How can I find the cheapest flights possible? That’s what everyone wants to know right? I have traveled more flights than I can really count or remember, and the thing is sometimes I scored and sometimes I didn’t. Thankfully, I figured out a method of flight search that leaves me comfortable with my purchase every single time. Could I have gotten $50 cheaper if I kept searching for weeks on end? Maybe. But who wants to do that? By using my methods below, you will leave feeling satisfied with your purchase and you will likely get a really great deal. Let’s go!
12 Tips for Finding Cheap Flights Every Time (plus my own secret sauce for finding the cheapest flights)
We’re going to start with the more obvious information, and then get into the nitty gritty towards the bottom. 🙂
1. When Should You Book Your Flight
When using the internet for travel planning, people are always curious what that magic number is for how far in advance you should book your flight. The honest answer is, there isn’t one. I have booked flights one week before my trip and still managed to find a great deal. I’ve also booked 6 months before my trip and managed to find a great deal. How far in advance you should be booking really depends on a few factors such as where you’re going, the season you’re traveling in, the days you plan on leaving and returning, etc.
Typically, flights go on sale 11 months before departure, but don’t expect to catch airline deals more than 150 days before departure. Hopper.com says to book between 25 days and 150 days, and I personally find the sweet spot at around 60 days or rough 2 to 2.5 months in advance.
2. Clear Your Cookies and Search Incognito
It’s debatable whether this even works anymore, however it doesn’t hurt to do it just for good measure. Clear your cookies and search for flights in an incognito or “invisible” tab.
3. Search for Flights Using Flexible Dates
It’s common knowledge that choosing to fly on a Tuesday is likely to be cheaper than flying on a Friday or Saturday. If you can, try to keep your dates flexible. When searching for a flight, you can almost always tick a little box that says your dates are flexible. Do this and see if any of the cheaper options work for you.
For those of you who are living the 9-5, here’s a little tip: what I used to do for work was give my employer a date range of when I was looking to go on vacation. I would tell them the dates I had in mind and let them know I will give specific dates after I’ve booked a flight. This worked beautifully for finding a good flight deal and my work never gave me a problem.
4. Subscribe to Some Crazy Awesome Flight Deals
If you’re already a cheap flights connoisseur, then these websites are probably already on your radar. If you’re the kind of person who’s down for going anywhere as long as you can find a cheap flight, then subscribe baby! These websites are the holy grail of cheap flights, so sign up and get on their email list.
- Scott’s Cheap Flights (if you only want to subscribe to 1, make this one it)
- The Flight Deal (if you want to subscribe to 2, then add this one to the mix)
- Holiday Pirates (their deals are mostly from the UK)
- Secret Flying
To save you from being disappointed, sometimes you won’t find the exact price displayed in the newsletter or article when you go to search for the fight yourself. This is because prices change so fast and depend largely on availability. But the good news is, even if you don’t get the exact same price listed in the article, you’re likely to still get a great deal.
5. Educate Yourself on the Basics to Travel Hacking
This could really be an entire post all to itself, but I am not going to lie, I am no expert in travel hacking. Maybe I should try a bit harder, however from what I have done I am happy with the results.
My biggest and only disclaimer is if you are in debt or are unsure if you can make the payments to reach the signup bonus, this option is not for you.
The basics of travel hacking is that you sign up for one or more credit cards that appeal to you and offers a large signup bonus of somewhere in the range of 30,000 to 50,000 points. With these points you can fly for free or trade them in for hotel stays or something else along those lines. It really just depends on the card.
Trust me when I say that my experience with travel hacking has been very modest. I started looking into credit card travel hacking when I knew I wanted to travel more frequently. I gave myself at least 6 to 8 months to apply to some credit cards I liked making sure I could qualify for them and most importantly making sure I could pay them off in order to receive the signup bonus. I only signed up for 2 credit cards and I received some free flights in return. It worked great for me and is definitely a viable option. But once again let me repeat, if you cannot pay it off to reach the signup bonus, then don’t do it.
Credit Cards I Like:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card – My personal favorite is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. It has a 50,000-point signup bonus after spending $4,000 in the first three months. They waive foreign transaction fees (ideal for traveling abroad), and you receive 2X points for travel and restaurant purchases. This is still the primary credit card I use on a daily basis, and I love it.
- American Express Platinum Card – A second card I like is the Platinum Card from American Express. It has a 60,000-point signup bonus after spending $5,000 in the first three months. They offer a slew of other perks such as 5X points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
My biggest advice is do not try to wing travel hacking. Educate yourself. The greatest source of information regarding this topic is The Points Guy, and additionally I would highly recommend purchasing Cracking the Code to Travel Hacking by Keith King for the full ins and outs of how to do it.
6. Be Aware of the Peak Travel Seasons
This one’s probably a no brainer, but nonetheless is needs to be said. The fact is, if you’re trying to fly from North America to Europe between June and August, the flight will be more expensive. It’s just a fact. Hey no judgement here, sometimes you want that good weather and I don’t blame you in the slightest.
Just know that if it’s peak tourist season the prices will be adjusted to reflect that. But if you’re set on going during that time, then just know you will be paying a bit more than if you went in say, February.
7. Expand Your Flight Search to “Nearby Airports”
If you are okay with a little bit of inconvenience, this could be a great option for you. Maybe there’s another airport an hour away that has a cheaper deal. However, keep in mind that sometimes it’s not worth the headache.
When I lived in Europe I always chose the cheaper flight out of a remotely located airport. After a while, I decided it just wasn’t worth the earlier wakeup call and money spent on transportation. I got to the point that I’d rather just pay $50 more for convenience and call it a day. But it’s always good to check your options. Maybe I would feel differently if I were saving say, $100. 🙂
8. Consider Flying into a Larger Airport and Taking a Budget Airline to your Destination
This option is really ideal if you’re flying to Europe. There are so many great budget airlines flying within Europe, you can almost always snag a deal. I’ve done this for my mom when she was meeting up with me in Europe, flying from Washington D.C. to Prague. To fly directly to Prague was really expensive, so instead she flew into Paris, and then took a budget airline the next day to Prague saving her roughly $200. Another bonus is you can utilize the layover and do some sightseeing in Paris if your schedule allows. 🙂
But again, you have to weigh the pros and cons. When using this method, you have to factor in other costs such as potential hotel and transportation costs. Also consider inconveniences such as picking up and checking in your luggage and potential delayed or cancelled flights. It’s a gamble, but if you can work it into your trip it could be a great way to see a new city!
Now let’s get into the good stuff! Here’s my “secret sauce” method for finding the best flight deal every time.
9. Google Flights
I like to start with Google Flights because they have a great advanced search option that allows you to see the cheapest roundtrip prices. What I like to do is enter my To and From locations and a general date range that I’m considering. Click enter for your search results, and then click on the Price Graph (screenshot below).
What I love about the Price Graph is it allows you to see the lowest prices available for the period of time you’re considering. This is ideal if you have a flexible schedule. Depending on when the flights are the cheapest, you can choose when the best time is for you to travel.
For the example, in the below screenshot I am flying from Edmonton to London and I am wanting my trip to be 7 days in total. By looking at the Price Graph, I might decide that traveling Wednesday, May 2 – Wednesday, May 9 looks the best to me because that’s when the prices are the lowest.
10. Flight Search Engines
Now that Google Flights has shown me the ideal dates to travel, I go to the below flight search engines to try and snag a deal. These search engines operate by searching multiple airlines for the lowest price available. I usually check all three just to make sure I’m getting the best possible deal available.
TIP: Remember to click “Nearby Airports”.
- CheapOAir (this is my #1 and where I turn to first)
- Skyscanner (This is my #2)
- Momondo (still great, I just tend to leave it for last)
11. Check with the Actual Airline
If you find a great deal through any of the above flight searches, it doesn’t hurt to open a new window and search for the flight directly with the airline. You might be able to find the same flight at the same price.
The benefit of doing this is if you run into any issues with your flight like delays, cancellations, etc. you have more leverage when booking directly with the airline rather than with a flight reseller. Another perk is some airlines have a price drop or lowest price guarantee. With this you may be eligible for a partial refund or other benefits.
I rarely find the same flight at the same price, but it takes two seconds to check and it’s worth taking those two seconds just in case.
12. 24-Hour Cancellation
Many airlines have a 24-hour cancellation policy. This way you can always lock in a price, and then go back and check within 24 hours to see if the price has dropped. If so, cancel your first flight and purchase the cheaper option.
Usually after doing all of this, I am done. I don’t stress anymore whether I got the best possible deal or not. By checking Google Flights Price Graph and then using the 24-hour wait period, it’s likely you got the best deal available. Now it’s time to move onto more fun things like buying your travel outfits and deciding where the best places to eat are. 🙂
Do you have any tips for finding the cheapest flights? Love to know in the comments below!
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Such great details about travel hacking. I know I requested this article, so I’m definitely going to use it in the future!
Do it! It changes everything! 🙂
Wow! Google flights? Where have I been? This is great information! I am going to pin this article to my Pinterest travel board. Thanks!
Yes, try it out! It’ll change your life! And thank you! 🙂
Great post on trying to find good deals on flights. I did not know about this Travel Hacking thing! I will have to look into this, thanks 🙂
It’s seriously so amazing! Totally recommend it! 🙂
Thank you for posting this Tiffany, Now I have an idea how to budget my travel expenses specially my airline ticket. Great tips!
Your welcome, Rika! So glad it was helpful for you!