Finding cheap airfare can sometimes feel like you're Indiana Jones on the search for the Ark of the Covenant: it's complicated, perilous, and at times seemingly impossible. Fortunately, we’ve done the whole “plan a trip” thing a few times and we’re happy to share our insider information with you, so you can get the insanely cheap flights you're entitled to. Read on and get ready to save big on airfare and enjoy the trip of a lifetime without having to run from a giant boulder.
1. Go Undercover
Before following any of the other steps listed, open up an “Incognito” or “private” window in your browser.
Have you ever wondered why ticket prices seemingly increase as you continue to search for the perfect flight? These days most websites track the cookies from your browser and presumably use them to “improve user experience”. The dark side to this “improved experience” is that websites are capable of learning your favorite flight searches and jacking the prices up. Note that this doesn’t mean all travel sites do this, but we think it’s better safe than broke and we search on the down-low for our fares.
To open an Incognito window in Safari or Google Chrome, either go to file > new Incognito window, or hit Command (or “Control” if using PC), Shift, “N”. For Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer, hit Command (or “Control” if using a PC), Shift, “P”
NOW feel free to continue your search.
2. Be Flexible with Dates and Find the Best Days to Book
If you’re flexible at all with your departure and arrival dates, this could pay off bigtime. Using Skyscanner to find the cheapest dates for travel can save you huge bucks, even with the difference of a single day. Check out the image below.
The price difference between departing on October 16 or only ONE day earlier on the 15th is $646 one way! You can also have Skyscanner build you a graph week by week, so you can see on average the best day of the week to book. Below you’ll see that you should probably choose Tuesday or Thursday, and for gosh sakes avoid Saturday and Sunday like the plague!
3. Find an Amazing Flight Search Website
In the world of travel, the search engine can make all the difference! All search engines inflate prices of flights so they can turn a profit, but some bump up the prices more than others. It’s worthwhile for you to explore your options. Keep in mind that many search engines don’t include budget airlines, so always cross reference their prices before booking.
Search engines to trust
- Google Flights
- Azair (Europe & Middle East)
- WhichBudget (includes budget airlines, which many search engines don’t)
- Webjet (charges additional fees)
Google Flights works similarly to Skyscanner (though you can’t actually book flights on it), plus has a map view as well so you can see where the airport is. For tracking when and where is cheapest to fly, Hopper and Flyr
4. Work the Budget Airline Angle
Many super-popular travel search engines don’t include budget airlines, so you may be missing out on the best rates for your destination. Check out the following list of our favorite budget airlines based on popular destinations. If you REALLY want to dig deep or if your country isn’t listed below, Wikipedia has this comprehensive list of budget airlines you can sink your travel-hungry teeth into. Tip: Local airlines are often the cheapest option. If you’re flying to a specific region and then connecting, look into booking each leg separately and using a local airline for domestic flights.
When booking with budget airlines, make sure to read the fine print VERY carefully. Sometimes prices can seem to good to be true because airlines make up for the cost with baggage and service fees, so before you hit that “checkout” button you’d better know what you’re in for.
- Air Asia
- Tiger Air
- Jeju Air
- Hong Kong Express
- Peach Air
- Dragon Air
- Spice Jet
- Spring Airlines
- Vietnam Airlines
- Nok Air
- T’Way Airlines
- Vanilla Air
5. Add Another Destination at your Layover
Many travel hubs are super cool places to travel in themselves, and there might be a money-saving loophole when flying in and out of major airports: book each leg individually rather than choosing a flight with a connection. This allows you to use budget airlines for domestic flights to the international hub, and then from there get a direct to-destination ticket. Tip: allow yourself time to explore your connecting destination before hopping on your final flight.
Here’s an example: Say you’re from Denver and you’re dying to get to Paris. You’re cheapest option MIGHT be to fly direct to Seattle (you found a screamin’ deal on Southwest) explore the city that gave us Starbucks, and then direct to Paris a couple days later. This method allows for plenty of wiggle room when selecting dates and getting the best prices.
It will require quite a bit of digging, but on the upside you get to see even more of the world, and save a few hundred bucks in the process.
6. Find the Cheapest Flight Near Your end Destination
They may be convenient, but sometimes the airports at your final destination aren’t necessarily the cheapest option. Kayak Explore is a really cool tool that you can use to find the cheapest flight near your final destination, and then you can hop on a budget airline, train, even cab to your ultimate goal.
7. Don’t Wait for a Deal. Just. Don’t.
The myth that flights get cheaper as the date approaches as an incentive to fill empty seats may have been true at one point, but these days it’s definitely a myth. Rarely do flights get cheaper, and in most cases prices start to spike about 6-8 weeks out from your departure date. The earlier you can book your flights, the better! You can use websites like Booking Buddy to set up alerts for rate drops, sales and deals, but these are better suited for impromptu trips to vegas than long-duration complex vacations overseas.
8. Hidden City Ticketing and Working the System
Travelers have long used the loophole of connecting flights as a means to their final destination, but only recently and with the advent of websites like Skiplagged has the process begun to make waves. The idea is that in some cases, booking a flight with a stopover in your ultimate destination is cheaper than booking a flight directly there. While the practice isn’t illegal, it’s frowned upon by airlines. If you have no moral qualms about it, this can be a great option to save a few bucks. Remember NOT to check bags, because they’ll end up in the final city along with the plane you’re supposed to be on.
9. Use Points Whenever Possible
If you’re a frequent traveler, get a credit card with travel reward points (but stay on top of your payments!). Travel points can be redeemed as miles on flights, or for your hotel room stays and other travel expenses and are accumulated through spending with the card. You can expedite the accumulation of points by doing things like paying your mortgage, rent, or bills with your card and zeroing out the balance as soon as the charges process. Remember when choosing a credit card to make sure you read the fine print carefully, but you should always make sure your card has a great rewards program.
10. Use a Travel Agent
Travel Agents know all the tricks. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, or don’t have the time to dig through thousands of flights to find the best/cheapest ones, it might be worth finding an agent in your area to do the dirty work. Travel Agents are also great fact-checkers for all the work you’ve put into planning your trip. When you find what you think is the best rates and travel options, ask an agent for a quote and see which itinerary can save you the most cash.
If you've just read all of the tips and are thinking to yourself "Gosh this seems like a lot of work..." you're not crazy. It is a lot of work, but saving a few hundred dollars on airfare is SO worth it. You can end up with less financial stress in the long run, or if you have a set budget for travel you can use the cash saved to put toward planning another excursion or experience while traveling. Memories last a lifetime, and we hope you have the best vacation ever!