Flying

Tricks to finding cheap flights

cheap flights

In my post last week I talked generally about how to approach your search to find the cheapest flights. You should start by reading that, before diving in to this post. Here I will talk about some tricks you can use to find even better deals if you’re willing to put a bit of work into it.

If your dates are fixed, be flexible about your destination

This isn’t always possible for folks arranging home swaps. But if you’re willing to start by finding your destination and then hope to find a home exchange, this is a winning strategy. Check out this new tool called Escape. You can put in your city of origin and your dates of travel and it will show you destinations with the cheapest flight prices. You can narrow in by region of the world on their handy map and also include some helpful filters like weather.

Check for flights to destinations near your desired end point or from cities near your origin

I just did a search for SFO to ARN and noticed that July prices are twice as high as September. This isn’t surprising: Sweden has a short but lovely summer, and people like to travel during school vacations. Overall economy tickets seem pretty reasonable except mid-summer. But then I looked at LAX to ARN and see that prices are quite a bit cheaper and those cheap prices extend into August. If I’m flying out of San Francisco, maybe I look for cheap connecting flights to LAX to take advantage of those deals. Alternately flying in to Copenhagen and take a train to Stockholm might be an option.

Know about discounts

AARP offers some great discounts on British Airlines tickets. This is an easy one to take advantage of if you’re booking a BA ticket.

If you fly Alaska Airlines, consider using the companion pass they offer to credit card holders. For $99 + taxes and fees you get a second ticket equal in value to the first one you book. When booking pricey tickets for two, this is a great deal. Even if you don’t have the credit card, you probably know someone who does who isn’t using their companion pass.

Last year on Black Friday Expedia offered $100 off flights over $200. There’s a good chance something like this will be offered again.

Those are just a few examples of good discounts I’ve taken advantage of. I learn about them by following travel gurus on twitter, reading blogs, and generally paying attention.

Follow discount flight alerts

There are some companies doing the work of finding cheap fares and sharing them with the world. Here are a few I follow:

Airfare watchdog

Scott’s Cheap Flights

TPG Deal Alerts

The Flight Deal

Secret Flying

You can sign up for twitter or RSS feed alerts from all of these. I know some folks who send these alerts to their apple watches so that they’re always up on the latest deals. That’s important because sometimes they announce mistake fares that will only last a few hours.

Be ready to book! Know what dates you want to travel and what destinations are interesting to you. And when a good deal comes along, don’t hesitate. It might be gone very quickly. Especially if it’s a mistake (sometimes airlines make mistakes and, for instance, drop a few zeros at the end of the price). Airlines won’t always honor these mistake fares, so wait at least a week to confirm before booking anything else.

Use third party booking websites wisely

There are are lot of flight search and booking websites. Google Flights doesn’t actually do any booking, they just link you through to the airline to book, so you will never find special discounted fares on there. You’ll just see the prices the airlines are quoting directly. Others companies like Expedia actually do the booking for you, and sometimes offer discounted prices. These companies can also have their own mistake fares.

A few popular search and booking websites: Momondo, Skyscanner, Orbitz, Expedia

Book a stopover in your desired destination

Check for flights that stop over in your desired destination, but end somewhere else. As long as you carry on your bags and book a one way flight you can just get off at your desired destination and skip the last leg. Try out the website Skiplagged.

Use a VPN and check prices in other countries

Sometimes pricing changes based on the country where the airline detects a flight search. So you can use a VPN to fool the search engine into thinking you are in other countries to see if the price varies. It’s also good to clear your cookies so that your repeated searches don’t trigger a fare hike. Using a VPN should solve this problem because you will be browsing anonymously anyway.

Sign up for airline rewards programs

Every flight you take should earn you miles. If you stick with one airline alliance, or one preferred airline, you can credit all your miles to the same program and earn some free tickets for your paid flights. These rewards are free to earn, so there’s no excuse to ever take a flight without earning miles.

Get in on the credit card points game

In the United States there are a lot of opportunities to earn miles and points with credit card spend. This is also true in other countries to a lesser extent. Do some research to find the best credit cards for you. And never pay with cash or a check when you could use your credit card. Sign up bonuses can often earn you a free round trip flight, just for putting your expenses on the card for a few months. And if you want to get more sophisticated, there are a lot of tricks to earning more points and miles through credit cards. I put some time into this and get great value from my points.

Dispelling myths

I have to finish this post by dispelling a few myths.

  1. Tuesdays are cheaper for flight booking. In response to questions about how to get cheap flights, inevitably there is someone who says “book on Tuesdays.” A study done by Hopper found that only 1.6% of domestic flights were cheaper if booked on a Tuesday, and only if that booking was done at midnight.
  2. The earlier you book the cheaper the price. This is basically never true. In fact, the prime booking window is 21 days to 121 days before departure, according to a study by CheapAir.com.
  3. You should buy all tickets together for family or friends traveling together. Often you end up paying a higher price to book for a group of people. Try searching for tickets one at a time to ensure you get the cheapest fare buckets.

Happy flight hunting! If you have a tip or trick to suggest please leave a comment.

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