Everyone likes to get cheap flights, myself included, and over the past few years of travel, I’ve learned a trick or two! I’m not a flight hacker and I don’t collect frequent flyer points as often as I should, but despite this, I have managed to score some incredible airfare deals.
There was the time I flew from Toronto to London for $405 return, the time I flew from Bangkok to Frankfurt for around $380, and I most recently scored a return flight from New York City to Johannesburg for a mere $324. I must be doing something right, RIGHT?!
Today, I thought I’d share how I get cheap flights when I travel. None of it is rocket science, and if you apply a few of these tips, you should be able to save yourself some money the next time you book airfare. So here we go!
Be flexible about your destination
I know this doesn’t work too well if you need to be at a particular destination for your cousin’s wedding or your family reunion, but if all you want to do is travel and you are flexible about the destination, you can score some amazing deals. For example, I had no intention of going to South Africa anytime soon, however, when I saw that deal for $324 it was one of those “if not now, then when?” moments. (I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that it’s only costing me $162 each way!!!)
One cool search engine for browsing is Skyscanner.net because it lets you choose your departure city, but you can leave your destination blank and it will search for the best deals everywhere. You can also do this on Kayak.com/explore and Google Flights. If you don’t really mind whether you end up in Las Vegas or in Rome, then it’s a really fun function to play with.
Tick the ‘flexible dates’ box to get cheap flights
Most flight search engines have a little box where you can tick that your dates are flexible. This means you get to see deals for flights departing 3 days in advance and 3 days after your selected date. It’s a great function to play around with and you can often save yourself a nice chunk of money just by flying a few days earlier/later than you originally intended.
Avoid the holiday season
Flying during the holiday season is expensive; that’s the one time of year when everyone is trying to get home to see family and friends, and because the demand is incredibly high, airlines can hike up prices and travellers will still pay for it.
However, there is a loophole. If you are willing to fly on Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve, prices are usually lower. The thing about flying on those dates is that most people already want to be home celebrating with their loved ones, but if you don’t mind spending part of your holiday on a plane, then you can actually get some really good prices. Bonus: you might even be able to catch some fireworks from the air!
I actually flew back from Cuba a few years ago on Christmas Eve and I saved a nice chunk of money. Also, my husband recently flew home to visit his parents over the holidays (departing on Christmas Day and returning on New Year’s Eve) and he paid a third of the regular holiday price – all this to say, that it’s been tested and it works!
And avoid summer break
If you can avoid flying in July and August, you’ll save yourself quite a bit of money. The thing about travelling during the summer months is that kids are off school and families can finally go on holiday. However, the demand for flights drives up the airfare. To give you an example, I once snagged a deal from Toronto to London for around $400 in the month of June; a month later the airfare was double that price. If you really want to enjoy summer weather on your trip, consider travelling in mid-June or early September. You’ll save money, plus you’ll escape the crowds!
Be willing to book right away
Good deals don’t last long. If you see a price that can’t be beat, don’t waste time debating, and don’t tell yourself you’ll just book it later. Other people will pounce on the deal and it’ll be gone when you finally decide you’re ready to book.
Check flights as soon as they are posted
When is the best time to get cheap flights? There is a lot of speculation regarding this topic, however, the general consensus seems to be Tuesday. Most airlines post new deals late Monday night, which means Tuesday is a good time to browse for deals. A study done by FareCompare found that Tuesday at 3 p.m. Eastern Time is the best time to shop for domestic flights online. While I’ve never timed it to the dot, it’s something to consider.
Choose cheap days to fly
The cheapest days for flying seem to be Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.
Avoid flying on Fridays and Sundays. Most travellers want to leave on a Friday so they can make the most of the weekend, and Sunday is a popular day to return because people need to be at work by Monday. This demand drives up the cost.
Opt for connecting flights as opposed to direct flights
Everyone wants the convenience of flying directly. You hop on the flight, watch a movie, take a nap, and by the time you wake up you’ve arrived at your destination. Because of the convenience, direct flights are usually a bit pricier than those involving connections.
If you’re in no rush to get to your destination and you don’t mind spending a few hours at an airport waiting for a connecting flight, you can usually save some money.
Book tickets separately
I just mentioned that you can save by booking connecting flights rather than direct, but you can sometimes save even more if you book these connecting flights separately. For example, say you’re flying from Calgary to Tokyo. Instead of booking this a whole journey, you could book a flight on a domestic carrier to get you to Vancouver, and then you could book another separate flight from Vancouver to Tokyo. This requires playing with dates and doing a bit of coordinating, but it can save you money. The only downside is that if your first flight is delayed and you miss your connection, it’ll cost you to rebook yourself on the next flight. If you’re going to try this strategy, you want to give yourself plenty of time between flights and I’d even consider spending a night in the ‘halfway’ destination.
Buy early or buy late
It seems like I’m contradicting myself here, but hear me out. If you have a specific destination in mind, it’s worth booking early, sometimes even several months in advance. That’s what I do whenever I want to go visit family in South America and I’ve been able to snag deals from Toronto to Rio de Janeiro for as little as $700 (usual airfare from my departure city can be upwards of $1000). Granted, I do book 3-4 months in advance.
However, if you are more flexible and are willing to go anywhere, you can often find last-minute flights and holiday packages for a fraction of the usual price tag.
Just don’t delay booking a flight if you know you have to take it. The closer you get to the trip, the higher the price will be. Studies have shown that airfares prices go up daily for the last 2 weeks leading up to a flight – you are doing yourself no favours if you delay too much.
Monitor your flight for 24 hours after your booking
There are flight search engines that offer free cancellation within 24 hours of booking a flight. This can be a good thing, because if you find a better deal or notice that the price of your flight drops within 24 hours of the booking, then you can cancel the original ticket and purchase a new one for a lower price. (Keep in mind that some airlines will actually reimburse you the difference if the price drops, so in this case there is no need to cancel the original flight.)
Sign up for airline newsletters
I have a few airlines that I regularly fly with, so I’ve signed up to receive monthly alerts about sales and upcoming deals. I know no one likes getting spam in their inbox, but if you travel often and want to keep up to date with promotions, it’s worth signing up for a few newsletters and perusing those every once in a while. You never know what you might find!
Keep an eye out for new routes
When an airline starts flying a new route, they usually have really low prices to help promote it. To give you an example, Air Canada recently started operating new routes to Panama City, Rio de Janeiro, and Mont Tremblant. Because not many people may be aware of these destinations, the airfare is lower than usual as an introductory offer. Again, you can keep yourself informed of new routes by choosing to receive newsletters.
Check out blogs that post airline deals
There are a few blogs and websites out there that post the best deals of the week. The people behind these sites basically spend hours scouring the internet for the best deals available, and then they share them with people. (Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!)
A few of my favourites websites to get cheap flights are The Flight Deal and The Points Guy; these are really great ones for hot deals out of the US. And for anyone based in Toronto YYZ Deals is another one worth checking out. I’ve found unbelievable deals through these sites on several occasions.
Follow airlines on social media
Another way to get cheap flights is to follow airlines on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Following them on social media won’t only alert you about the latest promotions, but you’ll also be able to participate in contests for the chance to win free airfare. Not bad for using some hashtags.
Consider flying into secondary airports
You kind of need to weigh the pros and cons with this one. Sometimes it’s cheaper flying into a secondary airport, but these are usually located further outside of the city, which means it’ll take you a bit longer to get into town and you also have to consider the cost of local transportation.
So Gatwick or Heathrow? Girona or Barcelona? Beauvais or Charles de Gaulle? That is the question. During my first mini-backpacking trip around Europe, I flew in and out of all the secondary airports and I saved a nice chunk of change, so if you’re young and strapped for cash it’s a good alternative.
Pay someone else to find you a good deal
If you can’t be bothered to spend hours surfing the web for the best deals but you still want to get cheap flights, you can actually pay someone to do it for you. Now, I haven’t tried this service myself, but I know people who have, so I thought I’d mention it.
FlightFox is a site where you connect with a flight expert – you provide them with your destination, dates, flexibility, and any other details – and then they go searching for the best deal out there. Rates for this service start at $49, and considering they have saved customers hundreds of dollars off the cost of their flight, it might be worth checking out.
Use an incognito window when browsing for flights
Another way to get cheap flights is by going incognito. Have you ever been looking at a flight that you’re not quite ready to commit to, and every time you go back to check the price it’s a little higher and higher?
I’ve also heard of people using a VPN to disguise their actual location, and they claim this has resulted in lower fares.
Start collecting frequent flyer miles
I’m preaching to the choir here because this is something I need to start doing myself! In the past, I’ve been so focused on finding the cheapest deal and saving money, that I haven’t really paused to think about the long-term benefits that come with being loyal to a specific airline and its partners. Just think of all the miles I could be collecting?
There are 3 airlines alliances travellers can join: Star Alliance, One World, and Sky Team. But before you run off to sign up with one of these alliances, you really need to do your research. You need to consider the airlines you most frequently fly with, but you also need to ask yourself: Do I mostly fly domestically or internationally? Do I spend more time in Europe or in Asia? Each alliance has its own pros and cons, so you want to make sure you join the one that’s the best fit for your travel style
And those are a few of my tips and tricks. I hope they will help you get cheap flights next time you are surfing the internet for airfare. Also, if you have any other tips and tricks you’d like to share with readers and fellow travellers, feel free to do so in the comments below. I know we all appreciate snagging great deals when it comes to airfare!
Related: 101 Gift Ideas for Travelers
What are your tips and tricks to get cheap flights?
You might also enjoy: How to start a travel blog: A step-by-step guide!