If you follow along with me on this blog and via social media, you’ll know that I fly. A LOT. The top question I get over and over is “How Do I Find Cheap Flights?”. While I earn and burn lots of airline miles and award points, the nature of my travel requires me to purchase many tickets as well. In addition to getting creative with my schedule, I believe in traveling well but spending as little as possible.
Here’s my top tips to to help find cheap flights:
Use The Best Flight Booking Websites
I’ve got a short list of go-to booking sites for finding great airfare deals. This is certainly not an exhaustive list but it’s some of the most consistent low fares resources in my experience:
- Google Flights – My absolute number one. The best tool with quite a bit of capability to optimize your search options. Take advantage of the alert tools to get email notifications when fares rise or wall.
- ITA Matrix – Now owned by Google, the ITA Matrix is one of the most powerful tools for finding great deals on airfares. While you can’t actually book directly on the ITA Matrix, it will help you build and price complex itineraries. Sites like BookWithMatrix allow you to copy past itineraries from the ITA Matrix results and redirect you to sites where the flights are bookable. BookWithMatrix is a handy tool but I haven’t had 100% success with the tools actually generating a booking.
- Momondo – One of the few booking sites that is able to price out reasonable Transatlantic fares. Momondo is an airline booking consolidator but it will redirect you to other booking site for actual ticketing.
- Kiwi.com – Kiwi is another airline booking consolidator. Kiwi get creative with some unique routings and issues tickets with multiple airlines combinations that sites like Expedia, Priceline or Orbitz won’t always show in the search results.
Always Price Roundtrip vs. Two One-Ways
While domestic roundtrip flights are commonly priced the same as two one-way flights, this isn’t always the case. It doesn’t hurt to price compare two one-ways on various carriers. Some sites like Kiwi, Expedia or Momondo will book multi-airline tickets in a single booking. Google Flights will display roundtrip itineraries that are cheaper when you buy two separate one-way tickets. But I always like to do my own manual one-way ticket searches just in case.
Check Open-Jaw or Multi-City Options
If you’re planning to visit multiple cities, it’s not bad idea to check multi-city or “open-jaw” itineraries. Open-jaw itineraries are similar to roundtrips but rather than a roundtrip between Airport A and Airport B, you add in a third destination, Airport C. For example, you would book a flight between Airport A and Airport B, then Airport C back to Point A. Your travel between Airport B and C may be by car, train, or even a separate flight. Open-jaw flights are always worth researching as you can often find lower prices due to lower travel demand or lower airport taxes.
Subscribe to The Flight Deal (And Fare Deal Alert)
Subscribe to The Flight Deal and Fare Deal Alert for some of the best flight deals out there. These sites post in real time to Twitter as well as sending out a daily email summary. I’ve booked countless amazingly cheap flights thanks to alerts from theses sites.
Check Alternate Airports (And Not Just Nearby Ones)
Always check other departure cities for your desired long-haul destination, even if they aren’t nearby. For example, I’m based in Dallas which isn’t the cheapest airport for flights to Europe thanks to a OneWorld monopoly and heavy business travel. But, with consistently cheap flights from Dallas to Chicago or Los Angeles, I can easily find cheap flights to position myself to those other cities to take advantage of cheaper transatlantic fares.
Example purchasing two separate roundtrip tickets to Los Angeles and then onto London
Roundtrip DFW-LAX: $207 + Roundtrip LAX to London Heathrow: $556 = $763 Total
This same fare originating in Dallas (with or without a stop on the way) consistently prices well over $1200 in Economy. Just be sure to make sure your departure times for each flight is in alignment and give yourself extra connection time. If your tickets are booked on two separate carriers and you miss the second airline’s flight, you won’t be protected by the second airline if you misconnect.
Flexibility will always be your friend when in comes to travel in general; especially when it comes to finding airfare deals. We all often have scheduling constraints due to special events, work schedules, school calendars, and holidays. But even just a little bit of flexibility goes a long way. Want to leave Friday night? Try Thursday instead. Or even Saturday morning. Off-peak days will help you find cheap flights. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday are consistently the cheapest dates fro departure.
You’ve heard this before but it really does pay to travel off-peak. Summer is often my lightest travel period of the year due to sky-high airfares and poor award availability. And it doesn’t mean you have to avoid all holidays for travel. Thanksgiving is a great time to travel internationally and one of the best times to find great fares to Europe and Asia from the US.
You Don’t Have to fly With the Ultra Cheap Guys
I’ve only actually flown with a few ultra low-cost carriers globally and I’ve still yet to fly on the most hated U.S. carriers: Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air. Consider the risks of saving a few dollars on a low-cost airline with one flight option per day versus a full-service carrier with multiple flight options per day. However, if the flight savings are significant and price is your highest priority, it may be your best option.
Always check the fees with any airline but double-check with the low-cost airlines. Airlines like WOW Air charge quite significant fees for even hand luggage. Plus, not all low-cost carriers are the same. Allegiant and Spirit may have an overall poor rating but others like Norwegian have generally favorable reviews.
Accept That Sometimes There are no Deals to be Found
The truth is, sometimes it’s just not possible to find cheap flights. Your best friend decided to get married in Maui the week of Christmas. Things just likely aren’t going to be in your favor. Busy holidays like Christmas or Independence Day are generally very expensive. Remote airports with little or no completion. Top tourist destinations. Combine a couple of those factors and
I’ve been booking heavy volumes of airline tickets for years so I’ve have lots of practice. Do your research and always compare your options. Over time, you get savvier and you will pick up a few of your own tricks for finding great airfare deals.
How do you find cheap flights? Have any tips to share? Would love to hear about them in the comments below!