The Beginner’s Guide To Finding Cheap Flights

Searching for flights can be an overwhelming and daunting task. When I first started traveling, I had no idea how to score cheap flights. I’ve paid a lot more than I should have for some of my flights, but with some trial and error over the years, I’ve figured out some tricks to getting cheaper fares.

1. Shop Around

I always check several websites before I actually purchase a ticket. There are loads of websites that act as search engines to find other sites with the cheapest fares, and even those websites can have very different prices, so it’s important to check several of them.

Skyscanner, Kayak, Momondo, Vayama, Kiwi, Expedia, and Orbitz are some of the most popular websites to use. I have used most of these sites to search for flights, but I’ve only actually purchased flights through Kayak and Momondo. You don’t actually buy your ticket from these websites; you are usually redirected to another third party website where you enter your details and buy the ticket. I have bought flights on Tripsta, eDreams, Priceline, Explore Trip, and SkyBooker via Kayak and Momondo. If you buy your ticket from a third party, keep in mind that if you need to cancel or change your ticket, it will be much harder because you did not buy directly from the airline. The fares are usually cheaper this way, but you have to decide if it’s worth the risk or not. I’m a rebel, so I almost always buy from third party sites and hope for the best.

Don’t forget to also check the airline’s website. Sometimes flights are cheaper if you buy them directly from the airline. Plus, the customer service will be a lot better if you need to make any changes to your itinerary! Some people find that it’s worth it to pay more to buy from the airline to avoid problems if they need to change anything.

2. Be Flexible

Flying on the weekends is almost always more expensive than flying during the week. Most people (especially business travelers) fly on Friday or Sunday, so the airlines jack up the prices because they know people will still pay for flights, no matter how expensive they are.

On Kayak, you can search up to 3 days before and 3 days after your target date(s). It will display a chart, which will show you which dates have the cheapest fare. Here’s an example of a search on Kayak for a roundtrip flight from Indianapolis to Los Angeles:

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As you can see, the same flight is a lot cheaper on certain dates. It’s even color coded to make it even easier to spot those cheaper fares! If you don’t have to fly in or out on a specific date, you can save a lot of money.

Flying on a holiday can save you money, too, since most people don’t travel on the actual holiday. Who’s going to book a flight for Christmas morning or New Year’s Eve at 11 pm? Probably no one, which means you’ll probably be able to find a cheap flight.

3. Use An Incognito Window

Supposedly if you search for a flight but don’t buy it, the price of the fare will automatically rise when you search for the same flight later because the website knows that you need that flight. If you use an incognito window, it tricks the website into thinking that you haven’t used that website before. I have never seen this happen, but I’ve also never tested it, so I’m not sure how accurate it is that the fares will go up, but I still almost always use an incognito window when searching for flights.

If you use Google Chrome, you can use an incognito window by clicking on the 3 vertical dots in the top right corner, and selecting “New incognito window.”

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4. Depart From An Alternative Airport

I always departed from Indianapolis because departing from Chicago seemed too complicated. Then I discovered that I can catch a bus about 40 minutes away from where I live that goes straight to Chicago O’Hare. Flights from larger cities are significantly cheaper now than flying from a smaller airport. I see sales all the time advertising a cheap flight from Chicago to wherever, but I never see those same deals from Indianapolis.

Leaving from an airport that’s out of your way is inconvenient, but it has saved me hundreds of dollars, so it’s definitely worth it.

On the flip side, also be flexible about what airport you arrive in to. I needed to get to Manchester, England one time, but found that it was significantly cheaper to fly into Dublin instead. I then caught a cheap Ryan Air flight from Dublin to Manchester. Taking a bus to and from O’Hare, getting on a direct flight from Chicago to Dublin, then getting a flight from Dublin to Manchester was still cheaper than flying from Indianapolis to Manchester.

5. Take Advantage Of Budget Airlines

Budget airlines are the best. They are not known for their customer service or for luxury, but they get you from point A to point B. Many budget airlines have very strict rules and you have to pay for basic things like food, baggage, and seat assignments, so make sure you read the fine print or you’ll be paying (literally) for it at the airport. You can even be charged if you don’t print your boarding pass ahead of time!

Here’s a few budget airlines to look for: Ryan Air, Easy Jet, Wizz Air (Europe); Spirit, Frontier, Allegiant (USA); Nok Air, Tiger Airways, Air Asia (Asia).

There are even some budget airlines that are now flying transatlantic. I have seen flights for as low as $55 one way from Los Angeles to several cities in Europe, like London, Amsterdam, and Berlin. This also means that the bigger airlines will have to lower their prices in order to compete with budget airlines, which is great news for us! A couple of the transatlantic budget airlines include WOW Air and Norwegian Air. Again, make sure you read the fine print. You may be able to get a one way flight for $99, but that won’t include food or even a carry-on bag.

6. Check Groupon For Vacation Packages

You can get some really great travel deals on Groupon, but of course it will require some flexibility in your schedule. Groupon has several packages for hotels and resorts, and a lot of them include airfare. Just make sure you pay attention to the fine print when booking, since these deals come with a lot of terms and conditions. Most of these deals that include airfare are usually from a few select large cities, but you may be able to find the perfect deal that works for you.

7. Sign Up For Travel Deals

A lot of airlines have newsletters that let you know when they have deals, and they’re worth signing up for if it saves you a few bucks. I’m on the Ryan Air mailing list after I booked a flight with them, and now I get e-mails every once in a while about their super cheap fares. They’re not that useful for me right now, since Ryan Air is a European budget airline and I’m not in Europe, but they may come in handy eventually, and they’re not obnoxious about sending e-mails all the time.

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There are also a lot of useful websites that find cheap deals. I get e-mails from Travelzoo and follow Secret Flying on Facebook. I really like Secret Flying and see a lot of deals from all over the world. By signing up on these websites or following them on Facebook, you’ll receive tons of offers you wouldn’t see anywhere else. Airfare Watchdog and Travel Pirates are a couple other websites I’ve heard of that also have good deals, though I haven’t actually used those sites.

 

With some patience and flexibility, you can find some pretty great deals on flights. Do you have any other tips or tricks to finding cheap flights? Let me know in the comments!

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23 comments

  1. This is so helpful! Most of people complain that they dont find cheap flights, but the thing is, most of them are so picky, they want to travel in this season, with that company and come back that day. Of course you wil pay for your necessity, now, if you are open minded and not picky, the chance to get a good deal is far higher!

  2. I am right in the midst of looking for a certain flight cheaply and so I am definitely going to try searching with an incognito window when it’s time to book.
    This is a great round up of the tricks of the trade ad I think it’s super helpful for everyone!

  3. Your post is totally on point! I have learnt these things the hard way too and till very recently didn’t know the importance of checking incognito! Another thing I have noticed recently is that sometimes airline prices drop at wee hours of the night when most people in the city are fast asleep! I have gotten some of my best deals by waking up in the middle of the night at a certain time just to book a flight ticket!!

  4. Thank you so much for the tips! I I didn’t know about incognito windows and that’s sooo helpful. Nothing more annoying than to see your flight costing three times the price you saw the night before just because of cookies…

  5. Great tips! I always check and book flights late at night and always book direct to get the airline miles. I am a member of two airlines with different alliances. One is more for long haul flights (I have nice perks… with this one) and the other is more for flights within Europe since the other alliance isn’t exactly the most convenient when flying within Europe.

  6. Thanks, great tips! Regarding the incognito window – I always hear about it, but for me it never worked. I only tried it with the European low costs though, so maybe it is more of a thing with normal airlines and/or the US?

  7. Good idea about the incognito window! Will certainly try it! And budget airlines are my favourite.

  8. Great tips. I would recommend if you’re using a third party service or an aggregator, you have to click all the way through to see the true price. Sometimes prices listed have expired and they never include all the extra fees for seats, bags, etc. After all that, I often find the airline itself to offer the best fare.

  9. The incognito window trick is my favorite! It doesn’t drop too much, but I always see a difference in at least $10-20, so every little bit helps 🙂 Sometimes it also helps when using Skyscanner, Momondo, etc. to change what country you are looking from in the top right corner. Mine dropped around $120 the other day because I changed it from the US to the UK 😀

    I didn’t know of the Secret Flying group –> following now!!Thanks for mentioning it.

  10. signing up for travel deals newsletters is probably the best tip IMO. I use sky scanner to find all my tickets and normally never pay over $300 for a one-way, no matter how far I go!!

  11. Very helpful guide 🙂 What I also do many times is deleting cookies and it has helped on several occasions. Lately, when I was purchasing my ticket to Chicago I was getting only high prices, but after deleting cookies and browsing history I got a good deal!

  12. These are great tips! Skiplagged is my favourite site to shop on, because it shows a graph of 2 months of prices. I always try to book through the airline after finding my price online… As you said they are easier to change if necessary!

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