5 Ways to Find Cheap Flights

People always ask me how I afford to travel so often. Most travel factors, like lodging, daytime activities, and food/drink can usually be controlled to fit whatever budget you’re trying to accommodate.

Flying, however, is often the most expensive variable- but, it doesn’t have to be.

Aside from knowing which websites to use for finding deals, and keeping in mind a few other planning tips, the most important thing is being ready to act. Sometimes, flight prices drop for no apparent reason, and to score a good deal, you’ve got to be able to book immediately.

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My top five ways to find and book affordable flights:

Be Flexible

  • Flexibility with dates can be key to scoring deals. I usually try to fly mid-week, when flights are less crowded and often cheaper
    • It’s pretty well known the best days to fly are on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday because they’re off-peak days
    • Unsurprisingly, Fridays and Sundays are the most expensive days 
  • Off-peak season is the best time to score a travel deal, e.g., visiting Mexico in the summer/early fall or Europe in May, June or mid-September – October. Not sure when the off-peak season for your destination is? Just Google it, you’ll likely come across a bunch of articles, loaded with tips from people who’ve been there
  • If you’re traveling to multiple cities and don’t have a set agenda for which one you visit first/second/third, check different flight routes to shop around and see which city-to-city combination is most affordable
  • While I’m not a fan of long layovers, I have no problem taking a red-eye. Flying red-eyes, at cheaper than average rates, allowed me to visit Europe past this twice fall. Sure, you may be a little tired when you arrive, but if you plan a low-key first day (like visiting the Blue Lagoon in Iceland), and get a full night’s sleep for the next day, you’ll be fine

Do Your Research

  • Search in Google’s Incognito mode or erase your browsing history before every search. Fact: Airlines raise prices of flights if they see you’ve searched that route and/or dates a few times
  • Check multiple websites, a few favorites: 
    • Airfare Watchdog: Sign up for email alerts for a price you’re willing to pay
    • Google Flights: Compare nearby airport prices, see prices of alternate travel days and sort by total travel time
    • Skyscanner: Similar to Google Flights, I use this one a lot when searching international flights or cheapest flights over the course of a month (if my dates are super flexible) 
    • Hipmunk: Love this site’s real-time alerts when fares drop. You’ve got to decide quickly though or else someone may snatch up the low fare you’re watching. I’ve booked quite a few flights through their mobile app per price drop notifications
  • Sign-up to receive airline sales
    • A lot of airlines have deal promo emails, figure out which airlines are major carriers for your destination and sign-up for their email alerts. Acting fast on a deal email from Frontier scored me a $45 flight to Miami last winter
  • Flying with different airlines can be cheaper than booking round trip with one carrier. Sometimes one airline will be cheaper for the way there and another airline will be cheaper for the way home. When you’re searching, check flights round trip, as well as separately to ensure you’re seeing the best deals
  • Keep an eye on your flight route so you know what is a good deal vs. regular price. I just scored a flight from New York to Seattle for $120 four months from the travel date on a flight route that’s normally $200+. And, once you have a sense of what a typical flight to your destination costs, know what you’re willing to pay so you can act quickly when fares drop

Book Early

  • It’s rare you can score a last minute flight deal for next-to-nothing. Granted, I have gotten some good deals 2-3 weeks out, I usually book domestic and international trips at least 6-8 months in advance. Depending on your route, flights may be cheapest when airlines first post them 
  • Lots of studies suggest 6 weeks out is the best time to book, but I often find the cheapest rates further out 
    • Worth noting, Cheap Air found the perfect time to book international flights is 11-12 weeks before leaving
    • PS. This rule applies to train rides within Europe too. Look at the train site and figure out when your travel dates will be posted, then set a reminder on your calendar to check back on that day. Low rates go fast, so it’s important to snatch them up early

Consider All Costs

  • Whenever I’m setting a travel budget and looking at flights, I think about airport transportation for departure and arrival. If you fly out at 6 am and need to take a taxi to the airport because public transit isn’t running at 3 am, account for that cost in planning
  • Public transit is my go-to when I travel, but sometimes it’s cheaper to take a ride share
    • In the US, Uber Pool & Super Shuttle may be more convenient and cheaper than public transit, pending on your destination
    • Internationally, always research your destination’s transit recommendations. For instance, in Reykjavik, Iceland, public transit isn’t available from the airport to the city, so your only options are a shared bus ride or expensive taxi. Often, you can save a few dollars by booking said ride shares ahead of your arrival 

Skip the Extras

  • A lot of discount airlines try to make money on you by making you pay for carry-ons, seat selection, etc. Unless you have a really good reason for picking a seat ahead of time, skip this- a few bucks may not seem like a lot when you’re booking, but every cost adds up
  • Bring your own snacks to avoid purchasing airline food. I’ve gone through TSA with fruit, veggies, sandwiches, salads and various snacks. Usually, I only buy water before getting on the plane
  • Carry-on luggage only. I’m planning a separate post about how I pack for multiple climates and up to two weeks in only a carry-on suitcase, but I can’t stress enough how important this is to budget travel. Once you start paying for checked baggage, you not only increase the cost of your trip, but you also spend more time waiting for bags at the airport, and will likely have a tougher time getting around the city if you’re trying to take public or shared transit 

Extra Tips

  • Join a free frequent flyer program. With most programs, you can earn points towards cheaper fares and upgrades if you fly often enough. Priority check-in and boarding, as well as airport lounge access are great perks if there are a few airlines you travel consistently
  • Consider signing up for an airline credit card. As long as you pay it off in full regularly, airline credit cards can help accrue points towards free flights, and often come with other perks, like free checked baggage. Similarly, I also recommend considering a general travel card with no foreign transaction fees (those little charges all add up!)
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