People always ask me how I can afford to travel so much, all of the time. It starts with hard work, dedication, and priorities but I definitely have some tricks up my sleeve that have saved me tons of money in the past. Knowing how to get cheap flights has been one of the things that has enabled me to see so much of this world. There are countless airlines, flight companies, and travel agencies out there that persistently fill up your inbox with what they claim are the latest deals. It can be incredibly difficult to differentiate between which of these are real bargains and which ones are just another marketing scheme to get you to pay full price for a flight.
After eight years of traveling, I can tell you that finding a cheap flight is just a matter of knowing a few simple rules and being patient for the right time. The global economy, overall, has not been great lately, which can result in incredibly cheap flights. If you don’t know where to look, however, you risk missing out on a great deal!
Flying tends to be the most expensive part of the trip! So why should you pay more just because you are new to traveling? In this post, I explore all of the tips and tricks that I have learned over the years to get you the cheapest price possible for flights. Follow these tips and you too can travel more for less!
Where Can You Find Cheap Flights?
Finding cheap flights can be a daunting task. Go to any travel agent and you’re guaranteed to pay top price and a hefty commission. Look online and there are thousands of airline websites, package deals, and biased opinions, all intent on someone else making a quick buck. Not all websites charge large commissions. Instead, they have secret, hidden fees that sneak up on you right before you enter your credit card info.
Airfare Search Engines
So you have decided that you want to take that next trip! Where should you start looking for flights? Airfare search engines are the new way to get flights. They are incredibly easy to use. I have used these for every flight of mine, even in Afghanistan!
How do Airfare Search Engines Work?
Airfare search engines work by taking the destinations and dates you have typed in and searching through hundreds of airline sites at once in order to find you the best deal. Most airfare search engines charge a small commission of around 20 – 50 Dollars US on top of the price of the flight they find you.
Not all airfare search engines are created equal, though. Some sites don’t show you the taxes or hidden fees. They do this to entice you to buy the flight, but then, right before you pay for it; Bam!! They spring the taxes and hidden fees on you. Some sites also won’t search the cheap budget airlines. They will only look at the more expensive airlines.
Here is a list of a few airfare search engines I frequently use and why. (I set up bookmarks for each for easy access)
Momondo: This is, quite possibly, my new favorite search engine. I love this website because of the monthly breakdown of which days are cheapest, quickest, and most convenient. They give you an honest answer about flight duration and prices. Taxes are included in the price as well. The search engine is easy to use and efficient. It searches a broad range of budget airlines.
Sky Scanner: In the past, I never really used Sky Scanner. Recently, however, this site has really stepped up its game. I have snagged some really sweet deals on here. Sky Scanner searches a huge variety of budget airlines giving you better options for price and departure dates.
Kayak: Old faithful, Kayak. This is the go-to search engine for most people. The range of airlines it includes in its searches has really increased over the past few years. Kayak tends to send you to other sites that will include taxes in their displayed prices as well. However, I have had some issues in the past with Kayak showing one price, but then changing it to another when selecting that flight.
Cheap Tickets: I used to use this search engine quite a lot. I have not in a while now. Since Momondo came out and Kayak improved, I have tended to stick to them. Despite this, this site is definitely worth mentioning. It has snagged me tons of cheap flights.
Three Month Rule
This rule was shown to me by a man in the travel business at the Beijing airport. Booking three months before your trip turns out to be the best time to do so in order to get a deal! But why is this?
Flight tickets are sold like this: When the flight is first created, six months to a year before departure, the seats are at their most expensive. This is because there is no rush to sell the seats, so the airlines figure they might as well charge the full dollar for them. After seats begin to sell and the departure date gets closer, the airline drops the price so that the flight will fill up, and thus the airline will make more money. At the three-month marker, the airline panics when there are still seats left. So, they advertise the seats at rock bottom prices for the three-month, and sometimes two-month marker, in order to sell as many tickets as possible.
What happens if you wait too long? At three months before the flight, ticket prices get cheap and they tend to sell fast. If you wait too long after the three months, however, then there will only be a few seats left. The sneaky airline companies tend to sky rocket the prices for these last few seats because they know there will be a few people willing to pay whatever it takes to get on that flight.
In conclusion, the three-month mark is a safe time to bet on. Anything past that and will likely be gambling. In the past, I have waited and watched a $400 return flight from Vancouver to Beijing turn into a $1400 flight overnight.
Why Wednesday is the Day to Book
So now you know the time-frame you should buy your tickets, but does the day of the week matter? The answer to this is: Yes! Airlines love to inflate the ticket prices during peak booking times.
It works like this. Airlines show their top prices on weekends because people are more likely to book a ticket on a Saturday or Sunday, when they are planning their trips with their friends. On the weekend, many people are not working and have time to search tickets as well. These prices can sometimes roll into the start of the week.
During the middle of the week, airlines try out different prices to see if anyone will bite. This is how they test the demand in an attempt to determine what their prices should be during the weekend when most people are buying. This means that cheaper prices are often offered on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
In my experience, booking late at night on Wednesday has always given me the cheapest deal!
Tuesday and Wednesday are Typically the Cheapest Days to Fly
While Wednesday is typically the best day to search online and book your flight the cheapest days to actually fly out are Tuesday and Wednesday. These are the off-peak days of the week for traveling and will almost always give you the cheapest flights.
Momondo has an excellent flight insight tool that I have been using lately to get even more info on optimal flights details. Below you can see the cheapest days of the week for someone to fly from Vancouver to Honolulu.
The flight insight tool also gives tips on seasonality, days from departure to book, time of day, and more. The info is gathered from thousands of people that have done the flight in the past, so it is accurate to your specific needs. I highly recommend checking it out when looking for a cheap flight.
Most search engines offer a Fare Alert you can sign up for with your email. The search engine will continue to monitor the flight you have selected. When The search engine determines the flight is at its lowest, it will send you an update.
These work incredibly well! You can sign up for as many times and dates as you want. The airfare search engines I listed above all offer the Fare Alert feature. Just punch in all of your destinations, dates, and preferred times and leave the rest to the site.
It’s a good idea to check up manually on your own every once and a while. Sometimes the flights change completely, and the Fare Alerts get confused.
Cheap Flights Flexible Dates and Airports
When you’re plugging in all your preferred dates, locations and times you will be given the option for “Flexible Dates”. This tab is essential to finding a great deal. By clicking the plus or minus three days’ tab instead of looking at just one day, the search engine will search the day you chose, plus three days before and after, making 49 different possibilities!
This really does matter. As I said above in the Wednesday rule, the time of week can really change the price of a flight. This option will allow you to do a mass search over many days, making you the all-knowing master of flights.
When you do the three day before and after search, you will also begin to see patterns. If you look at a graph of flight prices, you will see that some days are cheaper than others, and this continues for every odd day or every new week. The graph will also highlight whether the price is considered low, or high.
Knowing the Hubs
So you have your trip planned, and you know how to get the best price. But what if you could still get a cheaper price on top of that!
It is actually quite possible to do this by knowing the world hubs. But what are Hubs?
Hubs are cities that host a major international airport that many airlines fly out of. The size of the city or airport sometimes does not matter. For example, when I fly to Asia, Beijing tends to be the cheapest hub rather than Seoul or Tokyo. This can just be because of the availability of airlines there, making for more competition and therefore, lower prices.
Hubs are very important when you want to fly to somewhere remote.
For example, if you want to go to Nepal from North America, it would not be wise to book tickets directly to Kathmandu. Usually, these tickets will be heavily inflated because of the search engines not using the appropriate hubs. Making sense now?
Instead, try looking at flights to Delhi, or even Beijing, where you can switch to a cheaper budget Airline. By connecting the two you can save yourself tons of money!
How do I know where the Hubs are?
This is mostly knowledge gained from experience, but could also do your research online beforehand. Hubs change all the time, but if you’re new to traveling, try looking at a map of nearby places close to your destination. Then try selecting separate flights in and around there. Watch the prices change immensely!
Hubs can also connect countries that have better relations. For example, if you want to fly to Kabul, Afghanistan, then you need to find out which hubs connect to this city. Istanbul, Dubai, and Delhi are all good options. If you search all of them, you will find that Delhi tends to be the cheapest because of the amount of airlines connecting the two.
When you search flights, airfare websites put cookies in your computer. These cookies monitor and remember what you searched, and what the price was. This can be a bad thing for finding deals. These same cookies tell the site to show you prices that you already looked at so you just pay that price. I have even heard that some of these cookies are smart enough to look into your personal information to see how much they should charge you, depending on your income and country.
There is a fix for this! Most browsers offer a way to get into “Incognito Mode”. This mode prevents old cookies from affecting your new searches and prevents new ones from being stored once you close the browser. You essentially show up as a new customer to these search engines. By doing this, you ensure that the search engine will show you the lowest prices.
For Google Chrome use these steps:
- In the top-right corner of the browser window, click or tap the Menu.
- Select New Incognito Window or New Incognito Tab.
- A new window will open with a gray figure in the top-right corner
Should I get the Flight Insurance?
Personally, I have never used this option. It usually costs around $50 and it will cover any unexpected troubles like weather, disasters etc. This option can be a good idea if you are really uncertain about the dates, and you may have to change them.
If you have already made it to your destination and you decide to change your return flight to a sooner or later date, most of the search engines now offer the ability to do so for about $250 US. It’s a small price to pay for lengthening your trip, rather than buying a whole new flight. This option makes the flight insurance kind of a waste of money if you are dead certain about the first departure date. If something happens to the flight, the airline that the search engine booked your flight through will be responsible for you. So it’s best to look into that airline’s fine print to see what exactly their rules are.
In the past, many of my flights have changed, been delayed or canceled. The airline has always been very accommodating to me. One time, while on my way to Bangkok, I was even given a fully paid for, four-day trip to Seoul, Korea, because my flight was delayed there for those four days. Not saying this will always be the case, though.
So, if you choose to not get the insurance, come with an open mind, and you never know what might happen.
Flying with Budget Airlines
Budget Airlines are popping up everywhere. They are incredibly cheap but can be super uncomfortable, and have tons of little fees that will catch you if you don’t have everything right in order. If you can master all the little things about budget airlines, then you can save huge amounts of money traveling.
Tips for Budget Airlines:
- Always fill out information properly, they charge you if you fill out anything wrong
- The price never includes baggage, depending on the airline it’s usually about
- $25 US for 15kg
- Don’t expect luxury; many budget airlines will not even provide water for free
- Don’t take budget airlines for long distances; the seats are usually painfully small and cramped
- Book far in advance; these airlines get more expensive closer to the date. The hints mentioned before for booking tickets can still apply.
List of Budget Airlines
Indonesia/Oceania – Jet Star
Europe/North Africa – Ryan Air
Asia – Air Asia
Indian subcontinent – Indigo
North America/Caribbean/Central America – West Jet
Central Asia/Middle East – Spice Jet
Booking Separate Flights
The last thing to remember is that airfare search engines do not always get you the better deals. Sometimes, it’s better to figure out the hubs and book separate tickets from different airlines for each connection on your own. This can help you get cheap flights to multiple destinations.
You can do this by simply mimicking the routes that airfare search engines use. After you see that path, try breaking up each layover using budget airlines. If you manage to do everything smoothly, you might just save yourself half the cost of the regular price flight.
This option is tricky to do. It takes a lot of travel experience to go this in depth with booking tickets. This option can also get you into trouble, as you are booking with multiple airlines. If you miss one flight, it will ruin the others. You might end up losing money this way.
So, it’s best to be careful when doing this. But if you manage it right, you can also find yourself in some pretty awesome destinations for your layovers!