Flights can take up the majority of a trip’s budget, so finding the best price can make the difference between taking that trip of a lifetime or staying home and watching Netflix. And oddly enough, despite all of the technological advances when it comes to flying, booking inexpensive flights seems to be even more nerve-wracking now than it was 20 years ago. With all of the different travel sites and airlines offering various deals coupled with all of them claiming to have the lowest prices, you could spend days searching for the best flight without ever finding that magic price point. Instead of wasting hours bouncing from one site to the next, enjoy this time-tested guide to finding cheap flights!
When to buy
Contrary to popular belief, the early bird doesn’t get the worm when it comes to airline travel. Instead of booking the very first seat on a flight as soon as it’s available, you’ll find the best fares by searching on a Tuesday 2 months-6 weeks before your travel date. Most domestic airlines still release their sales on Tuesdays with other carriers following suit and dropping prices to remain competitive.
Where to search
Forget Expedia, Travelocity and Priceline. Head directly to the cream of the crop of travel search engines. Some of the best right now are Sky Scanner (which has its own app, as well,) Airfare Watchdog, Momondo, JetRadar (especially for budget airlines) and Google Flights. Beware that while Google Flights is great for comparing a multitude of fares, going to the airline and booking directly through them will often yield a cheaper fare. And don’t just book your flight on the first site you visit. Check a few of them before booking to ensure the best deal.
Sign up for airfare alerts
Airfare Watchdog, The Flight Deal and Secret Flying are unique and valuable sites to have in your vacation arsenal. The best feature of Airfare Watchdog and Secret Flying is that they compile errors made by major airlines, often resulting in some obscenely low fares! If you join their mailing lists, they will alert you when the price of your selected flights decrease. These are best to set up a few months before you want to book your flight so you can judge the best deal. On a similar note, you can be your own airfare watchdog. Check the price of your flight the day after you book it. If it’s gone down, call the airline. Oftentimes, they’ll refund the difference between the two prices.
When to fly
If your dates are flexible, historical data shows that you’ll save the most money by doing a Wednesday-Wednesday trip when planes are least likely to be full. Weekends have the heaviest rate of travel so they tend to be more expensive than a mid-week flight.
Fly a budget airline
Budget airlines won’t often come up in the popular travel search engines since those sites can’t get a cut of the booking price, but they’re worth seeking out on your own. Some of the better-known budget airlines include Jet Blue, Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit Airlines. You’ll often save a good chunk of change, but just be aware that there may be sacrifices in this trade such as: flying to a further city, having less leg room than you may be used to on larger airlines and/or missing amenities like drinks and complimentary movies.
Search in an incognito window
I know this tip sounds in part like a conspiracy theory, but it’s a legitimate way to find cheap flights. Browsers use “cookies” to capture data and then turn around and use that data against you to increase the prices of flights. The search engines bank on consumers booking immediately for fear that the fares will just continue to increase. To avoid this, try to only search for flights in “private browsing mode” or an incognito window. You can also clear your cookies and cache after every search if you forget to use a private window.
Compare direct vs. non-direct flights
Like with most things in life, being flexible can save your wallet! Although connecting flights are the stuff of nightmares to some people, they can offer incredible savings. Mixing and matching two one-way tickets can occasionally result in lower costs, as well, especially if it’s with two different airlines. Sky Scanner is a great tool to utilize when wanting to compare different one-way and connecting flights.