Planning for a vacation? Travel plans can quickly become expensive, making budget vacations extremely desirable. But such trips aren’t possible if you pay too much for airfare. And unless you know where to look, finding cheap flights can be a huge hassle. Since airfare represents one of the biggest aspects of a trip’s cost, finding that hidden cheap flight deal can be just as important as finding the right destination, the right tour company, the right backpack, or the right place to stay.
Tips to find cheap flights:
1. Ignore the myths:
The first thing to know about finding a cheap flight is that there is no magic bullet or one secret ninja trick to doing so. There are a lot of myths online about how to find cheap flights. In fact, you’ve probably come across a ton of them on your search to find the best flight deal! They are all lies. They will lead you astray. Most websites hire terrible reporters who recycle common and outdated myths. Here are the most common that are 100% not true:
- It is NOT cheaper to buy airfare on a Tuesday.
- There is NO exact date or specific time period in which to book your airfare.
- You can’t predict airline prices and websites that do are basically taking an educated (but probably wrong) guess.
Airlines used advanced computer and pricing algorithms to determine prices and run sales based on the time of the year, passenger demand, weather, major events/festivals, time of day, competitor prices, and much more. Those old “tricks” don’t work anymore. The system is too smart. Throw them out. Let them die.
2. Be flexible with your travel dates and times
Airline ticket prices vary greatly depending on the day of the week, time of year, and upcoming holidays, such as Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, or the Fourth of July. August is a big month for traveling around Europe, and everyone wants to go somewhere warm in the winter or travel when the kids are out of school.
If you are going to fly when everyone is flying, then you’re ticket is going to cost more. Try to be flexible with your dates. If you are dead-set on visiting Paris, go to Paris in the spring or fall when fewer people visit and airfares are cheaper. But if you want to go in the middle of August? You’re out of luck.
3. Be flexible with your destinations
If you can’t be flexible when you fly, at least be flexible with where you fly. It’s best to be both, but if you really want to save the most money and get the cheap flights for your trip, you should at least do one!
The truth about airfare is that there’s always a deal to some destination, and if you’re flexible on where you want to go, you’ll always get a deal!
Airline search engines have made it really easy to search the entire world to find the cheapest ticket — you no longer have to search manually. While Kayak offers the “Explore” tool that allows you to put in your home airport and see a map of the world with all the flights on it, Google Flights also has a similar – and better – tool to use. If you are flexible with where you want to go (i.e., anywhere but home), use this tool to figure out where to go!
4. Don’t always fly direct
Not only does it help to be flexible with dates and destinations but being flexible with the route you take is another way to get a cheap flight. Sometimes it’s cheaper to fly to London and take a budget airline to Amsterdam than to fly direct to Amsterdam. There are so many budget carriers around the world that taking advantage of a good deal to another city and then hopping on a budget flight to your destination is sometimes the best way to go.
Be sure to have at least 3 hours between connections as booking tickets on different airlines will mean that if something goes wrong, you can’t just get put seamlessly on the next flight. Your second airline won’t care you were late since they didn’t fly them on the first place!
This method is more work as you have to figure out lots of different routes and check different airlines – and connecting adds more time to your journey. But it will shave even more money off your flight, giving you extra to spend at your destination.
5. Use Points and Miles
Airline rewards programs are a great way to get free flights, free upgrades, and free companion tickets. No matter how often you fly, you should be signed up for the airline’s reward program.
However, you can earn a lot of miles through credit card sign up bonus, online shopping, surveys, special offers, and more. You can earn over a million miles a year, without flying or spending extra money. That translates into dozens of free flights (often in business class) for myself and my family. If you are smart with your money and collect points and miles (the art of “travel hacking”), you can travel around the world for very little (and often free).
6. Search ticket prices as one person
Don’t search for or buy multiple tickets in a single purchase. Airlines always show the highest ticket price in a group of tickets. For example, if you are a family of four and searching for four seats, the airline will find four seats together and show your fare based on the highest ticket price. So if seat A is $200, seats B and C are $300, and seat D is $400, it will price those tickets as $400 each instead of adding up the individual ticket prices. Therefore, always search for tickets as a single person. Afterwards, in the checkout process, you can pick your seats so you and your family are sitting together.
7. Look for tickets in other currencies
If your country’s currency is currently strong compared to others around the world, search airfare in a country where the currency is weaker. For example, the US dollar is strong and the New Zealand currency is weak. I found a one-way flight from Australia to NYC for $1,000 USD but when I searched on the NZ version of the airline, I found the same ticket for $600 USD. It’s the same airline, same flight, and same booking class. It was just booked in a different currency. This tip does not always work, but it works often enough that it’s something worth trying if your currency is currently doing well.
8. Book early, but not too early
Airline fares will keep rising the closer you get to departure, but there is a sweet spot when the airlines begin to either lower or increase fares based on demand. Don’t wait until the last second but don’t book far, far in advance either. The best time to book your flight is around 6–8 weeks before your departure, or around three months before if you are going to your destination during their peak season.
Finding the cheap flights is about being flexible and smart in where you go, when you go, and how you get there. Follow the tips above, but don’t waste forever finding a cheap flight. If you’re spending more than an hour booking a flight, you’re spending too much time. Spend 30-40 minutes finding and booking a cheap flight at a price you’re OK paying and move on with your life.