How To Find Cheap Flights & Airline Tickets

Book Cheap Flights width=

How To Find Cheap Flights

Travel Tips

Travel doesn’t have to be expensive, but airline tickets often are. Here are my favorite tricks for how to find cheap flights and get the best airline deals on your next vacation.

Flying can be expensive if you don’t know how to book cheap flights. The price of airline tickets is actually increasing as companies merge and fuel costs rise.

The flight is often the most expensive part of your trip…

How do we reduce that cost and find the cheapest tickets available?

After 6 years of constant travel, I’ve learned a few tricks that will help you save money on your next flight so you can arrive at your destination for a reasonable price. So pack your bags and let’s go!

How To Find Cheap Flights

Cheap Flight Search Engines

Searching For Amazing Flight Deals

Airfare Search Engines

Still the best way to find a good deal, using an airfare meta search engine is quick & easy. These sites search for tickets across many different airlines, and offer helpful tools like price prediction, price maps based on destinations, fare alerts by email, and more.

Cheap Flight Search Engines:

It’s a good idea to check all four flight search engines before you book a ticket. You never know which site may show you the best price.

Sign Up For Fare Alerts

In addition to searching on multiple flight search engines, I also recommend you set up fare alerts for each one. Punch in the details about your intended destination, a range of dates, and let the website alert you via email when prices drop.

There are also a few dedicated airfare websites you should definitely check on a regular basis, or sign up for. These sites scour the internet for the best deals possible, doing all the work so you don’t have to.

Join Airline Newsletters

The best airfare deals are often available on the airlines’ own web sites, and many come in the form of promo codes and special offers. Signing up to the airline’s newsletter gives you access to these deals, sometimes as big as 50% off the published fares.

Here’s a handy list of US based airline newsletters to sign up for.

I simply use Gmail’s email filters to automatically move these newsletters into a specific folder so my inbox isn’t overrun, checking it weekly for deals.

Flexible Dates

Flexible Travel Dates

Be Flexible With Dates/Times

The best time to book a flight has been found to be 4-10 weeks in advance of your trip. The best days to depart seem to be Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday because they’re off-peak with less passengers and lower fares. Early morning flights or red-eyes (overnight) will usually be cheaper too.

Flights with long layovers are less expensive. Another way to save money on tickets is by flying during the off-season, or shoulder seasons, when there will be less demand.

For example? Iceland in the Fall/Winter, or Mexico in the Summer.

Book Tickets In January

Some of the best flight deals I’ve ever seen are always available during the month of January & February. Round trip flights from the United States to Europe or Africa for under $500!? You don’t need to travel during those months, it just means you should book your tickets then.

Airlines seem to love offering cheap flights in January. Probably because people are out of money after the holidays and they’re trying to boost demand. Keep this in mind when planning your travels next year, and set aside some cash to book your summer vacation flights in January.

Alternative Airports

If you happen to live near a few airports, remember to check the fares for each of them, as well as alternative airports or large hubs near your intended destination. Sometimes traveling by bus to or from a different airport can save you a lot of money on flights.

In the past I’ve saved a few hundred dollars choosing a $10 bus ride to New York rather than flying directly out of Boston. It takes longer, so you’ll have to weigh the opportunity cost.

Budget Airlines

Use Budget Airlines

Fly Budget Airlines

In addition to searching the major airline booking sites, do research about which specific budget carriers fly to your intended travel destination. You may be surprised at just how cheap these flights can actually be…

Los Angeles to Thailand for only $307 on China Southern Airlines

Washington DC to Copenhagen for only $193 on WOW Airlines

Florida to Colombia for only $67 on Spirit Airlines

Pretty good, right?

Some budget airlines don’t allow big meta flight search engines to include their fares in search results, requiring you to visit the airline’s website.

Wikipedia has an excellent list of budget airlines around the world.

Many budget airlines charge extra for services that are normally free on larger airlines. Checked bags, snacks, drinks, legroom, credit card payment, printing a boarding pass, and anything else they can possibly think of. You can find this information on their website.

Cheap tickets on budget airlines are often non-refundable and can’t be changed — plus they may fly to smaller airports outside the main city, requiring additional travel time on the ground.

All these factors need to be weighed before you book a ticket.

Location Flexibility

The more flexible you are, the better your chances for finding cheap flights. Fly to where the deals are! Some websites make this easy with their explore feature (Google & Kayak). You are presented with a price map for different destinations based on your departure airport.

Being flexible allows you to plan where to go based on how cheap the tickets are! Flying to a random location can be a lot of fun, and you may end up discovering an area of the world you hadn’t planned on visiting.

Flexibility and spontaneity can save you money.

Use A VPN

One sneaky way airlines attempt to make the most profit is by charging different fares for people in different countries. For example, booking domestic flights from outside the country will often be more expensive than booking inside the country. Prices may change based on where the transaction is completed, or the “point-of-sale”.

However you can beat them at their game using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to hide your location or pretend to be somewhere else. I use ZenMate VPN because it’s easy & free.

Small Plane

Hitchhiking on Airplanes is Free!

Hitchhiking On Airplanes?

Did I ever tell you about the time I hitchhiked on an airplane? I know it’s not practical for most people. However it is possible to hitchhike on small planes from municipal airports. You need a lot of patience, some flexibility, and a little luck to find a pilot willing to take you.

I only mention this to show you that just because you think something is difficult or impossible, doesn’t mean that’s the case.

There’s even a website dedicated to flight-sharing if you pitch in for gas!

Book Flights Separately

For long-distance flights, it can pay to book different legs separately rather than all at once. I discovered it was about $200 cheaper for me to fly from Boston to Copenhagen, followed by Copenhagen to Dublin on a budget airline, rather than book a multi-leg trip from Boston to Dublin all at once.

You may even save money on the same exact itinerary, just booking each section independently. Or by booking two one way tickets instead of one round trip. Spend 30 minutes experimenting and see what you come up with.

Remember though, it’s important to keep an eye on arrival & departure times for these flights to give yourself enough time to transfer.

Cheap Flight Tips & Tricks

So, there you have it. These are the tactics & resources I personally use to find cheap flights around the world. In fact I recently scored round-trip tickets from Boston to Dublin for only $614 using these techniques.

Like travel in general, flying doesn’t have to be expensive if you know how to find the best deals and are willing to actually put in the effort. Flexibility combined with spending an extra 30 minutes searching can save you hundreds of dollars.

Traveling Somewhere Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

READ NEXT: Best Travel Tips After 6 Years Traveling

Have any questions about finding cheap flights? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, at no cost to you. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

Any Questions Or Comments?

Thanks for leaving a comment, I appreciate your feedback. However please use your real name only and treat everyone with respect. Lets have a meaningful conversation!

43 Comments

  1. Hi Matthew,

    I just came across your post, very useful :-) for booking separate flights, I found a site called Tripcombi some weeks ago. I hadn’t bought with them yet, but I found a flight from Costa Rica to Amsterdam for $400 ($80 less than the one I already had). The downside? They don’t offer yet any kind of guarantee in case you miss a leg of the flight, but still worth checking it ;-)

  2. Hey Matt, sounds like you’re having an absolute ball! I’m 16 and just got back from a three week trip in the USA, and I am planning a year-long trip across the world for when I complete school. After reading through all sorts on your website, you’ve inspired me to seriously consider living the lifestyle that you have. Travelling some-what long-term has always been in the books and you have definitely shown me that it isn’t impossible to do. For you accommodation, what do you mainly do? I am trying to look for ways to cut down on spending and just wondering if you have any recommendations for a first-time solo travel? (Which may turn into a life-time but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves!)

  3. Dude, I’ve been reading your blog, ideas and tips now for about an hour and it’s by far the best research I’ve done for my adventure next year thank you one question though do you need to buy round trips for a lot of places I’m planning on landing in Mexico and just going south do I need to buy an exit ticket or no?

    1. It depends on the airline. Some want to see “proof of onward travel”. However you can just buy the cheapest one-way (refundable) airline ticket to a country next door, then cancel it for a refund after you get into Mexico. Glad you’re enjoying the blog!

  4. Hi Matthew, your website has been a real treasure trove for me, many thanks. I am quitting my job in 2 weeks to go around the world surfing on my own. I have been hearing recently that many countries won’t let you in unless you have an “exit” ticket to another destination. Is this true?

  5. It is January! How can I tell if my September flights are cheapest now or will be best 4-10 weeks before the trip? Is there a site that shows the flight costs for different destinations for a previous year? (I have tried to find one without success) How does one know that Boston to Dublin for $614 is a great deal without spending years researching and travelling as you have done? Thanks!

  6. Wow, I never thought about hitchhiking on an airplane. It sounds really cool.
    Great ideas here. I’ll be checking out those cheaper flights this month.

  7. 52 years old and I believe its time to take a leap with this world travel Gig. Life is short and it is just passing me by. Any advice? Have a little cash stashed not sure how long it would last me. Is it possible to work over there to make ends meet and to keep on traveling. Leap of faith.

  8. Hi, great blog.

    I am 42 years old and have traveled to 122 countries throughout my life. I have lived and worked in 14. I am full of travel tips and ideas and have been wanting to do a blog for years but get too lazy. Now I see the market is flooded with travel blogs and I feel that I am too late to start.

    Most of the tips you have given, I have used for many years. I am at the stage where I want to start to settle down a little, travel less but I have all this travel knowledge but do not know what to do with it.

    It’s doing my head in.

    1. Hi , so wonderfull to read about people who realy explore the world. I am going to have my holiday soon and I am wondering where I can head off for 1week up to 10 days in October. Would be nice to heare from you some tips . Greatfull //iw

  9. Hey,

    If you ever want a travel companion to explore Central and South America with, let me know. I moved to Costa Rica last year and it is difficult to find like-minded travel partners. Sharing costs is always a good way to reduce expenses. I love to hike and do adventure sports.

    Be well and happy!
    Makela

    1. Hey Makela! When I’m in the mood for a travel buddy, I usually hang out at backpacking hostels. But thanks for the offer! Maybe I’ll see you out on the road somewhere. I’ve been thinking of visiting South America next year.

  10. I love all of these suggestions. I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog posts. I appreciate you sharing your expertise and travel insider information. I cannot wait to try the VPN and the sites you mentioned in this article. Your information is very helpful to the lay consumer. I travel domestically mostly but still find airline tickets outrageously overpriced. Safe travels wherever you might be!

  11. I’m curious if these tips work for business class? My travel is transatlantic – USA to The UK – and I’ve found that the so-called brokers who can save 50-70% can’t do any better than I can myself using Kayak or a similar search engine. It’s more expensive but as a big guy the extra comfort on a long flight is worth it in my opinion. Still, I like to save where I can as that is the most expensive part of my trips.

    Not germane to the subject but another way I save on travel is to explore house-sitting opportunities at my destination. Thanks for all your great advice.

  12. I’m a little skeptical about the hitchhiking part, I doubt this is possible in today’s day and age with security paranoia.

    I’ve never used a VPN but found I got cheaper tickets sometimes by changing to the local website ie .de instead of .com.

    Good to know about booking in Jan/Feb.

  13. I never even considered the VPN bit. I’ve noticed a large difference between prices I can get here in South Africa and those a friend who lives in the States is able to get. It seems so unfair but it’s understandable. I think there’s actually a site that you can go to that gets you low prices by skipping middle layover routes, but cannot recall what it was called.

  14. have you tried ITA Matrix? it allows you to simulate the country in which you want to buy your ticket without the hassle of setting a VPN…

  15. Great Post Matthew thanks for the tips i am always looking for affordable airline tickets!! my dad always said that if you plan your trip with time you will find a ticket more affordable

  16. It’s not easy to be super flexible with dates for most people but I really think this is the best tip for cheap flights. I’ve found some amazing deals if I was willing to travel when they told me too! It’s worth trying :)

  17. For some reason I find using Skyscanner is amazing outside of North America. When in North America, Expedia somehow manages to get me awesome deals. Do you think location is a factor when choosing a search engine?

  18. This is great advice! If many people are like me, one of the things most holding me back from traveling is the price of airlines. Thank you for sharing!

  19. Great advice! I would also add that the day you book your flight can actually influence the cost. I read this WSJ article about it and if you’re flying domestic the biggest price drop is 57 days in advance, and for international its 171 days in advance. Just a rough estimate but buying around that time could save you a lot!

  20. Searching through websites and finding flight deals is definitely one of my hobbies. I sometimes can spent hours just sitting on skyscanner and checking their flight deals. :) I like how they show you the prices for a whole month and not only specific dates.

  21. Brilliant advice, although people should make sure if they are using multiple airlines ticketed separately that they have good travel insurance. Airlines ticketed separately have no obligation if, say, the first flight is delayed and you miss your second flight. I have also had issues with lost luggage before, when airline one booked it straight through when I was ticketed separately on to airline two: both point the finger at the other and you don’t get anywhere fast! Good insurance is a must and good practice anyway!

    Also, for those who haul around the world with a baby, many of the airlines jack up the price if you search with a lap infant. You can, however, book the flights online using a low fare finder and then call up and have them add the baby at 10-40% (depending on age and airline) of the fare you paid… I saved £250 that way as the algorithms used arbitrarily jack up the base fare for parents…

  22. Southwest Airlines actually is a pretty good budget airline to fly with. It’s actually my favorite airline to fly with, even if I have to pay a little more to fly with them. They dont charge fees for their first two checked bags nor do they charge fees to change flights. They now offer electronic boarding passes you can scan on your smartphone. They offer complimentary snacks (usually peanuts and some sort of crackers or pretzels) and drinks. They also fly to many major airports especially after merging with AirTran Airlines!

    1. Hi Josh! I also like Southwest, and agree that not all budget airlines try to gouge you. My point about them is that you must search for Southwest flights directly on the Southwest website. Their flights won’t come up on the major flight search engines.