What is the best way to find cheap flights? With so many low-cost airlines, it’s easier than ever to fly almost anywhere. Finding the best flights, though, isn’t always that easy and searching for flights can be a huge time waster.
In this guide I give you my method for finding and booking cheap flights to save you both time and effort.
Save it on Pinterest
On my last trip to Europe, I wanted to get from Madrid, Spain to Porto, Portugal, and since they are not so far away from each other, I thought I’d take the train. Local friends in Madrid told me that I should look at flights instead, and when I did I found out those friends were right.
The flight was about a quarter of the prices of a train and obviously much faster. Slow travel is wonderful and more eco-friendly of course, but budgetwise it made no sense to opt for a train.
That was an easy decision. But it’s not always so easy. Searching for flights can be rather confusing, not to mention time-consuming and often annoying:
- It might be that you found a flight at a great prices, but it lands in the middle of the night when there’s no public transport from the airport;
- Or it might be that you think the price is right, and then you discover it’s so cheap because of a really inconvenient layover;
- Or maybe you’re just confused because different sites give you different prices for the same flight and you don’t know which sites to trust… and so on.
I wrote this post to help you save money, time and effort. Over the years I developed a method that helps me book cheap flights online faster and more efficiently.
Best places to find cheap flights: Flight search engines
The first piece of advice is probably obvious to most of you. You don’t have to search individual airline websites when you start looking for a flight, but just do a search on flight price comparison sites.
These sites will search many different airlines for you at the same time. Add to that things like a nice design, searching for flights over a range of dates and searching for multiple destinations at once, and you can see how this makes things more efficient right away.
Not all of these sites will show you all of the airlines though, and not all of them will show you the same prices. It can be quite frustrating to discover you could have booked a cheaper flight, but the price comparison site you used didn’t show you that particular airline.
That’s why I do my search on several search engines at the same time to find the best results. It’s more work, but obviously easier than checking each airline separately. Each of these search engines has slightly different features, I’ve highlighted some of the nicer ones below.
The best sites for cheap flights
SkyScanner – If looking for flights isn’t the most enjoyable thing, the least you can ask for is a user-friendly experience, which SkyScanner certainly provides. Two of my favourite features: You can search over a whole month and you can enter “Everywhere” in the destination field and see all the available destinations sorted by price.
Google Flights – Another user-friendly interface with many great features like flexible dates and filtering by price, stops, times and airlines. It shows some of the low-cost airlines, but not all of them. If you’re flexible about your destination, click Explore All and you will get a map showing the various destinations available.
Adioso – Their slogan is “Flight search. Reinvented for humans.” and it does have some original features. You can, for example, search over a range of dates (not just a particular month, but for example the last week of May and the first week of June). You can also search by continents and regions, or even by interests (e.g. Best destinations for history lovers).
Some more flight search engines to try:
After you find a flight to looks good to you on any of these sites, also check the site of the airline itself, as the price might be cheaper there.
Best way to get cheap flights: Book early
I start looking for flights a few months in advance. I often travel to Europe in summer, which is high season in most countries.
That means that if I wait until June to book my flight, I’ll have to pay way more that if I book it as early as January or February.
In general, it’s a good idea to book as soon as you know your flight dates.
What if you didn’t get a chance to book early? Airlines do have special last minute deals sometimes, so you can take advantage of those. It will require you to be on the watch for these deals though.
You can use price watching apps such as Hopper or the fare alert option on some of the flight search engines to follow prices and get notified on price changes.
Follow airlines on social media and sign up for their newsletters
Before you book your flight, sign up for newsletters of airlines that go to your destination. In some cases, they may offer you a discount code just for signing up.
Follow those airlines on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to see if they are offering any special deals on those platforms.
It’s also a good way to get updates on special deals they may be offering and find bargains that may not be offered elsewhere.
Booking cheap flights is easier when you are flexible about times
Flexibility will help you a lot in finding the best flight for you. If you can be flexible about dates and times, you can save a lot of money.
Here are some ways in which you can be flexible about the time of your flights:
- On flight search engines, select to see results for a whole month, or for a range of dates.
- Consider the day of the week. Sometimes a flight on Tuesday can cost you half the price of the same flight on a Friday. That’s because people fly more around the weekend, so midweek flights are a better choice.
- Avoid popular dates, such as holidays, festivals etc.
- If you can fly in the off season or shoulder season, you will get better prices.
- Look at early morning or late night flights too, and consider whether they can save you enough money to justify the inconvenience.
Be flexible about the destination and route
Another way to find cheap flights is to be flexible about your destination and how you get there. You can do this in a number of ways:
- Select to see results for nearby airports. Some cities have several airports, or there may be different airports in the same country with reasonable distances between them. If you are flexible about which airport you choose, you’re more likely to find a cheap flight.
- Consider layovers, instead of limiting your search to direct flights. If you can find a long enough layover that also lets you see the city for a few hours, it certainly may be worth it.
- If you don’t have a fixed destination in mind, you can enter “everywhere” or “anywhere” in some search engines that allow it (like SkyScanner or Momondo). A list will come up with the all the available destinations.
Save money by being flexible about the airline
Many people tend to book a return flight with the same airline, but that’s not always the best option.
Instead, select “one way” when you search, and find out whether you can get a better deal by combining two flights with two different airlines.
This may also give you a chance to fly to one city and return from another, thus saving some money on transport within the country you visit.
For example, you can fly to Tokyo, travel around Japan, and take your flight back from Osaka, without having to pay for the train back to Tokyo).
If you have a loyalty card / frequent flyer card, don’t let it limit you. Low cost airlines may not always have loyalty cards, but can sometimes save you more money by using them, than the points you’d have earned for being loyal to a non-budget airline.
Essential tip for keeping the ticket price low: Pack light
Low cost airline will charge you for your checked in luggage, so you want to pack only hand luggage and avoid paying extra. On low cost airlines this really is a must.
I have been travelling for several years now with a 40L backpack and a laptop bag, and honestly, this is enough. Many savvy travellers will tell you the same.
Back in 2010, on the morning after a night train from Bulgaria to Istanbul, where I hardly had space for my luggage in a crowded train cabin, I simply sat down and made a list of all the things I had actually used during that trip.
That’s it. No more carrying around bags full of things I didn’t really use, but packed anyway “just in case”.
The next time I planned a long trip, I looked at that list and stuck to it. I am still using a version of that list today, I just keep refining it every time I travel.
Travelling with hand luggage only frees you up from worrying about the (sometimes ridiculous) fees charged by some airlines for checking in luggage, but that’s not the only advantage.
Imagine getting off the plane, getting past passport control and straight out of the airport, while others are still waiting by that impossibly slow baggage carousel…
Also no need to worry about your lost or stolen luggage is a huge help and will give you peace of mind.
If you’re used to flying with more than hand luggage, sit down and make a list of the things you actually need and leave out anything you’re about to pack “just in case”.
Fy for free with travel hacking
Travel hacking is the name given to flying for free in exchange for credit card points.
I personally know little about it, as it’s not available in my country, but first heard about it from travel hacking expert Chris Guillebeau. If you’re from the US or the UK, check out his Travel Hacking Resources page.