You’ll find a lot of information out there in the internet world about finding cheap flights. Some people say it’s cheapest to book flights on Tuesdays at 3 p.m. (not true) and others say to wait until a few weeks before you go (don’t believe it!). I’ve done a lot of research about this and have booked many flights over the years, and I’ve learned a few things. Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula, but I can give you a few tips to save money on airfare.
If you’re willing to be flexible with your travel plans and take some time to do your research, you can score amazing deals. Want to fly to the French Caribbean from the East Coast for $179 round trip? Dreaming of going to the Maldives? Oh, only $860 R/T in February from Boston. Iceland? Only $99 one-way on Wow Air from the East coast. These are only a few of the deals I’ve found recently from my neck of the woods. I just wish I could take advantage of every single one of them!
Start Looking for Flights Early
A general rule of thumb is to start looking for flights 6 months in advance for far-off international destinations, and 3-4 months for domestic or Caribbean destinations. Search fares 1-2 times a week to get an idea how the fares fluctuate. If you find a deal (at least 100-200 cheaper than fares you’ve been seeing), grab it!
Know When to Fly and Buy
Hopper is AWESOME. Just enter your home airport and destination, and they’ll create a report for you that gives you information on when to fly and when to buy to find the cheapest tickets. They have color-coded calendars that tell you when the low and high seasons are, as well as information on which airlines have the cheapest fares. This site is a great place to get an idea of what the average price is to get to your destination for certain times of year.
Typically, the cheapest days to fly are midweek (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday).
Go Incognito…In Your Internet Browser
This is so important! Have you ever searched for flights on various websites, even going as far as almost entering your credit card info, but then you deliberate, go get a snack, and come back to search again only to find that the EXACT same flight just went up by $50?? Ahh, panic sets in and you’re all, I need to book this NOW before it goes up even more!! So, you book it. Then, you check the same fare a few days later looking for validation that you did the right thing and saved so much money. You’re positive the fare is now hundreds of dollars more but then WOAH the price is back down to what it was when you first looked? THE STRUGGLE IS REAL, FOLKS. Though it hasn’t been proven, many people believe the airlines use your web history to gauge your interest in a fare. If you search for the same itinerary over and over again, the fare is likely to rise once you get to the check-out page. This has happened to me sooo many times.
To avoid this fare increase, either do all your airfare searches on one browser, then buy it on a different one, OR just open up a private (or incognito) window from your browser. When you browse privately, your cookies and cache (basically your search history) can’t be tracked.
Use an Airfare Search Engine
The best place to start is a website that compares fares across many major airlines.
Kayak is my personal favorite. It searches not only across airlines’ direct websites, but also across other travel sites like Cheaptickets, Priceline, and Orbitz.
- Kayak also displays hacker fares, which combines multiple one-way bookings from different airlines.
- If your dates are flexible, use the +/- 3 days search, which gives you a matrix of prices of flights on nearby dates.
- Look at the price forecast in the upper left-hand corner (not always available). It will give you advice on whether you should buy now, or wait a little longer based on historical price changes.
Google Flight Search seems like a good place to find flights, but I’ve found flights on other sites that don’t even appear in their search results, let alone any cheaper. The information is pulled directly from airlines’ websites, and doesn’t include many budget international airlines.
Be Flexible with Your Travel Dates
Skyscanner has a feature where you can search for flights from your home airport to any country/any airport on specific dates. So if you have a three-day weekend coming up or a slow week at work and need ideas for cheap getaways, just type in “Everywhere” in the To: field. You can also search the whole month if you have more flexibility. Guaranteed to find good deals here.
- Adioso has a similar feature and has a more user-friendly interface.
- For Googlers: Google Explore
- Hopper Explorer also has some awesome features.
If you have specific dates you want to fly, but don’t care what time you leave and what airline you fly, then you gotta check out the Name Your Own Price feature from Priceline. Essentially, you enter your travel dates and enter the price you want to pay. If it’s accepted, they charge you. If not, they might give you a counter-offer or you’re free to keep looking. This feature works best when booking flights last-minute (up to two weeks before departure). The Travel Chicks gives a great explanation on how this works.
For even more useful info on flexible date searches, check out this guide.
Search Directly on Airline Websites
There are some airlines whose fares don’t appear in fare comparison searches, for example: Southwest and Allegiant. Many times airlines will have fare sales that are not published to fare comparison websites. It’s always worth it to check their website directly after finding an itinerary that you like.
- If you’re traveling in the U.S., Mexico, or the Caribbean, go directly to Southwest’s website to check fares that don’t appear in the fare comparison search results. Southwest flights tend to sell out fast, so the earlier you book the “Wanna Get Away” specials, the better.
- If you’re traveling internationally, search for low-cost carriers in that region and book there. Some good examples are Norwegian, Wow Air, easyJet, AirAsia, and Jetstar.
Bottom Line: You should consult fare comparison websites (like Kayak), Online Travel Agencies (like Expedia & Travelocity) AND airline sites directly in order to find the best deal.
Create a Price Alert
You should give yourself some time to watch how airfares fluctuate. If you want to go to Bangkok in November, for example, start looking for tickets in the spring and check them 1-2 times a week. You can even set up a price alert to do the work for you. There are travel sites that will notify you via email when the price drops for your selected dates/destination. Kayak & Hipmunk will do this for you, as well as Airfarewatchdog.
BONUS: You can keep the price alert active even after you buy your ticket. Some airlines (including JetBlue, Southwest, & Alaska) will refund you the difference (usually with a travel voucher) if you find a cheaper fare for the exact same itinerary.
Find Sales Promoting New Airline Routes
This is one of my favorite tips. If you want to go on vacation and don’t really know where you want to go, just google “new airline routes” from your home airport to find amazing deals. When an airline introduces a new route to a new destination, those fares always go on sale for the first few months of operation. This is the airline’s way to promote the new route and to start filling up their planes with passengers! In the last couple years, for example, new routes were made from Boston to cities like Lima, Istanbul, and Dubai. Flights to Lima were under $500 round-trip and around $600-$700 round-trip to Istanbul and Dubai.
Buy Two Separate One-Way Flights
You can often pay a lot less if you book two separate one-way flights on different airlines. This method works for both domestic & international flights. If you book a R/T flight with one airline, you’re restricted to their flight schedules. If you book two separate flights, you have more options for finding the right itinerary at the right price. For example, I recently booked a flight to San Francisco from Boston. The cheapest round-trip fares were around $410 on United and they didn’t have the evening flights I wanted to maximize my time there. Then, I did a search for separate one-way tickets and found a flight to SFO on JetBlue for $169 and back to BOS on Virgin America for $179 with my preferred flight times, saving $62. BOOM.
Book Flights To/From a Popular Hub
Let’s just say you want to fly to New Zealand. And let’s say it has always been your dream to go there, but you never thought it would be possible because of how expensive you’ve heard it is to fly there. Say you started looking at flights “just to see” and R/T prices from Boston were in the range of $2500 during high season. But then, being the travel guru you are, you notice that most of those flight itineraries have connections in Los Angeles, so you search for R/T flights from LAX instead. $991. IS THIS A JOKE? Nope, not at all. You also know that flights from Boston to Cali are in demand and average $330-350 R/T. Pack your bags, because you’re going to Kiwi-land! You just gone and saved yourself $1200. OK, so this scenario is not really hypothetical. It’s a true story and I’m sooooo excited!
The thing is, there are more flights offered daily from major hubs like LAX and SFO to Asia/Oceania. Similarly, there are more flights from the East coast to Europe. Find a popular hub or two (like NYC or LAX) and check R/T prices to your destination from there, then book separately the cheapest flights from where you live to the hub.
If you’re flying to a less popular destination, then find flights to a nearby popular hub, like to Dublin from the East Coast, or to Singapore from the West Coast. These are great gateway cities to travel further afield. Then, book a separate, connecting flight on a regional low-cost carrier. Just make sure to give yourself enough time between these connecting flights in case your flight gets delayed. Last year, I wanted to go to Australia but didn’t want to pay over $2000 to get there. So, I flew instead to Kuala Lumpur for $890 R/T. From there, I booked cheap flights on AirAsia and Jetstar. I saved over $500 and got to visit Istanbul, Malaysia, and Singapore on long layovers along the way!
Rack Up Points through Airline Rewards Programs for Free Flights
There’s no doubt about it that the best deal is getting a free flight with frequent flyer miles. OK, it’s not completely free. (“Nothing’s free in life,” my dad would say) Maybe you’ll have to pay $5-15 in fees. If you live near an airport that is a hub for a specific airline (Atlanta, for example, is one of Delta’s hubs) or if you tend to fly one airline regularly, it’s definitely worth it to join their airline rewards program. I fly on whichever airline is cheapest, so I don’t accrue miles as quickly that way. I’ve joined several different airline rewards programs, including United, Delta, and JetBlue.
What I do instead is accrue points on my American Express Gold Premier Rewards card. When I first signed up, I got 50,000 points, enough for 2 free domestic flights. Whenever I buy flights with my card, I get 3x points; groceries, restaurants, and gas are 2x points; everything else: 1 point per dollar. I can transfer my AmEx points to any airline on top of any miles I have from flying with them. Over the last year, I’ve earned 3 free R/T flights and 4 free one-way flights just by paying for my normal expenses with my charge card. SAWEET. This is a thing. It’s called travel-hacking.
Make Friends with People with Buddy Passes
Lots of people out there work for airlines. They have this awesome benefit called buddy passes. If you’re nice to them, they might give you one or two. Even better, they might come with you and become your new travel buddy! Buddy passes are great, because you can fly anywhere the airline flies and you only have to pay the taxes. Sometimes you can even get upgraded to first class! However, you have to fly standby, so you’ll need to be extremely flexible with your dates and hotel reservations, but you can save so much money!
Sign-Up for Flight Deals
Here’s a list of my favorite sites that publish incredibly good deals on airfare:
Travelzoo: A list of the top 20 travel deals on the internet. Sign-up and get the deals straight to your inbox. Or, just come back and visit Travel Oft. I have a feed of Travelzoo’s best deals on my sidebar –>
Airfarewatchdog: They list the top 50 airfare deals of the day.
The Flight Deal: I just discovered these deals recently. They publish wicked good deals, but they go super fast, so it’s best to sign-up for their e-mails. You’re welcome.
Follow your favorite airlines on Twitter. Airlines will publish secret deals to their twitter followers, so if you don’t want to miss a beat, start following your favorite airline on Twitter. Also, follow @airfarewatchdog
Beware Extra Fees
Some airlines offer such low fares because they charge fees everywhere else. As we all know, many airlines now have fees for food, checked baggage, and even seat assignments! But, no worries. You can take advantage of wicked low fares on airlines like Wow Air and Norwegian Air and will feel proud of the fact that you’ve saved money by traveling with a carry-on bag only, packing snacks, and being flexible with where you sit on the plane. Otherwise, please keep these fees in mind, as you may end up spending more with these extras than a higher-priced fare at the time of booking!
Do you have any other tips & tricks on saving money on airfare? Let me know!