How to Find Cheap Flights

find cheap flights

How to Find Cheap Flights

So it has come down to the point of “no return” for planning your trip. Unless you spend the extra on a refundable ticket, you are about to take a bold step forward and seal the deal on your trip.

If you ask 10 people on a flight what they paid for their ticket, you will get 10 very different answers. How to find a cheap flight has become something of a dark art. Use these tips and secrets to find the best deals.

Finding Cheap Flights

An abundance of ticket-booking websites out there can help you find cheap international flights. There are also additional things that you can do to leverage these tools more than the average traveler knows about.

Here are some insider secrets:

  • Look for cheap international flights around 60 days in advance. Other than last-minute deals, you will pay more as your date to leave approaches because airlines consider you a business traveler. The old trick of waiting until the last minute for empty seat prices no longer works! Sometimes buying too far in advance means that you’ll miss sales on fares.
  • Never, ever fly on weekends! Avoid Mondays when business travelers are flying. Try to fly on Sunday or on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
  • Try not to fly within seven days before or after a holiday, both at home and at your destination. Check your destination’s local holidays and festivals.
  • If you are buying a round-trip ticket, staying longer than 90 days usually results in a higher fare. Check on just buying two one-way tickets instead for the extra flexibility. You can also set a fictional return date and pay the change fee later. Caution: deliberately skipping your return flight will get you blacklisted on some airlines.
  • You may find cheap flights after midnight EST in the middle of the week. This is when airline databases are updated and sometimes you can grab a cheap ticket that has been returned back to the system. Some experts recommend booking on Tuesday nights or Wednesdays.
  • Some flight-booking websites use trickery to make you buy a ticket sooner. They will show more expensive prices immediately after your chosen departure date, and other nefarious technical tricks. Some sites have even been busted for setting cookies to track what flights you search for, then raising the price just before you return to the site to book! Tip: try using a different computer, anonymous browser, or clear your cookies.
  • Search for flights at all times throughout the day; you never know when a cheap ticket has been released to the system. But too much searching could show too much interest and raise your fare (see above).
  • Take a bus (try megabus.com) or hitch a ride to the closest major airport hub.
  • Make sure your luggage is not over-sized or overweight. Check individual airline sites for rules; some charge for a carry-on now.
  • Flights with longer layovers and early/late departure times usually have lower price tags because business travelers avoid them.
  • Fly into the largest city on the continent you are visiting. Take budget airline hops or travel overland from there to reach your destination. For instance, it may be cheaper to fly into Brussels (a major business hub) and then travel overland to Amsterdam rather than flying straight there.
  • Try splitting your flight between two carriers if the timing works out. For instance, you could book a flight to LAX with one airline, then have a separate ticket on another airline to Asia. Sometimes just killing a few hours in the airport will save you hundreds of dollars! Allow plenty of time between the two flights in case something goes wrong.
  • Although you can use booking sites to check prices, try booking your flight directly from the actual airline’s website. This cuts out a middleman that may screw up your reservation (e.g., seat preference, frequent flier program, etc) when it is passed along to the airline.
  • Always use frequent flier programs. Getting rewarded may take years, but the miles DO add up and may come in handy in the future.
  • Being as flexible as possible can help you find a cheap flight. Do not specify flight times, number of stops, etc.
  • Never buy refundable tickets if they cost more — your backpacking travel insurance may have trip cancellation coverage anyway. A little known fact, airlines are required to provide a refund if you are forced to cancel within 24 hours of your flight.

How to Find Cheap Flights?

Try these websites first:

  • Vayama.com — These guys have good one-way airfare deals.
  • Expedia.com — Great all around travel booking site.
  • Priceline.com — bid your own price on airfare for cheap deals or you can do regular flight searches. Flights must originate in the US, but sometimes you can grab tickets on clearance through the auctions.
  • Travelocity.com — use the “flexible ticket” option to get deals on domestic flights.
  • Skyscanner.com — very interesting site for checking flexible dates.

Once you find a cheap flight, go to that carrier’s website and search for the same flight to compare prices. Sometimes you can get the exact same flight direct from the airline minus a $10 – $15 markup fee added on by the ticketing site. Also, by going direct to the airline you eliminate some potential slips like not receiving credit for your frequent flier miles. Some airlines such as Southwest don’t release tickets to the databases.

Refundable Tickets

Most tickets that normal travelers purchase are stamped “non-refundable.” If you are buying your ticket well in advance like many do, this sounds a little scary. What if something comes up? What if someone gets sick? Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • It is not worth the price difference to make a ticket “refundable.”
  • Your travel insurance may come with a trip cancellation policy which means that you can get your money back. Some are based on medical reasons and some are non-conditional.

Just because an airline says that a cheap flight ticket is non-refundable, sometimes they are!

There are usually stipulations which they may or may not tell you about for medical problems, etc. Clearing houses and ticket consolidators are infamous for this. They will almost always issue a refund if you contact them with your sob story within 24 hours of departure. They may charge you a steep “change fee” but it is still better than losing the face value of the ticket. Technically, the law requires that airlines give you a refund if you’re forced to cancel 24 hours in advance.

Regardless, if you cannot go on your trip for some reason, tell the airline in advance! You will not get any refund at all if you do not notify them prior to departure. Also, they will be needlessly paging your name in the airport and maybe some poor vagabond on standby can have your seat!

What About RTW Tickets?

RTW stands for “around the world” and is a special ticket that allows you three or more stops along a route that you choose. There are usually strict rules in place such as making sure that all the stops are in the same direction, time allowances, etc. If you are planning a real RTW trip, this may be the way to go to save money. Otherwise, you are sacrificing some flexibility in your plans.

Different airlines have different rules, so research the ticket thoroughly. One thing to note is what happens if you have to come home for an emergency after having used only one or two of the stops.

Check out Bootsnall’s RTW trip planning tool.

Budget Airlines

Budget airlines are a new no-frills, “mostly” reliable way to travel, particularly around Europe and Africa. Many times you can get a cheap flight for less than a bus, train, or sometimes taxi! This is made possible because the governments in popular destinations subsidize the airlines to bring in tourists.

Check WikiPedia for a list of Budget Airlines.

Here are some things to remember:

  • You get what you pay for. The queues are longer, seating is chaos, and delays happen.
  • Don’t even think about a free meal or beverage — bring your own snacks!
  • Luggage size and weight restrictions may be more strict than regular airlines and the penalties are stiff.
  • Allow plenty of time at the airport check-in and gate, they save money by hiring less attendants. Use online check-in if it is offered.
  • There is fierce competition between these airlines. You can cash in by signing up for newsletters or checking their sites frequently for new deals and specials. A few sometimes offer flights under US $2! (taxes are additional)
  • Some routes are shut down during the low seasons because of lack of passengers.
  • The same philosophy applies as regular airlines — the sooner you buy your ticket the better the deal.

In Conclusion

Nothing beats the feeling that you get when you click the “buy” button on that expensive ticket. Regardless of whether this is your first trip or not, you will feel the excitement and adrenaline sweep through your body. Knowing how to find cheap flights properly will save you lots of money over years of travel!

Go to Step 6: Backpacking Travel Insurance

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