If you fly as often as I do you want to know where to find the cheapest flights.
These are my 10 tips for getting the best deals on airline tickets:
1. Know where to search for flights
You won’t find most budget airlines on large websites such as Kayak, Expedia, or Orbitz. Do check them for comparison though but I almost always end up choosing my flights through Skyscanner.com
Skyscanner offers the broadest range of airlines and some nice tools for finding the best deals if you are flexible (either with you location or dates).
Although I’m a big fan of Skyscanner, no single search engine is consistently perfect. Therefore try a combination of search engines to ensure you’re not missing any results. There doesn’t seem to be one that gets the cheapest flight 100% of the time.
If you want to find the cheapest flights and don’t mind connecting flights and sometimes longer layovers, check out Kiwi.com: they are great at combining flights from low cost airlines to get you to wherever you want to go for a lot less. They have saved me a lot of money on several flights.
And, when you can, check with the locals as well! Especially on less popularly booked routes and/or in remote regions there might be other ways to get cheaper flights (offline offers through local travel agencies for example) or there might be small local airlines that are not listed in online booking tools such as Skyscanner but can be found somewhere else.
When you find small airlines, even if they are listed in a booking tool, it often pays to check the airline’s website which may reveal exclusive online offers not found in the booking tool. It pays to double check!
2. Be flexible with your travel dates
Airline ticket prices vary depending on the day of the week, time of year and upcoming holidays such as Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
It is often cheaper to fly during the middle of the week than on a weekend, because most people travel on weekends and airlines raise their prices then. Prices are also often cheaper if you fly right after a major holiday.
Early-morning or late-night flights are cheaper most of the time because fewer people want to travel then. Before you commit to your departure, make sure you check other dates so as to pick the cheapest day. Even the difference of one day can mean a huge saving.
While many theories exist around booking specifically on a Tuesday to save money, the reality is there is no consistent truth to exactly which days are cheapest to fly. Your best strategy is to get a quick visual of prices for a whole month to see what days are cheapest for your specific route.
Skyscanner has the option to select an entire month so that you can see prices for different days:
3. Be flexible with your destinations / airports
Often there will be more than one airport close to your destination. Don’t only check flights to the nearest airport. If you don’t mind traveling a bit longer you can often find a better deal by flying to a nearby airport and taking a bus or train (or even renting a car) from there to your destination.
Most major cities have a smaller, secondary airport. This is the airport most budget airlines fly into because it helps keep costs down since smaller airports charge smaller landing fees. Check out which airlines fly into these smaller airports. For example, you can take JetBlue to Long Beach, an airport close to Los Angeles, instead of flying into LAX, and save some money. In Europe, the low cost airline Ryanair will fly into Eindhoven, The Netherlands, instead of Amsterdam airport.
Be sure to check out how far the airports are from where you want to go because sometimes transportation from the airport to the city can actually make a budget airline more expensive. However, in general, these budget airlines are a good deal.
Kayak Explore is a fun tool to check out prices for different destinations / airports. Enter your departure city and select a month or season to fly. Approximate costs then appear for hundreds of destinations around the globe from your departure point, allowing you to see the most cost-effective place you can fly.
Google Flights offers a similar tool and with Google Flights you can select specific dates.
4. Check out the budget airlines
Budget airlines offer significantly cheaper tickets than their full-service counterparts. They are not always included in major flight search tools so it pays to check flights on their websites.
Do check their terms & conditions: for example, they often have very strict luggage restrictions and will charge high fees if your luggage doesn’t fit within their restrictions.
These are the better low cost airlines worldwide:
- JetBlue Airways (also offers good connections to the Caribbean)
- Porter Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- Allegiant Air
- Frontier Airlines
- Spirit Airlines
- Porter Airlines
- Air Transat (offers flights to many Caribbean, Latin American and European destinations)
Australia & New Zealand
- Air Asia
- Tiger Air
- Jeju Air
- Hong Kong Express
- Scoot (offers good connections with Australia)
- Peach Air
- Dragon Air
- Spice Jet
- Spring Airlines
- Vietnam Airlines
- Nok Air
- Vanilla Air
Central & South America
Wikipedia offers a more extensive list of low cost airlines although some of them are more low cost than others. Also keep in mind that although they are listed per country on Wikipedia, many airlines connect between many other countries as well. For example: you can use Spanish airline Vueling to fly from Amsterdam, The Netherlands, to Rome, Italy
5. Try alternative routes
Not only does it help to be flexible with dates and destinations, but try being flexible with the route you take as well. Sometimes it’s cheaper to fly to London and take a budget airline to Amsterdam than to fly direct to Amsterdam. There are so many budget carriers around the world that taking advantage of a good deal to another city and then hopping on a budget flight to your destination is sometimes the best way to go.
6. Fly two different airlines or airports
Sometimes it’s worth it to mix and match. Most airlines now sell one-way flights at reasonable prices, meaning one might be cheaper for the outbound flight while the other works better for the return.
You could even fly to one airport and depart from another.
7. Book connecting flights yourself
If you’re flying somewhere that involves a transfer, say from Canada to Australia which typically involves Canada to Los Angeles, then Los Angeles to Australia, consider that it may be cheaper to book these two legs separately on your own.
Just make sure you leave enough time to make your connecting flight in case the first flight arrives late. And this way you could even turn your stop into an additional destination by flying out a few days later instead of the same day. That’s a great way to discover a new city you otherwise might have never visited!
8. Book early, but not too early
Real last minute deals on flights barely seem to exist anymore. Ticket prices often go up the closer you get to the date of flying. Therefore don’t wait until the last second but neither book very far in advance. The best booking window I have been told is six to eight weeks before your flight, or around three months before if you are going to your destination during peak season.
9. Eliminate the ‘Cookie problem’
Yes it really happens: search for a flight a few times in a row and all of a sudden the price has gone up. Based on the cookies in your web browser, flight prices do increase when a particular route is repeatedly searched, as the site wants to scare you into booking the flight quickly before prices get even higher. Always search for flights in incognito or private browsing mode to see the lowest prices.
In Google Chrome or Safari, incognito is enabled by hitting Command (or “Control” if using PC), Shift, “N”. For Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer, hit Command (or “Control” if using a PC), Shift, “P”. This will open a new browser window where your information is not tracked, thus not inflating prices as you search.
Your cookies are reset each time you re-open an incognito window. So if you want to start with a clean slate for each flight search (so your previous searches aren’t “remembered”, potentially inflating costs), close all your incognito windows, open a new one, and then perform your flight search.
10. Join a mailing list
I know, all those newsletters can get annoying but by signing up for mailing lists from airlines and search engines you’ll be able to get updates about all the last-minute or special deals that are happening. Many times the cheap flights are only available for 24 or 48 hours so without these newsletter you will miss out on many of the super-cheap deals that occur. If I didn’t receive the Qatar airways newsletter I would have missed out on a huge discount on my flight from Doha to Paris.
Airfarewatchdog.com, holidaypirates.com, and theflightdeal.com have good deal lists to subscribe to.
If you manage to use the same airline(s) a lot it pays to join their frequent-flyer program or use a credit card that’s tied to the airline. Personally though because I always go for the cheapest tickets I end up using different airlines all the time. But still, signing up is free so why not see how many points you can accumulate and what benefits you can get out of your memberships!
And of course, if you want the cheapest flight, be prepared to get up very early, fly late at night or spend a good few hours (or an entire night) at an airport waiting for a connecting flight…
But, the more you save, the more you can travel!
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Featured image: my cheap flight from the Caribbean island of Bonaire to Aruba
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