There are a million different flight companies, travel agencies and comparison sites. They all claim to be the cheapest, yet all have different prices, taxes and hidden charges.
Unlike almost any other business model on the planet, when you're booking a flight, nothing is black and white. On a flight of 150 seats, it's possible there'll be over 50 different prices. Knowing that the person snoring beside you with the smelly feet paid half the price you did can be infuriating.
I worked for a travel agency and I'll admit that I hated it. To me, it seemed like The Wild West. For example, the exact same seat on a plane can have multiple prices depending on who is selling it. That price can also change throughout the day depending on the demand. Imagine this:
You walk into a supermarket you see a bottle of wine for $10. You're undecided so you walk away. You return after a few more people have looked at it and it's now $15.
So, how do you make sure you're not paying over the odds? How do you ensure you're getting a good deal for your flight?
Before we get into the tips and tricks, it's important to realize that it's not easy. There's no exact science to getting cheap flight prices. It takes time, effort and a bit of luck.
Depending on where you live, it can be easier or harder to find cheap airfare. However, there are some tactics and techniques that everyone can use to find cheap airfare at anytime of year.
These tips work.
It takes time but, if you combine these techniques, you will make big savings.
When you visit a website you'll likely see a pop-up saying something along the lines of "blah blah cookies... blah blah accept." Websites then use these cookies to track your habits and patterns.
Some people say it makes no difference to your price - Skyscanner and other comparison sights are anonymous until you click through to buy. However, I was personally told by an airline executive, "the more they want it, the more they'll pay."
If they see demand, they raise the price.
The simple way around this is to use the Incognito or Privacy mode on your web browser. This will hide your browsing history and ensure nobody knows what you're up to.
Even better is to use a VPN. With a VPN (Virtual Private Network), as well as remaining secure online, you can change your computer address. Sometimes airlines charge you extra depending on where they think you're from. Change your computer address to the same as your destination and repeat the search. You may notice a big difference.
2. Be flexible!
The joy of traveling is exploring new lands and new cultures. If you're flexible about not only when you go but where you go, you can amazingly cheap airfare.
Skyscanner has the excellent 'Everywhere' feature which led to so many an adventures. I once spent an entire summer traveling around Israel after finding super cheap flight deals to Tel Aviv using this method.
Enter your departure airport, but remember to be flexible with this too. It could get a better deal flying from nearby airports.
Type Everywhere into the destination. For even more flexibility, for your travel date selectWhole Month and then Cheapest Month. This could reveal destinations you'd never even considered.
You might not fly on your preferred travel dates, but that's a trade you make for getting the cheapest price.
They all offer similar functions, although I've always found Skyscanner to have the cheapest flight deals. Later I'll share how you can save even more with Skyscanner.
The more flexible you are, the cheaper you can find deals. Fact.
Combine this with Tip #8 - Find locals in Facebook groups and ask for alternative airports. Share your travel plans and ask for any local travel tips or special deals.
This worked for me in Poland.
By flying to an airport I'd never heard of I got an amazing deal and saw a beautiful part of the country.
3. Use the Honey Chrome Extension
Honey is a website that collects coupons, promotions and discount codes. When you use the Chrome Extension it applies them instantly to any booking you make.
No more endlessly searching the web for discount codes that may or may not work. At the checkout you'll get a little pop-up asking if you want to search for a valid code. It automatically attempts all the codes available. If one works, excellent. If not, you've only lost a few seconds of your time.
Honey tries all available coupon codes until it finds you the lowest price.
I've personally made lots of little savings using Honey — 2% up to 12%, and even had 10% cash back on several airfares.
Again, there are several alternatives. However, I've always found Honey to be the most reliable (and it works on lots of other big sites too).
4. Set alerts
If you don't have the time to sit online all day chasing special offers then let them come to you. Set alerts with all the major companies and get the updates in your inbox.
Skyscanner, Google Alerts, Airfarewatchdog and many, many more offer the ability to select your desired flight date/destination and then receive alerts when the price changes.
I also use a mobile app called Hopper. It monitors historical and current prices plus the trends. I saved over £150 on a flight from Manchester to Rio de Janeiro using Hopper. Enter your preferred flight and you'll receive a push notification when the price is set to rise or fall.
For maximum flexibility, create multiple searches for different dates/destinations.
5. Sign up for Discount Flight Groups
If you want someone else to do the searching for you, you're in luck. Sign up for one of many 'Flight Clubs' which search the internet all day long looking for the best discount airfares. Some great flight clubs include Jack's Flight Club, Scott's Cheap Flights, Dollar Flight Club, etc.
Dollar Flight Club does all the searching for you to identify deals which are 60-90% below the average round-trip price. They search thousands of sites, find the super cheap deals and send you alerts straight to your inbox/mobile.
Dollar Flight Club is different from the general flight alerts mentioned earlier as they have full teams of agents actively searching for deals, plus they offer special discounts for members.
The option to save $500+ per ticket on an international flight is pretty tempting. And it's entirely possible! Knowing how much the prices can vary, it's entirely possible to save hundreds if you know where to look.
Dollar Flight Club also searches for error fares.
6. Error Fares
I have never personally used one, but I've spoken to several travelers who've been lucky enough to find them. They're like unicorns... only real (so maybe not the best analogy).
An error fare is when an airline makes a mistake with the price.
Sometimes they miss off a 0, so a $2000 flight becomes $200. They process millions of flights every day, so mistakes are inevitable. I've met people who spend all their waking hours hunting for these 'mistake fares.'
If you are lucky enough to stumble upon an error fare, I would advise caution. The airlines are not obliged to honor these mistakes. If they realize their error they can cancel them immediately or contact you to pay the difference in price. You can then either pay the full amount or cancel your booking.
As error fares are so rare and volatile, it's recommended to book immediately. Book with a credit card faster and easier should you need a refund.
Plus, don't book anything else like hotels or rentals until at least a week after. If the airlines don't cancel after 72 hours then they'll probably honor the mistake.
If you find an error fare and the airline honors it, it's possible that you can save an absolute fortune,so they're always worth exploring. You can create alerts with plenty of companies like Dollar Flight Club, Travel Pirates or lots more to receive these fares by email. Then you just have to be quick enough to open them before they disappear.
7. Reward programs
Not exploring reward points sooner is one of my biggest travel regrets. I was completely unaware of Frequent Flyer Points/Travel Miles/Airmiles/Reward Points when I started traveling. I could have been traveling like a king nowadays with all the money I've spent throughout the years.
Travel points are usually a reward scheme from major Credit Cards. Spend money using certain credit cards and you'll also receive some travel points which you can redeem for free flights, upgrades or other travel perks. Certain credit cards are linked to certain airlines, so it's important to shop around.
A word of warning:
Credit cards and travel can be a slippery slope to financial disaster (again speaking from personal experience).
It' vital that you stay on top of the repayments. Repay the full amount as soon as possible to avoid additional fees and you should be able to earn some decent points per year.
Serious travel hackers have multiple cards for multiple situations, They're the people who get to fly business class while I'm still jammed into Economy.
As a side note, you can also donate your Airmiles to charity should you wish.
8. Ask the locals
You can do a ton of research from home on the cheapest airfare for a certain destination, but some domestic airlines don't show up in flight search engines. This is where local advice is priceless.
You'll probably find a Facebook group or three for the country you want to visit. Introduce yourself and ask around for local budget airlines.
You could save a lot of money flying to a major airport and taking a cheap internal flight. This is especially true for budget travel in Europe. Fly into the cheapest destination possible and then use budget airlines to find connecting flights.
I found a cool travel hack in Brazil too. It's often cheaper to buy Airmiles through a local company (MaxMilhas) rather than buy flights directly through the airlines or flight comparison sites. I would never have known this from my comfortable computer chair in the UK (and it's saved me £100s).
Staying with Brazil, and Rio de Janeiro specifically, they have two big airports. One is right in the city center, the other is a distance away. Ask the locals before you travel.
Flying to London Luton may be cheaper than Heathrow, but the extra transport costs to the city center will cancel out any savings.
9. Ditch the luggage
While ditching your luggage may not reduce the price of the actual ticket, it can save you a huge amount in additional costs. Most airlines allow 10kg of luggage carry-on for free. It's amazing how much stuff you can pack if done properly!
Watch Youtube videos and study up. Do you fold or roll? Do you always wear your heaviest clothes to the airport? Packing cubes or dry bags?
While that all may sound like something for crazy obsessive people, re-evaluating your luggage can save time, money and back pain. Be ruthless with your packing! Minimal baggage means you're first on the plane, first out of the airport and first to the top of the mountain.
10. Look for Red Eyes
As we established earlier, the more demand for a flight, the higher the price. This means that all the popular flights will be more expensive:
Friday nights for people going away after work
Sunday night for people returning before work on Monday morning
School Holidays for obvious reasons
Avoid these flights. In fact, go the complete opposite. Flying at 4am may sound horrendous, but I guarantee it'll be much cheaper. Flying at 4am Tuesday to Thursday will be even cheaper. The airlines want to fill these Red Eye flights, so a little discomfort at the start can mean more money left over for travel spending.
Research your destination first, but avoiding peak season will mean lower ticket prices. It can also lead to a better experience as you'll miss the tourists and thus meet more locals. If you have to travel in the peak season, you can still reduce your ticket price by using the strategies above.
It may seem like a lot of work, but it can mean the difference between affording one flight per year or four or five.
Bonus Tips: Always choose the cheapest ticket price
When I book flights I always go with the cheapest ticket prices. Always go economy.
While the flight experience may be less enjoyable - less leg room, no champagne etc, it means more money to spend at my destination. Premium Economy means I can board the plane earlier? So what? The flight leaves at the same time regardless!
I also don't bother with direct flights. If they have them, excellent. If not, it's all part of the experience.
Always shop around on multiple sites with flexible dates. Treat hunting for cheap flight tickets as a challenge.
Always check with your credit card company to see if they offer awesome upgrades. Even if it's just free insurance, free stuff is always cool.
Compare the prices for a round trip ticket vs two singles. You could make big savings.
If you're flying long distance, consider breaking up the flight. There are usually multiple routes to any given destination.
Final bonus tip:
If you have a travel blog, you'll probably know about affiliate sales. Have you created an account with Travelpayouts.com? They handle affiliate links for companies such as Momondo, Kayak, Wego and Skyscanner.