How to Find Cheap Flights Online
Are you sure you're getting the best available fares?
Keep this article within arm's reach next time you plan a trip to quickly find cheap flights online. Even if you have no issue with what you pay for airfare, odds are others are getting better fares on the very same flights, due to a combination of the following strategies:
A Common Mistake that Costs You Money When Booking Flights is deciding where and when to go before looking up airfares. The problem with this seemingly innocent approach is that you emotionally commit yourself to an itinerary that is likely to cost much more than equally satisfying alternatives.
Regardless of what website, strategy or tricks you use, the following illustration shows where the cheap flights are, and why you aren't getting them:
You may think you're being flexible by departing at 6am to save a few dollars. Maybe you're willing to shift your vacation ahead or delay it by a few days to save a bit more. Truth is, any savings you get this way hardly scratches the surface of how cheap flights can be when you really open up your options.
Let's say you want to escape the cold every winter for a beach vacation. If you give yourself a four-month window (flexible on dates), and are equally open to the Caribbean, Mexico and South-East Asia (flexible on destination), you will open doors to the sorts of jaw dropping flight deals you will rave about, and your friends will envy.
Lucky for you, there are free online tools that crunch data specific to your desired itinerary, and they tell you how and when the best fares will be available as follows:
- If Your Travel Dates Are Firm: The Hopper app. and Kayak.com crunch historical flight data specific to your itinerary, and not only tell you the best fare available now, but whether the price is likely to rise or drop with time, and if so, when and by how much. These forecasts are based on historical data, so they cannot account for current events (airline strikes, fuel prices). Still, it's valuable intelligence to have when deciding whether to hold off for a better fare.
- If Your Travel Dates Are Flexible and it doesn't matter to you whether you visit Paris in 6 months, next year or in two years' time. There are websites where you can enter your desired flight route along with the most you are willing to pay, then the website continuously searches for flights meeting your criteria, and send you a notification anytime it finds a match. AirfareWatchdog.com, FareCompare.com and Yapta.com all do this, and I recommend you setup e-alerts for all cities you want to visit, and that you get aggressive with your price ceilings. This way, you're giving yourself options and can prioritize your trips to cities with filler airfare deals. This also buys the website time to find killer fares to your other bucket list cities.
1. No single website returns the best fares every time. So, run your search through three or more websites. I use Kayak.com, Skyscanner.com, and Hipmunk.com, but I also know many people who swear by Google.com/fights, Momondo.com and Matrix.itasoftware.com. We won't break these websites down into detail, but you should experiment with them all, and try to keep a given flight search to 15 minutes.
If you aren't crazy about the fares in your search results:
2. Toggle between one-way and round-trip as airlines sometimes charge different fares each way. If this happens to you, consider flying each way on separate airlines. You can easily look into these options using Kayak.com as their search engine automatically mixes and matches different airlines to get you the best fare each way.
3. Expand your search to include all neighboring airports. I am certainly willing to drive three hours to another airport if it saves me $250 on an overseas flight.
4. When flying abroad, run your search through at least one airfare search engine commonly used in your destination country. For example, when traveling to Europe, CheckFelix.com/uk allows you toggle between countries, and it converts your airfare to that country's currency. Now you can compare the relative price by factoring the currency differential, and you can book your flight in the currency that gives you the lowest overall price:
*If you do this: Pay for your flight using a credit card with a 'No Foreign Transaction Fee' benefit. For a list of credit cards that waive foreign transaction fees, Click Here.
Before you book a flight on an airfare search website, go to the website of the airline you will be flying on, and if the airline's website offers the same fare or better, buy your ticket direct from the airline to cut out the middleman, avoid stickly third party terms and conditions, and potential complications should a customer service issue arise.
If the airline's fare is higher than the one you found elsewhere, you may be able to game any of the following policies the airline may have:
- Best Price Guarantees are policies where the airline will match a better fare found elsewhere for an identical booking.
- Price Drop Refund Policies protect you from missing out on savings you otherwise would have missed out on should airfares drop after you book your flight.
*Did You Know: Anytime an airline notifies you of even the slightest change to your booked itinerary, that's your gateway to get out of your booking altogether at no charge. Simply call the airline when you get a change notification, and say the change does not suit you, and that you want to cancel - which they will do at no charge when it's due to an itinerary change initiated by the airline.
Ultra-Low Cost (ULC) Airlines
- Your base fare entitles you to a seat, the space under it for a bag, and washroom access.
- Anything else costs extra from printed boarding passes, use of overhead bins, water and snacks, priority boarding priority boarding and seat selection - except for Southwest where you choose your seat as you board.
- In-flight discretionary surcharges can quadruple the cost of your base ULC fare.
- ULC airlines do not show up in airfare search engine results as their pricing model is not easily compared to standard fares. Also, their bare bones fares may also limit their ability to pay third party booking commissions.
- Since ULC airlines are excluded from most search engines, you may need to the go the website of your departing airport to see if any ULC airlines fly your desired route.
Comparing ULC fares to traditional posted rates requires you to factor in all surcharges you anticipate incurring on an ULC flight. Personally, I feel ULC airlines are best flown for short haul flights for a short escape where you won't be on the plane long, and can fit everything you bring under your seat.
With so many travel rewards credit cards to choose from - each with different benefits - it can be overwhelming trying to figure out which ones are best for you. I recommend you first identify three (3) common travel credit card benefits that you most desire, and get the card that has the best combination of those benefits. Then do the same for your second card, but this time choose three other benefits not offered by your first card. You can quickly narrow down which cards have the best combination of benefits for you using the credit card travel rewards matrix in this article where I compare the benefits of the top travel rewards credit cards.
If you follow these strategies, you will hands down land better fares over people who don't. And should we ever cross paths on a plane, I look forward to seeing who paid the least. Meantime...
Once feeling unable to afford to travel, Russell Hannon uses lean principles to travel at a fraction of the going rate. He has been featured on CNBC, FOX, CBS, America Tonight, CTV, CBC, Around the World Travel TV and nationally broadcast lifestyle and personal finance shows. He also wrote 'Stop Dreaming Start Traveling: The Ultimate Guide to Traveling More and Spending Less' available at StopDreamingStartTraveling.com.