Updated: 08/22/2018 | August 22nd, 2018
Since airfare represents one of the biggest aspects of a trip’s cost, finding that hidden cheap flight deal can be just as important as finding the right destination, the right tour company, the right backpack, or the right place to stay. After all, if your flight is too expensive, you probably aren’t going anywhere.
Every day the airlines have thousands of killer deals — from mistakenly published fares to special promotions deals to slashing prices to compete with another airline. Cheap fares are out there if you know how to find them.
Today, I am going to help you master finding a cheap flight. These are the exact steps I’ve been following for a decade to get the cheapest airfare possible. If you follow them too, you’ll never be the person on a flight who paid the most for their ticket!
Here is my 13-point guide on how to find a cheap flight no matter where you want to go in the world:
Table of Contents
- Ignore the myths
- Be flexible with your travel dates
- Be flexible with your destinations
- Fly budget carriers
- Don’t always fly direct
- Remember, not all search engines are equal
- Take advantage of student discounts
- Mix and Match Airlines
- Sign up for a frequent flier program and travel hack
- Join a mailing list
- Search ticket prices as one person
- Search in other currencies
- Book early (but not too early)
1. Ignore the myths
The first thing to know about finding a cheap flight is that there is no magic bullet or one secret ninja trick to doing so. There are a lot of myths online about how to find cheap flights. In fact, you’ve probably come across a ton of them on your search to find the best flight deal! They are all lies. They will lead you astray. Most website hire terrible reporters who recycle common and outdated myths. Here are the most common that are 100% not true:
- It is NOT cheaper to buy airfare on a Tuesday.
- There is NO evidence that searching incognito leads to cheaper deals.
- There is NO exact date or specific time period in which to book your airfare.
- You can’t predict airline prices and websites that do are basically taking an educated (but probably wrong) guess.
Airlines used advanced computer and pricing algorithms to determine prices and run sales based on the time of the year, passenger demand, weather, major events/festivals, time of day, competitor prices, and much more. Those old “tricks” don’t work anymore. The system is too smart. Throw them out. Let them die.
And don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise. Anyone who is telling you doesn’t know what they are talking about!
2. Be flexible with your travel dates and times
Airline ticket prices vary greatly depending on the day of the week, time of year, and upcoming holidays, such as Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, or the Fourth of July. August is a big month for traveling around Europe, and everyone wants to go somewhere warm in the winter or travel when the kids are out of school.
If you are going to fly when everyone is flying, then you’re ticket is going to cost more. Try to be flexible with your dates. If you are dead-set on visiting Paris, go to Paris in the spring or fall when fewer people visit and airfares are cheaper. But if you want to go in the middle of August? You’re out of luck. Hawaii over Christmas? Good luck!
Moreover, it’s always cheaper to fly during the middle of the week than on a weekend, because most people travel on the weekends and airlines hike their prices then. Prices are also cheaper if you fly after a major holiday as are early-morning or late-night flights are cheaper because fewer people want to travel then (who wants to wake up early?!).
The difference of one day can mean hundreds of dollars in savings.
Airlines are not dumb. They know when a festival, holiday, major sports event, or school break is coming up — and they raise prices accordingly.
Be flexible when you fly and you’ll start way ahead of everyone else!
3. Be flexible with your destinations
If you can’t be flexible when you fly, at least be flexible with where you fly. It’s best to be both, but if you really want to save the most money and get a cheap flight for your trip, you should at least do one!
Airline search engines have made it really easy to search the entire world to find the cheapest ticket — you no longer have to search manually. While Kayak offers the “Explore” tool that allows you to put in your home airport and see a map of the world with all the flights on it, Google Flights also has a similar – and better – tool to use. If you are flexible with where you want to go (i.e., anywhere but home), use this tool to figure out where to go:
Step 1: Go to Google Flights and click the map:
Step 2: Put in your dates and home airport and enjoy all your options! 🙂
The truth about airfare is that there’s always a deal to some destination, and if you’re flexible on where you want to go, you’ll always get a deal!
When you are locked into one place at one time, you are stuck with whatever price shows up. No voodoo can change that. When you become flexible, suddenly the entire world opens up to you and you’ll find amazing cheap airfare!
4. Fly budget carriers
Years ago, if you wanted to fly between continents, you were mostly stuck with traditional expensive airlines. That’s no longer true. Budget airlines now service many long-haul routes, making it possible to fly around the world for very little money. Norwegian Airlines allows you to fly between Europe and Bangkok for about $250 each way. WOW air has cheap flights to Iceland and Europe from the United States for as little as $99. AirAsia offers crazy-cheap deals around Asia and Australia for as little as $100 each way. Indian and Middle Eastern airlines offer cheap flights throughout the subcontinent and Africa. You can fly most of the way around the world on a budget airline!
Here is a list of the biggest budget airlines in the world:
(Pro tip: If you aren’t a junkie like me and know which budget airlines fly where, visit your destination airport’s website to get a list of airlines that fly there.)
Flying the budget airlines is a good alternative to flying “the majors” whenever possible. You get fewer perks, but you can save a bundle in price.
Just be sure to watch out for fees. That’s how they make money! Budget airlines sometimes charge fees for checked bags, carry-ons, printing your boarding pass, using a credit card, and anything else they can get away with. Be sure to add up the cost of the ticket AND the fees to make sure that the price is lower than a larger carrier.
5. Don’t always fly direct
Not only does it help to be flexible with dates and destinations but being flexible with the route you take is another way to get a cheap flight. 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. I had to go to Paris once; the flight was $900 USD, but I could fly to Dublin for $600 and get a $60 flight to Paris. It meant more flying time, but the $240 I saved was worth it.
To do this, I find out how much it is to go directly to my destination. Then I open Google Flights and type in that destination’s continent to look at prices to nearby airports. If the difference is more than $150, I look to see how much it is to get from the second airport to my primary destination.
Airwander is another good website that lets you see stopovers and compares the prices. Unlike Google Flights, they also show budget airlines.
Be sure to have at least 3 hours between connections as booking tickets on different airlines will mean that if something goes wrong, you can’t just get put seamlessly on the next flight. Your second airline won’t care you were late since they didn’t fly them on the first place!
This method is more work as you have to figure out lots of different routes and check different airlines – and connecting adds more time to your journey. But it will shave even more money off your flight, giving you extra to spend at your destination.
6. Remember not all search engines are equal
You need to search multiple websites as you can in order to ensure you are leaving no stone unturned. Many search sites don’t list budget carriers because those airlines don’t want to pay a booking commission while others don’t list booking sites that aren’t in English! Then some only feed prices directly from airlines.
You aren’t going to find AirAsia, Ryanair, or most other budget airlines on large sites like Kayak, Expedia, or Orbitz. U.S. booking sites also tend to not have the obscure foreign airlines that you see on international sites like Skyscanner or Momondo.
In short, not all flight search websites are created equal and all have their pros and cons.
There is no perfect airline search engine. Even the best have their faults. That said I have a few favorites I always start with best they tend to be consistently the best websites to find a cheap flight:
Typically, I start all my searches with Momondo because it searches all major AND budget airlines, non-English websites, English websites, and everything in between. I’ve been using them since 2008 and they vet all the sites they link to as they have strict criteria on who the operate with. Momondo is one of the most comprehensive booking sites out there, they have the lowest price 99% of the time, and it’s the search engine all the other travel experts I know use too.
So while the others are good and should not be ignored, Momondo should be your starting point!
7. Take advantage of student discounts
If you are a student (or under 26), there are many, many discounts available to you. You can usually find prices 20-30% off the standard fare. Travel agencies like STA Travel or Flight Centre can help find you a cheap ticket. Don’t overlook them!
8. Mix and Match Airlines
Booking different airlines will allow you to mix and match tickets to get the best flight deal possible. This way you can work the best deals. You’ll be flying separate tickets but it does work. Most of the time booking websites use the same airline for your ticket. For example, here’s a ticket I priced on Expedia from Vancouver to Berlin:
While you are booking Air Canada, on one of the legs you’re flying their partner airline, Swiss Air.
You’re stuck with the price Air Canada charges.
But by mixing and matching airlines on various legs of the trip, you can save money by always going with the cheap airline – and making sure the flight tips line up! My favorite resources for doing this are
- AMEX Travel
- Google Flights
9. Use Points and Miles
Airline rewards programs are a great way to get free flights, free upgrades, and free companion tickets. No matter how often you fly, you should be signed up for the airline’s reward program. I stick to US-based airlines since they are involved in all the major alliances and you can earn miles on their partner flights. For example, if I fly Singapore Airlines, I can earn United Airlines miles because they are partners. Likewise, if I fly Air France, it’s credited to my Delta rewards account.
However, you can earn a lot of miles through credit card sign up bonus, online shopping, surveys, special offers, and more. I earn over a million miles a year – without flying or spending extra money. That translates into dozens of free flights (often in business class) for myself and my family. If you are smart with your money and collect points and miles (the art of “travel hacking”), you can travel around the world for very little (and often free). Here are some articles on travel hacking that can help:
- How I Earn 1 Million Frequent Flier Miles Every Year
- Is Travel Hacking Really a Scam?
- The Ultimate Guide to Travel Hacking
10. Keep an Eye for Special Deals
No one likes to clutter up their inbox, 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. This is one of the best ways to ensure you find a cheap flight. Why? Because they do all the work for you! Many times, the cheap flights are only available for 24 hours, and if you aren’t always checking the web for them, you will miss out on many of the super cheap deals. I would have missed out on a round-trip ticket to Japan for $700 USD (normally $1,500) or $500 flights to South Africa! Additionally, they offer frequent flier bonuses, and those deals have also gotten me free business-class tickets. These three websites are the best to stay on top of travel deals:
11. Search ticket prices as one person
Don’t search for or buy multiple tickets in a single purchase. Airlines always show the highest ticket price in a group of tickets. For example, if you are a family of four and searching for four seats, the airline will find four seats together and show your fare based on the highest ticket price. So if seat A is $200, seats B and C are $300, and seat D is $400, it will price those tickets as $400 each instead of adding up the individual ticket prices. Therefore, always search for tickets as a single person. Afterwards, in the checkout process, you can pick your seats so you and your family are sitting together.
12. Look for tickets in other currencies
If your country’s currency is currently strong compared to others around the world, search airfare in a country where the currency is weaker. For example, the US dollar is strong and the New Zealand currency is weak. I found a one-way flight from Australia to NYC for $1,000 USD but when I searched on the NZ version of the airline, I found the same ticket for $600 USD. It’s the same airline, same flight, and same booking class. It was just booked in a different currency. This tip does not always work, but it works often enough that it’s something worth trying if your currency is currently doing well.
(Tip: Always use a no-foreign-transaction-fee card to avoid paying a surcharge.)
14. Book early, but not too early
Airline fares will keep rising the closer you get to departure, but there is a sweet spot when the airlines begin to either lower or increase fares based on demand. Don’t wait until the last second but don’t book far, far in advance either. The best time to book your flight is around 6–8 weeks before your departure, or around three months before if you are going to your destination during their peak season.
Finding a cheap flight is about being flexible and smart in where you go, when you go, and how you get there. Follow the tips above, but don’t waste forever finding a cheap flight. If you’re spending more than an hour booking a flight, you’re spending too much time. Spend 30-40 minutes finding and booking a cheap flight at a price you’re OK paying and move on with your life. I never second-guess myself on flights. You’ll go crazy if you do.
If you follow the tips above on how to get a cheap flight, you’ll always get a great deal, save yourself time, stress, and avoid being the person who paid the most for their ticket!
Find Your Cheap Flights Today
I start all my searches with Momondo because they search all major AND budget airlines, non-English websites, English websites, and everything in between. Even if you aren’t sure your plans, it’s best to start searching for flights today. People who wait to book are people who end up spending the most.
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. If you have any questions about the companies or my status as an affiliate, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me.