For many of us, it is all about getting one of those cheap price points from the airline.
THE BEST OF THEM ALL:
1. google.com/flights – Shows flights for the next month or longer with prices which fluctuate by day, weekend and holiday wildly. If your travel dates are not fixed, this allows huge savings. Lightning fast. Another plus is that it warns you about drawbacks – long layovers, if flying in a prop plane. It is most helpful with complicated international trips. Excludes most foreign low-cost carriers from its searches. I go here first and get the lowest fares over a month. Then select your cheapest date. It is not biased toward certain airlines.
2. skyscanner.com – Possibly the cheapest flights. Often has local airlines not on other sites. Has good price alerts. Covers more of the world than any other site with more regional airlines. For example only site that covers flying around South Pacific.
Easy to-search, easy-to-use flight finder and fare comparison website. What sets it apart is the number of ways you can filter your search results. You can narrow it right down to a preferred airline, flight duration and departure time or go wild and search for ‘anywhere in the UK’ to ‘anywhere in France’. Allows you to ask for the cheapest flights anywhere from any city and lists them in order of cost. Or you can get all the flights from one city to a destination and it will show a graphic trend over the course of a month allowing you to pick the cheapest time to fly if the date is not critical.
3. Then Try the Individual Airline. it may be best to book here as cancellations, registering miles and most things are easier. Sometimes cheaper but sometimes more expensive.
4. Search for ULCC – Use the post ULCC to find airlines specific to various geographic areas. Also try whichbudget.com, lowcostairlines.com or skyeurope.com, who all list some ULCC.
1. Be Flexible with Your Travel Dates
Airline ticket prices vary depending on the day of the week, time of year, and upcoming holidays such as Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, or Fourth of July. August is a big month for traveling around Europe so airline tickets tend to be higher. It’s always cheaper to fly during the middle of the week than on a weekend. If you fly after a major holiday, prices are also a bit cheaper. Early morning or late night flights are cheaper because fewer people want to travel then. Before you commit to your departure, make sure you check other dates and times. If you are not flexible in the dates you want to fly, you will never be able to find a cheap flight. Even the difference of a day can mean hundreds of dollars in savings.
Itasoftware.com was a Google-owned website that was invaluable to find the cheapest flights over the nest month, but did not cover ULCC nor could you book on it. It has been replaced by google.com/flights, easily the fastest website on the planet and it also allows booking. It is often worthwhile to go to the individual airline to book – easiest and cheapest way to cancel and you can register your air miles, but not always the cheapest. Most of the time, I use skyscanner.com as it has the widest coverage of any search engine and includes some ULCC.
2. Be Flexible with Your Destinations
Instead of going to a place with an expensive flight, go where it is the cheapest. Kayak offers the “Explore tool” that allows you to put in your airport and see what routes have the cheapest fares. Google Flights also has a similar (and better) feature. If you are flexible with where you want to go (i.e. anywhere but home), this is a great way to start researching where to go. Other sites that have similar search tools: Whichbudget.com, Skyscanner.com.
3. Try Alternative Routes
Not only does it help to be flexible with dates, but try being flexible with the route you take, too. Sometimes it’s cheaper to fly to London and take a ULLC to Amsterdam rather than flying direct to Amsterdam. There are so many budget carriers around the world that taking advantage of a good deal to another city and then hopping on a budget flight to your destination is sometimes the best way to go. It often means more flying time but the savings can be worth it.
By working various airlines and special offers, you can save a lot. This method is not for everyone, however. It is more work, as you have to figure out lots of different routes and check different airlines. But it will shave some money off your flight, giving you more to spend at your destination.
4. Take Advantage of Student Discounts
If you are a student, there are many, many discounts available to you. Check out STA Travel and their search engine. You can find flexible student tickets on their website and at agency stores. It may not be the cheapest flight, just the cheapest direct flight. There are many student codes out there, and many of the tourist agencies in backpacker areas can help find you a cheap ticket.
5. Sign Up for a Frequent Flier Program
Airline rewards programs are a great way to get free flights, free upgrades, and free companion tickets. No matter how often you fly, you should be signed up for the airline’s reward program. If you live in North America, stick to US-based airlines since they are involved in all the major alliances and you can earn miles on their partner flights. For example, if you fly Singapore Airlines, you can earn United Airlines miles because they are partners. Do the same if you fly Air France and use your Delta rewards account. This way you are always earning miles when you fly. However, if you aren’t from the states, simply use an airline from your home country that is involved in one of these alliances.
There are a lot of other ways to earn miles if you aren’t jetsetting around the world all the time:
1. Shop at member stores – All airlines have special offers for large consumer companies such as Amazon, Apple, Best Buy, Target. Shopping at those preferred stores will earn you 2 to 4 miles per dollar spent. Sometimes even up to 10 miles per dollar spent. If you spend 1,000 dollars a month, you can earn up to 3,000 miles just by going through their websites. The products don’t cost extra and it’s the same company so you only win, you don’t lose. I do all my shopping through the airline partners simply for the extra miles.2.
2. Watch for special offers – Sign up for newsletters because they often have featured offers not found on an airline’s website. This could be triple miles on a selected route or as simple as Starwood’s recent promotion. These bonuses don’t go into the high tens of thousands but you can get a little over a long period of time by doing virtually nothing. They add up.
3. Be a Crazy Flyer – On forums like Flyertalk, where people hunt out the latest chances for miles, you often find people doing mileage runs. This means that an airline will offer triple miles or double elite qualifying miles (these miles, unlike normal miles, count towards your elite flyer status and can only be earned by flying) if you fly a certain route. When airlines get into price wars or offer new routes, they often launch ridiculous double or triple mile offers. Many people then fly these routes just for the miles. They will fly from California to New York and back again if they find a dirt cheap fare in order to gain miles. Mileage runs are very common and while not free, can be a useful method to gain a lot of miles on a cheap fare.
4. Put everything on the card – Pay nothing in cash and put everything on your travel credit card – from Starbucks to phone bills. If your total monthly spending, including business expenses, is about $3,000 per month, that’s 36,000 miles just for doing nothing special. That’s a free one-way flight to Europe right there. Using the websites listed in the credit card section for finding bonus offers, you’ll be able to accumulate a lot of flight miles.
6. Know What You Want to Pay for a Flight
Airline prices always bounce up and down, yet in our quest to hold out just a little longer, we can miss the lowest price. Know what you want to pay, not what you hope to pay. Don’t wait for the perfect price. But be realistic. If the lowest available price is $1,000 for a flight but the average is $1,500, don’t wait for $900 as it’s probably not going to get that low. You will never have buyer’s remorse if you find a price point you are comfortable with. No two people on a flight pay the same price, so all you can do is hope you get the price you feel good about.
7. Book During the Sweet Spot
Use Price Alerts provided by several search engines and follow all price changes. As the oil price changes, airlines rates change and were at a several year low in 2016. But hey were raised 7 times in 2013 alone. The best booking window is 6 to 8 weeks before your flight, three months during peak season. This is the sweet spot when the airlines begin to either lower or increase fares based on demand.
8. Some Miscellaneous Ideas
a. Be Unloyal. Being loyal to a specific brand does not make sense when the airfare costs too much. Search for airfares from all carriers rather than sticking with a specific airline.
b. One Way Flights. Booking separate one way flights may result in lower airfares and more convenient schedules than a round trip (aka return) flight.
c. Alternate Airports. Not only do many areas have more than one airport but the best airport for a given trip might not be the obvious choice. For instance, when visiting California Disneyland, instead of LAX (Los Angeles), better airport options would be LGB (Long Beach), SNA (Santa Ana/Orange County), and ONT (Ontario). In fact, considering the traffic between LAX and Disneyland, I would also consider SAN (San Diego).
d. Introductory Flights. When an airline enters a new market, they usually offer initial lower airfares. Current examples include WOW between USA and Europe for $99 each way and Virgin America between Washington, DC area and Dallas. Even better is that existing airlines drop their fares to match the new guy.
e. Break Up Groups. When more than one person is flying together, whether a couple or family or group, compare the prices for one person versus the whole group. When one member of the group ends up in a higher fare class, many airlines will assign that rate to every member of the group. I have found lower airfares by buying separate tickets; for instance, for my family on one itinerary and myself on another. The seats can still be reserved together.
f. Hidden City Flights have had tonnes of press and it is worth mentioning what they are, although they are not of great use to travellers. Effectively you find a flight to somewhere you don’t want to go with a stop-off somewhere you do want to go at a price cheaper than the direct flight to the place you wanted to go. Obviously this only works if you have no check-in bag and one-way. If you need to travel to a hub destination you have the best chance of finding such a deal, although searching is something of an art.