The eternal question: How do I find cheap flights? For many people, flights are the most expensive part of a trip. This is especially true for home exchangers. Since we’re not spending money on lodging, and we have the option of cooking in the home, the flight is really the main expense. I spend a lot of time on this question myself so I thought I should write up a basic guide with a few tips and tricks.
Flight prices are constantly changing. They don’t necessarily get more expensive closer to the travel date, they can get quite a bit cheaper. Though for holidays it’s unlikely standard pricing will drop as the dates approach. The pricing is based on lots of different algorithms from the airlines. You’re not going to be able to predict exactly when prices will be cheapest. But there are some things you can do to try to get the best deals.
Do some research
The best way to find cheap flights is to be flexible with your travel dates. The problem is, it’s harder to find a home exchange if your travel dates are fixed in advance. So most home swappers wait to book flights until the swap is agreed to. Still, I’d suggest checking flight prices before confirming dates. You probably don’t want to agree to a swap on the most expensive flying dates of the year. And your swap partner might be flexible about dates, allowing you to book the cheaper flights.
If you know you want to go to Stockholm this year, start by researching average prices for flights. Google Flights is great for this. You can browse prices on their calendar to see how it varies over the next year. And super cheap deals are highlighted in green. Also check out prices for the same destination from other nearby cities. And finally, look at the “Price Graph” to see trends in prices. This should give you a good sense of the range of prices you can expect.
At this point you could approach potential home exchange partners with proposals for the months when flights appear to be cheaper. But beware, the prices you see today might not be there tomorrow.
An alternative to Google Flights is Kayak which some people prefer because it displays actual pricing while Google’s pricing can be displaying older data. Kayak has a lot of similar features to Google Flights. Here’s a great overview of how to use Kayak to find your cheapest flight options.
It’s good to talk with swap partners about your flight booking plans. No one wants a home exchange cancelled after they’ve booked flights. If you have a price restriction on the flights, be open about that with your swap partner and suggest not finalizing the exchange until after you book your flight. It’s really not fair to pretend you are committed if you might back out based on travel costs.
Use a Price Tracker
If you have some dates in mind for your trip, use the google flight tracking feature (see above: “save this search and track prices”) to get alerts when the price goes up or down. It’s also good to be flexible about which days you fly on. If you can depart mid-week often that’s cheaper. So you might want to set up a few alerts for different start and end dates.
Be sure to think about what price you are willing to pay. It’s not helpful to see that the price keeps going up and down if you aren’t prepared to take action below a certain price point.
Another tool you can use to predict flight prices like the Hopper app (see above). They have a nice interface showing your the cheapest dates to travel and when you select your dates they will tell you if the price is likely to drop and off the option of monitoring the trip for price changes.
Next up: Some tricks to finding cheaper flights