The Ultimate Guide to Finding Cheap Flights
Depending on where and when you’re flying, airfare can be a huge part of your overall budget for a trip. Especially if you’re in the USA, it can be extremely expensive to leave the country, let alone the continent.
The good news is, flight prices are lower now than they’ve ever been. In the age of $99 flights to Europe (no, I didn’t forget a zero), you can find some amazing deals if you’re willing to do a little research.
Finding cheap flight deals isn’t luck; there are a wide variety of tips, tools, and strategies that frequent travelers use to find the best value flights available.
If you know when, where, and how to search for cheap flights, your dream trip can become a reality just through the ability to get there for an affordable price.
It Pays To Be Flexible
When it comes to saving money on travel, flexibility is a huge factor in your ability to travel affordably.
If you can be flexible in the time of year and day of week you travel, or even where you’re traveling, you can potentially save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on your trip.
There are several benefits to traveling during less popular times of year. Autumn and Spring are considered shoulder seasons, while Winter is known as the off-season. Traveling during these times is much more affordable and can make even the most expensive destinations budget-friendly.
Traveling during the shoulder and off-seasons is also great for avoiding the crowds. For example when I traveled to Iceland in November, I had some of the most popular attractions all to myself!
Days of the Week to Fly
There are plenty of articles out there that talk about the cheapest day to fly.
While I’ve personally found that fares are usually cheapest on Mondays and Tuesdays, it varies by destination.
The easiest way to figure out what day of the week is the cheapest to fly for your target destination is to test it out yourself. When you’re searching for flights, there’s usually a flexible date option that will show you flights for an entire week or more. Use this to see what day of the week will result in the cheapest tickets!
Layovers and Connecting Flights
If you have a flexible travel timeline, you can utilize layovers and connecting flights to get the cheapest deal possible.
Layovers and connecting flights can be used to secure cheaper tickets as well as see an additional destination at no cost! Some layovers can be 24 hours or longer, and give you the opportunity to explore the layover city while you wait. Some airports even offer city tours free of charge for this exact situation!
While layovers and connecting flights can be great ways to reduce travel costs, they’re not always the best option.
For example, I recently snagged a round-trip flight to Dublin, Ireland for $250, but it required a 9 hour layover in Iceland on return. I was stuck in the airport because the Keflavik Airport in Iceland is 45 minutes away from the city of Reykjavik. I used this time to set up my laptop and work, but for some people this would be a deal breaker!
Want to travel but don’t have a specific destination in mind? You’re in the best position to find a cheap flight.
Several flight search tools have an option for you to pick an airport and search flights to any destination. Check out the cheapest flights and choose a destination!
If you have a destination in mind but can be flexible on where you fly out of, make sure you search flights from every possible airport. For example I live in between Chicago and St. Louis, so I can fly out of either location. While international flights are usually cheaper out of Chicago, many domestic flights are cheaper when I fly from St. Louis.
When To Buy Your Ticket
According to a study performed by cheapair.com, the prime booking window for cheap flights is 4 months to 3 weeks (121 to 21 days) before your trip.
To make sure you’re getting a good deal, monitor flights to your destination during this window. Cheapair.com found that flight prices will fluctuate during this window, but will frequently be available within 5% of the cheapest price. When your flight drops down to a low price, go ahead and purchase it!
Don’t have time to closely monitor flight prices? The same study found that on average, flights are cheapest 70 days before the date of departure.
Flight Search Tools
The tools below are my personal favorite and usually lesser known flight search tools. Although these tools will usually show the cheapest flights, be sure to check them against the big online travel agents like Kayak, Priceline, and Expedia.
Momondo is my all-time favorite flight search tool. With few exceptions, Momondo always shows the cheapest flights available. You can also set up multiple flight alerts to send you an email when your flight changes price, or even send you a phone notification if you download their app.
If you’re feeling spontaneous, Momondo offers a flexible location search that shows you flight prices to anywhere. It also has a price calendar for each tool that allows you to see if prices are cheaper or more expensive on other dates.
Google ITA Matrix
Google ITA Matrix is an extremely powerful flight search tool.
When you visit the site, you’ll see a form asking you to input details about the flight you would like to search for. You can search for specific dates, a range of 2-3 dates, or even see a calendar of lowest fares.
While you can’t book directly through the Google ITA Matrix, you can take the information found there to search for the flight on either the airline website or an online travel booking site like Momondo or Kayak.
Cheap Flight Resources
The following resources are email newsletters that will send the best flight deals straight to your inbox.
You can make the most of these newsletters by setting up an email filter and sending the emails to a designated travel folder. Once you set up your filter, set up your email to send you notifications whenever an email is added to that folder.
Both of these resources also have a Facebook page where they post the majority of their flight deals. Follow their pages and set their posts to appear first in your news feed. This will ensure that you see all of the deals as soon as they’re posted!
Scott’s Cheap Flights
Scott’s Cheap Flights is the absolute best resource for finding cheap flights! Scott and his team find the best flight deals available.
The free version sends you one out of every three flight deals that Scott’s team finds. For $39 a year, the premium version sends you all deal alerts, mistake fares, and secret sales 30 minutes earlier than the free version! Trust me, when it comes to mistake fares you’ll want that extra 30 minutes.
The Flight Deal
The Flight Deal is a free website and email newsletter that sends daily deals. It acts similarly to Scott’s Cheap Flights, except the it emails you a list of all flight deals for the day instead of updating you as they’re found.
Another resource for finding cheap flights is to subscribe to individual airline newsletters. They’ll often send out information on sales, discount codes, and new routes. For example, WowAir frequently sends out 30-40% off discount codes to their subscribers!
Researching Cheap Flight Deals
Cheaper is not always better!
Finding an amazing deal on a flight to your dream destination can be a thrill, but it’s important to do your research and make sure that it’s the best option available.
Airline Baggage and Miscellaneous Fees
Budget airlines are a great option for making travel accessible for almost anyone. However, they often have fees that can make the ticket even more expensive than one from a better airline!
If you can travel with nothing but a small carry on or personal item, are open to sitting wherever, and don’t need extra amenities like a meal or even water; budget airline tickets can be a great way to make travel affordable.
If you need to check a bag, want to choose your seat, and want a meal onboard, you’ll need to do research on airline fees to make sure that you’re really getting the best flight available for your needs.
Read Airline Reviews
If you find a cheap flight deal with an airline you’ve never flown before, make sure you look up reviews for the airline. A $100 savings on your ticket is meaningless if you end up with a major flight delay or even a cancellation that ruins your entire trip.
That being said, make sure you take all airline reviews with a grain of salt. While I love WowAir as a way to get to Europe for the price of a domestic flight, there are hundreds of reviews out there from travelers who didn’t research the airline’s fees. Different travelers have different expectations for air travel, and those expectations can greatly affect their impression of an airline.
To sum it all up: use the flight tools above to find great deals, do your research, and go!
Finding a great deal on airfare can be the difference between crossing a destination off of your bucket list or sitting on your couch watching the Travel Channel. By learning the tips, tools, and strategies used by the pros, you can travel more affordably and more often.