Flights can be the priciest part of a trip – especially over the summer, when travel demand drives airfare even higher. And while we could tell you to go somewhere in the spring or focus on traveling during shoulder season to save even more, that doesn't work for everyone. That's OK: There are still ways to save.
If you're dead set on traveling in June, July, or August this year, there are plenty of tools you can use and easy tricks to follow to save hundreds on a flight this summer. Every dollar counts, and saving a little cash on airfare means you'll have more to spend on other parts of your trip.
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Read on for the tools we use to find cheap flights and some of our best tips and tricks for booking summer 2023 flights.
Use Google Flights
If you want to save money on airfare this summer, you need to be searching for flights with Google Flights.
Google Flights is a powerful search engine tool that will help you zero in on the cheapest flights for your trip. Nearly every airline lists its fares directly on the platform, allowing you to sort through flight schedules and prices on hundreds of thousands of tickets – including taxes. It also pulls in information on additional fees to avoid basic economy as well as baggage fees. Find what you want and book your fare directly with the airline.
Read our full walkthrough for using Google Flights to find cheap flights!
The power of Google Flights lies in its filters. Here are all of the things you can filter to find exactly the flight you want:
- Bags: This feature is a way to filter out many budget carriers and other basic economy fares. Add a carry-on bag to make sure your Basic Economy fares that allow free carry-on bags (like Delta or American Airlines) will still be included, while other airlines that don't include free carry-on bags in basic economy like United or JetBlue won't show up. This will also eliminate most budget carriers like Spirit, Frontier, Allegiant, and Sun Country from your results.
- Stops: You can select how many stops you're willing to make during your trip – or simply make sure your results are only nonstop flights.
- Airlines: Whether you have airline loyalty or are looking to finally take a flight on a five-star airline, you can use the Airline filter to only see flights for specific airlines or airline alliances like SkyTeam, Star Alliance, and Oneworld.
- Price: On a budget? You can easily set the maximum price you're willing to pay for a flight.
- Times: Need to depart in the morning? Or know you must arrive by a certain time? Use this filter to identify flights that fit the departure and arrival times that work for you.
- Connecting Airports: Force Google to only display certain results based on which airports you connect through. You can also filter out flights with extra-long layovers.
- More: Here you can set the maximum length you're willing to be on a plane, and also decide whether you want to see trips that are booked with separate tickets (for example, fly out with one airline and return on another).
Google Flights has a slew of other features that can help you save even more. The calendar view quickly shows you a two-month span of flights, with dates in green indicating the lowest fares.
Plus, Google Flights will automatically let you know when a slight date change can result in some serious savings.
Once you find the flights you want, you can set a Google Flights Price Alert to track fares and be notified via email when prices drop.
Worried about losing out by booking too soon? Google Flights recently unveiled its Price Guarantee feature that will monitor the price of select flights after you book and cut you a refund if fares drop.
You won't see the price guarantee option on every single fare on Google Flights … at least not yet. Plus, you have to book your flights through the “Book on Google” checkout platform and have Google Pay set up to use it.
At the very least, you should start each and every search for flights this summer with Google Flights before turning to other search platforms like Hopper, Skyscanner, or an online travel agency like Expedia or Kayak. Take it from us: It's the No. 1 tool we all use both when booking our own travels and when finding amazing flight deals every day for our Thrifty Traveler Premium subscribers.
Focus on Late Summer If You Can
There's an undeniable sweet spot to score a better deal: late summer.
Rather than taking a trip from late June through early August, you can often find drastically cheaper flights by shifting your travel dates to mid-to-late August or even early September. And yes, late August and early September are still summer.
For some families, that may still be tough if the kids are set to go back to school in late August. But for others, many school districts don't start class until after Labor Day. But if you can pull off a late August trip, you might be able to save hundreds of dollars per ticket, squeezing in a cheap vacation before the kids head back to school or before your work ramps back up after Labor Day.
Here's a perfect example. Let's say you're dying to check out Banff this summer and have been scoping out flights from Denver (DEN) to Calgary (YYC). For a trip in mid-July, you can't currently do much better than $492 roundtrip – and even that's not half-bad…
But shift that trip back a month to mid-August, and you may see prices fall to just $274 on the same route – still flying nonstop, too! One month later, $200-plus less per ticket.
That's just one example but this trend plays out no matter where you're looking. If you can push your big summer trip into August or even may, you could save a ton.
Focus on Flying Off-Peak Days
Too many travelers focus on the day they search for and book their flights, thinking that booking on a Tuesday is the key to scoring a bargain. In reality, there is no magical best day to book flights.
Here’s what really matters: The cheapest days to fly.
There are consistent patterns that show Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday are typically cheaper days of the week to travel. This is because they’re the slowest travel days throughout the week. Many travelers head out for a long weekend on Thursdays or Fridays and return on Sundays. Business travelers head out for work on Mondays and return on Thursday or Friday. That means airlines are eager to sell more tickets on those other, off-peak days – resulting in lower prices and the cheapest day of the week to fly.
If you schedule your trip around those days, or just shift your departure and return dates by just a day or two, you could potentially save hundreds of dollars on airfare – and have a less hectic airport experience to boot.
Let's take a look at an example. Say you want to head down to Florida from the Midwest. Flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Fort Lauderdale (FLL) are significantly cheaper on most Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Saturday departures are often a bit cheaper than other days, too.
Compared to some Sunday prices, this simple change could save you up to $150 or more on these roundtrip flights.
Turn to Google Flights Explore
Maybe you don't know or care where you want to go this summer, you just want to do it for cheap. Go figure Google Flights has a tool for that, too.
Google Flights Explore will show you the cheapest places to fly from your home airport. Simply navigate to the Google Flights homepage at google.com/flights, enter your departure airport and your dates but leave your destination blank, and hit search or select the “Explore” tab on the left-hand side and enter the same information.
Within seconds, you'll see a map of all the cheapest places to fly to based on your travel dates.
If you’re more flexible and just need a weekend away sometime in July, for example, Google Flights Explore is even better. Just click the date field, select “Flexible dates” and then “July” and “1 Week,” and hit search to start exploring your options.
The results depend on how you move the map. You can simply take a spin around the globe and see what prices pop up, or enter a destination. It can be as broad as “United States” or “Europe” or as dialed in as “California” or “Italy.”
Even within this Explore function, you can filter to see only the flights you'd actually want to book. For example, you can display only nonstop flights or eliminate trips with lengthy layovers. You can even narrow it down to specific airline alliances: Pick Oneworld if you want to fly Alaska Airlines or American, Star Alliance for United, or SkyTeam for Delta flights.
Read our full guide to using Google Flights Explore!
Monitor Your Flights … & Rebook If Prices Drop!
There's a good reason to keep an eye on your flights even after you booked them: If fares go down, you can cancel and rebook the flight at the lower price … and pocket the difference.
While you won't get money back in cash, you will get it in the form of a voucher or travel credit which you can put towards future travel.
The key here is to book a main cabin fare or higher. With few exceptions, the cheapest basic economy fares cannot be changed or canceled. That means there's no way to recoup some of your money if prices drop after you've booked your ticket.
Follow our guide for how to rebook your flight and save if prices drop!
Save Your Cash, Use Your Points & Miles Instead
If flight prices are looking too expensive, it may be time to turn to your points and miles to offset the cost.
Whether you have a balance of flexible Chase Ultimate Rewards points or Capital One Venture Miles or you've got a stash of Delta SkyMiles or American AAdvantage miles, they're all valuable, helping you save on flights during the often pricey summer travel months.
Got a big stash of credit card points from travel cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card? Find the best fare you can using Google Flights, then book it using your points through the Chase travel portal. It's one of the easiest ways to take a flight and make it free. And since every point is worth 1.25 cents toward travel with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, you could book a $300 flight with just 24,000 Chase points.
If you've got a Capital One card like the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, it's even easier. Simply charge your flight to your Capital One Venture card, then go back and cover the purchase using Capital One miles.
You can get outsized value for those points, though, by transferring them to an airline partner. Take this deal for flying Delta nonstop to routes to Europe using Virgin Atlantic points this summer, for example.
Get points & miles deals and cheap cash fares in your inbox with Thrifty Traveler Premium!
No, you're not booking with 47,000 Delta SkyMiles. Instead, you transfer some of those Chase or Capital One points straight to Virgin Atlantic, its partner airline, and book an August trip abroad. For reference, these exact same flights would cost 90,000 points or more booking another way – or $1,500 in cash!
There's a ton of value out there no matter which points you use, but one of our favorite ways to book travel right now is with Delta SkyMiles. You can score even expensive domestic trips or international fares for just a few thousand SkyMiles thanks to an onslaught of Delta SkyMiles flash sales.
Get Notified About Cheap Flights
There's no better way to save money on flights this summer than to wait for the best deals to come to you. That's where we come in.
Thrifty Traveler Premium is our flight deal notification service for international and domestic flights. Sign up and you'll start getting the best flight deals we find every day sent straight to your email inbox to destinations across the U.S., along with Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, Australia, and more. You can set your preferences to receive alerts for all airports (we cover 200-plus cities in the U.S. and Canada) or just your home hub.
Check out our list of the best deals we've been seeing for summer 2023, including roundtrip flights in the $200s and $300 to Banff National Park in Canada or sub $250 flights to Montana to hike in Glacier National Park.
Upgrade to Thrifty Traveler Premium and you'll get alerts for ways to use your hard-earned points and miles this summer, too. We're the only flight deal service on the market that finds both cheap cash fares and deals to use your points and miles, too. And with award availability to actually use those points in the summer so scarce, getting the heads up on these deals like these right away is crucial.
Get award alerts like this one with Thrifty Traveler Premium!
Airfare is almost always more expensive in the summer when everyone is looking to travel, and this year is so different. But that doesn't mean it should stop you from going somewhere this summer.
From using Google Flights to setting price alerts to turning to points and miles to fly nearly for free, the tips and tricks can help you save anywhere from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars when booking flights this summer.