How to Find the Cheapest Flight for Your Next Trip
Budgeting for you next big trip? The less you spend on airfare, the more you can budget towards dinners, shopping, and other vacation frills. Below, we've got 14 tips to help you snag the best deal.
1. Air+Hotel Really Can Save Money But Not Always
You've seen those package prices from tour companies and airlines. But how do you know if they're a deal? Sometimes a quick search will give you a very convincing answer. Many times throughout the year, British Airways offers airfare plus 5 night hotel stays for far less than the airfare alone. A no-brainer!
2. Heading to Europe? Focus First on Crossing the Atlantic Cheaply
In general, fares to Vienna tend to be on the high side. Meanwhile, Milan is much cheaper these days. So? Make your way to Milan and enjoy a train trip to Vienna, or even book a second flight in advance on a budget airline. Think of it as two cities for less than one. And be sure to check out under-the-radar airlines such as Norwegian, Wow air, Condor, and Air Italy, all of which sell super-discounted tickets from the U.S. to Europe, as this explains.
3. Look into Low-Season Destinations
Check out some of the not-as-popular off season destinations that still offer great activities and tolerable weather (ahem, Cancun anyone?). Since thousands of tourists won’t be flocking to those locations, prices for hotels, transportation, and everyday activities will be lower. Plus, crowds will be much smaller. Have a look at discounted rooms currently spotted by Hotelwatchdog.
4. Avoid 'Peak' Summer Travel
Summer doesn’t officially end until well after Labor Day. Since school starts earlier and earlier these days, you’ll find that airfares and hotel rates tend to go down for travel after around August 18, when kids go start to return to school. So plan your travels for “off-peak summer” if you can. Still set on taking a peak July trip to Europe? You're in luck, at least for now, as peak summer Euro fares have been pretty low. Take a look at recent finds here.
5. Consider Extra Fees Before You Buy
If Southwest has a fare of $198 round-trip and American has one for $148 but you're checking three bags, then flying Southwest actually makes the most sense. Southwest charges nothing for the first two checked bags ($75 for the 3rd), whereas American would charge you an additional $220.
6. Search to and from Alternate Airports
Look at Tokyo Haneda as well as Narita; look at Gatwick, Stansted, even London City, as well as Heathrow. Consider flying from Little Rock if Memphis is too pricey, and Orlando Sanford on Allegiant rather than Orlando International. Try Trenton, New Jersey, as an alternate to Newark and so on. Or travel a bit farther by train or bus, to a cheaper airport.
7. Use Consolidators but Beware of Restrictions
Consolidators specializing in premium cabins will have some great deals, and the airlines themselves will be heavily discounting their premium cabins, so check the specials on their websites. Extra fare restrictions will most likely apply to these types of fares, so read this to better understand the pros and cons.
8. Search Often and Pounce When There's a Deal
Fares fluctuate and the number of seats offered at the lowest fares changes frequently. Someone might be holding the only seat at the lowest fare but not end up booking it—so it goes back into inventory, and then it will be all yours. Be sure to visit Airfarewatchdog for daily finds!
9. You Might Not Need Travel Insurance
Before you go buying whatever insurance the airline is offering at check-out, be sure to check with your credit card first. Chances are your credit card might already have free, built-in travel insurance up to $5000 per trip for the most common reasons people use insurance, which include canceling before or during a trip due to illness or injury, and lost or delayed baggage.
10. Sign Up for Airfare Alerts
This is perhaps the easiest way to track airfares. Many travel websites offer emailed airfare alerts that let you know when fares go down, and they all have something to offer. Google "airfare alerts" and see what's available. They all work a bit differently, so sign up for more than one.
One thing to note: These sites use essentially the same airfare data provided by the airlines' computer systems or ITA Software (now owned by Google), so they won't include discounted promo-code fares, and they don't include Southwest Airlines. (Airfarewatchdog, however, includes handpicked fares from Southwest in its Fare Alerts.)
11. Sign Up for Airline Emails & Frequent-Flyer Programs
Speaking of promo codes, the airlines want to develop a relationship with you, so they'll send you special deals, such as promo codes, companion deals, and twofer sales.
12. Use Twitter
Email is great, but some of the most amazing airfare deals last only a very short time (even if they're valid for travel over a long period). Twitter is more immediate. Our advice? Follow @Airfarewatchdog's account, which tweets unusual airfare deals every day of the week and alerts followers to promo codes and other airfare deals.
13. Always Remember: There's No 'Magic' Time to Buy Airfare
A lot of airfare experts think they're Miss Cleo, and know exactly where airfares are headed or how far in advance you should start looking for a fare. Some say buy on Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. or Wednesday at midnight or when Jupiter aligns with Mars. Don't. Fall. For. It. Airlines are unpredictable, and anyone who claims to know that airfares will be lower or higher in the coming months or the coming days should trade in their crystal ball. No one can accurately predict where airfares are heading any more than we can predict the stock market. Think about it: If they really knew, they'd put every other airfare search operation out of business, and that hasn't happened. A great fare can pop up any time!
14. Search airline sites individually, but online travel agencies are still useful
Many airlines have "private" sales, reserving their very best fares for their own sites. These are different from promo code sales mentioned above. International airlines such as Aer Lingus, Iberia, and Qantas regularly offer lower fares (i.e., $100-$400 less) on their own web sites compared to what you'll find on Kayak or Orbitz. Of course, you'll find deals from all airlines listed on Airfarewatchdog, including our daily round-up of top deals sorted by carrier. And don't ignore online travel agencies, as these sites will tell you if it's cheaper flying out on one airline and back on another (United won't tell you it's cheaper to fly out on United and back on American or some such configuration).
Intro image by Feng Yu via Shutterstock