As I’ve often preached, travel doesn’t need to be expensive.
Most of the time, airfare is the biggest expenditure on your trip and it takes up a chunk of our hard-earned savings. The best way to reduce this expenditure is to find the cheapest flight possible.
After spending the past 12 years traveling around the world, I’ve learned quite a few tricks when it comes to finding cheap airfares.
Over the years, I’ve managed to score some awesome airfare deals, such as that Madrid-Oslo budget flight for only $15 return (with taxes included) and an upcoming flight from Oslo to Los Angeles for only $328. I also just scored a promo flight from Madrid to Ghana for $208 return, and let’s not forget the error fare I booked to Greenland for just $400, half the usual price!
If you apply a few of these tips, you should be able to save yourself some money the next time you book airfare. Happy flying!
Search for Flights Incognito or with a VPN
Have you ever searched for a flight and then gone back to check it a few times only to find that the flight price has increased each time?
If you’ve been suspecting that the airline and travel websites are behind this — you’re right.
To get around this, always search for flights in incognito to find the lowest prices. Incognito browsing ensures that no history or other private data such as cache or cookies are left behind at the end of your browsing session.
On Google Chrome, browse with the Incognito Mode by simply going to the Chrome menu button (three horizontal lines) in the upper right corner and selecting New Incognito Tab from the drop-down menu. Similarly on Safari, choose Private Browsing on the Gear icon in the top right corner of your browser window.
Another way to browse privately is by using a VPN, a secure internet network where data cannot be intercepted. Not only does it protect your browsing history, it also allows you to access country-specific content. This way, you can also take advantage of location-specific airfare deals some airlines have. Last year, I nabbed an error fare on United Airlines’ Danish website using a VPN and got a Copenhagen-Los Angeles flight for $100 return. Seriously.
I personally use VPN for sure scenarios and also when I’m traveling in places with censored internet.
Compare Across Airlines and Flight Search Engines
Gone are the days when you need to manually check airfares on different airlines, one by one. Now almost every flight search engine lets you compare airfares across airlines and even different flight brokers. Kayak and Dohop are examples of these meta search engines. Be prepared though to go through various pop up windows to find the best deal.
Here’s a list of the best search engines in my opinion:
- Skyscanner — This is by far my favorite website for finding cheap airfares as it searches a wide variety of airlines, including budget carriers that other sites miss. It allows you to see airfares for an entire month in one window, so you can pick the cheapest day to fly.
- Vayama — A great flight search engine, especially for international flights flying from the US. I’ve found fares on their site hundreds of dollars cheaper than I’ve found elsewhere.
- TripAdvisor Flights — They are a meta search engine, with the user-friendly option of clicking to compare results on other travel sites, including BookingBuddy, Hotwire, Priceline and Travelocity.
- Google Flights — Efficient search engine with lots of great features like Skyscanner, but it doesn’t let you book flights.
- Dohop — This is a good all-in-one site to book flights, hotels and car rental. I think they are a great starting point for searching for cheap airline tickets, especially if you are based in in Europe.
Find the Cheapest Destination to Fly to
If all you want to do is travel anywhere outside of your home country, then this is a great way to score some good flight deals. For instance, I had no plans to go to Ghana but when I saw the flight deal for just $208, I knew I had to book it!
Skyscanner has an “Explore” feature that allows you to put in your home airport and find the cheapest deals anywhere in the world. Google Flights also has a similar feature. If you’re up for an adventure and want to let fate decide where you go, then it’s a good way to travel on the cheap.
Be Flexible with Dates
Airfares vary depending on the day of the week, time of year, and holidays. It’s always cheaper to fly during the middle of the week than on a weekend.
Another way to save money on tickets is by flying during the off-season when there will be less demand. For example, Spain in winter, or Southeast Asia during monsoon season.
This research based on 1.5 billion airfares found that the best time to book a flight is said to be around 47 days in advance of your trip. When a flight opens for sale, fares will drop slowly but steadily until reaching a low point somewhere between 27 days and 114 days out.
Skyscanner lets you search for flights in an entire month to get an overview of airfares and pick out the cheapest day to fly in that particular month. To track when and where is cheapest to fly, Hopper and Flyr also offer price analysis and track fluctuations — which is great for airline geeks!
Fly into Alternative Airports
Instead of flying to a place with an expensive flight, fly somewhere nearby that is cheaper to get to. For example, fly into London Stansted instead of Heathrow, or Long Beach rather than LAX to get cheaper deals. Sometimes traveling by bus to or from a different airport can save you money on flights.
I’ve saved quite a lot by flying to Eindhoven rather than Amsterdam, and Girona instead of Barcelona. It may take more time than flying directly, but it’s worthwhile if that means you’re saving a hundred bucks.
Try out Budget Airlines
I know, budget airlines don’t have a good rep these days, but hey if you want to buy the cheapest flight possible, budget airlines are not a bad idea.
I’ve flown across Asia, Europe and the US and saved tons of time and money thanks to budget airlines. They are often 30% cheaper than usual airlines. Now budget airlines are even offering cross-continental flights; for instance you can get cheap flights to Europe from the US for as low as $99 each way (check WOW Air)!
Of course, you’ll have to compromise with less leg room, no meal service onboard or no seat allocation. Some budget airlines also have ridiculous rules; Ryanair charges a hefty fee if you don’t print your boarding pass or adhere to their luggage allowance. I once had to pay Ryanair $90 to get my boarding pass printed – how stupid was that?!
In general, when you’re booking a budget flight, always read the fine print and know the budget airline’s requirements & restrictions.
Here are some budget airlines worth checking out:
- Norwegian Air
- Wow Air
- Air Asia
- Tiger Air
- Spirit Airlines
Check Different Routes and Book Flights Separately
Sometime you can save hundreds just by making stops on a long-haul flight instead of flying direct. For instance, flights to Bangkok are often cheaper than flights to Burma, so you can first catch a flight to Bangkok and fly with a budget airline such as Air Asia to Yangon.
These days, the cheapest way to fly from US to Europe is via Iceland (on WOW Air) or Norway (on Norwegian Air), so consider flying to Reykjavik/Oslo before catching a budget flight to elsewhere on continental Europe.
Be sure to spread out your flights and leave enough transit time between each flights! I’ve missed a few flights because of tight layovers and had to suffer for it. If your flights are not on the same airline, you will not get compensated if you miss your connecting flight.
Find “Hidden City” Flights
You may have noticed that some flights that connect in a city you want to go to are cheaper than flights that fly direct to it.
Unknown to many, you can actually book that cheap flight, hop off at your destination and not take the onward connection.
There is now a web search engine which finds hidden city tickets for you. Skiplagged is a highly rated site, but it’s currently being sued by United Airlines who is angry about this debatable hack.
You need to be prepared to take some risks though, as not all flights allow you this. I’ve heard that Spirit Airlines actually will ban you from flying with them if they find that you haven’t taken your connection. You also need to make sure that the plane actually allows you to disembark at your destination, otherwise you’ll be wasting rather than saving money.
Use Alerts to Keep Track of Prices
Flight prices can sometimes drop with time. Skyscanner has a price alerts service that notifies you as soon as the price goes up, or down. So, every time the price of the flight you want changes, they’ll automatically send you an email. Most of the time, price alerts are completely free and you can change your alerts or unsubscribe at any time.
Subscribe to Deals/Promos Websites
To keep yourself informed of the latest flight promotions, there are several websites these days that alert you when there are flight deals or error fares.They usually update the site with numerous deals a day, so it’s best to subscribe to their newsletter to get the updates via email.
The promotions are very attractive and often only last for a short time period, so you have to act fast! Note that some airlines don’t honor error fares (like the $120 flight I booked on United Airlines that got voided), so don’t make plans right after booking them.
- Secret Flying — Regularly updated airfare deals from both US and Europe
- The Flight Deal — Only flight promos from the US
- HolidayPirates — Europe-centric website with airfare and holiday deals from the UK and Europe
Sign up for Airline Mailing Newsletters
Airline newsletters often have featured offers not found elsewhere. These offers can range from upcoming flight sales to mileage giveaways. Airlines also often announce new routes via their newsletters and these usually involve very low introductory prices. For instance, Air Europa is starting new routes to Puerto Rico from Europe and are offering airfares as low as $300 from Madrid.
Join Frequent Flier Programs and Collect Miles
Frequent flier programs are definitely one of the best ways to get free flights or upgrades. Even if you don’t fly often, you should be signed up for the airline’s reward program.
There are three main airlines alliances that you can join: One World, Star Alliance, and Sky Team. An alliance is a partnership among numerous airlines. When you join the frequent flier program of a certain airline, you’ll be able to earn miles from not just that airline but also its partner airlines. Each alliance has its own pros and cons, so you want to make sure you join the one that’s the best fit for your travel style. To decide which mileage program to join, consider which airline you fly with the most.
As I’m based in Spain, I fly with Iberia and British Airways most often and so I earn most miles on One World Alliance. If I fly Qatar Airways, I get miles too in my Iberia rewards account as they are partners. This way I get to earn miles wherever I fly. I’ve been able to redeem free flights from Los Angeles to Madrid, as well as from Madrid to Singapore.
There are lots of ways to use miles to get good deals without actually flying: sign up for credit cards that give away lots of miles upon registration, shop at airline partner stores such as Amazon, or participate in airline contests and giveaways. By having a travel credit card, you can easily pay for everything with the card and chock up to 36,000 miles a month, which you can redeem for a flight to Europe!
Credit: Wild Junket