Flying is magical. It’s basically the closest thing we have to teleportation. You start in one place, hop in a giant tin can, and end up somewhere completely different. But nothing ruins the magic more than paying too much for a flight.
Some of the old go-to tricks (booking on a Tuesday, booking in the middle of the night) don’t work as well as they used to. With the ever-changing world of the internet, airlines are always finding new ways to maximize their profits.
But don’t fret. There are still a few different tricks you can try to find cheap flights to anywhere. Here’s a look at 10 different tips that I love using for finding the best flight deals.
1. Book in the goldilocks zone
You’ve heard that booking early can help you save money. But did you know that booking too early can actually end up costing you more? Flight prices fluctuate in more of an up and down curve, not just one line going straight up.
In order to find the best price, you have to find what Scott from Scott’s Cheap Flights calls “The Goldilocks Zone.”
It can be tricky, but you’re looking for the sweet spot that’s not too close and not too far away from your departure date. It should be just right. If you’re traveling domestically, that usually means about 1 to 3 months before your trip. If you’re looking to go international, the zone is even wider, between 2 and 8 months.
2. Use a price tracker
Those windows are pretty wide, and I know I don’t have the time to constantly check prices for months. That’s where price trackers come in. They scan flight prices for you and update you when they change.
Skyscanner is a popular website and app that helps you find cheap flights to anywhere. You can set up price alerts, which send you an email or notification when prices fluctuate. You can even track multiple flights and compare different destinations or dates.
I also like using the mobile app Hopper. It takes price tracking to the next level. Not only does it alert you when prices change, it gives you an estimate of how good of a deal you’re getting. It gives you price predictions with exact dates of when they think the price will go up or down.
3. Be flexible with your destination
When planning a trip, most people have dates and a destination in mind. But if you’re able to be flexible with either of those things, it can help you save serious money on flight prices. Finding flexibility within your trip can help you find much better deals.
If you have set dates, then try being flexible with your destination. I like using websites like Google Flights and Skyscanner to search multiple destinations on certain dates.
In Google Flights, simply put in your point of origin and your travel dates. Leave the “Where to?” field blank. Google will then show you a map of flight prices so you can easily compare.
If you’re using Skyscanner, fill in the same fields, then type “Everywhere” in the “To” field. You’ll get a list of cheap flights that you can easily scan through and choose your ideal destination.
Letting flight prices guide your vacation spot can help save you money and encourage you to explore places you might not have otherwise considered.
4. Be flexible with your dates
If you’re already set on a destination, then try to be flexible with your travel dates. Before you submit that out-of-office request, take a look at the calendar of flight prices for your dream trip. Flights tend to be cheaper during the week, but it always varies.
Google Flights has two different tools that help you find the best dates. Just put in your point of origin, destination, and approximate dates when you’re looking to travel. Just below the dates on the right side you’ll find the “Date grid” and “Price graph.”
The date grid is one of my favorite tools because it allows you to play around with departure and return dates to find a good price. The cheapest ones are even highlighted in green so they’re easy to spot. The price graph shows how the prices go up and down for a trip duration of your choosing.
5. Be loyal
If you often have little choice in date or destination, then try to stick to the same airline or family of airlines. It might not always look like the cheapest price when you compare options, but staying loyal to one airline does come with its perks.
If you have a credit card with a certain airline, you often get extra rewards for every flight and some other purchases. For example, the Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card earns you double points on all Delta purchases, as well as at restaurants and grocery stores.
In addition to the extra points, cardholders get a first checked bag free for them and up to eight companions. Plus, get 20% back on in-flight purchases. Not a bad set of perks.
United, Southwest, American, and more all have credit card offers as well. Depending on your location and your most frequent destinations, choose the card based on the airline that covers all your favorite places.
6. Use points
Once you’ve racked up points (or miles, they’re the same thing) from a certain airline or credit card company, don’t forget to use them! Different companies have different regulations, but make sure your points don’t have an expiration date. Points are essentially free money, so you wouldn’t want to miss out.
Booking with points is the best way to score cheap flights, since you don’t have to spend any additional money. You’re simply taking advantage of all the perks you’ve earned.
But not all points are created equal. There are ways to transfer and shift some points to different carriers to maximize their worth.
This can get a little complicated, so stick with me. There’s a whole website called The Points Guy that helps you navigate how to redeem your points for cheap flights and hotels. It can take a lot of cross-referencing, but it helps save you money in the end.
The typical value of a point is about $0.01. So if you have 50,000 points, that’s like $500. However, some points can be worth more depending on the airline or when you’re booking. The main rule with points is to never spend more than you would have if you paid in cash.
If a flight typically costs $400 to buy normally, don’t spend more than 40,000 points on it. If you can get that same flight for less than 40,000 points, then you’re getting a good deal.
A lot of major airlines use miles. Some of the most common are Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United. If you earn miles from a credit card company, you may be able to transfer them to the company you want to book and get more value out of them.
7. Avoid baggage fees
Super cheap flight prices might look tempting when you’re searching, but be aware of extra fees. Things like seat selection and definitely baggage can run up the cost of that seemingly cheap flight.
This is especially true for budget airlines such as Spirit or Frontier. They keep their base price low to look attractive on booking engines, then add on a bunch of fees during the booking process to recoup their losses.
The best way to keep those cheap flights cheap is to avoid baggage fees. Most airlines allow a small personal item for free, but charge fees for carry-on luggage that goes in the overhead storage bins and checked bags. Be sure to read the fine print for your particular ticket to determine exactly how much free luggage you are allowed.
I recommend packing light, using packing cubes, rolling your clothing, and using vacuum bags to reduce the amount of stuff you bring on board.
You can also use some more, ahem, creative methods. Wearing multiple layers and stuffing clothing into a travel neck pillow are just some of the interesting ways people have managed to bring more with them without paying a fee.
8. Consult expert websites
There are people and companies who dedicate their days to scouring the internet for the cheapest flights. I’m just one person, and these brands have whole teams of people helping them, so I’m always happy to take their advice.
With SCF, you can sign up for email updates that alert you to amazing flight deals. The free version allows you to track international economy deals from up to five different airports. If you upgrade to the Premium or Elite paid tiers, you get access to deals from more airports and classes.
Secret Flying works in a similar way. They have a website and free app that give you access to amazing flight deals. Their team is always looking for the best prices from airports all over the world.
While SCF and Airfarewatchdog are more focused on deals from US-based airports, Secret Flying allows you to search for deals from whatever continent you’re on. Jack’s Flight Club is a great option for those flying from the UK.
Kiwi has a lot of amazing options like flight tracking and destination comparison. One tool that sets them apart is their NOMAD feature. If you’re looking to do a multi-destination trip, NOMAD helps you find the cheapest way to get between your desired points. Planning trips like this can be tricky on your own, so the NOMAD tool can really come in handy.
9. Embrace errors
When it comes to booking cheap flights, sometimes you need a bit of luck. A lot of great flight deals are actually error or mistake fares. Airlines manage hundreds of thousands of flights per day, so they’re bound to make a few mistakes.
Some websites that often find error fares are SCF, Secret Flying, Airfarewatchdog, and Dollar Flight Club. If you find or are alerted to one of these fares, act quickly. Sometimes they only stick around for a few hours.
How are these mistakes even possible? Well, there are a few different ways. One is a miscommunication between the airline and an online travel agency (OTA). Sometimes it’s possible to find a wildly cheaper flight on an OTA. Other mistakes tend to happen because of a currency conversion problem or just simply human error.
Since these fares are technically mistakes, there is a small chance that they will not be honored by the airlines. Because of that, it’s recommended that you wait a few days before booking any other parts of your trip, like non-refundable accommodation. If your fare does get canceled by the airline, you’re entitled to a full refund. In general, however, error fares tend to be honored.
10. Ask for upgrades
Even after I’ve booked my flight, I’m always looking for ways to get the best out of my trip. One trick is to see if there are any free upgrades available when you check-in.
If a flight is not fully booked, ask if there are any open seats in the emergency exit row. If you feel comfortable assisting in case of an emergency, then you’ll get rewarded with a bit more space to stretch out.
If you’re traveling for a special occasion, it never hurts to ask. Whether it’s a birthday, anniversary, or honeymoon, this might be a good enough reason for the gate agent to upgrade you.
If the flight is full and the agent is swamped, there’s probably not a good chance you’ll get an upgrade. But every once in a while, you’ll get lucky and snag some extra legroom or even a bump up to a premium class.
Everybody is trying to find cheap flights to anywhere, but not everybody knows the secret tips and tricks. With the right tools, a little patience, and a lot of flexibility, you can find amazing deals to a wide variety of destinations.
I’ve shared some of my favorite tips, but I’m always looking to learn more. What are your favorite cheap flight hacks?