This is it. This is what you’ve been waiting for. The ultimate guide to find cheap flights.
Flights are often the biggest expense when planning a trip, but they don’t have to be. By using the right tools, having the right mindset, and employing some money-saving strategies, you can cut the cost of your typical flights in half – or more.
There’s a lot to unpack here, but here’s what it boils down to:
- Be flexible with your travel dates, and always book your flights first
- Fly on off-peak days and during off-peak seasons to save big
- Don’t wait too long to book your flight!
- Don’t believe the myths about booking on Tuesdays – or special “cheap flight” holidays
- Use the right tools, like Google Flights, to start your search
- Use flight deal services to get the heads up on the best deals
- Consider using online travel agencies (but also consider the cons)
- Save huge on international travel with positioning flights
- Use points and miles to lower your travel costs!
Be Flexible, and Book Your Flights First
There’s a familiar script when planning travel: Pick a spot, plan your dates, book your flights, and go. It’s costing you money.
Setting your travel dates in advance before booking flights is the single costliest travel mistake you can make. It can easily cost you hundreds of dollars. Instead, flip that script on its head and start by searching for flights, letting the price guide you to the cheapest dates possible.
If you can be flexible with your travel dates, you can often score huge savings on flights by just slightly changing your tentative travel dates.
Lesson learned: Book your flights first! Then move on to the rest of your trip.
Travel at the Right Time
Getting a good deal on flights is all about timing. It’s all about capitalizing on the cheapest times to travel.
- Flying on off-peak days like Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays is often much cheaper. Avoid busy travel days like Sundays, Mondays, and Fridays when you can.
- The shoulder season (May through June and August through September) is your best friend. Prices are often much higher during the peak summer, as well as around Christmas and New Year’s Eve
- Want to shake up your Thanksgiving plans? Turkey Day is a great time to travel internationally at low prices
- during shoulder season (May – June and August – September) instead of peak summer can save you hundreds.
- Don’t wait until the last minute to book! It’s a common misconception, but last-minute fares are a thing of the past. Always book at least 30-45 days in advance whenever possible. For international flights, plan even farther ahead.
Speaking of when to book your flights…
Don’t Believe the Hype About Booking on a Special Day
Sorry, but there’s no magical day when flights will be cheaper.
That old myth about flights being cheapest on a Tuesday is outdated – you can find great deals any day of the week. And big travel days like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Travel Tuesday are more about marketing than real savings.
Instead, jump on the best deals whenever you see them. And commit this to memory: The 24-hour rule is your excuse to be impulsive. You can cancel and get a full refund for any flight booked directly with the airline that touches U.S. soil within 24 hours. Book now, ask questions later!
Read more on the 24-hour rule, and why it’s so great to find good flight deals.
Start Your Search with Your Best Friend, Google Flights
There are dozens of sites out there promising to help you find the cheapest flights. Ignore them all and start with Google Flights.
Google Flights is hands-down the best flight deal search engine out there: it’s one of the main tools we use to find flight deals every day! You should start each and every search for cheap airfare with Google Flights. It’s packed with powerful features that other search engines simply don’t have.
If you’re new to using Google Flights, don’t worry. We are a little obsessed and have written about nearly every tool and feature it has to offer. Get started with our guides to Google Flights here:
- Our ultimate guide to all things Google Flights
- Track prices on the flights you want with Price Alerts
- Not sure where you want to go? Use the Explore feature to search for the cheapest destinations around the world
- See airfare pricing history with Google Flights
- Google Flights’ search features help you pick cheaper dates
Use Flash Sale & Mistake Fare Notification Services
Google Flights is a powerful tool, but most people don’t have all day, every day to be searching for hidden flight deals, unadvertised flash sales, and mistake fares.
We’ve got you covered.
Sign up for Thrifty Traveler and you’ll get the best domestic deals within the U.S. we find each day, as well as some of the cheapest international fares. Want even more of the best international flight deals, plus cheap fares to Hawaii and Alaska?
Join our international flight deal notification service, Thrifty Traveler Premium! We are constantly on the hunt for the best international flight deals and instantly notify our Premium subscribers.
We’re not the only flight deal service out there (though we’re a bit biased!) We recommend checking out other flight deal websites like The Flight Deal to keep your eyes peeled for awesome deals.
To OTA or Not to OTA?
If you’re thinking to yourself, “What’s an OTA?” you’re not alone.
OTA stands for Online Travel Agency, Kayak, Priceline, Expedia, and many others are examples of OTAs. They purchase fares from airlines and then sell them to travelers, often at a bit of a mark-up. And then there are OTA aggregators, like Skyscanner and Momondo, which pull up offers from small online travel agencies.
These sites can sometimes save you some money compared to buying directly from the airline, so they’re worth checking out. We still recommend starting any search with Google Flights, then checking with some of these sites to see if you can save even more.
And make sure the savings are worth it. There are tradeoffs to booking through an OTA, which is why we recommend booking with the airline when you can.
Curious whether you’ll earn miles when booking with an OTA? Here’s your answer.
Use Positioning Flights to Save Big Bucks
Not seeing cheap deals from your airport? Think you’re stuck paying $1,000-plus to fly to Europe or Asia? Think again.
Positioning flights can be a gamechanger to save hundreds on international travel. These are short domestic flights from your hometown airport to a second hub in order to hop on a cheaper fare. You can score huge savings by booking an international flight from major airports like Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), Boston (BOS), New York City (JFK), or Chicago (ORD), then book your positioning flight to get there.
If you’ve got international travel on the brain, broaden your search to some bigger airports that are relatively cheap to fly (or drive) to. Just be sure to give yourself enough time between these flights in case things go wrong. And consider packing in a carry-on bag to simplify your connections.
Read our guide to using positioning flights to score huge savings on international travel.
Think Outside the Box
A savvy traveler can get creative when it comes to flights and save even more on travel. Here are some of our favorite ways to think outside the box and save hundreds on flights:
- Use Google Flights to search to – and from – multiple different airports in an area. Flights into London-Heathrow (LHR) might be expensive, but look into whether you can save more by flying into London-Gatwick Airport (LGW) instead. You can search to and from multiple cities in Google Flights – here’s how.
- Use open jaw or multi-city flights to cover more ground on your trips without backtracking and wasting time (and money).
- Use stopovers to see two cities for the price of one! Several airlines offer free (or very cheap) stopover programs to spend up to 7 days in their home city. Take advantage and make your travel budget stretch further.
- For the love of all things thrifty: stop clearing your browser cookies when searching for flights. The different prices you see are due to the highly variable nature of flights, and not because you visited the airline’s website twice in one day. We promise, there are much better ways to find deals!
Use Points and Miles to Book Flights for Free
We know points and miles can be intimidating at first. We’ve been there. But trust us, it’s worth the effort to save even more on flights.
The good news is that there are a few points and miles programs that are perfect for getting started. If you’re looking to dip your toes into points and miles start with:
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: It’s our top recommendation for travel rewards beginners that want a simple way to redeem points for travel. You don’t have to mess around with searching for award availability or know anything about airline alliances. Simply earn points, and then redeem those points for travel-related purchases by literally erasing them from your card statement. And unlike other travel rewards cards, you can redeem your miles for travel-related purchases like cruises, Airbnbs, and more.
Click Here to get more information about the Capital One Venture Card.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card: This is our other top card for beginners and for good reason. Chase points are extremely valuable, as you can book cash fares within the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal (it looks just like searching with Expedia!) with points. This means when you find a cheap flight deal, you can head to the Chase travel portal and book that flight for free instead! Plus, there are some awesome ways to use the 60,000-point sign-up bonus.
Click Here to get more information about the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
Compare the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Capital One Venture Card to see which is the best fit for you (or carry both, like me!)
If you’re ready to learn more, read our guide to getting started with credit cards, points, and miles. From there, check out our Points Principles series, where we tackle hot travel rewards topics and reader questions. And if you really want to ramp up your points and miles knowledge, learn all our best tips in Thrifty Traveler University. You’ll be a points and miles whiz in no time!
That’s it. That’s all it takes to start flying more for less.
Use these tips and tricks to rethink the way you book flights, and save hundreds on your next trip!
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