Last Updated on 18/01/2023 by Edy Ragnoli
Travel doesn't have to be expensive, but airline tickets often are. Here's how to find the cheapest flights possible and get the best airline deals on your next vacation.
How many times have you happened to want to organize the perfect holiday, try to plan the whole reservation including the purchase of air tickets and not be able to understand how to find cheap air flights?
I know what it means, I too found myself in this situation several times in the past, after a while I finally understood what was wrong and now low-cost travel is no longer a problem.
Flying can be expensive if you don't know how to book cheap flights.
Years of bookings, mistakes, and tricks learned along the way that I want to share with you in this article, with some small tips that will help you cut costs in purchasing your next air ticket.
So pack your baggage and let's find some cheap flights!
How To Find Cheap Flights In 2020
1. Keep Your Searches Top Secret
Browsing Incognito or Private
How many times have you happened to look for a flight, think about it a little before buying it, and in a subsequent search (even after only a few hours) to find the flight price considerably higher?
You have no hallucinations and I'm not crazy, the price of the flight changes after having searched for it several times because of browser cookies. The site you really want to make you “hurry” and push you to book the flight as soon as possible because the price could still increase, is a simple marketing trick.
Always search for flights in incognito or private browsing mode to see the lowest prices.
Here's how to browse incognito with the main browsers:
In Google Chrome or Safari, incognito is enabled by hitting Command (or “Control” if using PC), Shift, “N”. For Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer, hit Command (or “Control” if using a PC), Shift, “P”. This will open a new browser window where your information is not tracked, thus not inflating prices as you search. Note: if you're using an older version of OS X, open Safari then click “Safari” in the menu bar, and select “Private Browsing”.
Your cookies are reset each time you re-open an incognito window. So if you want to start with a clean slate for each flight search, close all your incognito windows, open a new one, and then perform your flight search.
I've to be honest with you, in the past, this little trick worked, now it would seem that it doesn't work anymore. In any case, in doubt continue to use it or if you want to be 100% sure, use the next method.
Use a Good VPN Service
I also noticed that airlines charge different rates for people from different countries, trying to get the maximum profit in a sneaky way.
For example, booking domestic flights from outside the country will often be more expensive than booking inside the country.
Prices may change based on where the transaction is completed, or the “point-of-sale”. You can screw them using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to hide your location or pretend to be somewhere else.
I use Private Internet Access VPN because it's easy, affordable, and doesn't slow down my connection.
2. Use the Best Flight Search Engines
The aggregator sites for the search of flights allow, thanks to algorithms, to find the most convenient prices and compare them among the various airlines. These sites offer helpful tools like price prediction, price maps based on destinations, make alerts by email, and more.
It's good practice to check multiple flight search engines before you book a ticket though. You never know which site may have the best price for flights.
My Favorite Cheap Flight Comparison Sites
- Skyscanner (my # 1 choice)
- Momondo (a broad search engine that sometimes shows cheaper fares than Skyscanner)
- Kiwi (combines all airlines to create routes that are cheaper than booking with just 1 airline)
- JetRadar (searches many budget airlines)
- Google Flights (a good tool to quickly compare flight dates)
Finally, no single search engine is consistently perfect. Usually, my first stop is Skyscanner when searching for cheap flights. Once you've found your favorite flight, always cross-check with other flight search engines and visit the airline's website to make sure you actually find the lowest price.
3. Find the Cheapest Day to Fly
It's now known that the prices of airline tickets also vary according to the day of the week, the period of the year, the most common holidays, such as Christmas, New Year, Easter, or with the month that corresponds to the holidays in a particular country. There are many theories about it, no exact science, but in general the following hold true:
Book A Few Months In Advance
For international flights, booking 3-8 months in advance will land you the best airline deals. For domestic flights, booking 1-3 months in advance results in the cheapest flights.
Best Days To Fly
Most of the time it is cheaper to leave on a weekday, though this isn't always the case. If you can try to be flexible with your travel dates, and fly out of season. If you live in Italy for example, August is the month where 80% of people are on vacation because companies are closed, so avoid traveling this month. The same advice applies to other countries and their respective holiday periods.
Your best strategy is to get a quick visual of prices for a whole month to see what days are cheapest for your specific route. Here’s how to do that!
- Step 1: Go to the Skyscanner website or download their app;
- Step 2: Enter your departure & arrival cities;
- Step 3: When choosing a date, select the “Cheapest Month” option so you can browse all dates. Hit “Search flights” to easily find the cheapest flights.
Now you know how to identify the cheapest dates to buy flights, run to try!
4. Errors Fare and Discount Alerts
Another very interesting method is to search among the mistakes made by the airlines and to receive a discount through alerts.
Error Fare Alert Websites
What is an error or mistake fares? Airlines sometimes make mistakes when posting their fares, leading to seriously discounted flights. This can happen for various reasons – currency conversion mishaps, technical glitches, or human error. If you know where to find airline error fares, you can save yourself hundreds of dollars on a ticket.
Mistake fares don't often last long, because the airline will fix it as soon as they realize their mistake. There are websites out there that track these mistakes and share them with you when they happen.
One of the most popular sites for tracking sale and error fares is Going. Just make an account and enter your departure airport, and you'll start getting flight deals sent to your inbox. Considering that premium members save an average of $ 550 per ticket, it's absolutely worth upgrading to the premium plan!
Other interesting sites that report mistakes made by airlines are:
- Jack's Flight Club (for UK and Europe)
If you check these sites regularly or sign up for their newsletters, you can get lucky and score some huge flight deals!
5. Choose Budget Airlines
Budget Airlines were originated in the United States more than 30 years ago, with Southwest Airlines in 1971 offering half-price flights: a trend that soon spread to Europe in the 90s.
Low-cost airlines in Europe also take the name of “no-frills”, in fact, they allow passengers to save considerably on the rates of traditional flights and only aim to provide their customers with the essential air transport service, thus eliminating all extras and secondary comforts.
Basically, the economic fares offered by these budget airlines are due to the elimination of meals onboard, to lesser use of personnel on board, to the use of secondary airports far from the center, and … many other small comforts, with an obvious consequent reduction of airport taxes.
Differences Between a Traditional Airline and Budget Airlines
The main differences between a traditional airline and a budget airline are that a low-cost airline doesn't allow the possibility to choose the travel class since there isn't difference between business and economy, you aren't entitled to a free meal on board, you don't have the possibility of re-booking on flights of another company in the event of malfunctions, nor of taking advantage of continuations for uncovered routes.
Budget Airline Example Fares
On the other hand, if you're willing to put up with these little shortcomings of comfort, you can save a lot of money per trip. For example, you can travel on any European route with Ryanair by spending on average $ 40/60 (obviously by booking in advance) while on a traditional airline you would spend at least $ 150/200, on average $ 350/400.
Personally, I have made many trips to Europe on budget airlines, saving a lot, and getting good service.
Here are the main budget airlines by geographic areas that you can use for your next trips.
On Wikipedia, you can find the complete list of all the low-cost airlines in the world.
6. Check Alternative Airports
This advice is simple but very effective and is often related to the advice of the previous point. Budget airlines mainly use secondary airports outside a few miles of big cities because they save on airport management costs.
In addition, there are often less chaotic and more practical small airports at short distances from large cities. Moving with a bus to reach the destination city, you can save a lot on the flight ticket.
A simple example: if you've to go to Milan, in 90% of cases you should fly with budget airlines over Bergamo which is only 45 miles away. In 50 minutes with only $ 6, you go to Milan city center with a shuttle bus.
Choosing to fly to a secondary airport often allowed me to save 70 to 80% on the air ticket compared to flying to the main airport. Try it too!
7. Pick The Cheapest Destinations
If you have flexibility in choosing the destination of your next trip, you can choose the destination where there is the lowest airfare for the period you are interested in.
To do this Skyscanner Inspire Map helps you.
Just enter the departure airport and the month in which you would like to travel, in a second all the locations will appear on a comparative map with prices. Simple, immediate, and intuitive!
Flexibility in choosing your destination allows you to save a lot of money on airline tickets.
8. Mix and Match Airlines
Another way to save money is to buy flights from different airlines – a flight that is not operated entirely by the same airline, or in “code sharing”.
For example, from New York to Milan from 20/11 to 25/11 looking for Expedia I get a flight via Dublin operated by Airlingus for $ 501. Searching for the same flight on Kiwi.com I found an Iberia and Vueling operated flight for $ 416! This is possible because Kiwi.com mixes and matches scheduled flights with budget airlines, almost always managing to offer lower prices.
Try searching for yourself, use the form below.
Some time ago this practice had to be done manually, you had to be an expert and mix the various flights by looking on different portals trying to match the schedules as much as possible. It was also a very risky practice because by buying two tickets operated by two different airlines, in case of delays or change of departure times, you were not entitled to reschedule the flight or refund, so you lost your money.
Fortunately, with Kiwi.com this is no longer the case. Kiwi.com, will mix and match airlines (including budget airlines) in order to find you the very cheapest route. For long-haul flights especially, this can make a huge difference. Kiwi.com offers its own guarantee, which covers schedule changes, flight delays, and cancellations. As long as you contact Kiwi.com as soon as you're aware of the delay, they will provide you with an alternate connecting flight, or a full refund, at your discretion.
For your next trip, keep Kiwi.com in mind!
9. Fly Free With Rewards Credit Card
I already know what you are thinking right now: “I want to save on flights and you propose to use a credit card?”
Quiet, there is a reason.
There're many credit card companies out there offering points accumulation plans, the interesting aspect is that you earn points not only for purchasing flights but using them for daily expenses like refueling at the gas station or selecting streaming services, like Netflix and Spotify® and much more.
These cards are called reward credit cards and you can accumulate points or miles.
The Best Rewards Credit Card for Beginning Points Travelers
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card sets the standard for travel rewards by offering excellent 2x points on all travel and dining at restaurant purchases that you then can transfer to airline and hotel partners. And points are worth 25% more when you redeem travel through Chase Unlimited Rewards. That means that the killer 60,000 points sign-up bonus is worth $ 750 towards travel.
This is in my opinion the best credit card for beginning points travelers because it offers a huge intro offer, great ongoing rewards rates, extremely transferrable points, and a host of perks like trip cancellation insurance.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® is also a very interesting card for European travelers because it offers the possibility of transferring your points earned to some European airlines, including Aer Lingus, British Airways, Air France, Iberia, KLM, and Virgin Atlantic.
Read the complete guide to the best reward credit cards.
10. Round The World Tickets
If you don't travel often or want to take a sabbatical and see as many countries as possible, touching all five continents, the round the world ticket (RTW) is the solution for you.
What is a Round The World (RTW) Ticket?
A round the world ticket allows you to create a personalized round-the-world trip, so you can combine the locations of your dream destinations together. Most tickets last one year. This is possible thanks to alliances between airlines, which are essentially networks of different carriers. Your RTW ticket acts as a pass so you can book flights with any airline of that alliance.
The main alliances offering round the world tickets are OneWorld (Global Explorer and oneworld Explorer), Star Alliance and Skyteam (World Journey) but there are also some smaller alliances like World Discovery / Plus, World Walkabout, and Great Escapade.
Difference Between the Tickets
The differences between the tickets are mainly four:
- Stops vs mileage: Some alliances will give you a maximum number of stops, while others only care about mileage.
- Travel direction: The majority of tickets expect you to travel continuously in the same direction and will only let you cross the Atlantic and the Pacific once. Some even require it: with a World Journey ticket, you have to do one transatlantic and one transpacific flight. Other tickets are slightly more flexible and let you double-back over continents (but not oceans). So either go east and go west or vice versa;
- Travel restrictions: This varies per ticket, so get checking that small print. Some tickets insist on a ‘minimum stay'.
- Changing flights: Plans change, especially when you're booking travel so far ahead. Most RTW tickets are flexible and will let you change the time of travel for free, but they will charge for changing a destination – usually around $ 125.
There are no better RTW tickets than another, just as there's no better direction to travel around the world than another, there are too many subjective variables such as the destinations that interest you, the seasons and the climate. The same goes for prices. Round the world tickets start from 1,500 USD but the price varies greatly and depends on your departure point, number of flights, distance flown, continents flown to, and flight class.
As you will have understood, a Round The World Tickets must be planned with great care and, due to the numerous variables explained above, it does not always turn out to be cheaper than tickets purchased on Skyscanner.com.
Read the complete Round The World Tickets (RTW) guide.
11. Try Hitchhiked on Airplanes
Have you ever thought about hitchhiking planes? I have to admit it is not as common as hitchhiking a car but hitching rides on small/private planes can be done.
Honestly, I've never tried this solution to save money by flying, but I am aware of this practice. Getting a free ride on small private planes is not easy or immediate if you want to try there are a couple of tips I can give you:
- Go to a small airport and have a conversation with the pilots showing you are interested in flying, this will help you to get the pass;
- You can offer to wash planes – the going rate in the United States is around $ 50, or ask to come along for the next trip.
If you are not shy and in no hurry, this could be the solution for you!
12. Don’t Wait Until The Last Minute
It seems strange but there are still many people who think that waiting for the last moment it's possible to buy airline tickets at bargain prices. This is absolutely not true!
Rarely, it can happen to find the last minute but only on charter flights sold by tour operators but not on scheduled flights or low-cost flights. This happens because the tour operator rents the entire plane and if many unsold seats remain under the date, it sells them to reduce losses.
I repeat, it's a rare event and it's absolutely not worth risking with a similar option. To find cheap flights, follow the 11 tips listed above and you will surely be satisfied!