Welcome to the complete guide to booking affordable flights! Air travel can be expensive, but with some strategic planning and insider tips, you can significantly reduce the cost of your next airline ticket. This guide will walk you through the key strategies for finding and booking budget-friendly flights, whether your destination is across the country or around the world.
We’ll cover techniques like flexibility with your dates, how to find hidden deals online, leveraging airline sales and private browsing, and maximizing frequent flyer programs. You’ll also learn when to book early versus at the last minute, using alternative airports, and why it pays to check multiple sources when searching for the lowest fares. Follow these tips to keep more money in your pocket while still being able to fly wherever you want to go. With the right approach, booking affordable flights is possible for every trip!
Compare Flight Search Engines
Using a flight search engine is one of the best ways to find affordable flight options quickly. Rather than visiting multiple airline sites individually, flight search engines aggregate options from hundreds of airlines and online travel agencies into one place. This allows you to easily compare prices across different dates, airlines, airports, and more.
The top flight search engines to consider are:
Skyscanner is known for its flexible search options and ability to find cheap international flights. You can search “everywhere” as the destination, and it will map out the lowest prices around the world. Skyscanner also has a price calendar, allowing you to pick the cheapest date combinations.
Kayak searches hundreds of travel sites and airlines to find the best flight deals. It’s great for flexible travelers, allowing you to explore a whole month of flight options in one search. Kayak also has useful features like price forecasts that show if prices are likely to increase or decrease.
You can sort flights by price to see them from the cheapest to the most expensive. To find the cheapest flights, you also need to consider factors like when you’re booking and want to travel.
Google Flights leverages Google’s powerful search capabilities to quickly find affordable flights. It makes it easy to track specific routes and get email alerts when prices drop. Google Flights also shows the basic amenities included for each flight option.
Using any of these flight search engines, you can quickly view prices across airlines and dates in one place. Comparing options on a couple of different search sites can help ensure you don’t miss any deals. Flight search engines take the frustration out of flight booking.
Be Flexible With Dates and Times
Being flexible with your travel dates and flight times can lead to significant savings on airfare. Most people prefer to fly on weekends or at popular hours like early mornings and evenings. Flying midweek on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday is often cheaper. The cheapest days to fly are usually Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.
Similarly, flying red-eye flights late at night or very early in the morning is usually cheaper than more popular daytime flight times. Although less convenient, red-eye overnight flights typically offer lower fares since fewer travelers prefer these flight times. Flying redeye can save you hundreds of dollars on international flights or cross-country trips compared to similar daytime flights.
If your schedule allows some flexibility, run flight searches across various days of the week and times of day. Compare the options and be willing to book a cheaper midweek or red-eye flight to maximize your travel budget. The money you save can be put toward other parts of your trip!
Booking flights weeks or months in advance can lead to big savings. As a general rule, aim to book domestic flights at least 3–4 weeks before departure and international flights 2-3 months out.
The earlier you book, the more likely you are to find cheaper fares. Airlines typically open up flight schedules 330 days before departure. Mark your calendar and be ready to book as soon as flights are available for the dates you want to travel.
Bookings made 6–8 weeks in advance can save 10-15% on average compared to booking within two weeks of departure. For popular routes during peak seasons like summer and holidays, the potential savings of booking early are even greater.
Booking at the last minute is almost always more expensive. There are exceptions if booking a flight with empty seats, but you can’t count on snagging a last-minute deal. The most budget-friendly approach is to plan ahead and book early.
Use Private/Incognito Browsing
To prevent this, use your browser’s private or incognito mode. This prevents the site from accessing cookies or other information from your previous visits. Prices will be based on a clean slate without assumptions about your interest.
Private browsing also ensures you aren’t served personalized, higher prices based on your travel profile and web history. Clearing cookies and cache can also help reset any flight price inflation based on past searches.
Check Airline Websites Directly
The best flight deals aren’t always reflected on flight search engines and aggregator sites. Airlines will often offer sales and promotions directly on their own websites that don’t show up on third-party sites right away or at all. This is because airlines want to drive traffic directly to their sites and cut out the middlemen like Expedia, Travelocity, Kayak etc.
While aggregator sites are convenient for getting a general overview of prices across different airlines, checking the airline’s website directly is key if you really want to find the lowest fares. Sign up for email alerts so you’ll be notified right away when an airline posts a sale. Oftentimes, they will offer deep discounts on certain routes for 24-48 hours before raising the prices again. You need to act fast when you see a deal like this.
Also, keep in mind that some low-cost carriers, like Southwest, do not allow their fares to be listed on third-party sites at all. The only way to see their prices is to search on southwest.com directly. So before you book anything, always double-check the airline site to compare. You’ll often find they have the best deals that the aggregators don’t show.
Consider Alternative Airports
Flying into nearby airports can help you find much cheaper flights. Oftentimes, there are smaller regional airports located just an hour or two from your intended destination. Check flight prices for all airports within a few hours’ drive, as you may find tickets at a fraction of the cost compared to flying into major hubs.
For example, flying into London Stansted instead of Heathrow can save hundreds of dollars on some routes. Or consider flying into Oakland instead of San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami, or Burbank instead of LAX. Just be sure to factor in a rental car or transportation costs to your final destination. With creative routing and airport choices, you can unlock huge savings; it just requires some additional planning and effort.
Fly Budget Airlines
Budget airlines like Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant offer some of the lowest base fares if you’re looking to save money. These airlines strip back amenities and charge fees for extras like seat assignments, carry-on bags, snacks, etc. However, if you travel light and don’t mind a no-frills experience, you can find really cheap flights on them.
Some tips for booking budget airline flights:
– Be sure to factor in baggage fees. It often negates the upfront savings if you have to pay $40 each way for a carry-on bag. Most budget airlines allow a small personal item for free.
– Read the fine print on other fees. Some, like Spirit, even charge for printing your boarding pass at the airport!
– Comparison shops as their fares fluctuate. Set alerts and check back often.
– Head to the airport early. Many budget airlines board in the order you checked in, meaning early birds get better seat selection.
– Sign up for their email lists. Budget airlines often send good flight deals and offer promo codes to subscribers.
– Book directly on their site versus third-party sites that may display outdated fares.
– Consider the total trip cost. Make sure the cheap flight doesn’t come with high transportation costs out of remote airports.
With some strategic planning, budget airlines can be a great way to save on travel costs. Just know what you’re getting into when it comes to amenities and fees.
Use Flight Alerts
Signing up for flight alerts and price tracking can help you find the best deals on flights. Flight-searching sites and airfare deal sites like Scott’s Cheap Flights offer this free service.
Simply enter your departure city, destination, and travel dates. You’ll then receive email notifications when cheap flight deals matching your search criteria become available. The flight deals are curated, and only the very best discounts are sent.
With flight alerts, the hard work of constantly checking for lower fares is done for you. As soon as an ideal, cheap flight pops up that matches your flexible travel plans, you’ll be notified right away. This greatly increases your chances of booking an affordable flight, as you can act fast and snap up the deal before it expires.
Some key benefits of flight alerts and price tracking include:
– Requires no effort after initial set up – deals come directly to your inbox
– Notifies you immediately when discounted fares appear for your routes
– Lets you compare prices across multiple airlines and booking sites
– Helps you buy at the optimal time for the lowest fares
– Allows flexibility to adjust travel dates if needed to get the best price
Flight alerts do the hard work of monitoring airfares and surfacing the best deals. This removes the tedious effort of manually tracking prices yourself across countless sites. It’s an easy and free way to save money and time when looking for affordable flights.
Leverage Credit Card Rewards
Signing up for an airline or travel credit card can help you earn enough rewards points for free flights or flight discounts. Most major airlines partner with a specific credit card company and offer cards that allow you to earn miles or points each time you use the card.
For example, Delta Airlines has its own Delta SkyMiles credit cards through American Express that allow you to earn SkyMiles points. After earning enough miles, you can redeem them for free Delta flights. Other airlines, like United, American Airlines, and Southwest, all offer their own airline-branded credit cards too.
The best airline credit cards will give you a large signup bonus of 25,000 points or more when you meet a minimum spending requirement in the first few months. Ongoing benefits include earning 2-3 points per $1 spent on airfare purchased directly through the airline. You’ll also get free checked bags and priority boarding privileges.
If you don’t fly one particular airline frequently, consider a general travel rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Capital One Venture cards. These cards allow you to earn flexible points on all travel and dining purchases that can be transferred to various airline partners. Just make sure to compare the annual fees and redemption values.
Leveraging the right credit card rewards can give you a big head start on earning enough miles for free flights. Just be sure to pay off the balance each month to avoid interest charges.