How to Find Cheaper Flights
Airfare can easily be the largest expense of your trip. Expensive plane tickets mean you need to choose a more affordable destination or spend less money at your vacation stop to stay within your spending limit. If the idea of booking cheap flights sounds appealing to you, these tips will help your air travel become more reasonable.
Another way to save money is by having flexible travel plans. Two of the easiest ways to find cheap flights is to fly mid-week or on the actual holiday (i.e. Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day) since fewer people travel on these days. You might also consider flying to a different airport, for example, flying into Tampa instead of Orlando can save you $30 a ticket. The alternate airport or travel dates might not be an option, but, flexibility is one of the easiest ways to lower your airfare costs.
This is the way most people approach getting a flight:
- Pick where they want to go
- Pick their dates
- See what prices are available
Typically this results in high prices.
Instead, if getting a cheap flight is your priority, flip that approach:
- Decide which of the cheap destinations appeal to you
- Select the dates you like that have cheap fares available
Be flexible with where and when to go. If you’ve picked out your destination, picked out your dates, and don’t have flexibility, 95% of what you can do to bring down the cost of airfare is already out the window. Flexibility is king. Plus, as we’ll discuss below, once you get to Europe or Asia or wherever, it’s really easy to hop a budget flight to your final destination.
Sidenote: Be sure to search more than one date. Often times shifting the dates by even a day can cut the price in half.
Book Early for Cheap Flights
Usually, plane tickets jump in price during the final three weeks before departure. Booking as soon as possible is one of the easiest ways to ensure you will get the lowest price. You should be able to secure the best rates if you book within three months to 30 days from departure.
Avoid peak travel months
In North America and Europe, the cheapest time of year to fly is usually:
- January through mid-May
- September through early December
The most expensive time to fly is usually:
- Peak summer: mid-June through mid-August
- New Year’s Eve
It will also vary a bit by the specific destination, especially around popular festivals. Fares to Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day or to China for Chinese New Year aren’t cheap.
Know the best time to book cheap flights
We typically recommend booking when you see a great fare 1-3 months in advance for domestic flights and 2-8 months in advance for international flights.
If you’re booking for peak summer, add a month or two onto these recommendations, and if you’re traveling during low season it’s more likely cheap fares will pop up closer to departure date.
Prices tend to jump in the last month or two before departure, so you don’t want to cut it too close.
On the other hand, if you book too early and settle for a not-great fare, you’re missing out on potential future sales. Of course, if you’re looking to travel around major holidays like Christmas and New Year’s or during peak summer, add a month or two on those recommendations.
Book a Connecting Flight
If you aren’t in a hurry to get to your final destination, booking a connecting flight can be cheaper than a non-stop flight. The search engines will let you filter flight itineraries by non-stop, 1 stop, and 2+ stops. Even flying mixed carriers might be able to save you some cash as well.
Consider Discount Airlines
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 as little as $250 each way.
AirAsia offers crazy-cheap deals around Asia and Australia for under $100 USD each way.
Indian and Middle Eastern airlines offer cheap flights throughout the subcontinent and Africa.
These days, you can fly most of the way around the world on a budget airline. Sure, they might not be as comfortable and you may need to pay for premium upgrades like checked bags and meals, but they bring the world to your doorstep without breaking the bank.
While a major airline can get you just about anywhere, the cost can also be notably more. These airlines can help you save money on domestic and international flights:
- Flair Airlines
- Air Canada Rouge
- Air Transat
- Allegiant Air
- Spirit Airlines
- Sun Country Airlines
- Air Asia
- Tiger Air
- Jeju Air
- Hong Kong Express
- Peach Air
- Spice Jet
- Spring Airlines
- Nok Air
- T’Way Airlines
- Vanilla Air
- Cebu Pacific
- Lion Air
- VietJet Air
- Aigle Azur
- Norwegian Air
- Wizz Air
(Pro tip: If you aren’t sure which budget airlines fly where, visit your departure 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 often 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.
Use an Airline Credit Card to Avoid Baggage Fees
If you need to check a bag, most airline rewards cards will let you waive the baggage fees for at least one traveling companion. The Delta Amex credit cards will let you check up to nine bags for free. The only two stipulations are you must book a flight directly with the carrier and use that credit card to pay for the flight. No problem, right?
Use Award Miles
If you would rather spend miles than cash, or maybe a combination of the two, miles can be most valuable when redeemed for expensive cash flights. There are many different award flight options as you can pool your points from a co-branded airline miles credit card like one of the Southwest credit cards with the points you earn from the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
You can redeem your miles through the credit card travel portal or transfer them to your airline loyalty program to top-off your balance and book a flight directly from the carrier.
Here’s a small bonus tip. If you do have to book an award flight at the last-minute, a good option can be Delta because they do not charge a “close-in” for award flights.
Flexibility and booking early are two of the best tips for booking cheaper flights. While last-minute deals can also be found, your options will be limited. By comparing the prices and options with the carrier, third-party booking sites, and also taking your credit card rewards into account, you can easily find your cheaper flights with each trip.