Budget conscious and savvy travelers know two things: How to find the cheapest hotels and cheapest flights. In this expert guide, we’re going to show you exactly how you can book cheap flights every time you travel.
Booking flights often accounts for the biggest (and most depressing) single hit on our travel budgets. Knowing how to find and book the cheapest flights anytime, to anywhere can save us a small fortune.
So, we’re going to explain (in great detail) our 15 favorite and most travel savvy money saving tips for finding and booking cheap flights. We want these tips to fill you with travel inspiration and impulse – haven’t you been thinking of flying somewhere exotic recently?!
This is a long read and there are some interactive tasks (Actions) for you to try out, so it might be a good idea to refuel (pun intended) with a fresh cup of coffee at this point.
Your challenge: Feel confident about how to book flights for every vacation or long term travel more cost effectively by the end of this guide.
With the travel industry crippled due to the coronavirus pandemic, 2021 is destined to be one of the most unpredictable years on record for frequent flyers to crack the code of airline prices.
What does that mean for you? Opportunity!
Let’s get started booking your cheap hotel.
15 Expert Travel Tips To Find And Book The Cheapest Flights Anytime, Anywhere
We know that rollercoaster ride, we’ve ridden it many times before.
- Excitement and butterflies as you scour the world for your next travel destination.
- Hope and possibility of finding incredulously cheap flights so you have more cash for food and booze!
- Ultimately followed by burning disappointment and despair when you realize your only options are sky high air ticket prices.
Once you’ve put these travel tips into action, you should never feel that disappointment again.
Travel and flying are like two peas in a pod, you won’t get far without a pair of wings and a few high-bypass turbofan engines!
We’re fortunate to have such easy and instant access to distant friends and family members. You could go out for brunch in New York and dinner in San Francisco. And now more than ever, you can do it on the cheap!
High consumer demand for flying to beach destinations and cultural cities resulted in fierce airline competition. Ultimately, demand led to the formation and rapid growth of low-cost airlines, staking their claims alongside traditional airlines.
Today, flights between certain countries and regions can be cheaper than parking your car at the local parking garage for a few hours. You just have to know how to look and where to look.
So, let’s jump into the action and find you the cheapest flights to anywhere.
1. Learn How To Use Flight Search Engines Like An Expert
If you truly want to save money when booking your flights for any vacation or long term trip, you need to get on board (pun intended) with mastering search engines.
Anyone can learn how to use these search engines effectively, it’s a very repeatable and autonomous process. All it takes is a little time and effort to understand the different features on each search engine.
There are a good 20 or so flight search engine tools offering different types of service. However, we’re only going to focus on 2 of the most popular and highly rated: Skyscanner (mostly) and Momondo (a little).
In some of our tips sections, we have included optional Actions that you can try out as you read. In every instance, use Skyscanner.
Click here to open Skyscanner.com in a new window.
If you’ve never used Skyscanner before, we’ll very quickly explain a basic search so you can follow along with the Actions in our cheap flight booking tips sections.
- Open skyscanner.com and set your language / currency (top right) if it isn’t already set correctly.
- You’ll see the search box with options for: Round Trip, One Way and Multi City. We will explain which of those to select in each tip section.
- ‘From’ and ‘To’ fields can be populated by any country, city or airport, which is incredibly useful and offers exceptional flexibility.
- Departure and Return dates can be selected by ‘Specific Date’ or ‘Whole Month’ – another very useful tool.
- Cabin class & travelers you will always select economy (because you are finding the cheapest flights!) and 1 traveler unless stated otherwise.
- So, to start a basic search: Select One Way, From New York, To London, Depart Whole Month April, 1 Adult Economy, Hit search flights!
- You’ll see a list appear with all dates in April, plus green, orange and red dots with prices.
- This shows you the prices of flights from New York to London on every day in April.
- Click on any of them and press Show Flights.
- A list of flight options appear, sorted by Skyscanner’s algorithm of best value vs time ratio.
- You can choose to show options listed by Best, Cheapest and Fastest.
- Search down the list to see all flight options for that particular route on that particular day.
What Is A Flights Search Engine?
For the purposes of this explanation – an aggregator (eg Skyscanner) is a search engine. You can’t buy air tickets from Skyscanner. Instead Skyscanner will search booking sites, online travel agencies (OTA’s) and other search engines to find the most viable flight options for your dates and route.
When you click a flight, you will be taken to an external site (the online travel agency or booking site such as Kiwi, gotogate, cheap tickets, last minute etc) from where you will purchase your tickets.
Momondo was at one point just an aggregator but now also offers an option to buy tickets directly with them, making them an aggregator and OTA.
Example: You input London to New York and Skyscanner / Momondo go searching through all the resources it can get its hands on to find you a list of options. Aggregators take a small commission for referring you to the travel agency ie the work it put in on your behalf.
Which Flights Search Engine Should You Use?
Some search engines are better than others. Better because they will consistently give you cheaper flight prices, more filtering options and more user friendly features.
You should always shop around for the best deal every time before buying your plane tickets.
As you begin to use each of the platforms, one will feel easier to navigate and you will end up using that platform as your baseline.
Personally, we almost always book our flights with Skyscanner. At the very least we use Skyscanner as our reference price point and then try to beat a flight price on Momondo.
If prices are similar, we book on Skyscanner because we find it the easiest to use.
Pro-tip: One thing to know if you’re based in or visiting the US – Southwest airlines do not allow any third party flights search engine to display their flights. You have to book directly, which is quite frankly annoying. However, they do have competitive prices and free baggage so it is worth checking the Southwest site.
Skyscanner Pros And Cons
• Major Pros: Consistently low prices, search by month function allows you to visualize cheapest flights in any month. Search by whole country function is incredibly useful (most only offer city or even specific airport).
• Other Pros: Easy to use, works best for flexible searches, price alerts, change currency and language, sorts by ‘best’, ‘cheapest’ and ‘fastest’ flight options, search by everywhere is travel inspiration heaven.
• Cons: Sometimes prices aren’t real-time accurate on search by month function.
Momondo Pros And Cons
• Major Pro: Consistently low prices, visuals are impressive.
• Other Pros: Stylish design, offers a ton of options including buses and trains if requested, displays by ‘best’ and ‘cheapest’ options. Loads real-time prices for up to 3 days either side of selected date on one way searches, has a similar ‘Explore’ map function to Google Flights.
• Cons: Can only search by date +/- 3 days, booking multi-city flights with different airlines means you have book on different reservations. Searching (for example) Paris to Rome flights cheapest option is a .fr site and reservation site is in French.
You already have Skyscanner open, now open a new Momondo tab for the action below.
Momondo is set up similarly to Skyscanner with the basic search fields.
Action: Go to Skyscanner and start searching for any flights you think you might take in the next year. Write down some possible flights and then check the same routes and dates against Momondo. Remember to take into account any additional fees, the base price is never the price you pay with low budget airlines.
2. Debunking The Myths And Legends Of Booking Cheap Flights
Aside from the practical steps of navigating search engines, the real first step to finding cheap flights is to completely dispel any notion of beating the flight search algorithm.
There are countless travel hack myths in which the average person can do something very basic to easily defeat a super-intelligent computer.
If it were that simple, we’d all be able to fly around the world for a few bucks. Let’s have a look at some of the more common flight booking legends:
Cheapest Time of the Week? Tuesday At 2pm, Right?
Myth: Booking flights on a Tuesday at 2pm will unquestionably get you get the cheapest prices to anywhere.
Maybe true many years ago when flights were released on a Tuesday. But technology advancements and algorithm improvements put an end to this a long time ago. Flight prices fluctuate dynamically, by the minute, not by the day.
Action – Pick 3 flight routes of your choice. On Tuesday, check prices of those flights at 10am, 2pm and 6pm. Then check the same route on Wednesday and Thursday at the same times. What happens to the prices?
Cookies & Incognito
Myth: Deleting your cookies and searching for flights incognito will get you the cheapest price.
This one is contentious because it is true when you search for something online, a profile of your search intent is built up (hence why you see averts of those shoes you were just looking at!) and the argument is prices are jacked based on your previous searches. However, there is no evidence to support airline ticket prices increasing based on your search history.
Action – Search for a flight route in normal browsing mode and incognito mode. Check the same route one, two and three days later. See what happens with the prices. To go to incognito / enable private browsing on Mac hold Shift and Command, then press N. On windows, hold Control and Shift, then press N.
‘Perfect’ Time In Advance To Buy
Myth: Booking flights exactly 2 months in advance for domestic flights and exactly 6 months in advance for international flights is the perfect time to buy.
We’ll get into this more later, but there is no one-size-fits-all best or perfect time to book flights. Prices of flights are as volatile as an active volcano. There are suggested guidelines but in the end it all comes down to making the most efficient decision based on cost vs time spent searching.
Action – Select 3 common travel routes, both domestically and internationally. Track the prices of those routes over a period of time, such as once a week over an 8 month period. Just make sure you keep the departure / arrival dates the same throughout.
Take home: Approach your search for the cheapest flights with no pre-determined ‘bad habits’. Have an open mind and be prepared to start with a blank canvas.
3. Find Cheapest Flights With Flexible Dates And Destinations
When our friends and families ask us for quick tips on how to find the cheapest flights, our response isn’t complex or detailed. We say 2 things:
- Be flexible with your dates.
- Be flexible with your destinations.
Being dead set on a specific destination will reduce your chances of picking up cheap flights. But having specific dates you are unable or unwilling to change is the single most limiting factor for finding the cheapest flights.
If you are able to choose your vacation dates from work, search for destinations and flights before you book time off from your job. You will save money (and potentially a huge amount) by following this tip.
Here are 2 scenarios of ‘what not to do’, and ‘what to do’ in order to book the cheapest flights:
Do not: It’s November and you decide to book off 3 random working weeks for the next year. Say a week in April, June and September. You have selected specific dates and will have to find flights to suit those dates. You will likely have to fly on weekends which are more expensive.
Do: Search for flights (and hotels) in advance, follow the tips in this post and wait for the right time to book the cheapest flights to the cheapest destinations. Then book your time off work accordingly. You will likely fly on a weekday.
We understand this process may not work for everyone. You might have to book your vacation days at work months in advance to ensure you get a favorable time of year off (such as July and August).
But for those who want to pick up the cheapest flights, this is a tried and tested method of success.
4. Understand Seasons, Events And Holidays
Of all the flight finding tips you will ever read, this one has the potential to save you the biggest difference in airfare. Give yourself the best chance at a cheap flight by doing your own due diligence.
Research the most and least affordable seasons to travel to a certain place.
Here are some examples of how you can help yourself get low air fares by knowing what to avoid:
Season: Flight prices in and out of the UK explode from the end of July to the beginning of September. Airlines know that period is when the kids are off school so they inflate prices enormously because they know parents have no choice but to pay.
Holidays: Christmas, New Year, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day and Fourth of July are US holidays in which flight prices are marked up because the demand is high enough for airlines to charge more.
Events: Have you found an extraordinarily expensive flight to Tokyo for July 2021? That might be because the Olympic Games are being held at that time in Tokyo.
Events: Maybe your friends have recommended Budapest as an awesome European city break but the typically cheap flight isn’t so cheap when you want to visit in August. That’s because Sziget music festival draws over half a million people to Budapest in August.
5. Fly Budget Airlines To Save Big On Flight Bookings
Flying with budget airlines will not be a new concept for budget conscious travelers. However, if you’re one of those travelers who is constantly sat on the fence between budget airlines and traditional airlines, you will be fighting the price vs convenience battle every time you fly.
We’d all love to be able to splash the cash and fly with a traditional (and far more comfortable!) airline like Emirates or Singapore Airlines every time! But that’s just not realistic for most travelers.
What Do You Need To Know About Booking Cheap Flights With Low-Budget Airlines?
Booking with a budget airline comes with a very important warning. You must read the fine print before booking and thoroughly understand exactly what you are paying for with your ticket purchase. You also need to be aware of any process you have to follow in order to avoid additional fees.
Here’s the thing: You will save money flying budget vs traditional, but it won’t be as comfortable, it won’t be as efficient and you will have to compromise. Budget airlines need to make money because their flight fee is so low.
Here are some of the additional charges you may face:
- They charge extra for checked baggage
- Are frustratingly annoying about the size of your carry-on baggage
- More leg room will cost you
- Selecting your seat will come with a fee
- Sneaky fees such as compulsory check in online before you arrive at the airport
So far we haven’t really sold it have we?!
But let’s move on to the overwhelmingly obvious positive – your bank balance will be in much better shape.
Budget airlines are your travel fund salvation, as long as you can travel light and deal with the inconvenience.
Example: We once took a Ryanair flight from Seville, Spain to Pisa, Italy for 9 Euros each. That’s 11 bucks to fly almost 2000 miles. Ludicrous.
Mark has traveled all over Europe (the Wild West of budget airlines!) from the UK and it wasn’t until arriving in the US realized how lucky Europeans are to have incredibly cheap flights with low-budget airlines.
Often the best low budget airline deals on domestic US flights are about the same as the worst low-budget European airline prices.
Cheap Long Haul Flights: Are They The Real Deal?
Budget airlines are no longer limited to regional flying routes. Our favorite airline has revolutionized budget long haul flights and we try to fly with them every time we cross the Atlantic (and even further afield): Norwegian Air.
Norwegian air have opened up long haul routes crossing the Atlantic Ocean for the budget traveler. Europe and the US are now connected by cheap flights and other airlines have to compete. The likes of Virgin and British Airways are dropping prices on transatlantic fares.
And the best part? It never feels like you’re on a no frills budget airline.
They are (in our opinion) paving the way for the future of international travel.
If you regularly travel from Europe to North America and return, check out Norwegian Air – we are not affiliated with them in any way – we just want to give you the best tips for finding the cheapest flights.
Norwegian are like the best known (but not very well-known!) secret of long haul flights.
Budget airlines might not be glamorous or comfortable (some are positively uncomfortable) but the simple fact and bottom line is you will save money. Norwegian bridges the gap between price and comfort, their business model is fantastic.
List of Low Cost Budget Airlines by Region
- Norwegian Air
- Cebu Pacific
- Tigerair Taiwan
- Nok Air
- Air Asia
- Thai Lion Air
- Viva Air
- Norwegian Air
- Gol Transportes
6. Fly Basic Economy To Drive Down Flight Prices
Gone are the days of having a choice between two types seat on an airplane – first class and cattle class. For most travelers there was no choice – it was cattle class every time!
Now, airlines have thankfully bridged that enormous gap, giving the rest of us a chance to enjoy at least some element of comfort on a flight.
Today, you can typically choose between:
- First Class – The best a flight can get.
- Business Class – Premium comfort and service.
- Economy Plus – More spacious and comfortable than basic.
- Basic Economy – Still cattle class!
If your ultimate goal is to book the cheapest flight, simply select the basic economy seat and do not pay for an upgrade at any stage of the booking process. That includes choosing a window or aisle seat for extra cash.
Conversely, if you are looking for best value rather than cheapest price, see if you can find value in economy plus or even business class. Chances are you can pick up a nice balance between price and comfort in eco plus.
7. Utilize All Airports In A City Search
It is important to remember that most big city destinations have more than one airport. When using Skyscanner or other search engines, always put a city rather than a specific airport in departure and arrival where appropriate.
For instance, instead of selecting specifically Tokyo Narita airport, select Tokyo (All) to give yourself more options and therefore more chance of getting cheap flights.
Here are some examples of cities with 3 major airports:
- New York City has JFK, Newark and La Guardia. Flights into Newark are typically cheaper than La Guardia even though they’re a similar distance from Manhattan.
- Paris has Charles de Gaulle, Orly and Beauvais-Tille airports. The latter is Paris’ budget airlines airport.
- The same as Milan has Malpensa, Linate and Bergamo. Bergamo is the hub for budget airlines but it is also 45 miles Northeast of Milan.
Is the cheaper price worth the extra effort? If you’re on a budget and want the absolute cheapest flights, yes.
However, you also need to know how much money constitutes as worthy of your extra time and effort.
Example: You want to fly to London. Prices are steep to land at Heathrow and Gatwick but Luton and Stansted are cheap. You need to go one step further and work out your onward travel from either Luton or Stansted to get into London. They’re both the best part of an hour by train and have fewer / less direct services than Gatwick and Heathrow.
Almost always you will find cheaper flights into the most inconvenient airports. Like in the photo above, Stansted to Bergamo and Luton to Malpensa are far cheaper than Heathrow into Linate.
But sometimes you just have to pay for convenience. You won’t get the cheapest flight, but you’ll lose the least amount of time and make the least amount of effort.
8. Fly At Inconvenient Times Of Day
Well known but often overlooked as a way to pick up the cheapest flights, taking the first or last flight will cause logistical issues (and you’ll be tired!) but the costs involved can make it worthwhile.
We all want to be on the flight that leaves at 12pm and arrives at 4pm. It means we can wake up at a normal hour, eat breakfast, have a stress free morning, arrive to the airport for 9.30am, check in, fly, land, take ground transport to our hotel and still enjoy the evening.
However, by taking the (quite awful) 6am or 7am flight – often the case with low budget airlines – you will pay a fraction of the price compared to similar flights leaving between 10am-3pm.
Taking the late flight means either you’ll be landing late which can be a safety concern OR you’re on the dreaded red eye flight overnight and you’ll be wrecked the next day.
Here’s the thing: The early (or late!) bird might catch the cash-saving worm, but that bird will also be tired, hangry and get off to a rough start.
If budget is your primary consideration, take an early or late flight to save. Otherwise spend a little more and travel better!
9. Booking Individual Flight Tickets vs Return Tickets
One of the age old travel questions, does it pay to book individual or return tickets? Unfortunately, the answer is not as cut and dry as we’d all like it to be!
Common travel perception is that buying return flights will be cheaper than buying 2 single tickets. Quite often, you will find that to be true and in our experience return tickets usually work out more cost effective.
However, you will also find instances where 2 singles works out cheaper.
Example: Imagine a family taking a two week holiday from England to Greece. The family will fly on a Saturday and return two Saturdays later. That is conventional and traditional flying. But if that family instead took an 11 day holiday, booked a single on the first Saturday but returned on a Wednesday, the 2 singles might work out cheaper than a standard two week return. Airlines know the regular patterns of travelers and price accordingly.
You Have To Put The Effort In To Save
But the bottom line here again is to check all options at your disposal to find the best price. Always check both 2 single tickets and a return ticket to see which holds better value.
The examples we included in the photo above show how much you can save by researching, particularly the Singapore to Tokyo flights with a whopping saving of US$ 249.
Only you can dig around for the deals, airlines aren’t going to call you up and tell you there’s a flash sale on the route you’re interested in.
Wouldn’t that be lovely?!
Action: Search a random one way flight route, say Singapore to Tokyo as in the photo above. Use whole month and look at the price calendar. Pick an outbound date and check the price. Then do the same route in reverse and select a date a week or two later. Check the same route and dates but use the round trip parameter. Compare prices.
10. Booking Last Minute Flights vs Buying In Advance
And another of the age old travel questions! Fortunately, this one is a little easier to predict and advise on.
The one thing guaranteed with booking flights is there are no guarantees. We can’t tell you to book X amount of weeks or months in advance to guarantee the absolute best price. It doesn’t work like that.
In truth, ‘sweet spots’ with rough estimates on how to predict the cheapest prices are just that – rough estimates. In the end it comes down to finding a price you feel is fair. A classic time vs cost compromise.
Here are some factors affecting ticket prices:
- Season / holidays / events
- Your intended travel route
- How many seats are available (some flights fill up quicker than others)
- The cost of fuel at that particular time
- Global events (economies, pandemics, war)
- Business traveler volumes
- Weekday vs weekend travel
These factors play more of a role in determining an airfare than how far in advance you book.
General Guidelines For Booking Flights In Advance
With that being said, there are general rules of thumb to follow for finding flights:
Domestic flights – start looking at search engines at least 3 months in advance and no later than 1 month in advance. Every day that passes as you get into 3 week, 2 week and 1 week territory could increase prices dramatically.
If you’re wondering why, it’s because of business travel. Think about how often companies send employees on business trips at the last minute. A lot. Airlines are savvy to last minute business travel bookings so they mark up in a big way.
International flights – seriously start looking at prices on search engines 8-9 months in advance, maybe even a year for the longest routes like London to Sydney as shown in the photo example above. That doesn’t mean book anything, but start to keep an eye on things. The price for your route will fluctuate, the key is to ‘cash out’ at the right moment.
Seats won’t fill immediately, so prices will slowly drop until the uptake begins. At which point, prices will hold fast and eventually begin to rise again. Once enough seats are filled, prices will skyrocket and that is not where you want to find yourself.
The more you fly, the more you understand a good deal when you see one.
If you find a cheap flight, book it. Even if the price drops by 20 or 50 dollars over the next few months, you have secured a ticket at a good price and you can put your feet up and relax.
Meanwhile, other travelers are sweating over when to bite the bullet. Is it cheapest now? Shall I wait? Aaaagh!
11. Set Up Price Alerts Way In Advance
Possibly the most return for the least amount of effort when it comes to finding cheapest flights!
Set up price alerts on a route of your choice. You can tell Skyscanner and Momondo to notify you (by email) when your flight route drops / increases in price.
Use the image above as an example: Brown box is the route, Pink box is where you set up price alerts, Blue box is price of non-stop, 1 stop and 2+ stops on the day you search (and set up the alert).
Skyscanner – Select departure and arrival airports (or just departure to keep your options open) and a specific date. Once the flight options load up, in the top left you will see a white button with a bell and Get Price Alerts in blue text. Log in (create an account) to receive notifications on price fluctuations.
Momondo – Similarly, input your ‘from’ and ‘to’ airports. Select a date for one way or return and allow the search results to appear. Look to the left underneath the line graph for a dark box and ‘Our Advice’. There you can switch the toggle for price alert to On. Input your email address to receive notifications.
All you have to do then is sit back and wait for emails to arrive in your inbox with good or bad news. The trick is knowing when to pull the trigger.
Don’t wait for the price to keep dropping and dropping because you’ll end up leaving it so long that it will begin to transition into its upward trend.
Example: We once managed to get Kristen on a Norwegian Air flight from New York Newburgh to Edinburgh for US$ 69. All we did was keep price alerts on New York (all) to London (all), Manchester and Edinburgh. We had a 7 day window in September and this price hit our inbox, we knew it wouldn’t get any cheaper and we booked it.
12. Find Cheap Multi-City Flights With Or Without Layovers
This is where invention and imagination can lead to gigantic savings. But you need to have spare travel days available for it to work.
The example above shows how spending 4 days in Dubai and 4 days in Bangkok before traveling to Tokyo works out US$ 445 cheaper than flying directly from London.
Crazy savings and 2 places ticked off the travel bucket list.
Adding in random stops where you can either spend a few days before jumping on another flight is only relevant to those who have the spare time. You can of course use this tip with much shorter layovers and still benefit from reduced flight prices.
However, anyone who needs quick, efficient and direct routes will unfortunately not be able to benefit here.
Personally, we feel like this is one of the more fun ways to feel like you’ve ‘cheated’ the system. You will not be cheating anything but it certainly feels that way if you can plot your own route, see new parts of the world and save a ton of cash along the way.
Our Own Multi City Savings Example
Example: One September, (similarly to the example provided above) we wanted to fly from the UK to Japan so we could begin a 3 month trip in Asia. But we were booking late (not following tip #9!) and flight prices London to Tokyo / Osaka were astronomical. We’re talking 900-1000 dollars each. So we got to work!
We stripped down the route between UK and Japan, picking out certain places we could check flight prices. Here’s exactly what we did:
- Fired up Skyscanner
- Searched London (all) to Everywhere
- Wrote down a list of relevant cheap flights (Paris, Milan, Riga, Stockholm, Athens etc)
- Checked flights from all of those places to Tokyo / Osaka (direct and with stops)
- Nothing worked, so we checked prices from London to Hong Kong, Seoul, New Delhi, Dubai etc)
- London to Dubai via Istanbul was a cheap option
- So we checked Dubai to Tokyo / Osaka but it was expensive
- However, Dubai to Hong Kong was very cheap but not until 4 days later
- We checked Hong Kong to Tokyo / Osaka and found a cheap flight from Hong Kong to Osaka via Manilla 3 days after arriving in Hong Kong
So our route ended up being: London -> Istanbul -> Dubai -> 4 day layover -> Manilla -> Hong Kong -> 3 day layover – Osaka. For a total price of US$ 390 per person.
As a result, we saved around US$ 400-500 each and got to spend 4 days in Dubai plus 3 days in Hong Kong, entirely unplanned but awesome layovers.
Before jumping on Skyscanner and doing the same thing for your next long haul flight, please bear in mind there are limitations to traveling this way.
Some countries will require you to provide proof of onward travel, so depending on where you travel, you may need to continue booking flights until you end up with tickets back to your home country!
If you book multi-city flights without layovers, leave at least 3 hours between flights.
Even if you do, there is still a chance you might miss your connection. At which point, your chain is broken and if you booked through different airlines (more in tip #12), none of the later airlines are under any obligation to refund you or find you another flight.
That is unless you book through a service such as Kiwi.com who offer trip protection for connecting flights.
13. Airline Pick & Mix For The Sweetest Price
If you book multi-city flights you can sometimes book the whole journey with one airline, otherwise you will be mixing airlines.
Nine times out of ten, this method will save you money, such as in the Mexico City to London example above. However, there are downsides to booking the cheapest flights!
(A side note on our example – even when transiting through the US to catch a connection, you still need a US visa waiver. You will not be able to board a plane transiting through America without one.)
Use this tip with caution and always ensure your journey has Trip Protection included. On Skyscanner you will see the words Trip Protection with a green tick.
Here are the results of another random Skyscanner flight route we just made up, flying from Manchester, UK to Chicago, USA:
- First option: Manchester -> Reykjavik -> Chicago – flying Iceland Air both flights, cost US$ 599, flight time 11h 25m
- Second option: Manchester -> Amsterdam -> Chicago – flying KLM both flights, cost US$ 612, flight time 11h 10m
- Third option: Manchester -> Dublin -> Lisbon -> Chicago, flying Ryanair and TAP Air Portugal, cost US$ 275, flight time 21h 55m
Is This Method Worth The Effort?
This example shows how mixing and matching airlines can drive down total costs. Granted, the flight time is almost double and there are further compromises with baggage on Ryanair and TAP Air Portugal but the bottom line is you are paying less than half the price of the more convenient options.
Action: Go on Skyscanner, select one way, choose your departure airport and pick a long haul destination. Look through the results to see prices of flights connecting with the same airline vs connecting with different airlines.
You will notice patterns and trends, namely convenience vs price.
Problems can occur if one of the two (or more) flights are cancelled or delayed. If you do not have Trip Protection, the latter airlines will not refund you or find you another flight if you miss the second flight. Even if the first flight was completely at fault.
By following this tip, you will be paying incredibly low prices but losing time, expending more effort and risking delays or cancellations without protection.
You have to read the fine print on each leg of your journey.
Example: Airline A might let you have 8kg carry on but airline B might only allow a 5kg personal item, in which case you have to check your 8kg bag on airline B and that will incur an unexpected US$ 50 fee.
This tip works best for those traveling on a low budget and / or who travel minimalist, with very little luggage.
14. Change Regional Departure / Arrival Airport For Long Haul Flights
This is one of our all time favorite tips for finding the cheapest flights. It is relevant for everyone and particularly for long haul / ocean-crossing flights.
Often you can find incredible savings simply by changing your regional departure or arrival airport to another nearby. We have to admit, we’ve personally used this method to our advantage on countless occasions.
Our definition of ‘regional’ in this instance is an airport close to where you live. The best part is this tip can be used for both regional departure and arrival.
Regional Departure Airport
Departure example: You live in Chicago and want to fly to Zurich but flights out of O’Hare are fairly substantial at US$ 610 one way.
Action: Use one of Skyscanner’s most useful features – search by country. Set Zurich in the ‘To’ box and in the ‘From’ box, input USA or spell out United States.
- Select specific dates (in this case 11 March 2021) or whole month for even more options. Your search results will show prices to Zurich, from every airport in the US in order of cheapest prices.
- Let’s say in this example New York has the cheapest flight to Zurich. Open up a new Skyscanner tab and search flights from Chicago to New York – allowing yourself 3 hours to transfer.
- If New York doesn’t work, select the next cheapest US to Zurich flight, for instance Washington DC. Check prices Chicago to DC and so on until you find the most cost effective vs time effective connecting flight.
Regional Arrival Airport
Arrival example: Using Skyscanner’s ‘Everywhere’ search function. We needed to fly back to the UK from Bangkok one December but prices direct from Bangkok to London and Manchester were insane.
- We looked at direct flights from Bangkok to Everywhere on Skyscanner. That returned a winner for us.
- Copenhagen is 620 miles from Manchester by plane (Chicago to NYC is over 700 miles for reference!) – so our ‘regional’ arrival airport became Copenhagen.
- Ryanair flights cost us less than US$ 20 each from Copenhagen to Manchester and that was the long haul trip done on the cheap by simply changing our regional arrival airport.
Use nearby airports to your advantage for both departure and arrival. You can save eye watering sums of money by not flying to the most convenient airports.
15. Book Flights With Travel Rewards Points And Air Miles
So far in this list we’ve explained the things you can do to tailor your searches by traveling smarter, plus how to save by effectively losing comfort or convenience.
Now we come to something you can do to save money by putting in some serious effort. No cheap flight finding list of tips would be complete without touching on how to save with credit cards and airline miles.
But we have a problem, this is one almightily complicated topic to cover in a small travel tip section like this one.
So, we’ll explain the basics but if you want to dive deeper into air miles, we’d suggest reading The Points Guy beginner guide to air miles and credit cards.
The basics are as follows:
Travel Rewards Credit Cards – You sign up for a travel rewards card with Capital One, Bank of America, Chase, American Express and so on. You earn points per dollar spent, for example 1.5 points earned for US$ 1 spent on anything from groceries to gas and online purchases. You can then redeem your points on travel costs like hotels, flights, baggage, rental cars etc. There are cards with annual fees offering greater points returns, or you can keep it simple with no fees but fewer points accrued when you spend.
Airline Miles – You sign up for airline miles rewards with United, Delta, JetBlue and so on. You accrue points every time you book a flight directly with that airline. Airline miles are more complex though, as they can be used for upgrades and you can save huge sums on typical flight prices. Upgraded seats are one of the better ways to spend air miles points because you can get a first class ticket for far fewer points than equivalent cash.
Frequent Travelers Will Benefit
In truth, it is only worth getting into the air miles and serious credit card rewards game if you travel frequently and you spend a lot of money. Otherwise, keep it simple. Even if you only travel once or twice a year, it is more than worth getting a basic travel rewards card.
Action: Sign up for a no annual fee travel rewards credit card, such as Capitol One Venture or Bank of America Travel Rewards. You will get 1.5 points per dollar spent and more importantly – no foreign transaction fees.
1.5 points is the same thing as 1.5% cash back when you turn points into money you can spend on a flight or hotel down the line.
Example: Let’s say one year you decide to take a family vacation to Hawaii and a 2 week tour around central Europe.
- Your total expenses for both trips totals exactly US$ 10,000.
- You will accrue 15,000 points (10,000 x 1.5 = 15,000).
- Those points are worth US$ 150 that you can put towards a flight.
It doesn’t seem like much when you consider you’ve blown through US$ 10,000 but you’re going to spend that anyway – so why not take some free money back at the end?
Plus, you have the added bonus of incurring no fees on foreign transactions, which in the end is more important than the US$ 150 return because well, is there anything worse than wasted money?!
Please bear in mind you should never ever (ever!) get a credit card if you can’t guarantee paying it off in full every month. You can seriously damage your credit score and financial wellbeing if you don’t pay a credit card on time, every time.
16. (Bonus) How To Find And Book Cheap Flights: Travel Hacks
Let’s finish with some good old travel hacks you can consider trying out when finding cheap flights.
Pay Local Currency
It is possible to get a cheaper price on certain flights if you pay in local currency. How do you go about that?
Well, here’s an example of one we just did:
Google Norwegian Air (our favorite airline) -> enter with language selection Norge (Norsk) -> input London to New York -> select a date for departure and return – > check the prices in NOK -> convert NOK to USD -> start again with google but this time enter as English US -> exact same airports and dates -> check prices.
Our results showed London to New York to be US$ 24 cheaper and New York to London to be US$ 17 cheaper when booking in Norwegian currency. Total savings US$ 41 return.
But there are limitations, such as having to tell your bank you will be paying in Norwegian currency so they don’t think you’ve had your card cloned.
Hidden City Ticketing
Flight search algorithms such as Skyscanner, Google Flights and Momondo can turn up intriguing results from time to time.
If you search enough routes and enough times, you will occasionally come across a series of connecting flights in which more flights can cost less than fewer flights.
- You live in Berlin and want to fly to Stockholm.
- You find flights from Berlin to Stockholm for 50 Euros.
- But then you find flights that go from Berlin Helsinki via Stockholm for 30 Euros.
- That the important part, via Stockholm.
So what do you do? Simply don’t make the Stockholm to Helsinki transfer and leave the airport in Stockholm. Plenty of people miss their flights every day.
However, this is a little risky and not to mention it’s not good form either, is it?
There’s a chance the flight will land in Stockholm and you don’t change planes. Others board your plane instead. Then you’re in Helsinki instead of Stockholm!
This is a travel hack that gets under the skin of airlines. But you are allowed to do it – just consider your travel karma!
Airline Sales (Yes, They Do Exist!)
Contrary to popular belief, airlines do put on flights sales – albeit rarely. You will not find a sale through a search engine like Skyscanner, instead you will have to search airlines directly.
We chose norwegian and southwest because they are two of the airlines who do occasionally advertise discounted airline prices. Not all airlines offer discounts.
When are you likely to see sales?
The same time as when every other industry puts sales on – Black Friday and after Christmas. Let’s ignore 2020. In 2021 when the world is back on its feet, look for airline sales by signing up to mailing lists.
We’ve picked up some seriously cheap transatlantic flights with Norwegian air over the last few years when their sales have been in full swing. It pays to be certain mailing lists!
Book Flights Directly With Airlines
The final tip (and it’s not really a hack!) we have for you is something we’ve lightly eluded to throughout this money saving guide and something you should do every single time you book a flight: Compare prices by going directly with the airline.
Now, you are far more likely to get a cheaper price by booking a flight with an OTA (online travel agency) like ‘Gotogate’ or ‘Kiwi’ as opposed to booking directly with British Airways or Qatar Airways.
If you could get a better price directly with airlines every time, what would be the point of OTA’s and how would they make money?
However, you do get perks for booking directly with airlines:
- You can create an air miles account if you regularly fly with the same airline.
- There will be fewer hidden fees.
- Option for adding baggage to a flight there and then (as opposed to being left confused about baggage when booking through an OTA).
- You stand a better chance of refunds in case of delays or cancellations.
- You stand a better chance of changing or cancelling a flight.
Example: Head over to Norwegian Air and sign up completely free to benefit from Cash Points. There are no ties or contracts. We signed up in 2019 before flying London to Buenos Aires and after 2 transatlantic flights we earned £5.53. It’s not much but after 20 flights it’s £55.30 and every penny counts.
Action: Find the best flight available and then check the flight price direct with the airline. See if you get any perks (free baggage, seat upgrade etc) by going with the airline instead of through an OTA.
Cheapest vs Best Value For Money Flights
Let’s briefly summarize the process of finding and booking the cheapest flights when you travel.
Finding flights where you think to yourself ‘How are they making any money from this?’ is a victory when you consider it’s you against the travel process.
However, we strongly recommend considering how much effort, time and frustration you are willing to sacrifice in order to nail the cheapest flight.
Effort from searching relentlessly, time with extra stops and long layovers in airports, frustration from being hit by baggage fees at airport check in desks and no leg room on the plane.
Often those traveling on low to mid range budgets have fewer options. But when you’ve played your cards right, followed all the tips in this article and have a handful of acceptable options – choose the flight offering the most value.
We hope these tips and processes help you find and book the cheapest flights every time you travel!
Please let us know if you have any questions or need any help with any travel planning.
Happy Flight Hunting,
Mark and Kristen
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Mark and Kristen Morgan are travel, hiking and photography experts. Over the last 6 years traveling full time, they have explored more than 40 countries and 30 US states.
Their work has been featured in USA Today, Gestalten, Get Your Guide, CityPASS and Condé Nast Traveler along with various other publications.