During the past few months, several people have come to me for advice on finding cheap flights. While I’m definitely not an expert, I do have a good bit of experience scouring the internet for the absolute cheapest plane ticket out there.
Plus, for years, one of the things I would do to unwind or as a break from work or studying would be to look for cheap flights for trips that I was not actually planning to take. (Let’s be honest…I’m still known to do this today!)
While everyone has their own thoughts on the cheapest day to buy a ticket, the best site to search on, etc., these are some of my top tips for looking flights on the cheap.
Know Your Search Engines + Know How to Use Them
Today, there seem to be hundreds of sites that you can use to compare flight prices. Out of all the options out there, my favorite sites for cheap airfare are:
Google Flights (I love using the map to explore different destinations and stopover options!)
Kayak (doesn’t include some budget carriers, such as Southwest)
ITA Flight Matrix (I love to use the calendar, but it doesn’t include some budget carriers)
When I first start looking to book a plane ticket, I use these sites to give me an idea of what’s out there. These search engines also allow you to look at various dates, cities, airports, routings, etc. that can help you get to the lowest price.
I almost never just visit one site, book a ticket, and then I’m done. Depending on the flight and price of my travels, my search process often takes time and involves examining a seemingly endless number of different options.
I check all of the above search engines, I cross-reference the sites with each other, I look compare different days and times, I consider flying in and out of nearby cities rather than my final destination, I consider stopovers (see below for more), and I frequently use a map of the world to try to figure out how I can get the cheapest price for my route.
In addition to using search engines, as I’m narrowing down my options, I also take a look at the site of the carrier or two that I’m looking to book. Sometimes looking directly on the airline’s site, you are able to find a routing or times that work better and sometimes even a better price as airlines are hoping you will book directly with them rather than through Expedia, Travelocity, or others. No matter what I find on the search engines, I always double check the carrier directly, just in case they have a better offer.
I recommend just testing out these sites and learning how they function so that when you are planning your next trip, you know how to use them and the best method of searching for you!
Use an Incognito Window or Private Browsing
As you repeatedly search for a flight on your computer, airlines often increase flight prices based on the cookies in your browser. Airline companies may want you to worry that prices are going up and pressure you into buying before they increase even more (when perhaps they won’t!). Have you ever noticed that if you search on your home computer and your work computer about the same time that you find different prices? This is based on your search history and can lead to you paying a higher price for your airline ticket.
To counter this issue, use a secret window, such as a Google Incognito Window when you search. Google Incognito ensures that the pages that you view don’t stay in your browser’s history, cookie store, etc., and this can often allow you to find cheaper flights!
Make Sure You’re Aware of Extra Fees
We’re all aware that almost all airlines charge for a checked bag. However, did you know that some airlines charge for carry-on luggage? Others even charge you to print out your boarding pass at the airport!
When taking advantage of low price options, just make sure you know what fees are going to come up to ensure that you actually are getting a good deal.
For example, last year, I flew budget carrier XL France from New York to Paris for just over $250. Great price! But, there were a lot of fees that, if I was not aware of, could have drastically increased the price of my trip.
For example, the airline weighed carry-on luggage. If yours was over the weight limit = FEE. The airline did not provide any food or drinks on the trip. So, if you didn’t pack your own snacks and got hungry during the flight and requested food = FEE. Headphones, blankets, and other amenities were also not given to all passengers. Want something like this during your flight? = FEE.
For me, I knew what I was getting into when booking the flight and was prepared; however, some people don’t like bare bones budget flying. Just know before you go!
Follow Airlines on Social Media or Join their Email Lists
Using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets, you can follow airlines to get information on sales and other important information for planning an upcoming trip. Airlines often announce sales and last minute deals through social media or email newsletters. Many sales are for a short period of time, so if you don’t regularly re-check for the flight you want, you could miss a good deal that you can easily find out about through email or social media.
Try Booking One-Way or Multi-City Tickets Rather than Roundtrip
Many times, I’ve found that booking two one-way tickets or booking a multi-city ticket rather than a direct one can result in a much cheaper price. Using the search engines mentioned above, you can look into one-way or multi-city options.
However, just be careful with layovers if you consider booking this way.
For example, if you book legs of your trip separately and on different airlines, it won’t matter to Airline B that your first flight on Airline A was delayed and caused you to miss your flight on Airline B. You may find yourself out of luck, stuck somewhere you don’t want to be, and having to buy an expensive ticket to get where you want to go.
One way that I was able to make multi-city booking work was when I needed to get from Amman, Jordan, to San Diego, USA. I found that my cheapest option was the fly out of Tel Aviv, Israel, via Denmark. From there, I booked a one-way ticket to Copenhagen for just $100, stayed there for two days of sightseeing, and then continued on to Los Angeles through a separate one-way. Getting to the US from Europe was much cheaper than going from the Middle East. Plus, my stopover allowed me to not just save money but also to explore a new city along the way!
Consider Multiple Forms of Transportation
Sometimes you can save a lot of money by flying somewhere close to your destination rather than directly to it. Particularly in countries (or regions) that have an extensive train (i.e. Europe or India) or bus systems, you can fly into a major city and then take a bus or train to your final destination.
For example, in the U.S., I have taken Megabus from South Carolina to New York City to take advantage of a cheap flight to France. On a trip to San Diego, California, from overseas, I took an international flight into Los Angeles and then a Greyhound bus the rest of the way to San Diego. It wasn’t convenient as flying direct, but it did save me hundreds of dollars!
A Little Luck
Sometimes, you just happen to search for flights when an airline is saving a sale or you come across mistake pricing that you can take advantage of. When these deals pop up, you have to act fast or they’re gone.
You can read an endless number of articles on how to buy the cheapest ticket out there, but a lot of times, it comes down to being on the right site at the right time. And, when you are in this position, taking advantage of it.
Also, one final tip, if you’re into tracking mistake fares, i.e. an airline offering a flight that should cost hundreds for just $25 or $50 USD on mistake, follow sites like Airfare Watchdog for alerts.