How to Find a Cheap Flight
The era of dirt-cheap travel is over, and, when the flight can represent the biggest part of your trip expenses, finding that hidden cheap deal can be just as important as finding the right location, the right tour, the right backpack, or the right hotel. However, there are still plenty of ways to find a cheap ticket. Here are a few tips that can help you find cheap flights and flight deals:
Be Flexible with Your Travel Dates
If you’re rigid with your dates, you won’t be able to capture any of the pricing variations airlines use. Ticket prices always fluctuate depending on day and time of the week. For example, t’s always cheaper to fly mid-week than on a weekend. It’s cheaper to fly out after major holidays rather than before. That week after Christmas? No one ever flies because they are with their families – and prices drop. Fight prices also drop a bit on Tuesday nights. Since more people fly and book during the weekend, airlines raise prices, then drop them down mid-week as they all compete for weekend fliers. Additionally, this is when they release new seating information. Early morning or late-night flights are also usually cheaper, as fewer people want those flights. When searching for flights, be flexible – you will catch better deals. I often fly out early in the morning, not because I like waking up early, but because it can save me a few hundred dollars. Moreover, give yourself some wiggle room on the dates. The difference of a day can be the difference of a few hundred dollars.
Fly to Secondary Airports with Low-Cost Carriers
Most major cities have a smaller, secondary airport. This is the airport most low-cost carriers (LCC) fly into because it’s cheaper and helps keep costs down. Airports charge landing fees, and smaller airports charge smaller fees, which helps keep prices down for you. Check out which airlines fly into these smaller airports. For example, you can take JetBlue to Long Beach, an airport close to Los Angeles, instead of flying into LAX, and save some money. In America, there are over 20 different LCCs. In Europe, there are even more, and competition has kept prices there very low. In Asia, Air Asia has led to a huge drop in fares and is a great budget airline to fly. For example, you can find tickets from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur for $40 USD. Many times, these low-cost airlines offer no-fare tickets — you pay just the taxes. Flying the budget airlines is a good alternative to flying the “majors” whenever possible. You get less “perks,” but you can save a bundle in ticket costs. But be sure to check out how far the airports are from the city center — sometimes transportation from the airport to the city can actually make a budget airline more expensive. However, in general, these low-cost carriers are a good deal (even though cheap flights sometimes aren’t the best).
Try Alternative Routes
Not only does it help to be flexible with dates, but try being flexible with the route you take, too. Sometimes it’s cheaper to fly to London and take a LCC to Amsterdam rather than flying direct to Amsterdam. There are so many low-cost carriers around the world that taking advantage of a good deal to another city and then hopping on a LCC to your destination is sometimes the best way to go. Moreover, direct flights are always more expensive than connecting ones. Just by picking a connecting flight route, you will save money. If you do the infamous Saturday night stay, you’ll also save money. By working various airlines and special offers, you can save a lot. This method is not for everyone, however. It is more work, as you have to figure out lots of different routes and check different airlines. But it will shave some money off your flight, giving you more to spend at your destination.
Know What You Want to Pay for a Flight
People always try to get the lowest price online, wait too long, and then pay too much. We all know airline prices always bounce up and down, yet in our quest to hold out just a little longer, most of us miss the lowest price. Therefore, it’s important to know what you want to pay, not what you hope to pay. What’s the lowest price for YOU? Is $200 from NY to Miami what you want? Don’t want to pay more than $900 to go from LA to Tokyo? Then don’t. Don’t wait for the perfect price — wait for YOUR price. Wait until prices get close to, at, or lower than your desired price, and then buy. Then you will never have buyer’s remorse. Prices always fluctuate, so you’ll never know if you did good or bad. No two people on a flight pay the same price, so all you can do is hope you get the price you are comfortable paying. Sites like Farecast can help you predict when to buy.
Remember Not All Search Engines are Equal
Whenever most Americans do a Web search for airline tickets, they search Expedia or Orbitz. That’s a big mistake. These sites either work with or are owned by the airline companies and don’t offer unbiased fares. Moreover, sites like these don’t list LCC carriers because those airlines don’t want to pay a booking commission. The best search engines are the ones that have no affiliation with any airline and make their money via advertising, not bookings. Skyscanner is great for low-cost carriers, and they now search a few of the majors as well. Kayak is great for those flying out of the United States. Momondo is also a good search engine. Make sure you check a few sites before you book, as you’ll often see variations in prices.
Search an Airline’s International Websites
Don’t forget to search the international websites of all major airlines, too. You might think that prices will be the same across the board, but remember that all sites and prices are not the same. I have found Air New Zealand tickets from Tokyo to LA hundreds of dollars cheaper when searching the NZ version of the website instead of the US. I found tickets to and from Europe cheaper by searching the Canadian version of the British Airways website. Many times, these tickets are also priced in foreign denominations, which can also make the prices slightly cheaper depending on your currency. You are allowed to book your flight from a website located in a different country. You will just be charged in the local currency. (Note: The recent fall of the US dollar has made this hard to work for Americans, but easier for people on the Euro, Pound, or Yen!)
Take Advantage of Student Discounts
If you are a student, there are many, many discounts available to you. Check out STA Travel and their search engine. You can find flexible student tickets on their website and at agency stores. I used them for a $400 ticket from Athens to Bangkok. That wasn’t even the cheapest flight, either, just the cheapest direct flight. There are many student codes out there, and many of the tourist agencies in backpacker areas can help find you a cheap ticket.
Sign Up for a Frequent Flier Program
Frequent flier programs are a great way to get points towards cheap flights, discount fares, free upgrades, and free companion tickets. Join one!! Even if you do not fly a lot, miles usually take a few years to expire, and, with sign-up bonuses, in that time you can probably earn at least one free upgrade or domestic ticket. In joining a frequent flier program, you will have to sign up with one of the major airlines. These airlines usually cost more than low-cost carriers, so, in the short run, you’ll pay more money. However, the long-term benefits you’ll get are worth it. I used to just go for the cheapest flight, but had I stuck to one airline or airline network, I would have been a high-tier member now, flying first class instead of in the back of coach. You can click here to find out about choosing a rewards credit card or joining a frequent flier program.
Join Mailing Lists
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. 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 great and super-cheap deals that occur. I would have missed out on a round trip ticket to Japan for $700 USD (normally $1,500) if I wasn’t on American Airlines’ mailing list. Additionally, they offer frequent flier bonuses, and those deals have also gotten me free business class tickets. Mailing lists are essential, especially as you get closer to booking your flight.
With oil prices going up, airlines are raising fees. They have been raised 7 times this year alone (and it’s only April!!). It used to be that the best booking window was 6 to 8 weeks before your flight, but now, I would say book as soon as you know when you’re going. My laziness cost me $200 USD because, even though I knew when I wanted to fly, I didn’t book before the price increase. You can bet that if oil keeps going up, fares will keep rising, too. It’s important to book as soon as you know when you want to go instead of playing the waiting game. You can also read this interview with George Hobica, the head of Airfarewatchdog.com (an airline monitoring website), to learn more about the current state of airline ticket prices and where things are going.