9 Tips for Finding Cheap Flights
There are many factors that can cause the price of airplane tickets to fluctuate and knowing how to find cheap flights can get confusing. With just a few tweaks in your search, however, you can start saving money on your next flight. Between years of researching, reading articles, and personal experience, I have come up with 9 search tips that will be sure to help lower flight costs.
1. Days and times are important
A lot of people buy plane tickets around work schedules so planes that fly out on Friday night and come back on a Sunday are generally more expensive. If possible, aim to fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Also, unpopular flight times are usually much cheaper as well (think red eye flights with multiple layovers).
2. Purchase your ticket on a Sunday or Tuesday
Sources can be conflicting on when the best day to buy a ticket is. In all honesty, prices fluctuate so much that if you truly want the best price you should be tracking prices and checking trends daily around the time you want to fly. However, on a general consensus and from personal experience, prices tend to be lower on Sunday nights or on Tuesdays.
For those of you willing to track flights to get a feel for trends and hone down on the cheapest price, I highly recommend checking out Google Flights. These days it is the first site I check for flights. It is especially useful for people with flexibility. And as a side note, I don't usually trust or pay attention to trend graphs on sites like Kayak.com.
3. Don't get too greedy
I once found a ticket for a price I would have been willing to pay but was hoping for it to get cheaper so I waited to buy. To my dismay, just one day later the price flew through the roof. The best advice I can give someone is if there is a price they are willing to pay, go ahead and buy the ticket. You don't know if the price you found is for the last ticket left and the only options left are $200 more on a flight with a 6-hour layover. Sometimes people also make mistakes when posting prices so make sure to capitalize on the mistake before it is caught. Buying plane tickets can be just like playing stocks and sometimes you just have to know when to buy.
4. Don't buy your ticket too soon or too late
Although it is possible to buy airplane tickets way in advance, most ticket prices aren't officially set more than 4 months out so you will most likely pay more than necessary. Reversely, if you wait until the last minute thinking that prices will drop you could lose out on some very good deals and watch last minute ticket prices spike before your eyes. In general, 6 weeks out is the best time to buy tickets but there are always exceptions. If you are flying during a holiday season it might be better to buy tickets 2 or 3 months out as tickets will start to disappear around the 6-week mark.
Late January, I was looking for April flights to Southeast Asia from Mauritius and the average price was around 200 dollars to most countries. Thinking that I still had plenty of time, I waited until early February to look at flights again and the first thing I noticed was that almost all the flights were about double the original price. Because of this, I ended up settling for a cheaper flight I found to Vietnam mid-March (6 weeks out and off-season).
5. Always cross-reference
If you know exactly what day and time you want to fly and you think you found a good price on a ticket, before buying do a quick cross-reference. Take a quick sweep across a few different sites including the official site for the carrier of flight you are looking at. Believe it or not, sometimes the carrier has the cheapest ticket, I have found this to be true many times with Air Asia for example.
There are a lot of sites you can look at for reference but here is a few that I check most often:
6. Browse Locally
A small "hack" to save a few extra dollars is changing the way you search. Sometimes, the currency you search with, the country you say you are searching from, or cookies associated with your account can affect the price you are shown. If you were browsing Sky Scanner for a ticket in Mexico for example, it might benefit you to click the flag in the corner and tell Sky Scanner that your current location is Mexico (Don't worry you can still keep everything in English). And as a rule of thumb, tickets bought in local currency are often a fraction cheaper than buying in your own currency so if asked if you want to pay in USD or local currency, select the later option.
Also, I have heard rumors that some sites also jack up prices depending on your browsing history so it might help to search for tickets in incognito mode and clear cookies. Sky Scanner has recently written an article stating that cookies don't affect their prices but I have noticed price differences when browsing incognito. With everything said, I encourage people to try various methods to find the lowest price possible.
7. Fly to popular destinations
Cities that get the most traffic usually have a much lower cost to fly in and out of so it might benefit you to book somewhere close to your destination and take public transportation the rest of the way. For example, my family lives in Lansing, Michigan but not many people fly into the airport there so tickets to Lansing are almost always more expensive than the Detroit airport. So to save money on tickets, I often fly into Detroit, Grand Rapids, or even as far as Chicago for the best deal. This might not always be possible to do but something to keep in mind none the less.
8. Make your own Layover
This is not so much of a tip to save money as it is to give yourself bonus destinations for free or close to it. The best way to explain this method is by telling you about the time I went from Taipei, Taiwan to Melbourne, Australia and gave myself a week layover/vacation in Singapore for free.
After some searching, I noticed that most flights from Taiwan to Australia were close to $400 one way with a few hours layover in Kuala Lumpur. Before buying a ticket, however, I also looked at prices for flights from Taiwan to other countries half way between Australia. After a bit of searching, I noticed that a one-way flight from Taipei to Singapore and a one-way flight from Singapore to Melbourne were each only 200 dollars (both non-stop). So instead of a few hours layover at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, I was able to give myself a whole week (Or really however long I wanted) in Singapore for the same price.
9. Hire someone to search for you
All of these tips are things that I do regularly when searching for airplane tickets. If it sounds like a lot of work and it isn't for you, you could always just get someone else to search for you. As I mentioned in my last article about preparing for an international adventure, for $50 USD, Flight Fox will send out their experts to find the cheapest ticket they possibly can for you. And if they can't find a flight cheaper than the one you found in a search, you don't have to pay for the service. I wouldn't recommend this service for cheap flights/short distances but if you are searching for rather expensive flights, $50 isn't much to save yourself the hassle of searching and most likely a couple hundred dollars.
All the above are methods I use regularly when searching for flights. I hope they help you with searching as much as they have helped me!