How to score cheap flights? Let’s start with the basics, or CHEAP FLIGHTS 101. These are the simple things you’re probably already doing, but let’s just make sure.
FLEXIBILITY IS KING
• The single biggest factor in snagging the best possible price on an airfare is FLEXIBILITY. That’s the flexibility to fly some days before or some days after the desired date. Even a one day change can make a difference of several hundred dollars. Seasonal flexibility is also important. Perhaps a summer flight to Europe is the only time you can go because that’s when the whole family’s schedule lines up? Know that a summer European trip will cost you more. You may want to consider South America instead, when it’s off season.
• Visit the websites of individual airlines. Subscribe to their mailing list and newsletters, register for their contests. Airlines sometimes announce deals exclusively on their sites. If you get too many emails from them, manage your subscriptions to receive only the information you want. Likewise, follow airlines on social media sites for the same reason.
• Sign up for travel alerts. Determine where you want to go and schedule a travel alert for this. Travel alerts will tell you what the price of a flight is on different dates. As an example, I scheduled an alert through Skyscanner for a flight from JFK to Dublin. The results were as follows:
June 27 – $169
July 1 – $153
July 4 – $203
August 7 – $134
These are prices for the same flights just on different days. Big differences. If you have some flexibility you can take advantage of the cheapest fare. In this case I set the alert for a specific city I needed to go to.
If you register with certain engines, they will scour the internet seeking error fares (when an airline posts a fare by mistake) and other ridiculously cheap, one-time-only fares and hotel rooms for cities you choose as well as random cities. Perhaps you never considered Morocco as a vacation option but then you found a fare for $350 r/t from JFK. Suddenly Morocco is looking very attractive. Two sites that are especially good for this are Airfarewatchdog and The Flight Deal.
• Get an awards travel credit card and sign up for frequent travel plans. These credit cards will give you sign-on bonuses and points which you can exchange for airline award miles. You are going to use a credit card anyway, you might as well get points towards air travel while you’re at it. Depending on the airline, you can also earn points for dining at specific restaurants and shopping at businesses affiliated with the airline’s program.
Now let’s move on to INTERMEDIARY CHEAP FLIGHTS 102
BUDGET AIRLINES. Don’t just search on the big airlines. Check the low-cost budget airlines too. Here is a list of budget airlines around the world. Budget airlines tend to service a specific region like Europe or India. But this has changed recently. Now you have budget airlines that the can transport you between continents at budget prices. A good example of this is Norwegian Airlines flying between Europe and the US for less than $100 and the new Iceland based airline WOW Air flying from selected US cities to Europe for $99. There are budget airlines offering very attractive prices in other regions too like, South East Asia, Australia, India, Middle East.
There is a catch with budget airlines. You knew there was a catch. But it’s a little catch so don’t worry. Nothing, absolutely nothing is included in the price- other than flying you from point A to point B. Want to select a particular seat?… it’ll cost you. Check a bag?… open your wallet. Have a snack?… fuhgeddaboutit! Nevertheless, I think that’s a small price to pay for a small price.
Another potential issue for some is that these airlines tend to fly in and out of less frequented airports. This means you need to factor in the cost and time involved in getting to wherever the flight leaves from and arrives to. Still worth it, I say. Finally, just like regular airlines, many of the budget airlines are cheaper at certain times of the day like 5:54AM or 11:30PM. Just keep these factors in mind before you fall in love with your $99 price tag.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIONS
• Use the right search engines. There are tons of them out there so which is best? The best ones are the ones that list ALL the airlines and flight options worldwide. Some U.S. search engines do not list the European or Asian budget airlines which have some of the best deals so I tend to avoid them. I also like engines that are easy to use and visual. Some of the ones I use the most include: MOMONDO and SKYSCANNER. They have every airline option on the planet. I’ve found both their prices to be competitive but Skyscanner has been cheaper. Momondo has a great feature that lets you see different prices on different days without having to enter an alternative date. This allows you to choose the cheapest dates available within the month you are traveling. Very convenient.
One that I’ve started using lately is GOOGLEFLIGHTS. They have an interactive map that let you insert your home airport and check out options from there. It may not be the best if you are dead set on a particular destination, but it’s great for searching possible vacation options. The pricing is also good.
Whatever you do, make sure you check multiple search engines. Don’t just go with the first one you use even if the price seems good to you. You’d be surprised at what else is out there if you really search.
Other search engines are fine too, but with these you get every option under the sun which saves you time and effort and virtually guarantees you the best price.
• Consider nearby airports. Many cities are served by two or more airports. Perhaps the more distant one is not as convenient for you but is a hub for cheap budget airlines. If there is good public transportation, consider flying in/out of that alternative airport. This could save you a great deal. When searching, check the “all airports” option rather than your usual airport.
• Consider nearby cities. If the price to a particular city is way expensive, check cities nearby. It may be cheaper to fly to the cheaper destination and take public transportation to your originally intended destination.
• Search in incognito mode. Some people swear by this. Other say it’s a myth. The idea is that airlines use “cookies” to monitor what you search for and increase the price incrementally as you come back to the site. To avoid this, search in incognito mode or clear cookies before you search. I do practice this tactic for that added confidence…just in case.
Finally, we move up to ADVANCED CHEAP FLIGHTS. Here is where you play with segments, overland routes and layovers to get yourself the best price possible.
• Again, flexibility is key especially with your routing. Say you want to go from New York to Buenos Aires. You’ll probably check direct flights and find, say, a fare of $700 one way. But what if you found a New York to Miami fare for $90 then $500 from Miami to Buenos Aires for a total of $590? That’s a saving of $110! It may not always work but it is definitely worth trying.
• Some people think it is automatically cheaper to stick with the same airline for the entire itinerary. Not so! It may be cheaper to book different airlines for each segment. For example, fly to Europe from the U.S. on one of the long-haul budget airlines like Norwegian or WOW Air, then fly the local budget airlines like EasyJet and Ryanair within Europe. You could wind up with six different airline tickets but you could also save 50%.
COMBINE FLIGHTS WITH OVERLAND TRABSPORTATION
• And who says you have to fly everywhere? In smaller regions with good local transportation, like Europe or Japan, it may make more sense to take the train or bus. It will be much cheaper and possibly give you insight into the local culture. You can research alternative transportation between cities on Google. One website I have used to research transportation options is Rome@Rio.com. This sites shows you how to get from any point A to any point B using all possible transportation options. For example, see the chart showing alternative routes from London to Dublin. The sites give you everything from flights to a combination of bus and ferry together with the pricing. The site works well in developed areas as well as less developed ones like South East Asia or Africa. I LOVE this site!
Don’t be afraid of layovers. Instead, embrace them as a chance to explore another city. I recently found a great deal from Adelaide to JFK but with a nine-hour layover in Sydney. I took advantage of the layover to buy a round trip train ticket from the Sydney airport to the city, visit a museum, have dinner in Korea Town and make it back in time to catch my flight.
I hope these tips have helped you identify opportunities to save money on airfare. Have I missed something? What is YOUR best tip for scoring cheap flights?