Cheap Flights 101: The Ultimate Guide to Finding Cheap Flights
Do you dream of traveling the world but are worried that travel is too expensive, out of reach, and you don’t want to break the bank?
It is a fact that when planning travel, you will typically spend the most money on flights and accommodations.
In this guide, you will find 15 tips savvy travelers use to score incredible flight deals and embark on budget-friendly journeys. The focus of this guide will also be that you don’t incur unnecessary debt. We don’t let challenges stop us from achieving our dreams.
The more flexibility you have to travel, the easier it will be for you to find a fantastic flight deal. What do I mean by that?
There are a few ways that you can be flexible:
- Travel Dates: One of the most effective ways to find cheap flights is to be flexible with travel dates. Airlines often offer lower fares during off-peak seasons and mid-week flights. Adjusting your travel dates by 1-3 days for your departure or return can result in a few hundred dollars in savings. Use flight search engines like Google Flights, Kiwi, or Skyscanner to compare prices across dates and locations, allowing you to snag the best deals.
- Planning Phase: Typically, the most expensive time to book a flight is within three weeks before the travel date. What is the least expensive time to book the flight? Four weeks to four months before the travel date. By giving yourself ample time in the planning phase, you have more time to track flight prices and see the typical flight cost. This helps you make a more informed decision when it comes time to book the flight.
- Destinations: Some destinations experience higher demand than others during the high peak or holiday season; therefore, the flight prices are higher than others. When you are open to visiting an alternative destination, you can avoid the surge in airfare and find flights at lower prices. Popular tourist destinations tend to have higher travel costs due to increased demand. You can find more affordable accommodations and activities by choosing less crowded or off-the-beaten-path locations.
Choosing lesser-known destinations, you may have yet to consider can provide unique travel experiences without the inflated prices associated with heavily tourist areas.
Airlines frequently offer limited-time flight sales and promotions to various destinations. You can take advantage of these deals and secure discounted tickets to unexpected and exciting places by remaining flexible with your travel plans.
Also, remember that exchange rates fluctuate, and being flexible with your destination may allow you to take advantage of favorable exchange rates, making your travel budget go further.
Consider booking multi-city trips or accepting layovers in other cities. Sometimes, choosing an itinerary with layovers can result in more economical flights than direct routes in exchange for some inconvenience.
CREATE FARE ALERTS
Take advantage of great deals by setting airfare deal alerts. Constantly monitoring airfare prices can be time-consuming and stressful. With airfare alerts, you can relax and let the notifications come to you when there’s a good deal.
When you set up airfare alerts, you can take your time to compare prices and plan your trip with confidence, knowing you’ll be alerted when fares are at their most favorable.
For a complete list of websites that you can use to set fare alerts, click here.
Setting up airfare alerts empowers you to make well-informed decisions about your travel plans because they enable you to find the best prices and seize opportunities. Airfare alerts are a valuable tool for any traveler looking to save money when planning memorable adventures.
SIGN UP FOR AIRLINE LOYALTY PROGRAMS
Frequent flyer programs and airline rewards systems can significantly reduce the cost of flights over time. Consider joining loyalty programs offered by airlines you frequently travel with. Accumulate miles or points by flying, using co-branded credit cards, or through partner purchases to earn rewards that translate into discounted or free flights.
Once you’ve accumulated a substantial number of miles or points, you can then redeem them for discounted or free flights. Additionally, you can use your rewards to upgrade to premium cabin classes.
ENROLL IN TRAVEL CREDIT CARDS
The ultimate goal is to travel using miles and points without incurring unnecessary debt. Travel credit cards offer valuable benefits such as travel rewards and exclusive deals; comparing the available options is essential. Don’t let a significant annual fee stop you from reviewing if a travel credit card makes sense for you and your travel goals.
SOMETIMES FLYING BUDGET AIRLINES MAKES SENSE
Do I like flying Spirit, Frontier, or Allegiant? Absolutely not! But I recognize that sometimes the price and flight length make sense.
I have been to NYC for $58 round trip on Spirit Airlines; I flew from CLT to FLL on Allegiant for $29 and $129 (when other options were $600) for a flight from Kansas City, MO, to FLL.
What are my thresholds for choosing a budget airline over a legacy airline?
*The length of the flight is 4 hours or less.
*The savings are a minimum of $150 + (anything less than this is not worth it if you bring a carry-on or checked-in bag, as these bags cost $40+ per flight leg).
*I will not be connecting on any other flights and have some flexibility.
There are also budget airlines to Europe and other regions of the world. For a list of the most commonly used budget airlines worldwide, click here.
BOOK CONNECTING FLIGHTS
Booking connecting flights rather than direct flights can save you money. While layovers may require more time, they present an opportunity to explore additional destinations briefly by booking a stopover. In some cases, stopovers can last up to 7 days for the same price as the flight you were already going to book. Use this to your advantage and make the most of your travels. To learn more about Stopovers, check out this blog post.
Another way to book connecting flights is to book a flight to another continent, then have a second flight booked to the destination you want to visit.
What do I mean by this? I live in South Florida, and direct flights from Miami to certain European destinations can cost over $1200. However, it is typically much easier to find a flight deal to Madrid or Paris from Miami for $350-$500 and then a flight to a desired European destination for less than $180. I have saved $500 – $700 on several routes by using this method.
One thing to note when using this method is that there are risks when you book your separate tickets in this fashion. I recommend NEVER booking yourself for a layover that is less than 3 hours long. Why? Because delays and cancellations due to bad weather, airline system shutdowns, and other things can happen.
CHECK ALTERNATIVE AIRPORTS
My closest airport is Ft Lauderdale. However, when looking for a flight deal, I will ALWAYS check the prices for routes from the other airports in my area. I check flight prices from MIA, PBI, and even MCO (even though it is 3 hours away).
I sometimes also check what it would cost to fly to positioning airports. I have sometimes flown to ATL, NYC, EWR, BOS, BWI, IAD, or DCA to take advantage of flight deals. Flights between FLL to those airports are usually below $200.
I set flight alerts for deals from all of these airports because I can usually find a cheap flight to any of these airports.
TAKE THE RED EYE
Yes, these flights can be inconvenient, but the flights that depart late at night and arrive early in the morning often have lower fares. These flights provide an excellent opportunity to save money and maximize travel time.
BUY A TRAVEL PACKAGE
Websites like Groupon, Expedia, Travelocity, Travelzoo, and others sell prepackaged itineraries that include flights and accommodations. These packages can save you money in the long run. To be completely transparent, I have never used one of these packages. You should compare the packaged prices to ensure that bundling genuinely offers a better value.
Costo Travel, AARP, AAA, and other travel agencies are other places to find these packages.
AVOID PEAK TRAVEL DAYS
Flights on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are often less expensive than those on Mondays, Fridays, and Sundays, though this is only sometimes true. Why? Because before the pandemic, most business travel would happen on Sundays, Mondays, and Fridays. Be flexible with your departure and return dates to save on airfare.
If you have flexibility, you can use Google Flights or Skyscanner to see the cheapest day to fly out or return. When you enter your departure and return dates, give the website a few seconds to populate the rates. Choose the least expensive departure and return dates based on this data.
CHECK FOR MILITARY, STUDENT, YOUTH, OR SENIOR CITIZEN DISCOUNTS OR OFFERS
If you are a member of any of these groups, exclusive discounts and offers may be available. Many airlines and travel providers have special pricing for these groups to show appreciation for their service, support educational endeavors, or cater to specific age demographics. Before booking your flights, check with the airlines directly or through specialized travel websites that offer discounts for these categories.
Remember that having a valid ID or enrollment verification may be required to qualify for these special rates.
These discounts might not always be the cheapest option, so compare prices with regular fares to ensure you get the best deal.
THANKSGIVING WEEK IS ONE OF THE BEST TIMES TO FLY INTERNATIONAL
US Domestic travel during this week is chaotic at best. I typically only recommend domestic travel if you can leave earlier during the week or the weekend prior to Thanksgiving. Why? Because every year, there are massive flight cancellations due to weather and other factors. However, you can typically find some great deals flying out of the US during this week.
My biggest tip for international travel during Thanksgiving week? Book only direct flights out of the US. If you book a flight with a layover, ensure it is somewhere outside the US.
Alternatively, flying on the holiday or the day after may also represent savings. Always check flight fares if you will be traveling around these dates.
BOOK REFUNDABLE FARES OR USE THE 24-HOUR FREE CANCELLATION RULE STRATEGICALLY
The US Department of Transportation requires that all US and non-US airlines observe this rule for flights going to, or originating in, the United States. The flight must have been booked directly with the airline at least seven days before the flight.
The 24-hour free cancellation rule allows you to lock in a great deal while giving yourself a day to double-check your plans and ensure everything aligns. Just make sure that you cancel within 24 hours if you need to. Otherwise, you will be subject to the airline’s cancellation policy.
If you book a refundable fare, you give yourself the flexibility of canceling or adjusting your itinerary without incurring hefty charges or cancellation fees. These fares cost more, but there are situations where you may find this option useful.
BOOK ONE-WAY AND OPEN-JAW TICKETS SEPARATELY
Sometimes booking separate one-way tickets represents cost savings compared to a roundtrip. You can mix and match airlines and departure dates for each leg of your journey, allowing you to optimize your travel plans.
For longer trips or multiple-city trips, it may be beneficial to book open jaw tickets. An open-jaw ticket is one where the origin and destination are different. For instance, if you plan to fly from City A to City B, then travel overland or take another flight from City B to City C, an open-jaw ticket can accommodate this multi-city itinerary.
USE SERVICES THAT SEND MISTAKE FARES, FLIGHT DEALS, AND PROMOTIONS TO YOUR EMAIL
Multiple websites charge a fee to email you airfare deals departing from airports you select when you sign up. The services are cost-effective compared to the savings they can represent when taking advantage of an airfare deal.
My current favorites are:
Going (previously known as Scotts Cheap Flights): This service provides flight deals departing from your preferred airport and can help you discover affordable fares to your dream destinations.
Thrifty Traveler: focuses on premium economy and business class flight deals, making luxury travel more accessible for savvy travelers. They also notify you when Delta has promotions for using Skymiles more efficiently.
Mochileando: This service caters to Spanish-speaking travelers, offering deals and promotions to Spanish-speaking countries and beyond.
Airlines make mistakes and advertise error fares from time to time. They typically last only a short time, so if you see one you would like to book… RUN! Don’t think about it twice!
Things to keep in mind about error fares:
- Be Prepared for Changes or Cancellations: Understand that mistake fares may be subject to changes or cancellations by the airline. Only make non-refundable plans once your booking is confirmed.
- Consider Travel Insurance: Depending on the value of your trip, consider purchasing travel insurance that covers trip cancellations or disruptions. For additional savings, buy the flight with a credit card that includes these types of insurance.
- Refrain from Relying on Mistake Fares for Important Events: Avoid relying on mistake fares for crucial events or time-sensitive travel, as the airline may cancel the booking.
As you can see from these tips, finding cheap flights can be as easy as using a specialized service or putting in some time and effort. By staying flexible, using rewards miles and points, and being mindful of spending, you can embark on your dream adventures without incurring unnecessary debt.
Travel is more accessible than we have been made to think. So, mi gente, it’s time to pack those bags, spread those wings, and soar to new horizons!
Have you found any good deals by following any of these tips? Please let me know in the comments below.