I’ve been tracking and studying airline trends for the last 8 or so years so I would def call myself an expert when it comes to finding cheap tickets. Some of my cheapest fares I’ve ever found have been a $350 round trip ticket from the US to Thailand, a $180 round trip ticket from the US to Copenhagen, and a $40 round trip ticket from LA to Seattle. If you would like to know how to find cheap flights and score these deals, here are some of my best tips.
1. Track Prices
This is one of the reasons I’m so good at finding cheap flights. It’s not just about knowing which airlines to buy from, but when you buy from them. I spent the last 5 or so years tracking prices from my favorite airline companies and I now have pretty good insight on what the seasonal trends are and how that correlates with ticket prices. There are certain destinations that seem to go on sale during certain times of the year. For example, I tend to notice extra cheap airline tickets to Asia during September.
2. Be Flexible
I always get people asking me to help them find cheap flights but have all kinds of time restrictions. They have to leave on this day and have to return on this day and would prefer a direct flight in the morning on each day, etc. Yeah, not gonna happen. If you want to find cheap flights, you make sacrifices. You cannot expect to find dirt cheap prices for the exact times you’re hoping for. Keep in mind most cheap flights are generally cheap for a reason, they have long or multiple layovers and undesirable itineraries. Each time I’ve taken advantage of a cheap ticket has been because I was able to take the dates the deal was good for. I understand people have 9-5 jobs and can’t always do this, but unfortunately that means they’re going to have to pass up a lot of deals and pay normal prices for the flights they want. So the first step to getting cheap prices is to be flexible with your dates and times.
3. Clear Cookies
Airline websites track your activity and gradually increasing the price of the flights and dates you look up the most. The thinking behind this is, if you repeatedly look up flights to a destination for a certain date, you probably really need to get to that place and are willing to pay more money especially if you think the price will continue to go up if you don’t buy them now. When you clear your cookies after you make these searches, you’re wiping this data from the server making it impossible for that airline website to track your previous searches, giving you a fresh low price each time. This definitely works and could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars so it’s worth doing.
4. When You Buy Matters
I don’t know who started the rumor that the cheapest time to buy a flight was exactly 6 weeks before departing or the cheapest time to buy is on Tuesdays after 3 pm. I think this is one of the most common misconceptions about getting cheap tickets. This theory is not only inaccurate but doesn’t even logically make sense. Tickets are bought in bulk and discounted by third party websites to which they are then sold for whatever the third party website believes people will buy them for. This is why if you compare prices you’ll sometimes notice the third party site is cheaper than buying through the actual airline. The third-party site is able to sometimes sell tickets for cheaper than the actual airline and still make a profit because they buy tickets in bulk which breaks down to be individually cheaper. If you’re going directly through the airline, they sell tickets based on data and previous demand for that flight during that time. They then increase the price of the ticket if the tickets have sold quickly in the past. Then, if tickets don’t sell out or are selling slower than usual, they continue dropping the price by bigger and bigger increments as the departure date approaches- unless they find a sweet spot and ticket sales pick up suddenly. This is why it’s cheapest to buy last minute most of the time.
5. Buy domestic tickets through domestic airlines
Different websites will give you different prices at the same time which is why it’s important to not get too comfortable with sticking to just one website especially if your goal is to find cheap flights. Chances are, even if you’ve found an extremely good price through them, it doesn’t mean they’ll give you the cheapest price for all locations. Personally I found it most cost-effective to book my major international flights through a third party website, and then buy my domestic flights through a domestic airline in that country. For example, I would buy my ticket to Bangkok through Skyscanner and then my ticket from Bangkok to Bali through AirAsia (not Skyscanner). This is especially a good rule of thumb to follow when traveling in Europe. Domestic European airlines offer tickets across multiple European countries for like $10 whereas going through Skyscanner may be 10x the price.
6. Buy Mistake Fairs on Holidays
I’ve heard you can get some insane deals on Google flights and Airfare Watchdog if you buy on Black Friday, Christmas, and January 1st. This isn’t something I’ve done before so I can’t give much advice, but if you want to find cheap flights, this is definitely something worth researching.
7. Try Point Hacking
Point hacking can be worth it but in my opinion it requires way more research and work than it’s worth. Also something people don’t realize about airline points is you usually have to spend 10x more than the typical price of the round trip ticket you’re trying to get. Personally I’d rather just find a cheap flight and buy it rather than racking up tons of expenses on a card to get it for free because in the end you’re paying for the ticket, either way, one just requires less effort. To give you an example that will help you understand this further, let’s say a roundtrip ticket from LA to NYC is $400 or 25,000 points. If you didn’t want to pay the $400 cash and instead wanted to use points, you would have to spend $2,500 on your card to acquire 25,000 points. Now all airlines have different point systems so don’t take this metric as the standard, I’m just trying to show it isn’t always worth it because you have to spend so much more to get points than you would if you just bought the ticket. This is not to say point hacking doesn’t work though, most credit cards give huge bonus points for signing up, then if you can get your close friends or family members to spend money on your card and then pay you cash, you could certainly make point hacking work for you. It’s just a lot of work and it’s easier for me to make $400 than it is to get people to spend money on my card and keep track of their expenses, however, that might not be the case for everyone. Read this article about point hacking if you want to know how to do it.
8. Don’t Be Suckered Into Paying Extra Fees
This one’s pretty cut and dry. You know all those extra questions on the check out page asking you if you would like to pick your seats for an extra fee or get priority boarding or insurance? Yeah, I never agree to any of those. Websites will make you feel like you need those but you really don’t, it’s just a way to upsell you. You also need to check your information very carefully because lots of airline sites (especially budget ones) set these buttons to default so sometimes they’re already checked and you have to actually uncheck them if you don’t want to purchase it, so make sure to watch for that.
9. Volunteer to Get Bumped
Airlines always overbook flights and bank on people not showing up. Rarely, everyone will make the flight which is when flight attendants ask for volunteers to get “bumped” which means you miss this flight and they’ll put you on the next one. A lot of times you have to wait for many hours in the airport or sometimes even stay the night in the city you’re in (they will pay for your hotel) making this undesirable for most people who have places to be, which is why the airline will offer a voucher as an incentive for someone to move. Vouchers are like coupons you can use to buy your next flight and are offered at around a $200-$800 value depending on the airline. Keep in mind, you’ll rarely encounter this if you fly through cheap airlines, this happens most commonly with the bigger airlines like American and Delta. If you would like to increase your chances of coming across an overbooked flight, book flights on the bigger airlines, during peak times, through popular cities like Chicago. Around the holidays are also good times to try this because vouchers will be higher since it will be harder to find passengers willing to change their plans.
10. Use Skiplagged
Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy an onward flight and get off at your layover and Skiplagged scans the internet for this exact thing. I’ve personally never done this before mainly because I’ve never had a destination that aligned with this strategy, but I have heard about people using this method. So let’s say your final destination is Chicago, sometimes it’s more expensive to buy a ticket straight to Chicago than it is to buy a ticket to New York with a Chicago layover and then just get off at your layover. You can use the website skiplagged.com to find these cheap layover flights.
11. Book Your Own Connecting Flights
This can be a lot of work but sometimes it’s worth it because you can save hundreds and thousands of dollars and sometimes even get a better route with direct flights and less travel time. If you have the time to do this work it can be worth it. However if I’m traveling for work or not worried about spending extra money, it can be a lot easier to have the computer generate my entire itinerary for me so it really depends if what you’re trying to save: money or time. If you’re traveling internationally, connecting your own flights could save you a lot of money so I would highly recommend doing it for the big trips. For example, I’m going from Albuquerque to Nice, France. If I put in my start and end locations (ABQ-Nice) I will get layover that’s way too long along with tons of extra fees. If I buy all my flights individually, so ABQ-NYC, then NYC-Paris, then lastly Paris-Nice I will save myself so much money and possibly get a much better itinerary so it’s worth the extra effort.
12. Cross-Check The Third-Party Price With The Brand Price
If you find a flight you want through a third-party site, make sure to check for the same flight directly through the airline company that offers the route you found, sometimes, not always but sometimes you’ll score a cheaper price. So even if you find a great deal, make sure to cross-check that price with other websites including the actual airline site.
It’s important to note: It took me years to acquire this airline knowledge and sometimes I still can’t score a good deal and have to pay 5x the price for the dates I want. Knowing about flight hacking doesn’t always guarantee you the cheapest flight. However if you’re flexible and can gamble a little and not succumb to fomo (fear of missing out), you’ve got a good shot at snagging a great deal.
Good luck and let me know the cheapest plane ticket you’ve ever found!