Updated June 16, 2020.
It’s one of the most common questions any travel professional gets: “How can I find cheap flights?” I’ve written about this generally before, but here is my fool-proof, step-by-step method of finding the best flights out there! I’m sharing my secrets with you, so get ready for an adventure!
1. Check Rome 2 Rio
This is my first step before I buy any transportation. This app and website will show you all the ways to get where you want to go, from planes to trains to ferries to ride shares and more! If flying really is the best way to get where you’re going, Rome 2 Rio will also tell you which airport to fly into, since many large cities can be serviced by more than one airport. The app and website will also give you a general price range so you’ll know what to expect in terms of average prices to your destination. You need to know what you’re dealing with before you can find a deal!
Read on: The Best Apps for Travel
2. Sign Up for Alerts
Once you know what airport to fly into and how much to expect to pay, start signing up for price change alerts! It’s wise to sign up for more than one alert because different sites offer different perspectives. Here are my favorites:
What I love about Hopper is that they will give you a prediction about whether the price will increase or decrease, and approximately when! There is never a guarantee about plane ticket prices, but they are pretty good predictors! And they have a cute bunny looking for your flights.
This one is pretty great because you don’t need to put in an exact date or destination. If you can be flexible (the cheap flier’s biggest ally!), you could score an incredible deal to somewhere fantastic! You can put in your starting airport and select “Everywhere” for the destination, then put in your dates to see all the destinations priced from low to high!
Alternatively, put in your starting point and destination, and select “Anytime“! The app will show you the best (as in, least expensive) dates for your trip!
And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, Select “Everywhere” AND “Anytime,” and see the cheapest flights any where, any time!
When you search on these sites or apps, you’ll be prompted to sign up for an e-mail alert. Do it! Signing up won’t mess up your search, and they won’t send you junk mail; they will only send you alerts when the price drops or increases, and you can opt out at any time!
Read on: Surviving Long-haul Travel
3. Don’t Get Spooked
Don’t get sucked into buying a ticket when the price goes up because you’re afraid it will go up even more. Consult Hopper (you can check the trips you’re following on their app any time; you don’t have to wait for an e-mail), and be willing to wait if the app claims the price will go down. If you really don’t believe the price will go down, and the price seems reasonable enough to you, go ahead and get it. But never buy a plane ticket in a panic!
4. Buy from the Airline Directly
If you don’t take anything else from this post, take this advice: Always buy directly from the airline! Third party websites like Skyscanner, Kayak, Hopper, etc., do not make up those prices, and they are not getting a break with the airlines. They find those prices on the airlines’ websites, and so can you! Third party websites are great for finding deals, but you will get the run-around if there is a problem with your flight—i.e. if your flight is delayed, cancelled, or you miss a connection.
Buying from the airline’s website is your complimentary insurance policy if anything goes wrong. If something happens with your flight, the third party will tell you to talk to the airline. And guess what? The airline will tell you to take it up with the third party. I have several friends who have lost money (and experiences) this way, and my own dad got a bum deal when the third party sold him a flight to a different airport than the one he wanted, but he didn’t notice until he had already bought the ticket.
Trust me, you will want to find a deal on a third party website, then purchase the deal directly from the airline! You can find the exact flights you want by matching the flight numbers!
Not sure what a flight number is?
Check out my Ultimate Guide to Travel Lingo!
5. Enjoy Your Trip and Don’t Look Back!
Now that you’ve got your deal on a flight, take your trip and don’t look back! Remember that you can get your money back within 24 hours of buying your ticket if you find a better deal (per U.S. law), but after that you’ll be subject to potentially hundreds of dollars in change fees. After that initial 24 hours, just enjoy planning the rest of your trip!
Need a little help? Check out my Travel Planning Page!
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