An airport terminal with several large planes lined up at the gates

How to find cheap flight tickets

posted in: Budgeting and saving, Planning | 0

You’re travelling sooner or later and are looking for cheap flight tickets. Where to start? Airlines use all sorts of data and algorithms to set their fares. Luckily, there are some general trends and rules to help us determine when and how to fly. This post provides 10 tips and tricks to help you dig up those cheap flights.

1. Use search engines such as Google Flights and SkyScanner

Google flights and SkyScanner are essential tools in the process of finding a cheap flight. Within seconds, they check fares for every airline that is flying on your chosen route. They’ll even provide alternatives. These two engines obviously aren’t the only ones, but I found that they cover almost all airlines and have plenty of filter and query customization options. Once you find a fare you like at either search engine, make sure to also check the other!

2. Browsing incognito does not help you

This probably is one of the most persistent urban myths in the travel world. Heaps of people seem to believe that airlines hike up their prices after you look at their fares more than once. Yes, this happens sometimes, but for different reasons. Seat availability changes, the flight date is approaching, the price of fuel might have increased. We don’t know. If you search for flights through a search engine, there is no way for an airline to know how many times you’ve checked that flight/fare. It’s simple as that. Suppose you walk into store and see an item you like, but don’t want to buy it right away. When you come back, do you really think the salesman will tell you “I had the best offer, but not anymore! HA HA HA”? Of course not. Save yourself the effort of browsing incognito.

3. Some airports are cheaper than others

Airlines pay for their right to land at an airport. Passengers pay fees and taxes for services and security checks at the airport. These costs are included in your ticket price, and that’s why it’s worth checking whether an alternative airport close to you offers cheaper tickets to the same destination. This will require some experimenting, as airport fee information is usually not easily found.

4. Be flexible with your travel dates

Most routes are more expensive in the weekends than they are on weekdays. This is a fact. Holidays such as Christmas and New Year’s are especially expensive. Moreover, some (budget) airlines only fly on certain days of the week, so be sure to check the calendar views in flight search engines to find the cheapest dates. The more flexible you are, the cheaper your flight will be!

A calendar indicating flight dates and associated prices
Google Flights’ calendar indicates that flight prices vary a lot depending on the date you choose.

5. The earlier you book, the cheaper your flight

Generally speaking, a cheap flight is much easier to find if you start looking early. Though sometimes you might be able to snatch a last-minute deal, most often you’ll get a similar or even lower price if you book several months in advance. This might not always be possible, depending on your travel style. Tickets usually open up for sale 11-12 months in advance; the perfect time to book seems to be around 4-6 months from the date of departure.

6. Try to avoid the high season

This tip in fact is an extension of tip number 4, but focuses on longer timescales. It is easy to see that air fares are (much) more expensive in the high season than they are in the low season. Travelling in the “shoulder season” or even the low season often is just as good as travelling in the high season, but you end up saving a ton of money! Check out this graph to see the price difference for a flight between Europe and the U.S.:

A graph showing air fares decreasing significantly over time as the high season ends
This flight from Europe to the U.S. is over three times cheaper in the “shoulder season”

7. Cheap is not always cheap!

You might think that you booked a cheap flight by choosing the cheapest Ryanair or Southwest ticket, but do consider that these companies offer ‘bare’ tickets that usually don’t include anything at all, requiring you to pay for any and all extras or services such as:

  • Seat selection;
  • Carry-on or checked luggage;
  • Oversize luggage
  • Changing the name on the ticket;
  • Not printing your ticket;
  • Changing the flight date;
  • Exceeding maximum luggage weight;
  • Using the toilet?!

Be smart and check beforehand what is included and what is not.

8. Check which airport you’re flying into

Big cities often have multiple airports to fly into. While it might not be obvious during the booking process, you might end up booking a ticket to an airport that is way out of the city center. This might require you to pay a significant amount of money for a taxi, (shuttle) bus or train to take you into the city. Do your homework and check which airport is most convenient for you.

9. Don’t pay for seat reservations

I stopped paying for seat reservations a long time ago. I do this for a good reason — it turns out that lots of people don’t pay for their seats, meaning that there are plenty of good seats left once you walk up to a check-in desk at the airport. As long as you don’t give the attendant a reason to be angry at you, they’ll give you a window or aisle seat. Otherwise: you can always ask. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to get an exit row seat. Do try to be early for check-in, as it’s first-come first-served.

10. Set up e-mail alerts for price drops

This feature is supported by most flight search engines (even some airlines) and will alert you once a cheap flight pops up. Here’s how it works: you pick a route, date and airline using the steps above and then set up an e-mail alert for that flight. With some luck, it’ll drop down a bit more so you’ll be able to get an even cheaper flight! This tip also works to find so-called “error fares”, where airlines accidentally release tickets at a much lower price than they should have. This is quite rare, though.

A price tracking button for flight tickets
Toggle this switch in Google Flights to receive e-mail alerts when your ticket price drops.

I hope these tips will help you to find cheap flight tickets. If you think that I missed anything, or if you have some advice of your own, feel free to post a comment in the comment section below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *