5 Tips and Tricks to Score Cheap Flights Anywhere in the World
By Janine Devine
With these tricks (and some luck) you can go anywhere.
Even if it’s been some time since your last Spring Break, it’s about time to celebrate the arrival of spring and the restart to travel is a joyous occasion. Checking for cheap flights and vacation deals seems easy enough. There are loads of budget airlines and even more ways of searching for the lowest fares. But, just because you see a cheap flight doesn’t mean it is cheap. The truth of how to find cheap flights anywhere is a bit more nuanced…
Here is a list of travel tips from the real watchdogs, bloggers, and frequent travelers that will get you off the ground in no time—at the best prices.
First and foremost, flexibility is key.
How Far in Advance to Book
Most flight search engines will provide options of at least a week to even a full month ahead to see what your roundtrip airfare could potentially cost you. Airlines release rates 11 months in advance. The sweet spot is booking from between three months to three weeks in advance of your travel dates to get the lowest fares.
What Day to Fly
That week-long Caribbean vacation you want to jet off for on a Saturday is bound to be expensive. Specific dates in your search often return the highest fares. Different departure dates can shave off hundreds from the price. The cheapest days to depart are Tuesday or Wednesday and to return are Monday or Tuesday.
Plus, you’re traveling with fewer people on your flight. Fewer people mean less time boarding, more space overhead, nicer flight attendants, quicker deplaning, and quicker checked baggage return. Fewer people traveling also means it’s likely you’ll be upgraded if you’re using miles to pay for your trip. You might even be able to score a free trip, paying solely with miles. That’s the benefit of flexible dates.
Time of year will affect rates, too. The cheapest month to fly is August for the Caribbean. If you want to fly to Europe, the August is likely the most expensive month. It pays to do a bit of research to see when off-peak or low season is on your final destination and work around those months to try and get the cheapest fares.
When to Book
Tuesday is tops, as well, when it comes to searching for the cheapest flights. Tuesday evening is traditionally when agencies complete their sales reports for the week. Any tickets not booked, paid, and reported means newly released inventory back to the airlines that they just want to get rid of. Remember an unbooked seat on a departing flight is a lost seat forever. So, you’ll see the best flight deals right about midnight on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
When to Fly
The time of day you fly is also important.
Flying during off-peak hours can save loads of cash. The dreaded red-eye (or overnight) flight? Not so dreadful at all for international flights. It’s perfect for returning back from the West Coast back home to the East Coast. Enjoy a meal before you head to the return flight or at the airport, grab a glass of wine (or three), board your flight, and fall asleep. When you wake up, bam, you’re back at home, arriving 6 AM-ish, right before rush hour starts, ready (after a shower and some decent coffee).
This way yields cheaper flights and you haven’t lost an entire day going home. For long-haul flights through time zones, a late afternoon or evening flight is ideal and may help your body clock re-adjust.
Conversely, if your vacation is on the East Coast, then red-eye is not ideal. No amount of money you save is worth hanging out in a hotel lobby until 3 PM check-in time, desperately wanting a shower.
Similarly, departing for the airport and a beautiful beach vacation in the Caribbean at 4:30 AM is too cruel to even consider. No one should be making sure they’ve packed all their make-up is packed before the sun rises! It’s important to weigh pluses and minuses to see what makes sense for you, your budget, and your comfort level.
Play Your Cards Right
Have a favorite airline you’ve been flying for a while? Perhaps your closest airport is a hub for a major carrier. Make sure the airline repays you for your loyalty! Get an airline credit card. They come in Visa (Southwest Rapid Rewards), MasterCard (American AAdvantage), and American Express (Delta SkyMiles) versions and while you are busy buying groceries, drugstore essentials, or eating in restaurants, you’re earning miles.
Sometimes, you’ll even earn double or triple miles for restaurant and supermarket purchases. You were already spending at these places, so why not make use of some benefits? Book directly with that airline for an upcoming trip, and you’ll earn hundreds or thousands of additional miles, so you can use points for free flights or upgrade a future flight.
Budget carriers are ample, and they all have their appeal.
Consider Frontier, JetBlue, and SouthWest in the US; Ryanair and Norwegian in Europe; and JetStar and the oddly named Scoot in Asia. They have done low-cost well and thrived. But, then there were many others, like not-so-wow WOW Air, who lived fast, died young, and left a good-looking fleet of purple planes sitting in the US.
Still, even the more conventional international and domestic carriers have hopped on to the Basic Economy idea. Ancillary fees mean big bucks for many airlines. Food, checked baggage, overhead space, particular sections/rows/seats, especially closer to the exits will all cost you extra.
What won’t? The last few rows. That’s fine if you’re jetting off nonstop to paradise. That adds about a half-hour on a crowded flight to the time you get to check into your hotel and then head to the beach. But, if you have a connecting flight, even an extra 15 minutes to deplane can make all the difference between getting on that precious connection or spending a day (maybe even an overnight) in an airport waiting for your re-scheduled flight. That is a layover you don’t want to have.
Search & Seizure
There’s nothing wrong with doing it yourself when it comes to travel. I personally prefer to have someone find me a cheap flight, either a service or a travel agent.
If you do decide to go it on your own, make sure your search tool is in incognito mode on whatever browser you may be using. This allows you to search in privacy, so a repeated city pair search does not drive up the price.
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In your browser, move your mouse to the three vertical dots in the upper right corner, click on that and select New Incognito Window from the drop-down menu.
Speed that up with keyboard shortcuts:
→ CTRL+SHIFT+N for Windows
→ COMMAND+SHIF+N for macOS
You’ll know you’re in incognito mode because the window will be black.
Search Tools to Use
Not all flight searches are created equal. People always rave about Skyscanner, Google Flights, and Kiwi. The former two are metasearch sites, finding you the lowest price over thousands of sites. Once you find one you like, they return you to the airline’s booking site so you can book yourself there.
Skyscanner’s Explorer option will return a search for months ahead to see the cheapest flights and dates. If you’re pinned down to specific dates but not sure where you want to go to from your departure city, you can type in “Everywhere” in the Destination field and Skyscanner will search the lowest flight prices and come back with multiple regions to nudge that wanderlust of yours.
Sites like Kiwi and Kayak are OTA’s (Online Travel Agencies). Flight hacking seems easy, but there are some risks. Kiwi and Kayak are primarily restrictive discounted fares. Feel free to do your research through these sites, but then book directly with the airline.
Why? When you purchase with an online travel agency, you’re booking flights with Kiwi, not the airline you’ll be flying. You won’t earn points if you’re a frequent flyer. If you need a refund, you must go through Kiwi first to process the refund.
Our Favorite Tool for How to Find Cheap Flights Anywhere
We’d have to recommend Google Flights and Skyscanner which we feel gives you the best and most impartial info since they don’t do the booking for you. Third-party websites add another layer in between you and your airline and that just causes concern.
This is why we will always recommend travel insurance, particularly with Trip Interruption and Cancel for Any Reason. Getting insurance coverage for your future travels may seem like an additional unnecessary expense, since you’re definitely getting away, no matter what, but stranger things have been known to happen. Even if comprehensive coverage costs extra, it’ll keep your valuable time and investment safe.
Another tip that is a bit under the radar, because it’s newer and costs a bit of money, is to have a flight alert service such as Matt’s Flights or Scott’s Cheap Flights do the work for you. Sign up and enter your home airport. You’ll get price alerts sent straight to your inbox for any variety of destinations within the region(s) you select.
Have a specific destination in mind? You can request unlimited searches with a paid subscription. Their teams have the know-how to search a variety of different airlines and nearby airports for famous but rare error fares to pop up and come back with some amazing flight deals or requests on last-minute flights. So, that Singapore trip fantasy next month, inspired by your fifth viewing of Crazy Rich Asians can be realized.
Pack(age) It Up
Okay, so you can find cheap flights but what do you do when you get there? Many major airlines offer vacation deals, contracting with tour operators and other suppliers to package options to save money. United Vacations, AA Vacations, and Delta Vacations are operated by either the airline itself or by a subsidiary company.
How Packages Save Money
United Airlines Vacations is owned and operated by Apple Leisure Group (ALG), a leisure travel conglomerate that owns Apple Vacations, CheapCaribbean, and AMResorts (the Mexico and Caribbean all-inclusive Secrets, and Dreams). United provides the bulk seats, ALG builds in packages with contracted rates from a wide variety of hotels, not just the ones they own. They also offer optional add-ons like airport transfers and excursions, Since these are contracted rates, the savings in time and money can be considerable over piecing it together yourself.
Obviously, if you are staying with friends or family at your destination, this won’t save you much of anything, but if you’ve been looking at hotels and know what you want and researched the prices, don’t let hotel pricing dismay you. Check a packaged price. You’ll be surprised. And, no that doesn’t mean you are always going to remain with a group; even private airport transfers can be an option.
There are all sorts of tips, tricks, and hacks to finding the cheapest prices and you don’t need to be a travel blogger or influencer to get where you want to go and at the price you think is fair. Do your research on a number of travel search engines and always in incognito mode. Being flexible will take you very far, no matter which flight search engine you select. If flexibility is not an option, a package including air plus hotel can result in big savings. Finally, always buy flight insurance.
Remember time is money; your vacation time is valuable, so protect it.
Wondering where you can start looking for tickets now in the wake of COVID lockdowns? There are many destinations open already.
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