Fly for less: Tips for finding cheap flights
Want to fly for less? Read our tips for finding cheap flights that have saved us thousands on flights!
Finding cheap flights has become a fun little game for us. We love tracking prices, snagging a good deal, and being able to visit a new destination for a good price (or even for free)! As we mentioned in our favorite travel credit cards blog, in 2019 we spent around $2,000 for a total of 32 one way flights (an average of $63/one way), including a trip to Italy and Mexico City.
The majority of these flights were 100% free, minus the taxes and fees, and while we owe a lot of these savings to credit card points, credit card points are only so helpful if you only book expensive flights. To make our credit card points last as long as possible, we have learned some tools and tricks for finding cheap flights so that we can go on multiple free trips with our points, not just one.
These tips range from easy alerts you can set up, to more time intensive sleuthing, but even implementing just a couple of our tips can help you with finding cheap flights. For us, finding and booking cheap flights is a balance of having a decent flying experience (as in, not horrible timed flights, horrible airlines), crazy long layovers (although lounges make up for this!), and saving money.
So while we may not always use every one of these tips and snag the cheapest flight possible, by using some of these tips, we have been able to save thousands, while also not sacrificing too much comfort and convenience. Ready to fly for less? Keep on reading!
Looking for more travel planning tips? Check out these posts:
- How We Afford to Travel: Our Top Travel Budgeting Tips (+ Budget template!)
- How to Plan a Trip: A Detailed Travel Planning Guide (+ Itinerary Template)
- Our Favorite Travel Credit Cards
- 1. Sign up for flight alert tools
- 2. Track flights
- 3. Compare prices among different websites
- 4. Book your flights in advance
- 5. Be flexible about when you fly
- 6. Be flexible about where you fly
- 7. Don’t (always) fly direct
- 8. Fly early in the morning
- 9. Cancel and rebook for cheaper prices
- 10. Fly out of a neighboring airport
- 11. Fly budget airlines
- 12. Mix and match airlines
- 13. Search for individual tickets
- 14. Use frequent flyer miles and credit card points
Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!
1. Sign up for flight alert tools
Our first step when finding cheap flights is to sign up for flight alert tools. These tools will alert you about good deals or mistake fares, which is when an airline puts the wrong price for a ticket. These mistake fares do not last long, so being alerted will help you act fast!
The downside of these flight alert tools is that often they may not work with your travel itinerary, but if you’re flexible on when and where you travel to, you can save so much money without even doing much work! And maybe they’ll even inspire a new trip you weren’t planning on taking!
There are quite a few flight alert websites and tools out there, but we have a handful that we love and would highly recommend checking out.
Scott’s Cheap Flights
Scott’s Cheap Flights is both a free and paid tool ($49/year) that will send you emails about deals and mistake fares. You can choose your home airport (and neighboring airports) and get deals from those airports. Or you can see deals worldwide!
When you get emailed a deal, you can then click on a Google Flights link to see sample dates for that deal. You can then modify the dates to fit your own schedule and see what the fare would be.
We only use the free tool of Scott’s Cheap Flights and we get pretty great deals! If you pay for their Premium version you supposedly get even better ones. 🙂
FareDrop is a paid flight alert tool created by two of our favorite YouTubers, Kara and Nate. Similar to Scott’s Cheap Flights, you can pick the departure airports you want to be alerted about, but what we really like about FareDrop is that you can pick destinations you want to travel to, and which months you want to travel. This means that the deals are typically for places high up on our bucket list!
Similar to Scott’s Cheap Flights, once you get alerted (via a text and email) about the deal, you can click on a Google Flights link to see sample dates for that deal. You can then modify the dates to fit your own schedule and see what the fare would be.
FareDrop costs $47.88/year (if you use our link you’ll get 2 months free!), which seems a bit pricey, but we get tons of deals weekly! We have yet to pull the trigger on any flights, but hopefully soon!
Unlike FareDrop and Scott’s Cheap Flights, Airfarewatchdog is not just a flight alert tool, but it’s also a flight search tool. You can sign up to receive deals via email, search for deals for different routes on their website, and also be alerted about specific routes (such as Austin to Lima). You can also check for hotel deals and compare travel credit cards on their site.
And the best part? It’s totally free!
Similar to Airfarewatchdog, Secret Flying will send you alerts (via their app) and also let you search for fares directly on their site. They also post blogs with hotel deals, but these aren’t customized to your destinations.
The site is free to use, but the downside is you have to download an app to get the fares. We personally prefer email and text alerts, but for a little extra space on your phone, you can have another tool to find cheap flights!
Signing up for airline newsletters can be a great way to get sent unadvertised flight specials, low fares, and see mileage deals.
2. Track flights
In addition to waiting for flight deals, we also like to track specific flights on our own to see how the prices are fluctuating. The hard thing about flight alerts is that they work the best for those who are flexible, but the benefit of tracking flights is that you can choose the exact dates and flights that work best for your schedule. There are two main tools we use to track flight prices, both of which have pros and cons.
We love Google Flights! It’s our go-to tool when it comes to looking at flight prices and tracking them. Sometimes we even just play around on it for fun to see where we could fly to on specific dates.
This free tool lets you plug in where you will depart from and where you want to go and see lots of flight options from tons of different airlines. You can then track specific flights that work well for your schedule or airline preference. You’ll be notified anytime the flight goes down or up in price, which can help you have a better idea of when it’s time to pull the trigger.
One important thing to note is that not all airlines will show up on Google Flights. For example, Southwest Airlines. We used to fly Southwest almost exclusively, but they aren’t listed on Google Flights, so we would always see what other airlines cost on Google Flights and then check Southwest separately to see where the best deal was.
Hopper is another great tool to track flight prices! It’s an app that tells you if prices seem higher than normal for when you plan to travel, helps predict flight costs, lets you know when the right time to book is. Nothing is worse than when you buy a flight and then the next week it has gotten a lot cheaper!
3. Compare prices among different websites
Once you have an idea of what flight you want to book, don’t forget to compare the price among different websites! Sometimes the price on one website may look great, but you may find it cheaper elsewhere.
However, something to be aware of is that sometimes this cheaper flight is only available from a specific airline or merchant. And depending on how you plan to pay for the flight (frequent flyer miles, credit card points, or just cash), it can prevent you from taking advantage of that deal.
For example, sometimes we find a cheap flight on Google Flights, but when we search for it on our Chase Rewards portal, we sometimes cannot find that flight or it’s more expensive. And if we wanted to use credit card points to get a free flight, that could make it harder.
That may sound confusing, so we are going to use an example of a trip we are wanting to take to Germany in December across three websites we suggest checking prices on.
Skyscanner is a website that allows you to search for flights and hotels and gives you prices from a wide range of travel partners. It’s known for having really good deals, but the catch is, sometimes those prices are only available from specific partners.
When we search Austin to Munich for the specific dates we are eyeing, which is peak Christmas market season, we find a pretty great price of $624. Awesome! However, when you click on the flight to see how to buy it, you see that your only option is to buy it from Sky-tours, which has a pretty low rating.
In this situation we’d have to look into Sky-tours and see why their rating is so low and evaluate if this cheap flight is worth booking with a low rated merchant.
Momondo is very similar to Skyscanner and lets you search for flights and hotels to find the cheapest prices out there.
When we search on Momondo, we find another pretty low price of $678, which is about $50 more than the Skyscanner price and for a completely different flight. To get this deal, you have to book on another site called Vayama, which we admittedly haven’t heard before. Another important thing to note about this flight is that it has a 2 rating for the average flying time and price of the ticket.
In this situation, we’d have to research Vayama and also decide if the flight length is worth the lower cost.
About Google Flights
We covered Google Flights earlier in this blog, but it’s definitely one of our favorite sites to compare prices on.
When searching Google Flights for our Germany flight, we found a decent price for one of our preferred airlines, Delta. We like flying Delta out of Austin because we get access to their lounge with our American Express Platinum card and we are trying to grow our frequent flyer miles with them.
However, when we go to book it, we have noticed that we can only get that price with KLM and Air France. If we wanted to book with Delta, it’s over $200 more…yikes. We recommend going through the booking options on Google Flights to make sure you know exactly who that price is from.
So as you can see, for our Germany flight example we found a variety of flight prices, all of which were the cheapest on that specific site.
Checking flight prices across different websites can definitely benefit you big time! However, depending on how you plan to book your flight and if you’re flexible on where you buy it from, sometimes you end up having to pass up a good deal. Like we said earlier, finding cheap flights for us is a balance of many different factors and isn’t always an easy decision.
4. Book your flights in advance
Another way to save money on flights is to book your flights in advance. There is a ton of information out there, sometimes conflicting, of when is the right time to book flights, from the specific day of the week to buy, to how much in advance will benefit you the most.
What day of the week should you book?
First off, there’s an old myth that Tuesdays are the best days to buy your flight. However, this is no longer true, as cheap fares can pop up on any day of the week.
How early should you book?
According to CheapAir, for a domestic flight, it’s good to start looking into flights about 3 months before your trip, with the lowest price typically around 7 weeks before. For international flights, you should have your flights booked 3 months before your trip, as prices tend to creep up after that. International flights typically start booking 335 days in advance and the prices tend to stay steady for a while and then eventually increase.
CheapAir also has a list with specific countries and continents and how early you should book for each, which is super helpful!
Start looking right away
If you know you’re going on a trip sometime within the next year, start tracking flights as early as possible. This article by Airfarewatchdog tells you how far in advance ticket sales open for different airlines.
By looking at flights far in advance, you can start to gauge what a normal price is like. Cheap flights can pop up by surprise, so by planning ahead and tracking early, you’ll know what a good price is and a bad price is, and when that nice deal comes along, you can pull the trigger.
5. Be flexible about when you fly
The more flexible you can be about when you fly, the more likely you’ll be to get a cheaper flight. For the last few years, we couldn’t always be flexible. Adam was a teacher, so the only times we could really travel were during school holidays. This meant we typically paid more for flights, or had to try harder to find cheap flights.
However, there are still ways to be flexible when you travel and save money, even if you have a job that restricts you or an event you have to attend on a specific date.
Avoid the weekends
If you can, try to fly during the week instead of the weekend. According to Scott’s Cheap Flights, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday are the cheapest days to travel, while Friday and Sunday are the most expensive.
If you’re looking for a long weekend getaway, consider flying in on a Saturday and leaving on a Tuesday.
Holidays and events
Airlines know when the major holidays, sporting events, and festivals are and will raise the prices before and after those dates. If you can fly in and out a day or two earlier, you could save a few hundred bucks.
For example, for our trip to the Big Island in November, we originally planned to go during the week of Thanksgiving to take advantage of extra days off, but flight prices were crazy! So instead we moved our trip up a week and saved about $2,100 total for all four of us. Not only did we save a lot of money, but the crowds weren’t as bad either!
Flying during offseason
Flying during the offseason or shoulder season for the destination you want to visit can pay off big time when it comes to prices (both flights and accomodations) and with crowds.
The downside is that sometimes the weather isn’t as perfect (ex: the offseason in Seattle is during the rainier months) or maybe some attractions are closed (such as trails in the spring that are still a bit snowy). But if you don’t mind if things aren’t 100% perfect, this is a great way to save money!
If traveling from the US, here are the cheapest and most expensive months to fly to each continent/region according to CheapAir:
- Cheapest: October
- Most expensive: July
- Cheapest: September
- Most expensive: December
- Cheapest: January
- Most expensive: December
- Cheapest: February
- Most expensive: December
- Cheapest: May
- Most expensive: December
- Cheapest: November
- Most expensive: June
- Cheapest: March
- Most expensive: July
- Cheapest: February
- Most expensive: July
Scott’s Cheap Flights also reports that for North America and Europe, January-mid May and September- early December are the cheapest times to fly. While mid June-mid August and Christmas and New Year’s Eve are the most expensive times. However, there are other holidays that can impact prices depending on the location, like Labor Day, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, and St. Patrick’s Day.
6. Be flexible about where you fly
If you just want to get away somewhere and don’t care where it is, you’ll have the most luck finding cheap flights!
As we mentioned above, different countries and continents have different months that are cheapest to visit, so if you know when you want to go somewhere, look at which places are cheapest during that time to narrow down your options.
This is when one of our favorite features of Google Flights comes in handy: their explore destinations tool! You can put what airport you want to depart from and pick either specific dates or a timeframe and see where the cheapest flights are.
7. Don’t (always) fly direct
One of our best tips that has saved us over $1,000 is to not book a direct flight (as in a “nonstop” flight or a predetermined combination of flights). Sometimes this trick doesn’t work and it’s cheaper to fly a route already suggested, but when it does work it’s pretty amazing!
When we flew to Italy, we ended up booking our flights to Italy first and waited to book our returning flights until we had more credit card points. By the time we finally booked, prices were crazy high from Florence to Austin.
What we did was think about which cities in the US are the cheapest to fly to and from Europe and looked into flights from Florence to those cities. We found a cheap flight from Florence to JFK and then looked into flights from JFK to Austin. We found a cheap flight for those as well, so we ended up booking two individual tickets, one from Florence to JFK and one from JFK to Austin. This saved us over $1,000 on our flights home!
Similarly, you could book your flights to Europe this way. Let’s say you want to fly to Venice. You could look for the cheapest flight to get to Europe from your home airport and then find a budget airline in Europe to get you the rest of the way. Flights within Europe tend to be really cheap!
While it may take you a few hours longer to get somewhere, it can definitely save you some money. Plus, that’s where the lounge access comes in handy!
8. Fly early in the morning
Not a morning person? You may hate us for this suggestion, but trust us, it can be super worth it! We typically always take the earliest morning flights we can, especially for domestic flights where we will get to our destination within 2-5 hours.
Not only do early morning flights tend to be cheaper, they give you more time in a destination. If you’re flying West from the East Coast, you’ll gain up to 3 hours and if you arrive by 9 AM local time, you have a full day to explore without having to have paid for a hotel or Airbnb the night before.
This also works for super late flights, so if you are okay arriving somewhere very late, you can also financially benefit! The only downside for this approach is you’ll need to pay for lodging that night without having the chance to explore that destination during that day.
9. Cancel and rebook for cheaper prices
Our next tip is one that only really applies to one airline (that we know of), but it has saved us a good amount of money throughout the years!
Before we started traveling internationally, Southwest Airlines was our go-to airline to get around the US. We had tons of miles, used their credit card, and even earned a companion pass one year!
One thing we love about Southwest is that you can cancel or change your flights for free. Whenever we booked a flight with Southwest, whether with points or out of pocket, we would keep an eye on the flight price until our trip. If we saw that the price went down, we would click “change flight” and pick the same flight.
If we had booked with our credit card, we would get the difference in the form of a travel credit to use for future flights. If we booked with points, we would get those points refunded to our account.
Most airlines charge hundreds to change your flights, so this isn’t possible, but if you fly Southwest a lot, you’ll never have to worry about the dreaded price drop after you book!
10. Fly out of a neighboring airport
Do you live within driving distance to multiple airports? It may be worth looking at flights from those airports as well! We track prices for Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio, in addition to Austin, which we consider our “home” airport, since for any flying trip, we will drive to Austin so Kona can stay with her grandparents.
Although we would have to drive upwards of 3 hours to these other airports, we have family and friends we could park our car at to save airport parking costs. You could also likely find a bus to take to get to the other city as well. If the deal is really good it may be worth the hassle!
Note: This can also work for your flight home. If you’re visiting Florence, consider flying home from Rome instead, which is a much larger airport and costs less to fly from.
11. Fly budget airlines
Flying a budget airline can be a great way to get somewhere much cheaper. What you lose in extra perks and comforts, like in-flight entertainment or free snacks, you gain in an extra couple tacos or scoop of gelato!
Beware though, some budget airlines are better than others. Make sure to check what the extra fees are, as we have been on flights where you had to pay for EVERYTHING, including water (yes, water!), seat changes, and snacks.
Also, with some budget airlines, you have limitations on how heavy your carry on can be and some charge per leg for checked bags. We’ve even heard stories of the airline requiring you to have your boarding pass printed and if you don’t, they’ll charge to print it for you.
Some budget airlines we have flown and would recommend are: Jetblue, Southwest Airlines, Norwegian Air, and Easyjet (not the best, but not the worst). Scott’s Cheap Flights also has a list of the best and worst budget airlines from the US that’s worth checking out.
Our advice is to weigh your options. Is the budget airline that much cheaper? What else will you have to pay for that you may not pay for on other airlines? Is it a long flight where you’ll miss some of the comforts of a better airline?
12. Mix and match airlines
While it’s sometimes easier to book with one airline, especially if you’re trying to get frequent flyer miles, it can be worth it to book your flight with multiple airlines.
Some tools automatically will combine multiple airlines to show you the best price, but others will ask you if you are okay with multiple airlines. Definitely try it both ways to see which will give you the best flights and cost!
13. Search for individual tickets
If you’re travelling with two people or a group, you can sometimes save money by searching for tickets for individuals. If an airline only has 3 seats left for a low price and you try to book 5 tickets, the airline will charge the next price for all tickets (which will be higher) instead of the advertised low price.
We had this happen to us a few times on Southwest Airlines. It would say they only had “1 left!” of a lower price and when we tried to book our flights together, we were not given that low price. So instead, we booked individually and one of us got the lower price, while the other got the slightly increased price, which you can see if you try to book together.
We recommend checking the price for one person vs. how many you need to see if this trick will work for you. You can always change your seats after your purchase and even if you don’t sit together, sometimes that is worth it to save some money.
14. Use frequent flyer miles and credit card points
One of the easiest ways to get cheap (and even free!) flights are to use credit card points or frequent flyer miles. While these don’t lower the price of the tickets, it can reduce how much we actually pay!
Read all about our favorite travel credit cards and tips to use them in this post. For frequent flyer miles, it’s free to sign up with airlines for their programs and every time you fly, you’ll earn miles! The best part is when you use your travel credit card to book the flights, you earn credit card miles AND frequent flyer miles!
We hope you found this guide to finding cheap flights helpful! By using even just one or two of these tips, you’ll definitely start to see the benefits and save money on flights. Have any tips we missed? Let us know below! Happy travels y’all!
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