Finding a flight is the most daunting part of the trip for many people.
It doesn’t have to be this way! There are several ways to save money if you are willing to put a little extra time into your research. This podcast episode about finding the best deals on flights will teach you everything you need to know about finding cheap flights.
Getting a Good Deal on a Flight Takes Patience
First of all, how much should you be paying for your flights abroad? Here is a general idea of what a good deal on flights should cost. This will vary greatly depending on where you start from in the States and which airport you are flying into at your destination, which is based on round-trip flights. This is what I hope to pay coming from my small airport up in Montana, so if you live near a big airport hub, you could probably do better than this. From the US to- Central America: $400-650; Europe: $700-900; Asia: $900-1100.
I recommend searching across several flight search engines. Never rely on just one at a time. I have listed several engines to search on the right side of this page. Start with one, and search every single one so that you have an idea of what your flight will cost. You will also automatically have a goal: to get a cheaper flight than what you just found! This can take time, as over the weeks flights will change. What I mean by that is that itineraries you see this week could be completely different next week. Sometimes this is a good thing, and sometimes you may feel like you missed a good flight, but don’t panic; keep looking because it might come back. Stay diligent and calm, just keep monitoring prices until you are satisfied enough to buy.
Where to Fly
If you have the option, don’t limit yourself to one single airport. Perhaps there is only one airport in your destination country and you must fly there; however, be sure to check if there are other options. For example, if you must get to Europe, check airports in several countries before making your decision on where to fly. We recently took a trip to Europe and went all over Eastern Europe, but we actually flew into Dublin, Ireland, because it was the cheapest flight for us from the US, and then we caught a Ryanair flight to Germany from there. There are trains and cheap flights that cover all of Europe, making connections easy and inexpensive. Check out Ryanair and EasyJet for more information about cheap flights in Europe. The same can be said about your home airport. Check for cheaper options from nearby airports if there are any.
When to Fly and When to Book
Not only are there cheaper days of the week on which to fly, but there are also cheaper days on which to book. It is said that the cheapest days to fly on are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. I would recommend starting your search with these days if you can; however, always check the days before and after and each day of the week because I believe this “rule” is the most flexible. Sometimes a random Saturday will be your cheapest option. If you are flexible with your travels, this will be a great advantage to you to find cheap flights.
The cheapest days to book your flight will be Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Many airlines put out sales on Monday nights, making Tuesdays the ideal days to book; however, Wednesdays usually prove to be just as cheap. By Thursdays, the airlines are gearing back up for the weekend (highest booking traffic), and their sales will go away. If you see a price midweek that you like but don’t book a ticket, don’t panic when the prices go up over the weekend; simply wait a week (I know it’s hard) for the prices to go back down. I’m sure there are exceptions to this general rule, but if there are studies done about it, it’s safe to assume there is some credibility in the research behind it. I monitor the flight I want for weeks sometimes before purchasing, just to be sure I am getting the best possible deal. I recommend starting your research 3-4 months out and being sure to buy at least 21 days before departure. If you wait too long, you will most likely end up paying more.
If it is less than 21 days to departure and you still need a ticket, I recommend checking Hotwire. They have special deals similar to Priceline’s name-your-price tickets, except you don’t need to name your price with Hotwire. They just give you the cheapest deal.
You can’t see all the details of your flights until after you book, but you can see the final price, time windows, maximum length of layovers, and whether you arrive the same day. My experience with these special deals has been very good, and the flight times have been optimal.
Compare prices across several websites such as:
Use Hotwire for last-minute flights.
Purchase Directly Through the Airline if Possible
These flight search engines are the fastest way to find the best deal, hands down. However, you may be able to save yourself a headache by purchasing directly through the airline once you find the right flight. For example, if it ends up that the flight you want is offered completely by KLM, don’t buy it through Expedia (or whichever search engine you are using), go to the KLM website, find the same flight, and purchase it directly through the airline.
Why? Because if something comes up later and you need to, have to, absolutely must change your flight, you will be able to do it directly through the airline. However, if you purchase through say, Expedia, and something happens and you want to change your flight, it might end up being more expensive to change than it would be to just purchase a new ticket. Yes, really.
There are two factors involved in changing flights: a change fee per airline (usually something around $150 for national flights and around $200 for international flights ballpark), and a difference of fare fee (the difference of what you paid versus what the flight you want costs). This applies to every airline of your flight. If you purchased a cheap flight through one of these search engines and you happen to be flying with multiple airlines, that means multiple change fees and multiple difference of fare fees, not to mention the fact that you’d have to go through each airline individually. Sound like a headache? It is, trust me. It’s not worth it. If you have the chance to buy your ticket directly through one airline, absolutely take that route. Even if you doubt that you will need to change your ticket later, you just never know what might come up. This is a lesson I learned the hard way, so please, learn from my mistake and buy directly through the airline whenever possible.
One last thing before you take off: make sure you join the frequent flyer miles program for any and all airlines you may be flying to make the most of your flight!