Searching for the cheapest flight can be time-consuming and overwhelming. You check one day, come back to it the next, and suddenly the price has jumped up again. You want to get to your destination the most efficient way possible, while not giving away half of your budget to the airline. But learning how to save on flights it one of the quickest routes to allowing you to travel more.
So, how do you get cheap flights? If you plan ahead, have some flexibility on your travel dates, and know the tricks to book the most cost-effective flight, you can save a lot in small ways that have a huge impact on your overall travel experience.
Here are our key tips on how to book cheap flights:
1. Go incognito.
Have you noticed when you begin planning your trip and searching online for different things to do and places to stay, suddenly your browser is showing you ads for, say, Budget Car Rental in Rome?
Your search engines are tracking what you’re doing based on browser cookies that collect your data. If you visit the same flight search engine more than once, they sense you’re getting serious about your trip and increase their prices to encourage you to book as soon as possible.
The easiest way to avoid this is by always searching in incognito mode. You can do this by simply clicking open new “incognito” window when you right-click on your browser’s icon.
2. Book in advance.
Flights booked in advance are (almost) always cheaper and allow you to make a thought-through decision. If you know approximately when you’re going to be traveling, you can track your flight on Google and it will send you notifications when the price begins to increase. To set an alert for the flight you’re tracking, you just enter your flight details, the dates, click “search,” and then select the “track prices” box. Google will send you emails when the price increases or decreases so you don’t have to check back each day.
You can also subscribe to the airlines’ newsletters that you know you may be traveling with, and they often send out information on deals to various locations.
It also doesn’t help to book your trip far, far in advance, so don’t stress about needing it locked down months out. Anywhere within the 6-8 week timeframe should be the most accurate, affordable price. According to an annual study by CheapAir, “the price of a flight changes on average every 5-6 days, and each change averages $36 up or down.”
So, book early enough to track your flight and get familiar with the market, but never book on impulse or out of pressure — it’s what the airlines want you to do.
3. Be flexible on Dates and Location.
If you’re able to be flexible with your booking, you can look at a month-view on Google flights to find the actual cheapest day to travel. Thursdays are when the prices tend to go up, as many airlines are needing to make up for the cheaper flights and deals offered at the start of the week.
If you search in Google for your trip, you can then select “grid view” and see in green the lowest-priced days.
You can also choose an “open destination” if you’re flexible on where you arrive. For example, if you’re flying from Toronto and plan on touring around Europe but are open on your start and end destination, you can type in “Flights from Toronto to Europe on Google” and put in your tentative dates, select “flexible” option and the duration of your trip and Google will show you the best available options:
Other sites like Skyscanner and Momondo allow you to do this as well:
It always helps to check and compare different websites to find the best available cheap flight.
4. Compare different websites.
Different search engines will often yield different results, so it’s important to look around before purchasing. Google flights is great because it essentially shows you the best of other search engines and it allows you to view multiple different options at once. But, Google flights, along with other sites, don’t carry all the airlines.
For example, big sites like Expedia usually don’t show budget airlines like Ryanair due to high booking commissions, and they generally inflate their prices despite advertising “the cheapest fares out there.”
Skyscanner is a great alternative because it does show those cheaper, budget airlines. The only downfall is that Skyscanner doesn’t live update as quick as Google — so Google really will demonstrate the most “live” options available.
Here are our recommended flight searches:
You can always check other sites like Expedia or Priceline, but we’d suggest using these as a final comparison check rather than the primary source.
5. Use rewards.
Chances are, your credit card company has a points system that rewards flying. If you’ve racked up enough points, you can easily get your flight free, or get a free upgrade, or utilize points to pay for part of your journey. You can earn these points throughout the year — without even doing any travel.
Some airline reward programs even let you waive baggage fees, which can be huge. Especially if you’re booking budget airlines, they often have hidden fees (see #6 below), and this can add another $100 or so to your flight.
You can sign up for specific credit cards that have airline reward programs, but they do often have a minimum spend requirement. But if you use your card for everyday purchases and always pay it off in time, you can easily earn yourself a free flight.
6. Check for hidden fees.
Cheaper is not always better. Always read the fine print before making a booking as there are often hidden fees that you may not realize until it’s too late. As mentioned above, many airlines like Ryanair advertise extremely low prices, but they don’t mention upfront that there’s no baggage allowance.
The check-in bag fee can be upwards of $50/bag, plus taxes, and this can bring your total trip cost up to the same amount as the slightly more expensive flight.
Also, always check the airport destination. Ryanair, for example, offers really cheap flights to London, but to London Stansted. The train from Stansted into the city costs around $20, plus baggage fees, and you’re looking at an extra $80-$100 anyway on your flight.
If you’re able to bring carry on luggage with you, that’s always the most efficient option. It can save you money and time upon arrival since the wait for checked baggage tends to be quite long.
Some airlines always require you to print your boarding pass ahead of time, or pay a fee. It’s easy nowadays to assume everything can be done via mobile, but it’s always important to check whether that’s the case in advance.
Also worth considering, if you’re not one hundred percent certain on your flight date, or there is the possibility that your schedule will change, it’s usually best to book with a full service carrier as budget airlines tend to have hidden flight change and cancellation fees. Often, they don’t even allow for a flight change, so you will lose the entire cost of your flight and need to pay for a completely new one.
It’s also important to check airline safety prior to booking especially if traveling to Asia where there are many budget carriers who offer cheap flight deals. You can use this site to check and make sure the one you’re using is safe.
7. Booking round-trip, one way, and multi-city.
Booking return flights are usually cheaper than a one-way ticket if you have hard travel dates. But if you are flexible on dates and location, sometimes buying two separate one way tickets is the better option. That’s why it is always important to compare and find the best deal that works for your schedule.
If you’re booking for longer-term travel and plan on visiting multiple cities on one trip, there are a few options.
The first is to book a round trip to and from the cheapest city using the search options mentioned above (being flexible on dates, locations, and checking via Google on a grid view). Then, use the more affordable, budget airlines, which are typically quite low. Or, travel by train when possible.
You can also book a round trip flight arriving and departing from two different locations. This way, you don’t waste more of your time retracing your steps and can spend it enjoying somewhere new. You can do this by selecting “multi-city flights” on airfare websites.
On Google Flights, you can select the drop-down option (see below) for multi-city flights to pick a different city to fly out of. We suggest first looking at round-trips to and from the same city to compare prices and know a ballpark to aim for.
You can do this same search on other sites as well, like Skyscanner and Momondo:
8. But Don’t Always Book Direct.
If you book far enough in advance, direct flights can be cheaper and the most efficient time-wise. But, sometimes, just one stop can change the price significantly. One option is to even pre-plan the layover as part of your trip to take advantage of the time spent there.
For example, some flights will layover in Paris for 8 hours and that’s plenty of time to actually leave the airport and do one or two attractions for the day.
Alternatively, search for the cheapest direct flight to Europe (if that’s your destination), and then book the budget airline from there to your next destination. For example, Toronto to Barcelona is $412, but Toronto to London is $216. There are flights from London to Barcelona for only $20, which would save you almost the price of another flight.
If you are going to book these as connecting flights (and not spend time in the layover city) be sure to leave yourself enough time to get between airports or terminals. Even though a connection flight isn’t ideal time-wise, it can save a big chunk of money that you can then spend on doing more things while you’re there.
If you’re working remotely while traveling, the time between flights can also be used to get a few hours of work done and then you don’t have to use those hours for work once you arrive.
Booking Cheap Flights
These tips for where to find cheap flights can really help you save on the travel part of your trip so that you can enjoy your time even more once you arrive. Small changes can really go a long way. By saving on your flight, you are gaining more time and money to do the things you want to do once you arrive and have richer experiences while there. Check out our Top 10 Budget Travel Tips to get back on the road sooner!