If you want to know about traveling on a budget, then this is the right place. We had the honor of receiving a guest post from Matt Kepnes. In case you’ve been living under a rock, here is a little more info on Matt.
Matt Kepnes runs the award-winning travel site nomadicmatt.com, which helps people travel the world on a budget. He’s the author of the NYT best-seller How to Travel the World on $50 a Day and the travel memoir Ten Years a Nomad.
His writings and advice have been featured on CNN and the BBC and in the New York Times, The Guardian, Lifehacker, Budget Travel, Time, and countless other publications. You can follow him on Instagram at @nomadicmatt. When he’s not on the road, he lives in Austin.
How I Find Cheap Flights
When it comes to travel, one of the biggest expenses you’ll have is your flights — especially if you’re traveling as a family. While prices have dipped over the years, they are still prohibitively expensive when you factor in multiple people.
Fortunately, it’s not impossible to find cheap flights if you follow a few hacks and understand how airlines price tickets.
Whether you’re planning a relaxing family vacation or looking to head out on a round-the-world adventure, here are my rules for always finding cheap flights:
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
1. Ignore the myths
There’s no single tip or trick for finding cheap flights.
Yet there are tons of cheap flight myths floating around the internet these days. You’ve probably heard some of them:
“It’s cheapest to buy your flights on Tuesday.”
“Searching in incognito mode will find lower prices.”
“The best time to buy is exactly X days/weeks/months before your trip.”
None of these are true.
Airlines use advanced computer and pricing algorithms to determine prices and run sales based on the time of the year, passenger demand, weather, major events/festivals, time of day, competitor prices, fuel prices, and much more.
In short, no simple trick can outsmart the system. If anyone tells you to do “this one thing,” they are misinformed.
2. Be flexible with your dates or location (and ideally, both)
If you’re looking to save money on your flight, you need to be flexible.
If you want a flight to Paris on July 10, you’re going to have to pay whatever the price is. However, if you’re open to going to Paris anytime in July, that will open up more opportunities to find a deal.
Moreover, if you’re open to going to Paris or London or Rome, then you’ll have even more opportunities to find a cheap flight.
Long story short: be flexible. The more flexible you are with your dates and destination, the more deals you’ll be able to find.
3. Compare search engines
In order to find the best deal, search multiple websites.
Many major search engines don’t list budget carriers or obscure foreign carriers, because those airlines don’t want to pay a booking commission. Others don’t list ticketing sites that aren’t in English. And others still only display prices retrieved directly from airlines.
In short, not all flight search websites are created equal. They all have their pros and cons.
Here are the ones I use when hunting for a flight. They cover all the bases, and between them, I can usually find a cheap flight:
- Skyscanner – My favorite booking site. It has a great user interface (and a great mobile app), so it’s easy to search flexible dates to find the best deal.
- Momondo – This is my second-favorite website. It searches the most airlines and has an easy-to-use platform.
- Google Flights – Great search engine that lets you see prices for multiple destinations
Typically, I start all my searches with Skyscanner. It searches major and budget airlines, as well as both English and non-English websites. It’s one of the most comprehensive booking sites out there and has the lowest price 99% of the time.
4. Sign up for deals newsletters and check deal websites
Most airlines have newsletters you can sign up for. This is a good place to find upcoming deals, sales, and information on new routes.
Many airlines run sales over the holidays, but they’ll also offer discounts at random too. Sign up for their newsletters to stay in the loop. (Just make sure you’re ready for them; many of the deals only last a short period of time.)
If there are no deals from the airlines themselves, check for cheap flights on websites that specialize in travel deals. Here are some of the sites I regularly browse when looking for a cheap flight:
- Scott’s Cheap Flights – The best for US flight deals
- The Flight Deal – Great for global flight deals
- Holiday Pirates – The best for European flight deals
- Secret Flying – A great site for flight deals from around the world
Keep an eye on these sites when planning your trip, as they always have amazing deals. They might not be to the exact destination you had in mind, but if you’re flexible (see above), you can save a ton of money.
5. Travel hack
The minute you know you want to travel abroad, sign up for a travel credit card. We have tons of amazing options here in the US, but many other countries also have travel hacking options these days as well.
Travel hacking is the process of collecting points and miles via your regular credit card spending. These points can then be used for free travel. It’s also the #1 way I’ve been able to afford traveling over the past decade.
These days, the best travel credit cards offer flight upgrades, huge welcome bonuses (that translate into free flights), credit toward rideshares like Uber or Lyft, access to free events, access to airport lounges, and much more.
Even if you’re not a regular flier, you should still sign up for a reward program. I earn over a million miles a year without flying or spending extra money. That translates into dozens of free flights (often in business class) for my family and me.
With a little bit of planning, you can earn a free flight (and/or free hotel stays) for your next trip. Don’t leave money on the table — sign up for a travel credit card right away!
6. Search ticket prices for one person
If you’re traveling with family, don’t search for multiple tickets in a single purchase. Airlines usually show the highest ticket price for a group of tickets, which means you’ll end up paying more money.
For example, if you are a family of four and you’re searching for four seats, the airline will find four seats together and show your fare based on the highest ticket price. So if seat A is $500, seats B and C are $600, and seat D is $700, the airline will price your tickets as $700 each, instead of adding up the individual ticket prices. If the price difference is large, that translates into a sizeable extra expense!
For that reason, always search for tickets as a single person. Afterward, in the checkout process, you can pick your seats so you and your family are sitting together. And even if you end up not beside one another, that’s a fair trade for saving a few hundred dollars (and you can usually swap seats once you get to the gate too).
7. Compare one-way and round-trip flights
Lastly, I always compare round-trip prices with one-way tickets. Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy two one-way tickets than it is to by a single round-trip ticket. You may have to fly home from a different country or have additional stopovers, but that can be worth the savings.
If you’re just going somewhere for a week or two, this won’t really be worth it. However, if you’re planning a multi-month adventure, then searching for discounted one-way tickets might save you money.
8. Don’t book too early — or too late
Generally, you can find the best prices 6–8 weeks before your departure. If you’re traveling somewhere during peak season, aim for around three months early. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule of course (see above), so use it as a guide.
At the end of the day, saving a few bucks isn’t worth the hours and hours spent hunting for a deal. So when you find a decent price, just book it. It may not be the rock-bottom fare you hoped for, but it’s better than paying more when the price inevitably rises!
CONCLUSION: HOW TO FIND CHEAP FLIGHTS
Flying doesn’t have to be expensive. By embracing the tips above, you’ll always be able to find cheap flights, saving you hundreds of dollars in the process. You’ll need to be creative and flexible, but you’ll be rewarded with incredible savings.