It doesn’t matter whether you’re a seasoned traveler or you’re booking your first dream vacation—budgeting is key! I’ve been on over 1,200 flights since I started traveling in 2010, and one of the most significant ways I like to budget for my trips is to make sure I find the best deals I can on airfare. Here are my 14 best tips for how to book cheap flights:
Tip #1: Be Flexible With Your Dates & Destinations
Unless you’re traveling for a specific event like a destination wedding, you should always hold your dates and destinations loosely. Sometimes you can save a significant amount of money simply by traveling a week or two earlier/later or by flying to a different city. If you’re looking to take a weekend trip next month, try to check the prices on all four of the weekends. You’ll get four different prices and can choose what works best for your budget and your plans. If you want to go to Europe but don’t have a specific place in mind, you can research flights to as many cities as you like—this will open up even more options for your budget. The more flexible you can be, the more likely you will find a great deal on your flights!
Tip #2: Book 2-4 Weeks in Advance
Everyone will give you a different opinion on this, but after booking over 1,200 flights, I have found that the sweet spot is usually between two and four weeks out from your desired trip because this is when airlines are working to fill up empty seats, and you’ll usually find the lowest prices. I’m not saying you can’t find deals six months out, for example, or even last minute—both are totally possible. Regularly, however, two to four weeks is my go-to.
Tip #3: Book a Round Trip Ticket
If you’re anything like me, you’re not exactly sure when you’ll be returning or where you’ll want to go next. In spite of that, I often book round-trip tickets to get the best deals! Booking a round-trip ticket is often cheaper than booking a one-way ticket.
They almost give you a bit of an upgrade or discount if you book a round-trip ticket, so make sure you don’t just look for those convenient one-way flights! For example, I’ve spent a lot of time flying to and from the Philippines. A round trip ticket from the Philippines to Los Angeles on a Filipino airline would usually cost around $650, but a one-way ticket costs $690-$730.
Tip #4: Use a Private Browser When Booking
When you browse flights, the websites will track you using cookies. Sometimes, the prices of flights will increase based on your browser history. Using a private browser will ensure that all of those cookies are reset so that you can start your search with a clean slate and be sure to get the lowest prices possible.
My favorite is Google Chrome, which has a function called “incognito window.” Safari and Firefox both offer their own version, which they call “private browsing.” Any browser you prefer should have a similar function, and it’s worth figuring out how to use it to get the lowest prices possible.
Tip #5: Search Engines
I’ve used all sorts of search engines, from Momondo to Kayak and Skyscanner to Kiwi. They’re all great in their own ways, but you need to use a search engine that will help you find the best deals! The most effective search engines not only search multiple airlines and flexible dates but also let you compare different origins and even book “multi-city” tickets.
Tip #6: Check the Budget Airlines
They’re called budget airlines for a reason, and they’re not that bad (especially if you know their fee structure ahead of time, so you can avoid any extra charges. Always read the fine print!) I’ve purchased budget airline tickets for as low as $15! Make sure you check their specific websites, not on a third-party platform—this is how you’ll find the best deals.
In Europe, for example, you can often find extremely cheap tickets on budget airlines like WOW Air, Whizz Air, RyanAir, EasyJet, or others. Some of your budget options in Asia are AirAsia (I’ve flown this particular airline over 100 times), JetStar, Scoot, IndiGo, and Peach. North America has Spirit, Frontier, Southwest, and sometimes even JetBlue.
Unfortunately, there are no budget airline options for South America, Oceania, or Africa.
Tip #7: Look For 24+ Hour Layovers in a Big City to Break up Your Trip
I do this all the time! It’s an especially great hack if you’re flying for many hours internationally to reach your destination.
A long layover gives you an excellent chance to get some rest, and you can also check out a new city for 24-48 hours. (You can even use our tips to help find cheap accommodations for your layover!) This tip maximizes your travel dollars by giving you the chance to see an extra city and perhaps even check off a new country on the way to your final destination. You can explore a new place, have a day to yourself, and enjoy a break from the travel process. I always find that it’s a bonus getting to see a new place, and it’s usually cheaper this way as well!
Tip #8: Look For Alternate Airports or Routes
This tip works perfectly in Europe, the United States, and other areas with neighboring big cities. For example, if you’re looking to go to Dubai, you could also look at flights in and out of Abu Dhabi (and preplan how you’ll navigate from one to the other.) Sometimes you may even find that it is cheaper to fly into one city and out of another nearby; this is why you have to keep your eyes open and your travel flexible! Learn to think outside the box and plan your travel accordingly.
Tip #9: Use Expedia.jp Instead of Expedia.com
Expedia.jp is the Japanese version of Expedia, and sometimes you can find super cheap deals that aren’t listed on the US Expedia site. This tip is “hit or miss,” but it’s worked out well for me several times, especially on long-haul flights. (If you try this trick, just be sure to change the language to English and the currency to American dollars.)
Tip #10: Try to Book Your Flights Through the Four C’s
Cairo, Casablanca, Cape Town, and Colombo! Flights are cheaper through these cities because they are big hubs for major airlines. Plus, they’re located in the middle of the globe, so you can connect to anywhere you need to travel. These cities are great options for a long layover, so you can spend some time exploring the city!
Tip #11: Get an Around the World Ticket
Star Alliance offers a program with access to 1,250 destinations in more than 190 countries. You can strategically book your tickets a few months apart throughout the year and take side trips home as needed. This program is a great deal and will save you a lot of money if you’re taking a year to travel!
Tip #12: Use the Airline Alliance Programs
Stick to one of the three major airline alliance programs: Oneworld, Star Alliance, or Skyteam. The more you fly with one of these programs, the better benefits you’ll have in their particular status system for free upgrades, lounge access, and even free flights.
Personally, I’ve found Star Alliance to be the best because it has 26 big airlines and over 19,000 flights a day worldwide. The best alliance for you may depend on your location, but this is the one I prefer!
Tip #13: Use the 24 Hour Flight Hack
Why is this considered a hack? For one, if you want to “hold” a ticket you found at a great price while searching for other deals, you can book the ticket and cancel it if you find a better price elsewhere. Also, some countries require you to state your departing travel plans when you arrive. With this tip, you can book a flight, use that for your outbound travel plans, and then turn around and cancel if, for some reason, you don’t need it anymore or you need to change to a different flight.
Tip #14: Subscribe to Newsletters for Deals
Sign up for special deal newsletters and websites. These websites will send you emails when there are crazy deals around the world! I have used airfarewatchdog, Scott’s Cheap Flights, and Faredrop (this one is my favorite!)
Tip #15: Try the ITA Matrix
If you have very specific parameters for your flights, the ITA Matrix might just be what you need! This software was developed by MIT scientists in 1996, then was acquired by Google in 2010. It’s used to power Google Flights, Kayak, and others, but visiting the ITA Matrix itself allows you to perform more specific searches than the other search engines.
The ITA Matrix allows you to fully customize your flight search by entering codes to include or even avoid specific airports and cities, airlines, and alliances. If you try out this tip, make sure to look at the “advanced controls” option; then use the “examples” and “glossary” buttons to look up all the possible codes.
You can also use the ITA Matrix to research the cost per mile between various flights, book up to six cities on a multi-destination trip, browse a flexible dates calendar, book a flight on a specific aircraft type, or catch a unique trip like the Alaska Milk Run or the United Island Hopper.
The ITA Matrix is excellent for “visual learners,” too—it will show you the flight itineraries with color-coded time bars instead of just written words.
This software may be a bit overwhelming for a novice traveler, but for experienced travelers with specific travel needs, the ITA Matrix is the way to go!
Tip #16: Maximize Your Travel Rewards Points
There are many ways you can maximize your credit card travel rewards points, and I actually have a whole article dedicated specifically to that! I also want to mention a few of the best perks here for your convenience.
One of my favorites is the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, which hosts some of the major airline rewards cards (Southwest, United, British Airways, and more!) and hotel rewards cards (Marriott, the IHG group, Hyatt, etc.) Chase also has their own travel rewards cards, of course—their Sapphire and Freedom line of cards earn cash back, as well as travel points that you can transfer to use with their hotel and airline partners.
A “pro-tip”: if you transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to Southwest Airlines, you can cancel any flight and get the points & fees returned to your account with no charge (as long as you cancel before the flight takes off.) This makes booking flights risk-free! Also, If the price of a points-based Southwest flight goes down after you’ve already booked it with your points, you can call them and ask for a points adjustment. I’ve saved over 30,000 points by doing this, which is equal to 8-10 one-way flights! (Make sure you keep an eye on this, as flight prices and points costs change daily.)
Another great way to earn travel points is the American Express Membership Rewards program. The points you earn through this program are valuable, not just because of their high exchange rate (approximately $0.02 per point). The Membership Rewards program partners with 18 airlines and three large hotel chains, so it’s easy to use your points to travel far and wide!
Try it Out!
Let me know how these tips work for you! Did Expedia.jp help you find a great deal, or did you book an around the world ticket through Star Alliance? Or maybe you decided to explore the ITA Matrix or open a new Chase Ultimate Rewards Card so you can start earning travel points? Let me know what worked best for you in the comments below, and reach out if you have any questions!