40 Easy Tips For Booking Cheap Flights

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I’ve flown from Liverpool to Paris for €5 (total price), I flew home for Christmas (New York’s JFK to London Heathrow) for £75, and I’ve flown halfway across Colombia for under $50. How? Mostly experience – I fly a lot and have spent hundreds of hours searching for and booking flights. In this article, I’ll share my tips for how to find cheap flights, including the best days to travel, how to search for flights the smart way, and how to avoid unnecessary price increases.

Swiss Air wing of plane at sunrise

1. Be flexible with your destination

Being flexible on your destination can make a huge difference. Yes, you want to spend two weeks at the beach but must it be in Spain? What about Bulgaria? Make a long list of potential destinations and keep an open mind.

2. Avoid trending destinations

If a location has made it onto any top 10 lists for the year you’re traveling, tourism will peak and so will flight prices. Popularity will eventually wane – go then instead. In the meantime, what about visiting the place next door? Neighbouring countries often have similar climates and even sometimes cultures.

3. Consider emerging destinations

There’s a sweet spot when a destination is increasingly opening up to tourism but hasn’t found it onto trendy travel lists yet. Likewise with re-emerging destinations. Whether it’s storm damage that’s been fixed or civil war that has ended and stabilized, if you’re looking for an adventure and you’re confident on safety, re-emerging destinations can be incredibly rewarding and offer cheap flight opportunities.

4. Look at a map to discover new destinations

Getting to know the world and its destinations isn’t just educational, it can save you money on flights. If you know that Georgia is also a country in Eastern Europe that has great wine tasting, you’re less likely to dismiss a cheap flight because you don’t know a place.

5. Check out new flight routes

Set up a simple Google alert to find out about new flight routes. If an airline has started flying there, it will want to get some passengers. Jump onboard before everybody else does and grab a cheap flight in the process. Airline websites also usually list their new routes.

6. Use free layovers

Several airlines will allow you a free or very cheap stopover in their hub city e.g. Hawaii with Hawaiian Airlines, Iceland and Singapore’s flagship airlines do similar. Getting a double destination from your flight price can save you the cost of a separate trip in the future.

7. Be flexible with your travel dates

Don’t get into a fixed mindset on dates unless you have to. Yes, the last two weeks in June might be what you have in mind but look at prices in the weeks and even months surrounding your ideal dates. You might be pleasantly surprised at the flight deals you find when you have flexible dates.

8. Travel on Tuesday or Wednesday

Work gets us into the week/weekend mindset but mid-week travel is often much cheaper. Do you need to leave on Saturday? Or take a Friday to Sunday trip? Play around with the days of the week. Typically flying mid-week is better – Tuesdays and Wednesdays are usually the cheapest days to fly.

9. Avoid peak travel where possible

If you’re tied to school holidays, there is little to be done. However, if you’re able to travel outside peak season, do it! You will get much cheaper flight prices. What is peak season? Here are some things to look out for:

  • School holidays – especially the first week or two when people head to the airports in high numbers.
  • Public and national holidays in your home country – any dates that offer a bonus day off work are popular for flights, pushing up prices. Especially popular are Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day (USA) and UK bank holidays. Changing your dates to just before or just after can make a huge difference.

10. Research overseas events and holidays

Local events and holidays at your intended destination can raise flight prices just as much as holidays at home so do some research before you book. What to look out for:

  • Local holidays at your destination – research local holidays at the place you’re visiting whether it’s Hong Kong during Chinese New Year or Golden Week in Japan, flight prices increase around local events.
  • Major sporting events – visit any country during its World Cup or Olympic period and you’re going to face a premium price for flights. Unless you’re heading there for the event, wait until the excitement has passed.
  • Local events and festivals – it’s not just big events that push up prices. Being in Oahu during the Honolulu marathon explained my high flight price. Local musical festivals could have the same impact.
  • Local anniversaries – check the history too. The anniversary of Pearl Harbor, and Flanders Field on the 100th anniversary of World War I pushed up flight prices. See what’s coming up.
  • Popular periods in iconic places – Valentine’s Day in Paris. Christmas shopping in New York. Cherry blossom in Japan. Unless you specifically travel for those reasons, give them a miss.

11. Consider traveling on the holiday days

Flying on the actual holiday days themselves – Easter Sunday, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve – can make a significant difference to your flight price. I’ve flown on New Year, Easter, and Christmas and always get a bargain (and sometimes a free glass of sparkling wine).

12. Travel in low or shoulder season

Low season (the opposite of peak season), as well as shoulder season (the months on either side of peak season), can offer great flight deals. Fewer tourists often mean lower airfares. Shoulder seasons are a good combination of reduced prices but still with sufficient stuff to do. Low season is usually cheaper but beware. If attractions are closed and the destination becomes a ghost town, are you putting your money to good use?

13. Don’t let bad weather put you off low season

Yes, you do need to weigh up cheap flights versus low-season downsides but dig a bit deeper if the weather is the only thing stopping you. Even during the rainy season in Costa Rica, it won’t rain all day every day (trust me, I was there for almost the whole rainy season!). If you’re prepared to accept a potential downpour, you can get some great deals when the weather is most ugly.

14. Don’t book annual leave until you’ve checked flight prices

Do your research before you commit to your annual leave dates. Otherwise, you risk being stuck with dates twice the price of going the following week.

15. Use Skyscanner to do a broad search for flights

There are many great flight search websites out there but Skyscanner is my go-to website for trip planning my flights. Why? Because it lets you do an incredibly broad search.

Specific search: doing a specific search with fixed dates and locations from London to New York direct from Saturday 4 May to Saturday 11 May, the best price is £430 return. It’s a good price but prices get even better when you broaden your search.

Broad search: widen the search from all UK airports to all USA airports during the whole of May and add flexibility for a layover and you can save over £100 ($150) on a flight to New York. Fly to Washington D.C. instead and you save close to $200. And, since you can easily travel from Washington D.C. to New York by train or bus, you can turn your trip into a double-destination trip while saving money.

Note: I want to love Google flights but I never get the same good deals as I do with Skyscanner.

16. Take unattractive flight times (but only if it makes sense)

Unattractive flight times – early morning or late at night – are usually cheaper simply because they’re not popular. You might need to get to the airport at 0’dark-thirty but if the flight is a fraction of the cost, isn’t it worth setting the alarm a few hours early? However, do the maths. There are hidden costs of flying outside normal hours, mainly the cost of having to take a taxi to the airport or stay at an airport hotel because public transport isn’t running.

17. Fly indirect

If your preferred route is either too popular or too expensive, consider going indirect. Example – New York – Atlanta – London. Typically, the longer your layover or the more indirect, the cheaper the ticket. Finding indirect flight routes is one of the reasons I love the broad search on Skyscanner.

18. Fly from airport hubs

Hubs are major airports in each country and from hubs you will find the most choices – airlines, destinations, flight times, number of flights. Examples include LAX in Los Angeles and London Heathrow in London. If it’s not too difficult to travel to your nearest hub airport, you can often get a cheaper flight than flying from your closest airport. I saved a lot flying from the Southwest hub of Phoenix compared to neighboring Albuquerque. Equally, you might then add on a local flight with a budget airline to travel to your final destination. An example might be flying from London to Bordeaux in France with a European budget airline rather than flying from your home country directly to Bordeaux.

19. Fly from airline ‘home’ airports

As well as hub airport within each country, many airlines have their ‘home’ airport from which they offer many flights at their best prices. For example, Madrid is one of Iberia’s main jumping-off points for Latin America. Within Asia, Kuala Lumpur is the hub of Budget airline AirAsia.

20. Travel to less popular airports

In Europe especially, budget airlines often fly into less popular airports e.g. Bergamo for Milan or Treviso for Venice. Usually, they’re a fraction of the price of flying to the central airport. And there’s typically a shuttle which will transfer you to the main city for a small fee.

21. Combine flights, trains and buses

Instead of flying into a smaller, more expensive-to-reach airport, it can be cheaper to fly into a hub airport and carry on by train, bus, or car hire to your destination. If you’re on a longer or more adventurous trip, it might even pay to cross the border by land. For example, in places like South America where international flights are expensive, flying within a country to its closest border and crossing by land and picking up your journey from there can save you money.

22. Search incognito to avoid dynamic pricing

Airlines use something called dynamic pricing to raise the cost of airline tickets on an individual basis the more you search for flights. Yes, it’s legal. Yes, it’s horrible. If you see your flight pricing go up, up and up each time you check, you’re likely being hit by dynamic pricing. Don’t panic buy (which is what they want you to do). Flush your cookies, switch to incognito/private search, use a VPN, or even head to the cafe down the road to re-check the prices. For more information, including how to beat the system, check out my related article: Dynamic Pricing: Flight Pricing’s Biggest Scam.

23. Look for airline sales

Be the first to know about airline sales – sign up for email alerts from the major airlines to know exactly when deals drop. Most sales have limited numbers at the super-low advertised price. Getting alerts means you can book a deal before it sells out. Many airlines also have regular sales throughout the year. For example, Black Friday, January, and September (after back to school) often means flight sales. Waiting for flight sales can save you hundreds, especially on long-haul flights.

24. Get price change alerts

Not finding the price you like and got some time before you need to book? Consider signing up for price alerts. Sites like Skyscanner will ping you a notification if prices change. This means prices going up but also down. While you do need to be a bit careful with price alerts – if the price is always going up, think: dynamic pricing. With Skyscanner, they promise they don’t use cookies/dynamic pricing and I have had alerts of lowered prices.

25. Look out for new airlines

New airlines start operating every year and they often have cheap flights to get passengers onboard. If one has launched in your home country or where you’re traveling to, check them out for flight deals. Generally, you shouldn’t have to worry about safety but if you want to check, go to Airline Safety Rating.

26. Combine airlines

It used to be that we’d take a return flight with the same airline but since sites like Skyscanner let us do broad searches, there is no need to commit to the same airline for your outbound and return flights. In fact, I often find it cheaper to combine airlines. The main exception to this is long-haul flights. It’s still often much cheaper to book a return with the same airline for international long-haul flights.

27. Book hot deals with Hotwire

Oversupplied seats are a dream for saving on flights. If you don’t need to go to an exact destination on an exact day, you can get great discounts with Hotwire. You can save up to 40% by buying a seat on a flight where there is a surplus. As always, check the price elsewhere before you book.

28. Check prices directly with the airline

Flight search engines can save you a lot of time but you should also sense check the price. First of all, flight search engines don’t include all airlines. If an obvious airline isn’t popping up on your search, check out their prices directly. Also, even if you do find a price you like, double-check directly – sometimes it can be cheaper.

29. Pay in a different currency

This is an especially technical hack and will mostly only work if you’re booking an internal flight at your travel destination. However, it can work. I got a $150 flight for just $50 with LAN in Colombia just by searching for different currencies (tip: the flight was cheaper paying in GBP than Colombian pesos – go figure?!). You’ll need a VPN for this. I use Express VPN. If you’ve got time and interest to play around, this can pay off.

30. Avoid third-party fees

eDreams once tried to add a 30% fee onto a flight that was less than $50. On the airline’s website, I could book directly without fees. Double-check before you book. Also, read the small print. Several of the lower-priced third-party agents that show up in the search results on Skyscanner charge hideous fees if you want to add checked luggage. Presumably, this is how they make their profit.

31. Collect air miles

Collecting air miles is one of the best ways to get cheap flights. I’ve written a whole article about using points for cheap travel. Although it’s UK-focused, you get the idea – sign up for points-collecting credit cards and collect air miles directly. Over time, you’ll be able to save toward future flights.

32. Consider a hotel and flight package

Sites like Expedia, Lastminute.com and Booking.com offer discounts if you buy a bunch of services together – flights, hotels, car hire, etc. Price the items individually, and if there’s a saving to be had, take it. Equally, consider heading to a travel agent to buy a package deal. It was cheaper for me to fly to the Gambia through a package trip than any flight and hotel combo I could put together. Embrace the simplicity and cheaper flights that come as part of the deal.

33. Know the best time to book cheap flights

The lovely people over at Cheapair crunched some data (over 900 million trips to be exact) and came up with the following solid suggestions for the best time to book your flight. The tips below are for USA domestic fares. Here’s the data from Cheapair for international flights. It’s more detailed because it’s broken down by region.

  • Book 70 days (around 2.5 months) in advance for the cheapest flights – of course, that is an average, but it’s a great starting point.
  • The prime booking window is 46 to 164 days before your flight (around 1.5 to 5.5 months before).
  • But the price booking window is longer in summer (book around 6 months ahead) and can be shorter in winter (you can still get good deals around 1 month before you fly).
  • Tickets are most expensive 2 weeks before your flight.
  • Booking 7 to 10 months ahead is also expensive (though you have most choice).
  • There is no best day to book (what matters more is which day you travel – Tuesday and Wednesday are the cheapest days to travel).

34. Book early if you have fixed dates

If you know exactly when you’re going to fly and have limited flexibility in dates, times and destination, then you should get booking ASAP. With limited routes and seats on offer for your particular dates, prices will only go up as availability decreases. I had this problem on my last trip to the Greek Islands. A return flight that should have cost £250, ended up costing £600 because I booked too late and didn’t have any flexibility on flights.

35. Save on excess baggage fees

Checked baggage fees are forever on the rise and the more luggage you take, the more it costs you. Packing light is the best solution. I’ve got some handy guides: 25 Easy Tips for Packing Lighter For A Trip and Downsizing To Carry On Luggage. In addition, to reduce your flight and baggage costs:

  • Book your baggage in advance. Baggage gets more expensive the closer you get to the gate. Book online for the greatest discounts and never get caught out having to check baggage at the gate. Spirit charges as much as $100.
  • Stick to the exact dimensions and weight. Budget airlines do weigh and measure your bag. The size and weights permitted differ by airline. Know what they are and follow the rules strictly. (See below for the luggage scales and packing cubes that I recommend to make packing easier).
  • Buy airline-compliant baggage. Having the right carry-on luggage will keep you from over-packing and paying excess luggage fees.

36. Don’t pay for extras onboard

To keep your costs low, don’t opt for any extras. Don’t pre-book your seat, don’t get priority boarding, and certainly don’t get the airline’s travel insurance (it’s rarely cheaper than booking yourself).

37. Use your student or armed forces discount

Are you a student or part of the armed forces? If you have any special status that can get you a discount on your flights, do it. You may have to search for the best airline or booking agent but special prices are available.

38. Check in online and issue your own boarding card

Many budget airlines charge a fee, especially in Europe, to print your boarding card at the airport. Either print it at home or download it onto the airline’s app before you travel. Just make sure you have enough charge on your phone battery for the airport.

39. Don’t mess up

Mis-typing your name, clicking on the wrong travel dates and (of course) missing your flight can all cost you. I’ve made all of these mistakes, some of them more than once and it’s always painfully expensive. Check it. And check it again.

40. Complain if the airline gets it wrong

If your flight is unduly delayed or there are problems caused by the airline, complain. Sometimes you’ll get a partial refund. Other times, you might get air miles. They can both be used for future flights.

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Author - Jo Fitzsimons

Hi, I'm Jo, the writer behind Indiana Jo. In 2010 I quit my job as a lawyer and booked an around the world ticket. As a solo female traveller, I hopped from South America to Central America, across Asia, the Middle East and Europe. It was supposed to be a one-year trip but over a decade later, it's yet to end. I've lived in a cave, climbed down a volcano barefoot, spent years as a digital nomad, worked as a freelance travel writer, and eaten deadly Fugu. Now I'm home, back in the UK, but still travelling far and wide. You can find out more About Me.