8 Easy Ways to Score a Cheap Flight

See recent posts by Katherine Alex Beaven

Flights are often a big part of a travel budget, especially when heading overseas. Sure, back in the good old days, flights were more expensive, but you also got a lot more for the price (read: free checked luggage, the ability to transfer tickets and credits to someone else without penalty, hot meals, check-in areas that didn’t resemble zoos, and blankets and pillows, to name a few). Nowadays, seemingly everything comes with an extra charge, including water on some discount airlines. Despite all of this, we've got good news. While we can't control the airlines, we can control how much we pay with these easy-peasy tips on how to find cheap flights. Read on.

1. Book on the off-season.

One way to save some cash while traveling: Go in the off-season. Not only are there fewer crowds and cheaper hotels to be found, but you can also often snag a less expensive flight. Going to a year-round destination? Skip peak travel months, holidays, or special events, and you’ll avoid paying top dollar for flights. You may have to deal with some pockets of undesirable weather (or whatever else is causing the lull in tourism), but it’s a great way to score big savings. If your travel plans are flexible, compare peak season flight prices to off-season or even shoulder season rates and see if it’s worth adjusting your dates. 

2. Check prices on third-party travel sites.

Scanning or even plotting possible flights on third-party travel sites is one of our favorite pastimes. It’s a great way to test the waters, if you’re flexible on where to go or are simply looking for inspiration within your budget. On the surface, Skyscanner looks like any regular flight search engine. You plug in your preferred airports and dates, and it spits out pricing. However, to get the full benefit from this site, play with its features. As long as you’ve got your departure airport (or airports) figured out, you can mix and match to find the cheapest price, time, or even destination. Skyscanner allows you to set your departure and return dates in terms of full months or even just the cheapest month. Even better? If you want to see all of your cheapest options, set your destination to “Everywhere” and the site will list out all of the cheapest available flights to destinations around the world from your departure city. Another popular site is Skiplagged.com, which searches through all the airline loopholes to offer both published cheap deals and great self-search results. 

3. Subscribe to a few discount flight sites.

Don’t feel like watching flights like a hawk? Subscribe to a handful of discount flight sites, which will provide you with alerts when the best travel deals come on the market. These stellar deals tend to sell out within a few days or even less an 24 hours, making them best for folks who are comfortable and able to book now and plan later. We’ve found some great U.S.-departing deals through TheFlightDeal.com, which checks for loopholes, mistake fares, and special deals through the ITA Matrix system. They also walk you through the process of finding and booking the specific deal, let you know if it’s likely to sell out quickly, and usually give a barometer on what a great deal you’re scoring. Cheap flight deals are also published through sites like ThePointsGuy.com’s Deal Alert and SecretFlying.com. If you are always on Twitter, following these sites’ accounts is a solid move because you’ll know as soon as a deal breaks. Lastly, it can also be helpful to set up alerts on sites such as Airfarewatchdog and Google Flights, in case of specials.

4. Have someone else do the work.

If you know where you want to go and have a strict budget, you can always get someone else to do the dirty work or sniffing around to make it happen. Companies like FareFetch.com allow you to be very specific in your search. Simply send out your preferred route, dates, number of stops, layover time, and budget, then sit back for 24 hours while they try and find a flight that works. If there’s a match, you’ve got 30 minutes to make the purchase or submit a new query. Think of it as a modified version of Priceline’s Name Your Own Price feature, except you get to review the detail before you purchase. 

5. Use miles or points.

What’s better than a cheap flight? A free flight! The easiest way to pay nothing for a flight is to combine the powers of a loyalty program and travel credit card rewards. The drawback? Depending on how often you fly and your spending habits, it can take some time to accumulate the thousands of points required to get to your free flight. The answer? A few airlines, like Delta, allow you to pay for flights using both miles and cash, which is a great option that can score you a cheap flight, fast. 

6. Choose the cheapest time to fly.

By and large, the most expensive flights are going to land on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Why? Most people work during the week and take trips over the weekend. Simple demand makes these flights more costly. If you’re able to fly on slower days, like Tuesday and Wednesday, you’ll often find a cheaper flight for the same route. Departure time is also a big factor, and often the most desirable departure times are the most expensive. It’s worth checking out early-morning and red-eye options, which are sometimes about a third of the price (or less) than those in prime time. 

7. Watch specific airlines for promo deals or sign up for their newsletters.

You may not have noticed, but airlines do hold sales. While it’s more of a rare occurrence among the major carriers, discount airlines like Southwest, JetBlue, and Spirit frequently have promotional sales with bargain prices on well-traveled routes. JetBlue also runs fantastic deals on their vacation packages. Be the first to know by signing up for the airlines’ newsletters and be prepared to book because these deals often sell out fast.  

8. Fly local discount carriers while you're traveling overseas.

Thinking the U.S. is the only country with discount airline options is a costly mistake. Europe is crawling with discount carriers, from EasyJet and Ryan Air to Norwegian, Vueling, and Icelandair. In Australasia, you’ll find JetStar, AirAsia, Tiger Airways, and more. Skip the big carriers and opt for these budget airlines when traveling within a foreign country. Like our super-budget airlines in the U.S., some of these cheap flights come attached with the potential of extra fees, so it’s best to check their baggage limits, check-in process, and other fine print details. 

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