Expensive airfare stands between a lot of people and frequent travel. You may have found a dream location, good prices on lodging, reasonable entertainment fees, but unless you find a flight deal you won’t be living la dolce vita anytime soon. Cheap airfare makes it a lot easier for one to roam around the world having rich cultural experiences. Here are my travel tips for finding cheap flights.
- Know the best routes. I look at all the biggest airports near me and then see which carriers have hubs there. (Tip: if you live near another country, prices might be considerably lower from there so it’s worth a look.) Next, I look to see which carriers fly frequent routes from the airports near me to an airport near (or on the same continent) where I am going. For instance, if I want to go to Italy, I may look at flying into Milan from O’Hare since there are frequently deals on that route. From Detroit though, the deals are often to Rome. Since domestic airfare is quite cheap in Europe, I may even fly into Lisbon, Paris, Amsterdam, or another major hub and just take a domestic flight to my final destination (Detroit to Paris on one carrier and then Paris to Rome on a discount European air carrier). Train travel over there is always an option, too. In the States this won’t work, of course, but I generally look at all the airports nearby to get the best deal.
- Compare round-trip versus one-way flights. Sometimes called “hacker fares,” buying two (or more) one-way tickets versus a round-trip ticket may save you big bucks. I frequently employ this option, especially if I find a good deal on one carrier for travel to my destination and another carrier for my return date. It can take a little more time to do this research, but it can mean big savings, especially during off-peak season travel when carriers don’t have as many regular routes and planes aren’t as full.
- Be flexible on dates. One reason I go to Google Flights first when I start researching a flight is to see which days are cheapest (I like how their calendar is set up where I can see prices for full months). It makes no rhyme or reason, but sometimes you will find one day in a month that is significantly cheaper than the rest (probably due to poor performance in the past). By being flexible with my dates, I am able to take advantage of days with cheap flights.
- Use great flight search engines (Google Flights, Skyscanner, Expedia, Kayak, AirFare Watchdog, and Momondo are some of my favorites). Google Flights is my go-to search engine for finding deals and getting an idea which dates are the cheapest. I use the “track prices” feature to gauge if I’m getting a deal and can use the “explore map” to see if there are any last-minute bargains I want to take advantage of. Each of the other websites all have their own benefits and I generally search all of them to make sure I’m getting the best value and to search the greatest number of carriers.
- Check with the carrier before booking through a travel website like Priceline. Although I do my research on travel fare aggregators, it is rare that I actually book through their sites. I have found that increasingly the flight deal one sees is for “basic economy” fare (where baggage, food, seat selection, boarding priority are all extra fees–if they’re available). By going to the carrier’s direct website, I have found the same price as on the aggregator (or a very slight difference) for a better seat. It’s also easier to make changes if you book with the carrier directly.
- Keep your browsing private. Travel gurus hotly debate this tip. Some will argue it is bunk to clear your cookies and browse incognito, but I believe better safe than sorry. Once I was browsing for a ticket and didn’t use incognito to do so. I kept going back and forth between websites and had to retype the flight information several times. On the third time, the flight price went up. I called my husband who used another computer to check the price and found the lower price that I had seen when I first started searching. I cleared my cookies and went incognito and the price was lower again. Maybe it was a fluke, but I learned to keep my browsing private and hide my identity so I can get the best flight deals possible.
- Book as early as you can. This is also a hotly contested travel tip. Some people will have you booking a certain number of days out, while others will have you waiting until the last minute. Since I am a planner, I book as early as possible (this way I can find lodging and other deals). There are times when I’ve booked almost a year in advance. A frequent flyer friend of mine always argues with me that I’m paying too much, but I track the trip after I’ve booked and the only time I’ve seen lower prices was once…on a domestic flight.
- Check to see if your carrier has a “best fare” guarantee. A lot of U.S. carriers offer a 24-hour hold option for tickets so you can book the flight and then shop around. Within that window they will give you the best price that they have, so even if you’re sure about your flight make sure to continue checking the price throughout the one-day period. Even if you’re out of the “return” period (or are flying a carrier that doesn’t offer that option), if you find a cheap flight you may consider paying the cancellation fee (if offered) and just booking the better flight deal. Also, be aware that slight changes to your itinerary by the carrier may make you eligible to cancel your ticket without a fee. Since I book early, I find that my travel times frequently change over the many months before my plane takes off. Although generally just a few minutes difference, most carriers offer me the chance to cancel my ticket with no penalties. When I get the email from the carrier, I use the opportunity to check other prices (even for the same flight) and re-book if a better deal is available.
- Look at emerging carriers—those who are expanding their routes or just beginning operation. The newest kids on the block are often trying to make a good name for themselves. To do so, they may offer cheaper fare. When looking at discount carriers though, do the math to see if the budget fare is really a good deal once other fees are added in. You have to consider what value you may place on comfort since discount airlines may have seats with less pitch (room) and may charge for baggage (even carry-on), refreshments, and extra amenities (like headphones, blankets, etc).
- Take advantage of perks. A lot of people accrue points through credit card purchases that can be used towards discounted or free tickets. Don’t let your miles go to waste. There are several good bloggers (and vloggers) that teach people how to make the most of their rewards. Also, you will want to inquire if the carrier offers any discounts. Students, senior citizens, members of certain organizations, and others may qualify for a discount. It’s worth investigating.
Other things to note that may or may not pay off are error fares (great deals but carriers may not honor them) and going through a foreign website and paying in foreign currency (make sure you’re using a credit card with no foreign-exchange fees and that the carrier allows this type of ticketing). These travel tips generally result in pretty cheap flights for me—I’ve even found myself in business class for a price close to premium economy! Do you have any tips for flight deals that you would like to share? I’m always looking to save more money, so please leave them in the comment section below. Happy travels!
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