was fairly substantial. Zante cost £95 and Dalaman was £92.
Ryanair and easyJet (through Swissport)
I couldn’t find a ticket desk for Ryanair or easyJet anywhere. Perhaps I wasn’t looking in the right place – with all the work going on, things have been moved around – but I did find one for Swissport which was selling flights for various airlines, including Ryanair, easyJet and Wizz Air, plus a few others I hadn’t heard of.
“Very spontaneous,” the man behind the desk said, bemused, when I asked him the same question. I was getting the impression that not many people turn up at the airport without pre-booking – and I was starting to see why.
Again, I was told that there was no way to search the system based on price or without a specific destination in mind. “Dublin’s usually very cheap for last minute flights,” he told me, “Let me have a look what Ryanair flights we’ve got today. They’re usually the cheapest.”
After a minute-or-so, typing away on the computer, he came back with a couple of suggestions – but they were more expensive than I was expecting, especially for a budget airline. £160 per person for Alicante and £162.99 to Palma with Ryanair.
The friendly Swissport worker told me that Ryanair sometimes charges a £50 late fee on last-minute flights, which might explain the higher prices. “But you’ll probably find them cheaper online,” he added, then gave me an interesting piece of advice…
“If you’re booking flights online with Ryanair, don’t do it through a third party,” he said. “It’s normally always cheaper going directly through Ryanair as you avoid the added fees. If you go on the Ryanair website, you can set the search to ‘flying from Birmingham Airport’ and the destination as ‘anywhere’ and it’ll show you where’s cheapest.”
So that’s what I did. And as he’d predicted, Dublin was the cheapest deal of the day – but still surprisingly pricy at £146.89 one-way. I went to Dublin last year and got a return ticket for £20 by pre-booking, so the price seemed particularly steep. On the Ryanair website, tickets to Alicante and Palma were even more expensive than at the airport – £171.99 for both.
I found some cheaper last-minute deals on the easyJet website, which featured an ‘Inspire Me’ section to find the best prices to any destination on a specific date. The cheapest same-day easyJet flight online was to Nantes in France for £73.99.
The only other ticket desk I could find at BHX was Turkish Airlines’. Their system required a destination to search for flights, too, but the helpful man behind the desk suggested Istanbul as being the safest bet for a reasonably-priced last minute ticket.
It would cost me £240 one-way to book onto the flight leaving that afternoon. “You’ll probably get it slightly cheaper online, though,” he said, so I checked. A single ticket in economy class was priced at £225.24 on the Turkish Airlines website, but the page told me that flights were cheaper a few days in advance (a flight in five days’ time would be £159).
So is it cheaper to buy tickets online or at the airport?
To put it simply, booking a flight online is almost always going to be cheaper than at the airport – even if you’re wanting to travel the same day. I’d expected airlines would be flogging the last of their seats at a huge discount just to fill the plane, but that wasn’t the case.
So, while heading to the airport for a spontaneous trip might seem like a fun idea in theory, in reality, you’ll probably end up paying more. The advice from all of the staff I’d spoken to at Birmingham Airport had been the same – nine times out of ten, you’ll get a better deal online.