Finding cheap flights saves you money and gives you more chances to travel and check out new places. There are plenty of ways to find the best deals on airfare, but it can sometimes be overwhelming with all the hidden fees, sketchy websites, and outdated tips.
Forget all those myths about cheap flights and instead focus on being flexible, taking advantage of special deals, and using tools like Google Flights.
Plus, with travel slowly returning after the pandemic, I’ve got some practical tips on scoring the best deals and making your trips stress-free. So, let’s get started on your journey to becoming a pro at finding budget flights.
1. Start Every Search with Google Flights
I always start my flight searches with Google Flights. It’s hands-down the best tool on the internet for searching flights, and it’s free. It aggregates prices from hundreds of airlines and lets you easily compare options. The platform is also incredibly flexible, allowing you to search from multiple airports simultaneously—a lifesaver for international travel.
With customizable filters, you can sort by price, duration, or number of stops, and the tool even offers money-saving tips based on your search criteria. Its ‘explore map’ feature shows you different destinations within your budget. Features like calendar view and price graphs help you find the cheapest days or times to fly. Whether planning a simple or complex itinerary, Google Flights offers a comprehensive, user-friendly way to find the best deals.
- Get new insights on the cheapest time to book your flight, based on historical data and trend analysis. You can see when prices have typically been lowest for your chosen dates and destination, and decide whether to book now or wait for lower prices.
- Turn on price tracking to receive notifications if flight prices drop significantly. You can set up tracking for specific dates or for any dates in the next three to six months.
- Snag a price guarantee on some flight results that have a colorful badge. This means that Google is confident that the price won’t go down before departure, and if it does, they will pay you back the difference via Google Pay.
2. Be Flexible with Your Travel Plans & Book Your Flights First
Being flexible with your travel dates, times, and destinations can significantly increase your chances of finding cheaper flights. By not being locked into a specific date or time, you have a higher probability of finding a more affordable flight option.
Google Flights calendar view comes in very handy, showing prices for each day and letting you easily compare the cost of flights.
You can save a lot of money if you start planning your trip by booking your flights before organizing accommodations and activities. Flights are usually the most expensive and variable part of travel, so securing a good deal should be your top priority. Once you’ve booked your flight, you can plan the rest of your trip, assured that you took advantage of flexible options to maximize your travel budget.
3. Travel at the Right Time & Avoid Peak Seasons
Consider traveling during off-peak seasons, days, or times. The cheapest days to fly are usually Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, while Sundays and Fridays tend to be more expensive. Peak travel times usually include holidays, weekends, and the summer months. But by avoiding these popular travel times, you can find lower ticket prices.
Keep in mind that different destinations have their own peak and off-peak seasons. For example, summer is often more expensive for European destinations, while winter is usually cheaper. On the other hand, flights to warm-weather locations like the Caribbean are typically more expensive in winter.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to traveling during off-peak times. One of the main benefits is lower ticket prices and less crowding at the airports and attractions. However, there could be fewer available flights or attractions during off-peak periods, such as the closure of some facilities during low tourist seasons.
Weigh the pros and cons of traveling at your ideal time versus at a more cost-advantageous time. If your schedule allows it, you can really save a lot of money traveling off-peak.
4. Be Flexible with Your Destinations
Don’t limit yourself to just one city or country when searching for flights. Consider a broader region or even an entire continent as your destination. This gives you more options and increases your chances of finding affordable flights.
For example, if you’re flying from the United States and want to explore Europe, don’t just look for flights to Paris or Rome. Check out alternative destinations, like Berlin, Madrid, or even smaller cities that might offer lower airfare. You might even stumble upon lively spots like Puerto Rico, with its rich culture, beautiful beaches, and affordable flights from the United States.
Google Flights makes it super easy to find affordable and alternative destinations. Use the explore map feature on Google Flights by leaving the arrival city blank or typing in a general region like “Europe” or “South America.” This will show you a map of various destinations within that region with their corresponding airfares.
So, be adventurous and curious about different cultures and experiences! Being flexible with your destinations can save money on flights and have some incredible memories. So, the next time you plan a trip, remember to keep an open mind and explore the world beyond your comfort zone.
5. Ignore the Cheap Flight Myths
When searching for cheap flights, it’s important to ignore common myths and misconceptions that can lead you down the wrong path. By doing so, you’ll be able to focus on the most effective strategies for finding the best deals on airfare.
Myth #1: “Tuesdays are the cheapest day to book a flight.”
One common myth is that booking on a specific day of the week or time of the day, such as a Tuesday, will guarantee the cheapest flights. However, no magic day or hour ensures you’ll find the lowest fares. Airline pricing is based on numerous factors, including supply and demand, so it’s unpredictable.
Myth #2: “Clearing your browser cookies or using incognito mode will lower flight prices.”
The idea behind this myth is that prices go up the more you search, but this is not true. Flight prices do change, but not based on your browsing history. Again, they vary due to various factors such as availability, fuel prices, and market competition.
Myth #3: “Booking far in advance or at the last minute will get you the cheapest flights.”
While it’s true that booking in the “Goldilocks window” (2-8 months ahead for international flights; 1-3 months for domestic) can sometimes lead to better deals, there’s no guarantee that waiting until the last minute or booking way in advance will always yield the lowest prices.
There is no foolproof method for finding the cheapest flights. Instead of falling for these myths, focus on researching and comparing different options to ensure you get the best deal possible.
6. Use Google Flight Flight Alerts
Google Flight Alerts can help you find cheap flights by emailing you when prices change for your selected flights. This feature lets you stay informed about the best deals without constantly searching for airfare changes.
You can also access a price graph that tracks price changes from the day you set up your Price Alert. This valuable information can help you make informed decisions about your travel plans.
To effectively use Google Flight Alerts to find cheap flights, consider the following tips:
- Set up alerts early: Start monitoring price changes as soon as possible. The more time you give yourself, the more likely you find a good deal.
- Monitor multiple options: Create alerts for various dates, destinations, and airports. Comparing different options will help you identify the most cost-effective choice.
- Don’t get paralysis analysis: If a flight drops to a reasonable price, consider booking it. I’ve been victim to waiting and waiting for the best deal only for prices to come back up. Don’t fall victim to this.
7. Be Cautious of OTA Search Engines
Online Travel Agencies (OTAs), such as Skyscanner, Kayak, Expedia, and Momondo, are websites that aggregate flight options from various airlines and help you find and book flights. While they can be convenient and sometimes help you find cheaper prices, there are some potential pitfalls to be aware of.
One of the benefits of using OTA search engines is that they can show you a broader range of options compared to tools like Google Flights. However, they may also display flights with additional fees, unreliable customer service, or unfavorable cancellation policies, making the deals not as sweet as they initially seem.
I always prefer booking with an airline directly and If you use an OTA, you are booking through a 3rd party. This adds a middle-man to the equation with more layers of policy. Things become much more difficult when you need to change a flight or scramble for new travel arrangements after a flight was canceled or delayed for half a day.
When using Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) for flight bookings, keep these key points in mind:
- To avoid hidden costs, verify the final price, including all taxes and fees.
- Choose reputable OTAs or consider booking directly with the airline for better customer service and predictable policies.
- Consult reviews and ratings to gauge the quality and reliability of OTAs and airlines.
You can effectively use OTAs to find great flight deals without compromising quality by being cautious and doing your homework.
8. Search for One-Way Flights Instead of Roundtrip
Sometimes, booking two separate one-way flights can be cheaper than going for a round-trip ticket. You might be thinking, “Doesn’t that just complicate things?” Hear me out.
For domestic flights especially, most airlines already set their pricing on a per-leg basis. When you search multiple carriers, you might discover that booking two separate one-way flights with different airlines is cheaper than a round-trip ticket with a single carrier. This strategy lets you opt for the most affordable one-way flights in both directions, offering substantial savings.
However, this approach has its downsides. Different airlines have different baggage fees, and these can add up when you’re flying one-way with multiple carriers. For instance, if you fly out with Southwest, which allows two free checked bags, but return with Spirit, which charges for checked luggage and even carry-ons, those additional costs could eat into your savings. It’s crucial to be aware of varying luggage policies among airlines when considering this option.
I almost always book one-way flights, especially domestically, even if the price is the same as a roundtrip option. The flexibility is more valuable to me if I need to rearrange my flight back (say, if I find a better deal or want to change my schedule).
International flights are different. Sometimes, it is more cost-efficient to book round-trip because of the taxes and fees. In this case, you will often save more money booking round-trip, but I still always start my searches one way and compare them against roundtrip options.
9. Check Prices at Nearby Airports and Cities
Another key strategy is to check prices at nearby airports. You can often find lower fares by being flexible with your departure and arrival airports.
Google Flights makes this easy. You can add multiple airports and even cities to the departure and destination fields, providing you with various flight options that can save you money. Additionally, the map view on Google Flights can help you visualize different flight options and compare prices across a broader region.
I live outside of Hartford, which is centrally located near Boston and New York. I always search Hartford, Boston, and New York to fly out of. In the example below, it’s easy for me to check flight options out of all locations at the same time.
There are several tips and tricks to help you effectively check prices at nearby airports:
- Compare the total price, duration, and convenience of each flight option. Don’t just focus on the flight price; consider any additional costs, layovers, or inconveniences from flying from a different airport.
- When considering nearby airports, consider transportation costs, time, and hassle. Sometimes, the savings on your flight may be offset by the expenses of getting to or from an alternate airport.
- Check the availability and frequency of flights from various airports. You may find a better deal if more flights are available.
10. Take Advantage of Positioning Flights
Let’s dive into a lesser-known strategy that frequent flyers swear by. Positioning flights. A positioning flight is an additional flight to get to an airport where your primary trip will start. Think of it as a mini-trip before your main adventure. But why go through the extra trouble?
Positioning flights offer a range of benefits, primarily in the form of cost savings. Say you live in a small town, and flights to your dream destination are ridiculously expensive. You might find that flying out of a major airport a few hours away could save you a hefty sum. So, you’d take a “positioning flight” to that major airport and catch your primary flight.
Besides cheaper fares, positioning flights can offer better award seat availability if you’re using miles. More options mean better chances of snagging that award seat you’ve been eyeing. Additionally, suppose you’re loyal to a particular airline or alliance. Positioning flights can help you rack up more miles, status points, or other elite benefits.
Remember, while this strategy can offer some sweet savings, it also means added time and potential costs, such as transportation to the other airport or an overnight stay. Always weigh these factors before you decide to go for it.
11. Sign Up for Cheap Flight Alert Notifications
Signing up for discount flight notifications can help you find cheap flights. There are many of these services out there, but I recommend Going.com. Formerly known as Scott’s Cheap Flights, Going.com rebranded in 2023 to reflect its new vision and features.
They keep an eye on airfare prices from many airlines and email you when they find fantastic deals. You can customize your alerts by choosing your preferred departure airports, regions, and travel frequency.
You can sign up for either a free or premium membership. The free option gives you access to a “lower” frequency of international flight deals (1-2 days later). If you upgrade to premium, you’ll get “first to know” flight deals (domestic and international), including mistake fares and weekend getaway alerts. Premium membership is just $49 per year or $4.99 per month.
Visit their website here to learn more about their service and features.
12. Leverage 24-hour Risk-free Bookings
Let’s talk about a safety net that only some know about but should: 24-hour risk-free bookings. Have you ever felt that sense of regret right after booking a flight, worried that you jumped the gun or that a better deal might appear? This is where 24-hour risk-free bookings come in handy.
Thanks to the U.S. Department of Transportation regulation, airlines must offer full refunds for flights touching U.S. soil if you cancel within 24 hours of booking. Yes, you read that right. This rule gives you a one-day window to lock in a flight without any financial commitment, allowing you to continue scouring the web for better deals or changing plans without a penalty.
The benefits of leveraging this 24-hour window are clear. First, it takes the pressure off, allowing you to make adjustments. Maybe you spot a better flight schedule or find a deal with an airline you prefer more. Whatever the reason, you have 24 hours to make changes without losing a dime.
So next time you’re about to click “Book,” remember that you’re not necessarily locked in right away. Use those 24 hours wisely to get the most bang for your buck.
13. Fly Budget Airline Carriers for Low-Cost Flights
Budget airlines, known as low-cost carriers, offer more affordable flights by cutting certain in-flight amenities and services. By flying with these budget carriers, you can save considerable money on domestic and international flights.
Here’s a list of budget airlines organized by region:
Flying budget carriers comes with pros and cons. On the plus side, they offer low fares and frequent sales, making it possible to score great deals on flights. However, budget airlines often charge extra fees for baggage, seat selection, and in-flight food. Additionally, they offer less legroom and comfort, and may fly into smaller or remote airports that require further transportation to your destination.
To make the most of flying with budget carriers, consider these tips:
- Compare budget carriers’ total price and fees with regular airlines to ensure you’re getting the best value.
- Pack light to avoid checked baggage fees, sticking to carry-on luggage when possible.
- Bring your own snacks and entertainment, as these amenities may not be provided or cost extra.
- Check the airport location and transportation options to your final destination, as budget carriers often fly into smaller or less convenient airports.
14. Use Student Discounts
Student discounts are price reductions offered to students to help them save on various products and services, including flights. Student discounts can play a significant role in helping you find cheap flights.
Consider using specialist student travel agencies like Student Universe or Flight Centre to take advantage of student discounts. These agencies offer discounted flights for students under 26 years old. Compare the quotes from different agencies and online deals to find the best option for your budget and destination.
Some airlines offer student discounts as well. For instance, Lufthansa has a program for students, which may extend to their partner airlines. Check the websites or call the airlines to inquire about available student discounts.
15. Book Different Airlines Each Way
Mixing and matching airlines means booking different airline carriers for the various legs of your trip to find the cheapest possible flights. This strategy can help you save money while also allowing you to choose flights that best suit your schedule and preferences.
An example of mixing and matching airlines is booking two one-way flights with different airlines instead of purchasing a round-trip ticket with the same airline. Another example is booking a flight with a budget carrier for one leg of your trip and using a regular carrier for another. Additionally, you may find deals by booking a flight with a partner airline.
To mix and match airlines effectively, consider the following tips and tricks:
- Compare the total price, duration, and convenience of flights when mixing and matching airlines versus booking with the same airline. Sometimes, booking separate one-way tickets may be cheaper, even if it means flying with different carriers.
- Consider the baggage fees, seat selection, loyalty points, and customer service of the different airlines when making your final decision. Some budget carriers may charge additional fees for baggage and seat selection, while others may not offer loyalty points or high-quality customer service.
- Check the airport location and transfer options when mixing and matching airlines. It’s essential to ensure enough time to transfer between flights if you need to switch airlines or terminals.
16. Search Ticket Prices as an Individual when Traveling in a Group
When searching for cheap flights, one effective method is to search for ticket prices individually, even when traveling in a group. This means looking for the price of one ticket rather than the price for multiple tickets at once. By doing this, you might discover lower prices and better deals that are unavailable when searching for group tickets.
Here are some tips and tricks on how to search ticket prices for individuals effectively:
- Compare the total price: After finding individual ticket prices, calculate the total cost of buying single tickets for each traveler and compare it to the cost of purchasing group tickets. Sometimes, individual tickets might be cheaper overall.
- Check availability and seating options: When purchasing individual tickets instead of group tickets, check the availability of seats and whether or not you can still sit together. If necessary, consider sacrificing a bit of comfort to save money.
- Book separately or together: Depending on the best price and value for your group, decide whether to book individual tickets individually or together. For instance, if the cost per person increases when you add more travelers to the booking, you may want to split your group into multiple bookings to secure a lower price for at least some group members.
By applying these strategies when searching for flight ticket prices, you can save money and find better deals for your group, making your travel experience more budget-friendly and enjoyable.
17. Use Points & Miles to Fly for Pennies on the Dollar
The only thing better than cheap flights is free flights. Using points and miles to book award travel is what this hobby is all about. If you’re new to this hobby, I recommend a few cards to beginners who want to start earning points and flying for pennies on the dollar.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
This is my top recommendation for all beginners. It gives you access to the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, where you can transfer points to Chase’s airline partners.
Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
My second favorite card for beginners is the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Earn two miles for every dollar you spend and either leverage Capital One’s transfer partners or redeem your miles by wiping away travel charges on your statement at one mile per dollar.
Finding cheap flights doesn’t have to be a game of luck or a test of patience. From leveraging tools like Google Flights to utilizing insider strategies like positioning flights and 24-hour risk-free bookings, you’ve got plenty of options to trim your travel expenses. Remember to factor in all the costs, read reviews, and double-check prices before hitting that “Book” button. Here’s to smarter travel and more adventures on a budget!