Airfare is often the most expensive part of traveling. If I can find a cheap flight, I can always make the rest of a trip fit into my budget. But with so many options, how do you find cheap airfare? Which days are the best to book flights? What websites should you use?
I’ve compiled the tips that have helped me book cheap airfare in the hopes that they will help you book your next flight.
- Be flexible with your airports. This is probably the tip that saves me the most money. I tend to only book flights in and out of main international airports. If I’m flying to Cambodia, for instance, I’ll search flights to Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh and then book a budget airline for the rest of my journey. In the same fashion, I live in St. Louis, but book most of my international flights out of O’Hare in Chicago, which is 5 hours away. I always begin my searches looking at flights from St. Louis, but find that they are always significantly cheaper out of Chicago–sometimes the savings is as much as $500. I then take the train to Chicago from my parents’ house in Illinois for around $30.
- Be flexible with your dates. I realize not everyone has the same flexibility that I do, but if you can, play around with your travel dates. Sites like Skyscanner and Google Flights allow you to get a month overview of flight prices to a particular destination. Sometimes moving a trip a day or two can save you a lot of money.
- Be flexible with your destinations (See the trend? Be flexible!): The other advantage to the sites I mentioned above is that you can pick a departure city and dates of travel, and they will generate a map full of flight prices to various destinations. I did this last summer, and that’s how my kids and I ended up in Guatemala. I hadn’t planned to go to Guatemala, but when I found flights for $230 out of St. Louis even, I booked them. We had a great time discovering a place we knew little about, and it remains one of my favorite trips.
- Fly Midweek. When possible, always try to book your flights midweek, preferably on a Wednesday. There are more available seats midweek, which means cheaper flight prices for you.
- Follow airlines and flight deal pages on Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes airlines will announce sales or cheap flights through social media. The Flight Deal and Secret Flying consolidate those deals and offer flight updates on a daily basis. Somehow they seem to know when airlines mess up and have incredibly low prices. I follow both on Facebook.
- Play around with your flight path. I like to book multi-city flights. I typically find that I can book a flight with three different cities before the price increases. So, I’ll book Chicago into Bangkok, Bangkok into Paris, and Paris into Chicago, and it’ll be around the same price as the roundtrip flights between Chicago and Bangkok. If I plan to travel to a fourth city, I’ll take a budget airline or another form of transportation.
- Check prices 24 hours after you purchase. There is a 24-hour window after purchasing a flight where you can cancel or make changes to your reservation. If you find a cheaper fare, cancel the original flight and rebook at the new price.
- Book flights in advance (how far is debatable). You typically hear that six weeks is the optimal time to book a flight, but sometimes airlines offer last minute deals that reward those who wail until the last minute. I tend to be on the opposite end and book flights far in advance. I booked flights for this summer’s trip to South America (for $500 roundtrip Chicago to Bogota, Lima to Chicago) last September, eight months before we left. This upcoming Christmas I’m taking my kids to Europe, and I booked our flights for $543 back in February.
- Search flights on different sites. Skyscanner, Google Flights, ITA Software, and Tripadvisor are the four sites that have been the most helpful for me. I have booked more flights through Tripadvisor than any other site. When looking at different sites, look to see if they include the tax in the initial price that comes up. Some will include it upfront and others won’t add it in until you are booking the flight.
You’ll find other tips such as what time and day of the week to purchase flights. Certainly play attention to those; I didn’t include them here because I haven’t had much luck booking on one day over another. I tend to watch flights and wait until cheap fares come along. Maybe that’s the advantage I have booking so far out. I sometimes watch flights for several weeks before I book them.
A few more budget-saving tips related to air travel:
Parking. If you plan to at the airport, check out The Parking Spot ahead of time to see if there is a cheaper option near the airport. I have found that hotels near O’Hare offer parking for half the price of the official airport parking, and they have free shuttles that run to the airport every 30 minutes.
Baggage fees. I refuse to pay baggage fees, so I only travel with carry-ons. Transatlantic flights won’t charge baggage fees, but if you’re planning to take budget airlines around Europe or Asia, they’ll gouge you on baggage fees. Pack lightly and do laundry when you need clean clothes.