As COVID-19 travel restrictions ease up and people start thinking about traveling again, flights will begin filling up quickly. It may take a little digging, but we have the tips you need to find cheap domestic and international flights.
It’s possible to enjoy traveling once again while sticking to your budget. Use some or even all of these tips and potentially save yourself hundreds of dollars. Read on to find out how!
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How to Find Cheap Flights: 21 Clever Ways
Spoiler alert: It does take some legwork to save money, but it’s worth it in the end. Whether it’s changing your travel dates, flying during non-peak times, shopping around, or getting alerts from your favorite airline search engines and flight deal subscriptions, there are numerous ways to put the work in and save money.
1. Avoid Peak Months
Know the most expensive times of year to fly, whether domestically or abroad. Generally, in the U.S., it’s most expensive to fly in late spring through early fall. If you can plan your trip in either early or late winter or even early spring, you’ll find cheaper flights.
Try to avoid flying near major holidays, especially Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Because many people travel to see their families, flights around these holidays are more popular and, therefore, more expensive.
2. Have Flexible Dates
Rather than setting travel dates first and then looking for cheap flights, flip your strategy. First, browse flights, and then choose your travel dates according to the best flight prices.
If that’s not an option because you can only travel on certain dates or have predetermined vacation time, try your best to have some flexibility by a day or two for your travel dates. For example, if you plan to fly out on a Friday, check flights for the Thursday before and the Saturday after. You may find an evening flight on Thursday that’s significantly cheaper than your ideal (and often more expensive) Friday morning flight.
3. Have Flexible Times
We’d all prefer to fly at our ideal times so we can get the most of our day arriving and departing. But, if your goal is to find the cheapest flights, being flexible about your flight times will definitely help.
You’ll usually find the best deals on late night or early morning flights. These are considered the less convenient flights that no one really wants to take. Because some airlines have trouble fully booking these flights, they typically lower the prices, especially the closer the departure date.
Like tip number two, be flexible about your travel times in addition to your travel dates, if you can. For example, flying out the night before and taking a very late-night flight might save you a considerable amount of money. Just a few hours’ difference could save hundreds of dollars.
4. Use Incognito Mode to Search for Flights
It’s not unusual for prices to increase based on your search history online. If you’ve ever searched for something on Amazon only to come back a few days later and find the price increased, then you’ve experienced this. The same is true for flights. If you search in a regular browser, the flight site recognizes that you’ve searched this flight before and will increase the price to create a sense of urgency for you to book.
When you see the price has increased, your first inclination is to rush and book it before it increases even more. If it doesn’t increase, you are more likely to keep looking for flights elsewhere or wait for prices to potentially decrease. To avoid prices increasing based on your previous searches, keep your search history private using an incognito browser.
5. Book Your Flight Right On Time—Neither Too Early Nor Too Late
When you’re trying to find cheap flights, timing is everything. The best timing depends on whether you’re traveling domestically or abroad and whether you’re traveling during peak times.
If you’re traveling domestically during peak months, book your flight one to three months before your travel dates. If you’re traveling abroad during peak months, book your flight six to eight months before your travel dates.
However, if you’re traveling during non-peak times, wait as long as you can to buy your tickets. Even wait until the last minute if you can, and it won’t interfere too drastically with your plans. How long you can wait really depends on how comfortable you are with taking risks. The longer you wait, the more you might save. Airlines are likely to drop ticket prices as the flight dates draw nearer to sell more and fill up the flight.
6. Have Flexible Destinations
If you’re looking for flights, you likely have a destination in mind, but have you considered taking a slight detour? Sometimes flying into other airports, those off the beaten path, can save you the most money. If you can’t be flexible on the day you travel, add a little adventure to your trip and fly into a smaller airport.
In addition to potentially saving hundreds on your airline tickets, you may hit local hot spots or lesser-known areas you may have otherwise missed if you had flown into the more popular airport.
7. Don’t Be Afraid of Budget Carriers
Whether you’re flying domestic or international, take advantage of budget carriers. While they used to be less common and only went to select cities, they are much more accessible today. If flying halfway around the world on a budget is on your bucket list, check out AirAsia and Norwegian Airlines.
If you’re flying domestic, Spirit, Allegiant Air, and Southwest Airlines are all great budget carriers. Be careful with Southwest Airlines, though. You won’t find them on traditional flight websites. Go directly to their website to see their fares, and compare them to the flight search engines to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
8. Don’t Fly Non-Stop
While it’s nice to fly direct, it’s certainly not the cheapest way to travel. If you can manage to work in enough time for layovers, you could save a lot of money on each leg of the trip.
If booking flights with layovers, make sure you have enough time in between flights. You will want to leave a little room for error. While an hour seems like a long time, it typically isn’t nearly enough to run to the restroom, grab some refreshments, and still make it to your connecting flight in time for boarding. A general rule of thumb is to leave a three-hour window between flights. Use this time to stretch, unwind, and enjoy some food before you embark on the next leg of your flight.
9. Take Advantage of Airline Errors
Airline errors happen all the time, and if you’re savvy enough, you can take advantage of them. Both human and technological error can lead to rock bottom prices, but they only stay unaddressed for a short amount of time, so be sure to act swiftly.
You’ll likely catch wind of the errors on social media, but sometimes, by the time you’re aware of them, it’s too late to make your move. If you want to be “in the know” and get timely updates, subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights. Once you sign up and enter your destination airport, you’ll get the hottest flight deals delivered directly to your inbox. Check it often, and when you see a deal, jump on it to get tickets for less.
10. Try Different Airlines for the Same Trip
Most people book all the flights for their trip with the same airline, including their connecting flights. Sometimes, however, it’s cheaper to fly with other airlines. Kiwi.com uses this method by mixing and matching airlines to get you the best deal.
Sometimes it’s a much cheaper way to travel, and it may even cut down your travel time. For example, if the airline you’re taking for the first leg of the trip doesn’t have a connecting flight for five hours, but another airline has one in 3, and it’s cheaper, you’ll get to your destination quicker and save more money.
11. Fly on the Cheaper Days
Flight prices change all the time, but, in general, it’s cheapest to fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. If you’re having trouble finding a deal, look for flights on these days to save more money. Keep your flight times flexible, and you’re bound to book your flights for less.
Don’t limit your focus to only these days, though, especially if you come across an airline glitch or find a great deal.
Another simple trick is to include a Saturday night stay in your trip. You’ll usually get cheaper deals if you stay over a Saturday rather than fly home on one.
12. Use the Best Airline Search Engines
You could search for cheap domestic flights yourself, but it’s time-consuming. Instead, use the top airline search engines to cut down your time and maybe even save you more money.
A few of our favorites are Skyscanner, Kiwi, and Google Flights. It’s a good idea to check at least two search engines before booking to make sure you’ve found the best deal.
13. Sign up for Flight Deal Newsletters
Sign up for airline newsletters to learn about the hottest deals. You’ll get alerts for last-minute deals and other ways to save. You can also check out Scott’s Cheap Flights. While they may charge for a subscription, many people find it worth it, especially if they fly often.
14. Use Credit Card Miles
Sign up for a travel rewards credit card and earn free flights or flight credit. It doesn’t get any cheaper than that! It’s best to sign up for credit cards that reward you across multiple airlines and hotels rather than one particular airline. This is one of the best ways to find cheap flights.
Like the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, many cards give bonus points if you charge a certain amount within the first three months. If you charge expenses you would normally pay anyway, you could earn enough points for a free flight right away.
15. Use Southwest Airlines if You Have Bags
Most airlines charge for any bag; some even charge for carry-on bags, leaving you without many “freebies.” However, Southwest Airlines gives you two bags for free! This could equate to tremendous savings depending on how much you pack and the price of your flight. If you can stick to just two bags, you won’t pay any extra fees and can enjoy Southwest’s already low airfare.
16. Hold Your Airfare for 24 Hours
If you’re looking for the cheapest way to travel, take advantage of the right to hold airfare for 24 hours. The Department of Transportation requires airlines to let customers hold fares for 24 hours. This gives you a full day to shop around and make sure you’re getting the best deal without losing the fare you found.
17. Use Your Student Status to Your Advantage
Ask airlines, travel agents, or booking agencies about any student discounts they may offer. You’d be surprised to see how many do offer discounts, saving you as much as 30 percent on your flight just for asking (and showing your student ID).
18. Buy Airline Tickets at the Counter
If you live near the airport, don’t be afraid to buy your tickets there, in person. When you go to the airport, you bypass all the extra fees added when you buy online. You’d be amazed at how many fees airlines add on when you buy tickets online, and you can shave a hefty amount off of each ticket by purchasing your tickets from the airport directly.
19. Stick With Refundable Airfare
It may not be the cheapest option, but the peace of mind refundable airfare offers is priceless. If you book your flight early, yet you find cheaper airfare elsewhere, you can get your money back and book the cheaper flight. Refundable airfare also makes it easier to book flights well in advance if you find a good deal. Even if you cancel your plans, you can get your money back.
20. When Flying International, Pay in a Different Currency
If you’re traveling to another country, check the flight prices in their currency. Oftentimes, you can pay less by using their currency rather than your own. Most people assume you can only pay in U.S. dollars because you’re buying your flight while in the U.S. However, that’s not the case and, if you can save money, it’s worth the extra effort.
21. Use a Travel Agent
If these tips seem too overwhelming or you don’t have the time to search for cheap flights yourself, enlist the help of a travel agent. It doesn’t cost anything to use a travel agent, and sometimes they have access to deals you won’t or can’t find yourself. At the very least, you know someone is looking out for you and locating good deals for your flight. Plus, travel agents can find deals on hotels, car rental, and tourist attractions.
How to Find Cheap Flights FAQ
How Do I Find the Cheapest Flights?
It takes a lot of work to find the cheapest flights. Don’t restrict your search to one search engine or one airline. Take the time to make an effort, and you’ll save the most money.
Ideally, you should sign up for as many airfare newsletters or alert services as possible, including the social media accounts of various airlines.
Which Site Is Cheapest for Airline Tickets?
There isn’t one site that’s cheapest for airline tickets because prices change so often. The best sites to search for flights for less include:
It’s always a good idea to check multiple sites before you book your airfare. You can also check the airline sites themselves, too. You never know when they may have a glitch or a last-minute sale that will save you even more money.
How Do I Find Random Flights for Cheap?
Skyscanner is a great site to find random flights for cheap. You can broaden your search as much as “everywhere” to find the hottest deals. If you’re open and flexible about where you fly to, this is a great way to get away without spending a lot of money for airfare. You can also sign up for flight deal alerts from Scott’s Cheap Flights!
Are Last Minute Flights Cheaper?
It depends. Sometimes, they can be. Other times, they can be much more expensive. It depends on how much of the flight is already sold. If the airline struggled to fill the flight, they’ll offer great last-minute deals to entice more people to book it.
But, if the airline didn’t have trouble filling the flight, prices may go up as you get nearer to the travel date, especially during peak times or if it’s a popular destination.
What Is the Best Day to Look for Cheap Flights?
It’s a common myth that you can get the best flight deals on Tuesdays at 3 PM. This used to be the case, but today, airlines load deals all the time. When you’re looking for the cheapest way to travel, check airline sites and airline search engines often. You may even find checking in the morning provides different prices than you find at night. And don’t forget about the benefits of using an incognito browser.
When Is the Best Time to Book a Flight?
Like buying on a specific day, there isn’t a specific time that’s best to buy, either. Stick to searching in the middle of the day, though, as that’s when most flight prices settle. If you search too early in the morning, you may see inflated prices, and at nighttime, you may miss the great deals that ran during the day. Check on your lunch hour, and you’re bound to find the cheapest deals available at that time.
How Far in Advance Can You Book a Flight?
How far in advance you should book your flight depends on where you’re flying. If it’s a domestic flight, you should book between one and three months before your trip. Airlines release flights up to a year in advance, although you shouldn’t book that early. You’ll likely pay much more than necessary if you book too far in advance.
When Is the Best Time to Buy International Flights?
If you’re flying international, book your flight about six months in advance. Like domestic flights, you’ll see airfare up for a year or so before your dates, but that’s still too early, even for international flights. You’ll pay much more than necessary if you book too early.
Knowing How to Find Cheap Flights Can Make for the Perfect Vacation
Knowing how to find cheap flights can mean the difference between going on vacation and staying home. Plus, saving on flights gives you more room to spend on your trip’s excursions and hotels. Today it’s easier than ever to find cheap flights, whether you’re traveling in the U.S. or abroad. Use your resources, sign up for services that send out alerts, or enlist the help of a travel agent to get the best deals on your travels.