Most travelers follow a similar script when planning any trip: Set the dates, pick a spot, book a flight, and go.
You’re doing it wrong. Sure, you might be able to save a bit on plane tickets by setting a price alert with Google Flights or just waiting for the price to drop.
But one word could significantly cut the cost of your airfare: flexibility. Flip that familiar script on its head and start by searching for flights, letting the price guide you to the cheapest dates possible.
You might be shocked at how much you can save just by departing a day earlier or later than you initially planned. Or by traveling during cheaper seasons, you could save even more.
Big Savings in Action
First things first: You should be using Google Flights to search for airfare.
The web giant’s airfare search engine is powerful and versatile, and there’s no better way to hone in on the cheapest dates for your trip.
That’s because Google Flights lets you scroll through months worth of flights, filtering based on your needs for baggage, avoiding basic economy, and more. With Google’s handy calendar view, it’s easy to visualize the cheapest days to travel on a given flight: they typically show up in bright green.
Let’s say you live in Boston and want to take your family on a one-week trip to Paris. If you decide on a week in mid-August, don’t expect it to be cheap for nonstop, round-trip flights.
If your schedule is flexible, you could go for a week in September instead – for less than half the cost.
But it gets even better. By extending your trip and leaving one day earlier, you could book the exact same flights and save another $75 each.
Those savings add up fast, especially if you’re traveling with a group or family. And this is just one example – we could go on with dozens and dozens of flights.
But this example clearly shows just how much you can cut your costs when starting your travel planning by searching for flights – and not by setting your schedule in stone first.
The Principles of Cheap Flights
It’s always worth poking around on Google Flights, day by day, to see how much you can save.
But there are a few basics behind how airlines set pricing that can help guide you in the right direction:
- Avoid the peak summer, from June 20 through Aug. 20. By traveling in the shoulder seasons – just before and after that span – you can often save a lot.
- That old saying you’ve heard about scoring the cheapest flight by booking on a Tuesday? Yeah, that’s not true.
- But there are cheaper days to fly. You’ll often find the best deals by departing and returning on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday.
- Don’t book last-minute! The days of cheap airfare weeks or days before departure are long gone, so be sure to book at least 30 to 45 days before the flight leaves to get the best deal.
Read up more for the basics on the cheapest times to travel and how to book the cheapest flight possible.
You can take things a step farther with this concept and save even more by being open to any destination if you’re willing to go wherever a cheap flight takes you. Want us to do the work for you? Get signed up for Thrifty Traveler Premium – we’ll send the cheapest international flights direct to your inbox.
Some of these tips won’t work for everyone. Vacation time is limited, and families structure trips around specific dates when school is out.
But whether your schedule is wide-open or more constrained, start your travel planning by searching for flights first. If you’re open to changing plans even slightly, you could save a bundle.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.