Learning how to book cheap flights isn’t easy.
It can be overwhelming, because there are a lot of blogs repeating things that you don’t know if are true or not. And there are also a lot of different flight search engines.
And of course, prices change every minute.
So most people give up and book any flight at any price. They just don’t want to deal with all these problems.
So let me help you. There isn’t a magic formula on how to book cheap flights, so I won’t lie to you.
I will help you to know everything you should know before booking a flight.
All the tips I am going to give you are updated for 2018 and work.
Forget All You’ve Read
Yeah, that’s it. Forget all you’ve heard before about how to book cheap flights.
Why? Because most of it are old tricks that don’t work anymore.
Or, to put it in other words, pure bullshit.
For example, you’ll find many sites that will say you should search for flights using the incognito mode in your browser.
And if you use incognito mode, the browser doesn’t save the cookies and they can’t do that to you.
Well, that’s the pure bullshit I’m talking about. There is no evidence to consider that to be true.
Airlines use sophisticated pricing algorithms to determine prices of tickets, and they are based in lots of data like passenger demand, weather, major events, holidays, time of the year, time of the day, competitor prices, and a lot more.
They make this algorithms better each day, because by doing so they increase their profits.
So do you really think you can fool them by going incognito mode in your browser?
Another common believe is that departing on a Tuesday or a Wednesday will be cheaper. And that you should totally avoid departing during the weekends.
Really? Based on what?
In fact, Skyscanner, which is probably the best flight search engine, says that “the cheapest day to depart from the UK is typically a Friday“.
Other common lies you’ll find are:
- “Booking your ticket X months before is the best”
- “I can predict that this flight will cost $XX next month”
- “Wait and buy last-minute flights, they will always be the cheapest”
- “Smaller airports always have better fares”
So what do I mean with this? I mean it depends on a lot of things.
It means that there is no magic formula on how to book cheap flights.
Every case will be different, and some things that work for you, may not work for others.
I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you “do this and you will be good”. It just don’t work that way.
Instead, what I am doing in this post is sharing the best tips you can use to search and book cheap flights. Tips that truly work and are updated, not old tricks from the 90s which are obsolete.
Are you ready?
Use Flight Search Engines to Compare Prices
The best and easiest way to book cheap flights is using flight search engines.
However, be aware that not all flight search engines are the same.
Some of them will sell the tickets themselves, while others will just list the best fares found in other sites, and redirect you to them.
The ones that sell tickets will have inflated costs most of the time, because they have to take their cut.
Other search engines won’t list budget airlines’ flights, so if you just use those, you will be missing some good opportunities.
U.S. flight search engines also tend to exclude booking sites that aren’t in English.
So your best shot here is to test them all and see which one works for you. Once you have your 3 or 4 favorites, stick with them and check them all everytime you are searching for a flight.
My favorite flight search engines are:
- Google Flights: makes it very easy to find the cheapest day in the week/month
- Skyscanner: it’s a very broad search engine, which includes budget airlines and non-english websites.
Most of the times I use Momondo because it’s a very broad flight search engine, which means it includes budget airlines and non-English website.
Google Flights makes it very easy to see which day of the week/month is the cheapest one.
Skyscanner is probably the most popular flight search engine, so I always take a look to check if I’m missing something.
Other popular choices are:
So remember: test all the flight search engines out there, see which work for you and choose your 3/4 favorites. Everytime you want to search for a flight, use them all and compare.
Always Check the Airline’s Website
After checking on your favorite search engines, you have to always check in the airline’s website.
Sometimes, prices are lower if you buy directly from them. They prefer to avoid other companies being in the middle. Also they can host private sales, exclusively for their own websites.
It’s not the topic of this post, but this also happens when booking hotels. Most of them will have promotions or lower prices if you book directly with them. They also want to avoid comissions, just like airlines.
Be Flexible with Your Dates
I know that most of you will be thinking “I just can’t”. And that’s ok. I have a 9-5 job and sometimes I can’t have flexible travel dates.
But in case you can, you will save a lot of money. Flight ticket prices vary a lot depending on the date. And I mean time of the year, but also day of the week.
If you want to fly when everybody is flying, it will cost you more. That is very simple. For example, if you want to go to Europe in August, you will pay more because everybody wants to do that.
On the other hand, if you choose to fly to Europe in spring or fall, ticket fares will be lower, because demand is lower too (And also you will find Europe less crowded, which is great).
This also applies for events, festivals and holidays. Airlines also know about them (of course), so they will increase the prices.
Day of the week is important too, but there is not a magic formula. Flying on a weekend tends to be more expensive most of the times, because of course everybody else wants to do the same.
Fewer people fly during the middle of the week, so flight fares tend to be lower.
However, as I said, there is not a magic formula. Skyscanner said that the cheapest day to depart from the UK is typically a Friday.
So if I told you “always fly during the middle of the week because you will find the best fares”, I would be lying to you if you live in UK.
That shows that you should have this tips in mind, but you don’t have to take them as definitive, because each situation is unique.
It’s true, however, that prices vary a lot between days in the same week, so always check all days to see which one has the lowest fare. Google Flights is great to do this easily.
Be Flexible with Your Destinations
Ok, so you can’t be flexible with your travel dates. You have a job and you just can’t.
That’s ok. I get it. But then you can be flexible with your destination!
If you are not sure about where to go, then let low ticket prices be your inspiration.
Google Flights has a similar tool, you just have to click the map.
There is always a deal to some destination, you must have very bad luck not to find one. All you need to do is be flexible with your destination.
Use Budget Airlines
Budget airlines are a great choice. In the past, they would just serve some short routes, but nowadays many of them offer long-haul flights.
That can make traveling the world really cheap.
LEVEL flies between Europe and South America, Norwegian flies between Europe and Asia, WOW flies between USA and Europe. And they all have great prices.
If you don’t know which airlines operate in your airport, visit their website. They should a have a list of all the airlines that operate there.
For example, if you want to know which airlines operate in JFK airport in New York City, you can go to their website and find the full list.
Be aware of how budget airlines make money. They usually charge for everything, even printing your boarding pass. So before booking a flight with one of them, first make sure you understand all the terms.
They have a very rigid policy regarding checked bags and carry-ons. So be sure to check which sizes and weights are allowed, and always stick to them. If you don’t, they will charge you a lot of money at the airport.
Also check that once you add those extras to the cost of the ticket, it’s still cheaper than a larger carrier’s ticket.
Also check which airport the airline is flying to. Most cities have more than one airport, and some budget airlines will fly to the smaller, less known of them.
That airport may be further out of town, so you must take that into account. Be sure to check how much more time you will need to take to the city centre, and the costs of that trip. Be sure to add that costs to the final price to see if it’s still convenient for you.
If you’ve decided to fly with a budget airline, it’s usually a good decision to wait for deals.
Most of them have regular deals where prices can be very, very low. Ryanair, Vueling and AirAsia are good examples of airlines offering good deals regularly.
Be sure to follow these airlines in your favorite social media to find out when these deals are available.
Here you have a list of budget airlines:
- Air Asia
- Tiger Air
- Jeju Air
- Hong Kong Express
- Peach Air
- Dragon Air
- Spice Jet
- Spring Airlines
- Vietnam Airlines
- Nok Air
- T’Way Airlines
- Vanilla Air
- Aigle Azur
- Wow Air
- Norwegian Air
- Wizz Air
- WOW Air
- Aer Lingus
Be Aware of Weekends
I know I said before that there is not a magic formula for how to book cheap flights. And that saying “X day is the best to book a flight” is bullshit.
And it is. However, prices tend to be higher when you search flights during weekends. At least, that is what Skycanner found out looking at data from the last 3 years.
They say that travelers who booked tickets on a Saturday paid on average 5% more than those who did it on a Monday.
Does this mean that you must book your tickets on a Monday everytime? No.
I will say it again: no, it doesn’t mean everytime you want to book a flight you have to do it on a Monday to find the lowest fare.
It just means that statistically, fares tend to be lower if you book on a Monday (at least according to Skyscanner).
But it doesn’t mean that it will be like that in all cases. As I’ve said many times, each case is different. These are just tips to take into account.
Check All Airports
Many sites say that booking a flight from a smaller airport is cheaper because their demand is smaller.
That’s not true. You can’t just assure that. In many cases, flying from the main, bigger airports is cheaper than flying from the smaller ones.
So what you should do is check the fares for all aiports. Most search engines will look in all airports if you just select a city as destination (and not a specific airport).
In Skyscanner, for example, you have an option to tick that says “Add nearby airports“.
It also works for the arrival airport, but in this case you should check where the airports are located.
Some airports are very far from the city centre, so the transportation costs will eliminate any savings you might have made on the fare.
Book One-Way with Different Airlines
Sometimes it’s cheaper going out with one airline and back with another.
You shouldn’t worry much about this one because most search engines will find you the best deal, whether it’s flying out and back with the same airline or not.
They will also do the same for the airports, as it may be cheaper going into an airport and out from another one.
Set Up a Price Alert
Most search engines will let you set up a price alert. It’s very easy: you do a search and activate the alert. They will let you know via email how the price for that route changes.
Search for Connecting Flights Yourself
It also helps if you are flexible on how you are going to get to your destination. If you always want to fly direct, then you are very limited to book cheap flights.
Sometimes going from X to Z is cheaper if you go from X to Y, then from Y to Z. The thing is that many times you will search for a flight from X to Z, you will see the direct flights and no more options.
You have to book the two flights yourself, the one from X to Y, and then the one from Y to Z. They will probably be from different airlines.
With all the budget airlines you can find nowadays, this is very convenient. Let’s say you want to go from NYC to Rome. Maybe it’s cheaper flying to London, and then take a budget flight from London to Rome.
Of course there is a risk to it. When you book a traditional flight with a connection, the same airline operates the two flights. If the first one is delayed and you miss the second one, they will put you into the next available flight.
However, if you book two separate flights yourself, they won’t do that for you (because they don’t have to).
So to minimize the risk, always be sure you have at least 3 hours between both flights. You can miss your second flight even if you have 10 hours in between, so the risk is always there. But if it all goes ok, you can save a lot of money.
So first check how much it is to go directly to your destination. Then you can go to Google Flights and check the prices for nearby airports. If the difference is good, you can then check how much it is to get from that airport to your primary destination.
Search Always for One Person
If you are flying with someone else, always search tickets as one person. The thing is that airlines show the highest ticket price in the group.
For example, let’s say you want to fly with three friends. So you search flights for 3 persons.
The airline will search and find 3 seats together.
Seat A costs $100, seat B costs $200 and seat C costs $100.
The total price will be $600, instead of $400, because the airline will price all three tickets as $200 each, which is the highest price.
So always do the search for one person also. If you see that the price changes, like in this case, then do separate bookings. Afterwards you can pick your seats so you and your friends sit together.
If you see that searching for 3 the price is the same as searching for 1 person multiplied by 3, then go ahead with one booking.
Keep an Eye for Special Deals and Error Fares
Like any other e-commerce, airlines make mistakes when posting their fares. This can happen for a lot of reasons, but that’s not important.
The important thing is that you know about those errors. If you buy a ticket and they send you the corresponding electronic ticket, then 99% of the times they will respect the price you paid. This is how I traveled from Buenos Aires, Argentina to New York City for $300 with Aeromexico.
So how do you find out about these errors?
You can do it yourself, by searching flights, but you have to be very lucky. Sometimes error fares last only a few minutes.
The best way is letting the experts do the work for you.
The best two websites for this are Secret Flying and Airfarewatchdog. You can follow them in Twitter or Facebook or subscribe via e-mail. They will let you know of all the good deals they find, not just error fares.
You can also sign up for mailing lists from airlines, and they will send you the best deals.
After Booking a Flight, Use the 24 Hours Rule
Most airlines have a 24-hour penalty-free cancellation period. In United States, it’s the law for airlines to offer a full refund penalty-free within 24 hours after booking.
So once you book a flight, search it again within 24 hours. If you see that the price has dropped, you can cancel your original booking and make a new one.
Hidden City Ticketing
There is a trick that some travelers do that may save you some money.
Sometimes, a flight that connects in a city you want to visit, is cheaper that flying directly to it. So you book the flight that connects in that city and hop off there, without taking the second flight.
For example, you want to go from NYC to Buenos Aires, Argentina. A direct flight costs, let’s say, $900. But you find a flight going from NYC to Santiago, Chile, that connects in Buenos Aires, for $800.
So you book the second one (NYC-Buenos Aires-Santiago), and when you land in Buenos Aires, you are done. You don’t take the second flight from Buenos Aires to Santiago.
Of course there are some risks to it. First, if you want to do this it’s better if you travel with carry-on luggage only. Sometimes the checked baggage go to the final destination, and you will not be able to take it in the connection city to leave the airport.
Second, check if you will change planes. Sometimes you land in the connection city and you have to wait inside the plane. If that is the case, they may not allow you to leave the plane.
There is a search engine that finds hidden city tickets called Skiplagged. They claim to have been sued by United Airlines, so this hack is definitely debatable.
Use Flight Points/Miles
If you have flight points or miles, of course you should try to use them. Everytime you fly you should collect your points. Most of the people never do this because they say they will never use them, but you never now. Don’t ever fly without collecting flight points.
In most countries you can also earn a lot of miles through credit card sign up bonus and shopping. This is especially good in the U.S., where credit cards give a lot of miles when you sign up for them.
There is a lot you can learn about collecting flight points to travel, and all that is called travel hacking.
If you are interested, you can check Nomadic Matt’s ultimate guide to Travel Hacking.
Well, that’s it. This is the most complete and most updated guide you will find on how to book cheap flights in 2018. No magic formulas, no bullshit. Just tips you should know and take into account when searching for flights.
Would you add any other tip to the guide? Leave a comment and let me know!
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