Whether you are looking for the cheapest one-way flights, cheap airline flights round trip, or for business class discount airfare, there are a number of methods and tools to help you find the best deals. To that end, here are my
16 Best Tips for Finding Cheap Flights
At first glance, flights may look very expensive – and to be sure, there are plenty of expensive airfares to be had, but there are also very cheap international flights (or domestic) if you know how to find them. This article will teach you the tips and tricks of how the pros save tons of money on airfare.
What the Pros Know
Most everyone knows that if you travel on busy days such as holidays, airfare is going to be more expensive. It’s also pretty obvious that if you fly a budget airline you will likely save more money on your ticket. What you may not know is that this is not always the case.
When you buy your ticket can also greatly alter the price you pay, but how far in advance should you purchase it? Did you know that if you buy it too far in advance that it can cost you more?
Did you know that not only the time of day you travel, but also the day of the week you fly will impact your fare? What about the popularity of your destination and the route you choose to get there?
There are a lot of options on how to get cheap plane tickets, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. To be successful in your quest for the cheapest plane tickets for your particular scenario, you have to find the strategy that works best for you.
How Last Minute Deals Have Changed
If you are fortunate enough to be able to leave whenever, last minute cheap flights are available a lot of the time with most air carriers. The trick is knowing where and when to look for the deals.
Flying last minute has changed a lot over the last several years and flying standby doesn’t work well anymore. Flying standby used to be the most common way people avoided paying full price fares. Now, too many airlines routinely overbook their flights and as a result, people get bumped constantly. Consequently, there are bunches of bumped people already waiting for those few available “stand-by” spots.
Now that flying standby isn’t so reliable, many people don’t know how to find cheap last minute flights. Don’t worry – it’s easier than you think. Before you look at where to find these deals, you might want to look first at how airline fares are determined **. Knowing how the system works can make it easier for you to find fares that fit your schedule and budget.
1. Let the Airlines Come to You
It may seem strange to think that the airlines are going to just tell you when their fares are cheapest, but they will. Just as they have their busy times, the airlines inevitably have lulls in their sales. These lulls happen seasonally, on particular days of the week, and due to everything else under the sun like weather and politics.
In order to increase sales during those lulls, airlines are going to go out of their way to tell you about deals via social media, email-based newsletters, and price alerts sent out through third parties. Oftentimes these are last-minute deals, but not always. If a known slow period exists, airlines might market discounted seats further in advance. The best way to know what is available when is to sign up for every type of notification you can.
Personally, I don’t like having my email box flooded with marketing offers. To manage all the advertising I get when I sign up for these kinds of things, I either create a free email account specifically for this purpose, or I use filters that flag the senders and sort them into folders on my email program on my computer. Either way, I don’t have to dig through ads when I don’t want to see them, but they are there when I have a hankering to roam on the cheap.
If getting overwhelmed with email sounds scary, there is always social media. Follow your favorite airlines on twitter, Facebook, etc. to stay super up-to-date. The only downside to this is that if you miss a tweet or Facebook post, you have a lot of extra work digging it up several hours or several days later.
Just remember that you have to be ready to commit quickly to these deals. If you want to think about it, someone else will get it first. Carpe diem!!
Pro Tip: Airlines track your browsing history via cookies that they place on your computer. If you do have to come back and buy your ticket later, be sure to delete your cookies & browsing history before you do. It just may save you a few dollars.
How Flexible Are You?
2. Save Money by Flying When Others Won’t (or at least don’t want to)
One commonly known travel hack is to book a flight early in the morning or very late at night, (the “Red Eye” flight). People will forever hate traveling at these times, so if your schedule is flexible enough, then grab a time slot everyone else hates. The airlines will reward you with a cheaper ticket.
3. Can You Leave Tuesday?
Seasonal rushes are not the only busy times for airlines. Busy times actually happen all year long and are based simply on the day of the week. Fridays and Sundays are the busiest days of the week for airlines, so fares are higher on these days. There’s nothing tricky about this particular travel tip – it’s just simply a matter of supply and demand.
Try to find flights going out on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday as these are the least traveled days and will net you the cheapest possible fares.
4. How Flexible Can You Be About Your Destination?
Is it within your time constraints to fly to a regional airport instead of a major hub? If you are flying domestically (and sometimes internationally) you may find that ticket prices are considerably cheaper using this method. The general rule is that for shorter trips, flights between regional airports are cheapest, whereas for international flights you will find better deals when flying between major hubs. Be sure to check out both options regardless of your scenario, because you never know what you may find.
5. How Far in Advance Should You Buy Your Ticket?
If you are a person who plans everything very far in advance, then you won’t want to hear this information. Studies have shown that if you book flights too far in advance that you will likely pay more than you would if you wait until closer to the time you fly – so long as it isn’t too close.
So how far in advance is too far in advance? If you book about 1.5 months to 2.5 months (6-8 weeks) ahead of time, you are golden. There are a lot of factors that work in conjunction with this particular metric – like time of year and destination – which can cause variation, but overall, this is the best window of time to book a flight.
Buying your ticket more than three months ahead of time causes your rates to start climbing. Likewise, if you purchase your tickets within the last 30 days, rates will skyrocket for standard bookings. If you just go to a regular booking site and try to book within the last 4 weeks, you will be in for serious sticker shock. Naturally, this does not include last minute deals you may receive from the airlines through social media which can be cheaper, but you never know what kind of deals will turn up. If you have definite “musts” about when and where you must go, don’t wait on these deals. Try to get your tickets during the golden 6-8 week window ahead of time instead.
6. How Far Out of Your Way are You Willing to Go?
When I ask this question, I mean really how far is acceptable? Recently, a friend of mine posted on Facebook about trying to book a flight between two points on the West Coast of the US less than 2 hours apart by plane. He found that it was cheaper for him to fly to Orlando, Florida, change planes, and fly back than it was to use another layover spot anywhere remotely in the West Coast region.
Sounds nuts, right? It is, but it’s how the airlines work. Simple logic of how much fuel it costs to transport you across a continent and back does not play into how airlines create their fare structures. So, if you have time on your side and don’t mind spending all day traveling, explore crazy options like a layover in Orlando on the other side of the continent. You might be surprised at how much money you save.
How to find these deals varies depending on what method you are using to search. You will most likely stumble across them if you select options labeled “any time,” “any number of stops,” “any route,” and so on.
In the example I just gave of my friend who found the cheapest ticket via Orlando, he really didn’t have the time to take that route. Sometimes, however, people do have the time and they can make crazy routes like this make sense. This process, cleverly referred to by one travel blogger as “stitching,” involves you ‘stitching’ together several flights with a number of stops and long layovers intentionally en route to your final destination.
By using the stitching method, you can take time and visit the places you land. If your layover is only 6 hours, you probably won’t have enough time to leave and get checked back into the airport. But if you extend that 6 hours to 24 hours, well, then you have a whole day to explore. As an added bonus, it is often the case that the longer your layover, the cheaper your ticket.
Stitching also allows you to avoid having to pay for expensive “open-jaw” tickets which allow you to arrive to one country at one location and then depart from another location back to your country of origin. For example, if you wanted to fly out of Dallas to Guadalajara, Mexico and then return to Dallas from Cancun, you would likely pay much more than if you were to go Dallas —> Guadalajara —> Cancun —> Belize City —> Dallas.
8. Round-trip vs. One-way
Finding the cheapest one-way flights is a bit counter-intuitive. If you only need to fly one way, the airlines will charge you an arm and a leg.
Cheap airline flights round-trip are easier to find than cheap one-way tickets – and the round-trip flights are almost always the cheaper option. So, be sure to investigate the cost of round-trip tickets, even if you never use the return ticket.
9. Try Using Travel Agents Abroad
When traveling in South America, I found the cheapest flights within the continent by contacting a travel agent based in Argentina. They were able to beat the rates that I was able to find by scouring the Internet at home. I actually contacted them when I was still in the US via email and the transaction was seamless.
10. Pro tip: “Change” Your Location
On a related note to using foreign travel agents, where you are when you search for airfare can determine the rate you are quoted. That is probably one of the reasons that it was so much cheaper for me to go through a South American travel agent than to book the ticket myself in the United States. If you prefer to do your own leg work and don’t want to use a travel agent abroad, you might consider using a proxy server to hide your true location when purchasing your ticket.
Likewise, you can also try to find out if a carrier has a website in another country by looking for sites with country domains. For example: myveryfavoriteairline.com might have another site in Canada called myveryfavoriteairline.com.ca. It’s worth checking out.
Other Ways to Save Money on Airline Tickets
11. Enroll in Frequent Flyer Programs
If you tend to always fly with whatever carrier offers you the best deal, this may not be the strategy for you. However, some people find an airline that treats them right and they won’t fly anyone else unless they just have to. If you are one of those people, or you frequently travel in a region that is serviced well by a single carrier you like, then you should capitalize on the miles you fly by earning points with that carrier. You never know when that might earn you a bump up to business or first class because they overbooked a bunch of non-frequent fliers and they have the room.
12. Do You (or Would You) Use Credit Cards?
Like most Americans, I was once riddled with credit card debt, so if you are reading the above headline wondering why on earth I am suggesting you use them, hear me out. While you should never, ever, ever use credit cards to spend above your means, using them to pay for everyday things that you normally buy can be of a huge benefit if you then pay them off every month.
Travel rewards and airline-specific credit cards are two different ways you can earn mileage points. Which type you should get will depend upon what benefits you want. General travel rewards cards may have other benefits like no international transactions fees. Airline-specific cards can be terrific if you have a favorite carrier that goes most places you like to travel. If you are like me, though, you are often using different carriers, so finding a card that allows you to transfer miles over to specific carriers is more advantageous.
I can’t stress enough how much individual preference plays into choosing the right card. What may work miracles for one person may do absolutely nothing for someone else. Be sure to do your research and choose wisely.
My advice? Use the crap out of them from every pack of gum you buy to paying for groceries and iPhone apps. Also, read the terms and conditions of your card carefully because certain types of purchases (like fuel, dining out, and groceries) will earn you double-points. So, if your friend is about to fill up his or her tank with gas and you get double miles for gas purchases, see if your friend will pay you cash and then put the purchase on your card.
What’s the catch? Most of these cards have an annual fee – some as low as $49 and others as high as $450. The most common fee is around $95 per year. Now, if you use your card every day and really accumulate some points, $95 may not be much to invest in a round trip for two to Maui. If you get the card and don’t use it, well…then you are just throwing that money away.
13. Travel Only with Carry-On Luggage
This trick is easier said than done, but with practice at traveling, you learn to pair things down to the bare essentials. Not only is it easier to travel when your luggage is a carry-on, but it may save you $30-40 if you are flying with a budget airline. What’s even better about all carry-on luggage is that you never lose your bags. Airlines post their permitted carry-on limits on their websites so, get out that measuring tape and choose your best bag or backpack for the trip
14. Check Airfares on the Carrier’s Own Website
Believe it or not, you can often find some very low cost flights on the carriers’ websites. The simple logic here is that there is no middleman to pay, so you save what would otherwise cover the fee paid to the site where you book like Expedia, Travelocity, etc.
15. Don’t Forget the Little Guys
Some smaller airlines choose not to try to compete in the same arenas as the major carriers in order to keep fares low. Simply put, these smaller carriers don’t offer a commission to the big booking sites like Orbitz and Priceline, so the booking sites have no incentive to advertise the flights.
So how do you find these smaller airlines? Check out less well-known booking sites like Kayak, Skyscanner, and Google Flights. These booking sites cater to the
16. Take Advantage of Standard Discounts
Don’t just buy a ticket because you are getting a specific discount – military, student, senior, under 26 years of age, etc. Usually speaking, these are nowhere near the lowest airfares.
Student discount flights and military discount flights are two easy ways a number of people can qualify to get cheaper airline tickets. But what if you aren’t a student or in the military? Fear not! There are several other options. For example, if being a student is a very long distant memory, you may qualify for a senior airfare. Are you a member of AAA or another organization like Allstate Motor Club or AARP that negotiates group discount rates?
Remember: be sure to check other discount fares first and only use standard discounts as a last resort. If you are in a pinch and can’t take the time to search around for the other options mentioned in this article, these are surefire ways to save a few bucks without a lot of effort.
Again, finding cheap flight deals is not a set formula, and not every one of these suggestions will work for everyone or in every situation. Hopefully, though, you’ve now learned enough about the ways that pros book cheap flights and can apply these methods to find the lowest airfares available.