Paying for a flight can be the most expensive purchase of any trip. If you need to buy more than one airline ticket, finding cheap flights online is even more important. Here are ten tips to help you book the cheapest ticket possible.
Search In “Incognito” Mode
Each flight search engine (and non-travel websites) use a tracking tool called “cookies” to remember your search history. While this can be convenient when you check back on a daily basis to monitor ticket prices, it might mean you will not see the lowest price unless you book the first time you buy a ticket.
By browsing in a private browser session, you might able to find a lower price because the website cannot use their tracking cookies to determine any previous browsing history you might have had.
Compare Prices on More Than One Site
You need to use more than one flight search engine for every flight search. Two of my favorites are Google Flights and Momondo. They are both extremely to use and consistently find some of the lowest prices. Google Flights will comb through the listings directly from the airline websites, although they will also list the prices of a few third-party booking sites as well.
Momondo primarily compares the prices of third-party booking sites, including some international ones you have probably never heard of before, to find the lowest price! Even though many airlines require you to book directly through their website to score the best deal (as they keep the best prices for themselves), these two search engines can help you find the best flight options as they access the metadata from each carrier so you can save time as well.
Have Flexible Travel Dates
Tickets prices can fluctuate widely based on which days of the week you travel. Hopefully, you can be flexible on your arrival and departure date. Even if you can only be flexible on one end of your trip, you can easily save a few bucks by flying on Wednesday instead of a Friday or the day before a major holiday when more travelers tend to fly.
Most airline websites and flight search engines provide a flexible date calendar that makes it easy to quickly compare ticket prices. As a general observation, third-party sites usually do a better job at providing flexible date pricing.
Use Award Miles
If you consistently fly with one airline you can fly any partner airline or airline that’s in the same alliance with the same miles. For example, you can fly any SkyTeam partner with Delta Skymiles. You can search for award flights on the airline website by clicking the “Pay With Award Miles” button. Compare the actual cash value of the ticket to make sure you are getting a good deal. Even if you can only buy one ticket with your miles, that can still be a savings of a few hundred dollars.
Also, consider using your reward miles to book partner flights. One of the “Big Three” domestic carriers might serve the same destination, but, the partner flight can easily be 5,000 to 10,000 miles cheaper for each ticket.
Transfer Your Credit Card Rewards Points
Two of the best travel rewards cards are the Chase Sapphire Preferred and American Express Platinum Card. Both cards earn let you redeem your purchase rewards points through their respective credit card travel portal, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards, for award travel. Or, you can also transfer your points to an airline travel partner on a 1:1 basis for an even better deal and to also give you those last few points that you need to book a flight directly through the airline.
Fly Delta to Avoid “Close-In” Fees
When you use reward miles to pay for a last-minute award flight, it’s not uncommon for the airline to charge a “close-in” fee. One of the few airlines to not charge this fee is Delta. If you’re a Medallion member, you can also enjoy free first class and premium seating upgrades for any unsold seats, which is a second way you can save money on airfare.
Southwest also doesn’t charge a close-in fee, and, the fee is waived if you fly United and own their United MileagePlus Club credit card.
Use a Budget Airline
You can save some money by flying Southwest Airlines and JetBlue instead of the larger domestic carrier to fly across the U.S., Hawaii, and even to the Caribbean. If you want to fly to Europe, check out Norwegian.
Book Last Minute Mystery Deals
If you wait until the last minute to book, airfare can be outrageously expensive. You might be able to save up to 60% by booking a Priceline Express Deal. You won’t know the exact the flight times or carrier, but, if there are only a few available flights, you might be able to make an educated guess based on the travel windows Priceline provides before you book.
Book a Vacation Package
If you still need to book the whole kit and kaboodle, a flight and hotel package can save you cash. Airlines and third-party booking sites all offer travel packages. Some of the best options are Costco Travel or through your airline or hotel loyalty program (i.e. Marriott Flights and Nights) so you can get some bonus points and book a cheap flight simultaneously.
Consider “Hidden City” Fares
This flight search option is legal, but, there is a catch. You book a fare with a connecting flight and hop off at the connecting airport instead of continuing to the final destination instead of booking a more expensive direct flight. Since the airlines might not appreciate this gesture, be sure you don’t check a bag or link your loyalty rewards number. Skiplagged is probably the best site to engage in this endeavor.
Summary on Booking Cheap Flights
Whether you cannot book until the last-minute or are booking six months in advance, you can find cheap flights at any time online. The key is knowing where to look and having a flexible travel itinerary. If you don’t have a preference for the carrier, flight time, or travel days, the savings can be eye-popping.