After more than a year of travel bans and sticking close to home, international travel is back in the cards for 2021 and beyond. Mexico remains a mainstay, islands across the Caribbean are ready for tourists, and even many countries across Europe have reopened their borders to Americans.
Now you just need to find those cheap international flights. No matter whether you’re making plans for a Caribbean escape or a long-haul journey across the Atlantic, getting better deals on international fares can be easier than you think.
All it takes is fine-tuning your search methods, using the right tools, and a little flexibility. You’ll soon find that the price tag doesn’t have to be a barrier to international travel.
Start with Google Flights
It all starts with a search. While there are plenty of search platforms to choose from, one is better than all the rest: Google Flights.
If you ask us, Google Flights is the most powerful, accurate, reliable, and in most cases, the simplest tool to find cheap airfare. It has a user-friendly interface with countless features that make it better than the rest.
You can search for flights for your next trip up to 11 months, with an instant way to find the cheapest dates to fly as you scroll through the calendar month by month. Picky about your airline? You can filter for as many – or as few – airlines as you want. Only want nonstop flights? Easy. Want a checked bag included in your fare? Done.
Other search platforms have their strengths, but none are better at zeroing in on the cheapest flights and dialing down to the exact trip you’re looking for than Google Flights. It should be your first stop … every time.
Read our full guide to using Google Flights to find cheap flights!
Not sure where you want to go? Use the amazing Google Flights Explore tool and let the map be your guide. Spin your way across the globe, and Google Flights Explore will show you the cheapest places to fly to from your home airport.
Follow The Flight First Rule
It’s time to take a step back and think about planning travel in reverse.
Too many travelers start planning their trips by locking in the exact dates first, maybe even booking their hotels or cruises, and only then going to search for flights. That all sounds great … until you find that flights are $800, $1,000, or much more. By deciding on your dates first, you’ve put yourself at the whim of the airlines and whatever they want to charge you.
That’s the single biggest mistake travelers make. And it can be deadly to finding cheap international flights.
Instead, follow what we call The Flight First Rule. It’s exactly what it sounds like: Start your travel planning by searching for flights first. It’s a simple change, but it can save you hundreds of dollars per ticket on international airfare by letting the cheapest prices help determine your schedule – even if it means shifting your dates by just a day or two.
Let’s say you want to head to Amsterdam (AMS) for a week and a half this fall, and you’re set on flying the nonstop Delta flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP). If you lock in a trip from Oct. 20 until Oct. 30, you’ll pay for it … to the tune of more than $2,000 roundtrip.
But by heading into the travel planning search with a flexible schedule, you could shift those travel dates by just one day and cut the price in half – and then some.
This pattern plays out again and again and again. This is the No. 1 way to save on travel, and it’s absolutely critical for scoring a bargain on international flights.
Thrifty Tip: If your dates are not flexible, use Google Flights Price Alerts to stay on top of fare changes for flights and book when prices drop!
Choose Your Travel Dates Wisely
That old saying you’ve heard about booking flights on a Tuesday to get the best deals? It’s not true. There is no single best day to book flights.
But what day of the week you actually step on the plane plays a huge role in how much you pay whether you’re traveling domestically or heading abroad. The cheapest days of the week to travel are typically Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. When it comes to finding cheap international flights, being open to traveling on these days can save you a ton.
The time of year plays a big role in international airfare. A trip to Europe in the peak summer will almost always cost a small fortune, as airlines know demand is high. If you’re hoping to save more on flights, try to avoid a big international trip from mid-June through August.
Instead, focus on shoulder seasons: spring and late summer into the fall. You’ll save on your flights, miss the crowds, and still luck out on some great weather, depending on your destination.
Book Farther in Advance
While the pandemic has shaken up travel trends, trying to score a bargain on international flights by booking at the last minute is a bad plan.
The days of offloading cheap seats days or even weeks before departure are long gone. If you’re looking to consistently book the cheapest international flights, you should give yourself at least 30 to 45 days in advance – if not 60 to 90 days or more – to get the best deal.
Don’t Waste Time Clearing Your Cookies
Let’s quash this myth once and for all: Airlines are not tracking your searches. Clearing your cookies does not affect the prices you see. Nor does using an incognito browser.
Here at Thrifty Traveler, we’re searching for flights all day, every day. If airlines were tracking our searches, we’d never find a great deal. And trust us: We find plenty of cheap international fares.
Instead, the simplest explanation for why the price of the flight you were looking at suddenly jumped in price comes down to two words: fare classes. While you may see only economy and first class on the plane or when you search for flights, airlines actually have an alphabet full of classifications called fare classes. And we mean alphabet: there are 26 different fare classes.
Each fare class has its own set of rules and, most importantly, its own price. When the cheapest fare class you’re looking at sells out (or an airline decides to remove it), the price automatically jumps to the next, higher-priced fare class.
It’s that simple. So don’t spend your time deleting your cookies in hopes that it will lower your prices. It’s a waste of time.
Book Another Flight to Unlock Huge Savings
Sometimes, finding cheap international flights from your home airport can feel next to impossible. Some airports are blessed with the cheapest deals, and others can be left out.
So how do you capitalize on cheap flights if you’re from a smaller city or your airport isn’t being blessed by the flight deal gods? Positioning flights, that’s how.
It works like this: Let’s say flights to London-Heathrow (LHR) or Tokyo-Haneda (HND) would cost you an arm and a leg by starting your search from your home airport. But what if you could score a huge deal by booking that cheap international flight out of a major hub instead, and book a cheap flight from your home airport to get there?
You can easily save hundreds of dollars on international fares by employing positioning flights. Here’s an example, flying from Burlington (BTV) to Tokyo (HND). Starting your search from Burlington, flights are looking pricey.
But flights to Tokyo from Cleveland (CLE) recently dropped to unthinkable lows – under $200 roundtrip! That’s well worth booking, and tagging on a separate, cheap flight from Burlington to connect in Cleveland for that flight across the Pacific.
Add it up from this one example, you’d save nearly $900. Spread that across two or more tickets, and the savings are massive.
Positioning flights are our go-to way to save on international travel. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Think about which major U.S. airports you can cheaply fly to from your home airport. Use this as your starting point when exploring positioning flights to save on international flights.
- This strategy comes with some risk. If you miss that connection, you may be out of luck: Because you booked these flights on separate tickets, your airline is under no obligation to rebook you. That means it’s good to give yourself plenty of layover time between connections, especially on your way back into the U.S.
Read our full guide on using positioning flights to save hundreds on international travel!
Book Now, Ask Questions Later
When you see a deal, book it. The cheapest flights never last long. And while it may seem risky, you’ve got an excuse to be impulsive.
It’s called the 24-hour rule. U.S. law requires all airlines, to give customers the ability to request a full refund for almost any flight within 24 hours of booking. It doesn’t matter if you’re booking with a U.S.-based airline or a foreign carrier. If your flight touches U.S. soil, you’re covered.
That means you can book a great flight when you see it, then check in with work, line up your schedule with your spouse or travel buddy. Not going to work? Cancel your flight and get your money back within 24 hours, no questions asked.
There are a few exceptions and caveats with the 24-hour rule to keep in mind:
- Flights booked last-minute may not qualify. Every airline policy is different, but some won’t honor the 24-hour rule if you book within seven days of departure. For others, you can book as soon as two days before departure and still cancel for a full refund.
- Book direct with the airline. While some major online travel agencies like Expedia honor the 24-hour rule, others don’t.
Get the Best Deals Sent Straight to You
It can be done, but scouring the internet for the best international flight deals can be a lot of work. The cheapest fares can come and go in a matter of hours – if not minutes.
Let us do the work for you. With Thrifty Traveler Premium, we’ll send all the cheapest domestic and international flight deals from your home airport straight to your inbox.
Have we piqued your interest? Read more on how Thrifty Traveler Premium works!
With over 160 U.S. and Canadian cities we find deals from, you’re sure to be the first to know about the next greatest deal. We even send you deals to fly business class abroad and ultra-cheap mistake fares!
Get cheap international flights like this crazy deal to Iceland sent straight to you – try Thrifty Traveler Premium for just $7.99 a month!
Finding cheaper international airfare isn’t rocket science. Arming yourself with these tips, tricks, and tools can go a long way to saving you big money on your next trip abroad.
By putting these concepts to use, you will quickly realize that you can see much more of the world than you thought – for much less.