I’ve flown to Europe for over $1,200 and a couple years later – for less than $400.
If you’re looking to find the best sites for cheap flights, when to buy your ticket, or what day you should fly – you’re in the right place.
The only reason I would ever pay anywhere close to that first amount again is if I had strict dates or an emergency. That $800 I could’ve saved between the two Europe trips, easily could’ve went to another trip.
Think about how much more you would travel if airfare didn’t take up a chunk of your budget. Flight costs basically determine if you even get to go or not – so don’t let it be a factor.
I’ve flown to Tokyo for less than it would to fly across the country. This post might be a little lengthy, but then again – isn’t it worth learning how to find cheap flights for less than what you would spend for a weekend away?
Shop on Tuesday afternoons.
The rumor is that airlines release their weekly sales on Tuesday mornings and toward the afternoon – all the competing airlines are fighting to match each other prices.
But in reality, it’s not about when you buy, but what day you want to leave!
The beginning and ending to the weekend are always going to cost you more. Most people (especially business people) want to leave for the weekend and return before the start of the new week. Those days are in higher demand, aka making it more expensive.
Your cheapest departures will always be the middle of the week. Less people have these days free to travel. You can save hundreds of dollars leaving even just a day earlier.
If you’re willing to wake up in the early hours for a 3AM flight – you may save a couple hundred. The earliest flights are usually the cheapest. I fall asleep as soon as I get on the plane anyways, so at least you’ll wake up with some energy to explore. Another benefit since you’re the first plane leaving – your flight is less likely to be delayed.
If you can squeeze your trip in the off season – do it.
It’s cheaper and in my opinion, most of the time the weather is better too.
I’ve went in the expensive, prime summer season to places like Rome, Miami and Chicago but the heat didn’t make me want to be outside exploring. When I returned in September, the weather was less hot and way more bearable. Not only was the flight cheaper, but there was also less crowds to fight off.
You should look anywhere between 3 to 6 months prior to your anticipated travel date if you’re looking to travel internationally. Anything earlier may be too early to plan around, while anything later could cost you more than it should.
The earlier the better – I personally like getting my flight earlier because accommodation is what can really break your budget if you don’t plan well. Personally, I like spreading my costs over more time so it doesn’t hit my wallet all at once.
The thing about domestic flights is that they can run out of seats before the prices even have a chance to get cheaper. It does depend on the destination – but the further, the earlier you should buy. If you’re flying across the country, I’d start looking around three months out. If you’re only going a couple states away, the sweet spot is around 7 weeks.
These are just estimates, the cheapest price could come at any time during that period. Cheap Air says the sweet spot to buying flight tickets is anywhere between 3 weeks and 4 months out. Check out this article by Cheap Air for timelines regarding specific seasons of the year.
When you have strict dates or an occasion (like a destination wedding), set price alerts to let you know if the price is trending upward or downward. Both Skyscanner and Google flights will send you email alerts to make sure you purchase at the best price.
To get a great visual of price patterns, use calendar view.
Price always tends to vary and the best way to see this visually is by calendar view. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars off a flight ticket simply by leaving a week later. Like I mentioned before – the key to cheap travel is being flexible.
If you look above, leaving on the 1st compared to only a week later could save you over $800.
Eight hundred dollars going towards solely on transportation could pay for two tickets the week before.
Where do you even want to go?
A flight can make or break your travel budget. A lot of the time, if it’s too expensive to fly there – you’re not going to go. The reason I’m able to travel so often is because I find a flight deal first and plan my vacation around that.
If you have no idea what city might be in your budget – check out Skyscanner‘s ‘map view’ to jumpstart your creativity!
For example – Rome had always been on the top of my list. From the gladiators to the carbonara pasta, I always wanted to see the coliseum in person. Italy also happens to be thousands of miles from California, which means it’s equally as costly.
You know where I also wanted to go? Spain.
Beach front city with world class soccer – Barcelona wasn’t far down my list from Rome.
Instead of paying almost $300 more to fly directly to Rome, I can squeeze in a pitstop in Barcelona for about the same price. The first time I went to overseas – I was so shocked how cheap it was to travel to within Europe. I’ve done this twice in the past (in the prime time summer season) and both times my super short flight from Barcelona to Rome was less than $100.
If there’s somewhere specifically you want to visit, look around the map and consider pairing your destination with a nearby city. Cross the ocean for as cheap as you can and consider using a budget airline to help you save money.
By using map view to see where the cheapest places are, maybe you’ll be able to sneak in two destinations for the price of one.
You ever search for something online and then all of a sudden you’re seeing ads for it everywhere? Same thing happens with flights.
It’s no coincidence that prices start to go up when you search for the same route over and over. All of a sudden, you’re searching and all the flights you want start to say “one left for this price”.
How should I book my tickets?
The key to finding cheap flights is using a fare aggregator. These websites act as a middle man between airlines and customers.
The best engines search the corners of the internet – finding platforms you probably never heard of (from small boutique travel agencies to budget, foreign airlines), to make sure you find the cheapest flights.
These are different from online travel agents (known as OTAS) like Orbitz and Expedia. Instead of booking directly on the website – a fare aggregator will direct you to the website where the cheap deal is being hosted.
Expedia owns Travelocity, Orbitz, Hotwire.. the list goes on, so it’s safe to say you’re going to get similar search results using those platforms.
When you book directly with an airline, you are protected with a 24 hour rule. According to the United States Department of Transportation, even when you book a non-refundable ticket (at least 7 days from departure), you are able to cancel or change your ticket free of charge within 24 hours. However – be aware this only if you book directly with an airline. If you book with an online travel agent, you are subject to their policies.
The flight also has to originate or be going to the United States for this rule to pertain. So basically, if you buy a flight and the price drops within 24 hours – use this rule to cancel the original and book the cheaper fare!
After charging your card, if you’re not booking directly with an airline – your ticket actually isn’t yours yet. OTAs need to check with the airline to make sure that ticket is still available before your are issued your ticket. Usually this only takes a few minutes, but can take up to 48 hours in some cases.
Use a fare aggregator to find the deal, then visit that airline’s website to complete the purchase of the ticket. Most of the time you will find that deal there as well. Not only will you be protected with the 24 hour rule, but you will get better customer service in the case something happens (like a delay or canceled flight).
If booking through a source you’re not familiar with makes you nervous – check out this article by Scott’s Cheap flights on his guide to booking with these small search engines.
Nothing sucks more than a middle seat or one close to the bathroom – especially on a long flight. Before you press complete on your flight purchase, check out the airplane seat map on Seatguru! On Seatguru, you can see which seats have more legroom to which ones don’t recline. Get the best seat even when you don’t splurge a little more for that premium economy.
If you’re looking to get some sleep on a long flight, choose a seat away from the bulkheads of the planes. These are the only seats where parents can safely secure a bassinet, so stay away from this area if you want to avoid a crying baby!
If you’re traveling with another person, book the aisle and window seats. You’re more likely to have a whole row to yourselves because no one willingly books the middle seat.
What search engines should
The first place I ALWAYS check is Skyscanner.
I find tickets to Europe for less than $200-300 all the time here. I even stopped looking because it got annoying not being able to take every cheap deal I found. Whether I’m debating on a destination or figuring out the best travel dates – there’s so many tools available on this platform.
You have the option of map view, calendar view and display deals based on your location on their website homepage clearly!
If you need some inspiration, instead of typing an arriving airport, type “everywhere” (like I did below) where you would normally type in your destination. Type in the dates you’re thinking and let a good deal make your mind.
When you save over $800 on a flight, that money goes to the places I’d rather spend it on like – champagne dinners and jet ski rentals.
By using this option – it gives you the cheapest destination for the time frame and maybe $139 flight to England will make you crave some fish and chips.
If your super dead set on a destination – you can even put ‘cheapest month’ where you would normally type dates and it will let you know which month is the least expensive to visit that specific place.
Momondo is super similar to Skyscanner. It looks through the cracks of the internet – from budget to foreign airlines, to find you the best flight deals.
One of my favorite features is checking the flight insights.
If you’re super interested in a particular route – click the insights to get more money saving tips. For example – on a basic flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles, it lets me know that it is cheapest to fly out on a Thursday. It’ll also let you know the cheapest month, flight carrier and time.
Momondo is definitely helpful in the beginning stages of planning your trip!
Google is pretty much good at everything and Google flights is no different!
What I like about Google flights is how clear and fast the interface is. You’ll get results almost instantly and it gives you many customizable options. What I really like is that instead of entering one ‘arriving’ airport, you can add more than one to compare multiple routes at the same time.
For example, have you ever wanted to go to Miami?
Instead of having to do separate searches for neighboring airports Fort Lauderdale and Miami, you can do one comprehensive search to find your cheapest route. (Fort Lauderdale is usually considerably cheaper to fly into than Miami and only about a 20 minute uber ride.)
One of my favorite things about Google flights is that it lets me know what a good price for this destination looks like. Even when I’m doing most of my searching through Skyscanner and Momondo, I cross check on Google Flights to make sure I’m getting a good price according to trends.
With Google Flights, you can check if the price you’re getting is good or just normal for the route. So when I found my nonstop flight to Tokyo for less than $500 dollars, I knew to not wait and just buy it.
By using a combination of all 3, you can definitely find and make sure that you’re getting a good flight deal!
A lot of the time – these budget airlines won’t even appear in your search results when you look for flights on Skyscanner or Google. You have to go out your way to preform individual searches, but a lot of the time it’ll be worth it because you can find some deals.
You may not have any leg room, entertainment or much baggage, but if you can get flights for less than $50 – you can make it work for a weekend. I’ve taken airlines like Southwest, Vueling and Ryanair – yes it’s not the newest plane, but these flights usually aren’t more than a couple hours.
These airlines make up their cost in hidden fees in other places. Pay close attention because fees can vary from using your credit card to printing your boarding pass.
Always be the first to know: If you know an airline flies to a destination that you want to visit, subscribe to their email newsletter. There’s no better feeling than not even having to look and getting a sale sent straight to your email!
I get emails from Southwest, United, Air Lingus all because I frequently visit places they fly too. The only reason I was able to go to New York for less than $200 was because I hopped on a deal that American Airlines sent me!
Scott’s Cheap Flight Deals is another website to be following if you’re looking for a cheap flight deal! As shown above, the price typical for a price to Tokyo is $818. Let’s just say – thanks to Scott, my flight to Tokyo was $300 dollars less than the price above.
You sign up with your closest departing airport and get deals directly sent to you a couple times a week. They offer a paid, premium membership and with the free version you probably get a third of them sent to you.
Secret Flying: @SecretFlying
The Flight Deal: @TheFlightDeal
Twitter is the best place to get updates as soon as they are happening. The best way to get a cheap flight is recognizing a deal and buying it as soon as you see it. These accounts tweet as soon as they find a deal – and this includes time sensitive error fares, so following these accounts can make you the first to know.
Things to Keep in Mind
A ticket may look like a deal but sometimes it ends up being worth it to splurge a little more for the premium ticket. Especially when it comes to budget airlines – they can have fees for everything, from baggage to simply printing out your boarding pass.
Check what your baggage allowance is! I’ve been on airlines where a women almost got charged more than thirty dollars extra for bringing a small, extra purse with her. Budget airlines get up to 20% of their overall revenue from baggage fees, so don’t let them get you.
When airlines (especially budget airlines I mentioned above) say “no carry-on” or “carry-on only”, they mean it. They charge you less for your seat, however you are sacrificing comfort for the price. A lot of these budget airlines will charge you more for buying it at the airport and not at time of purchase, so prepare in advance!
Read the guidelines of the travel insurance before you buy it.
If I’m buying flight insurance, I expect my flight to get refunded if I can’t go. Unfortunately – this isn’t usually the case. Most of the accepted reasons for cancellation require documentation like: jury duty, accident on the way to the airport, or a death.
I thought it was going to be easy refunding a flight I couldn’t make since I bought insurance – nope, I had to provide detailed, written documentation for one of their “acceptable excuses”.
Read the fine lines so you know exactly how to get your refund in the case you might need too.
If you travel often – consider applying for a travel credit card that offers better trip protection than any fight add on! Here is a list of the best travel credit cards.
If there’s one thing I always pre-plan – it’s how I get to my hotel after arriving at the airport. Airports require big open spaces for airplanes to land, which means they are NEVER in the part of the city that you want to be in. Tokyo, Munich, Paris – all these cities included at least a 40-60 minute train ride to the center of the city.
Plan ahead! Don’t be like me. I’ve spent more than $50 for a taxi, when with a little research I could’ve taken a $15 bus. Save yourself some money and preplan your airport transportation.
Those are my best tips when it comes to finding super cheap flights! After booking your flight, check out my article on how to always save money once you’re at the airport!
If any of these tips helped you find a good deal – let me know! Travel is more possible than you think and it’s true when they say travel is the only thing you spend on – that actually makes you richer.