There are many myths about finding a cheap flight online. While there’s no evidence that booking your fare on Tuesday at 2 am will give you the best price, but there are plenty of other things you can do to make sure you’re getting the lowest price on offer.
Finding a Cheap Flight – Be flexible
Airlines price their fares according to supply and demand (amongst other things). So if you’re planning on traveling when everyone else is – Christmas, weekends, school holidays – the chances are you’ll be paying premium prices.
If your dates are flexible, however, you have a much better chance of scoping out the best deal. When searching for a flight, take a look at a weekly view to check prices on each day. You’d be amazed how much they can differ from one day to another for no apparent reason.
As long as we’re talking about being flexible, if you know you want to go somewhere but don’t have a specific destination in mind, this can set you up for finding fantastic deals. Airline search engines such as Google Flights, Kayak and Kiwi offer great features for exploring flights from your departure city.
You can enter a date range and your home airport, and search for routes all over the world. If you sort the results by price, you’ll have the best chance of finding a cheap ticket. So whenever possible, don’t focus on a specific destination on a particular date, but rather look at a map and see how far your budget can take you. It might be further than you think!
Finding a Cheap Flight – Go incognito
Have you ever noticed that prices have gone up after searching for a flight a few times? By placing cookies in your browser airlines can see which routes are repeatedly being searched, and they sometimes use this information to hike up prices and scare you into booking before they increase even more.
Although this doesn’t happen with all airlines, it’s a good idea to search for flights using an incognito window or private browser. As cookies are reset every time you open a new incognito window, you can start your search with a clean slate.
If you are using Google Chrome, you can go to incognito window by clicking on the 3 vertical dots in the top right corner, and selecting “New incognito window.”
Consider budget and local airlines
Although there are considerably more low-cost airlines in Europe and Asia than there are in the US and Canada, it’s worth researching budget tickets wherever you’re planning on traveling. Many companies are now offering long-haul routes too; you can fly from London to Singapore with Norwegian Airlines for as little as $420 return!
But a note of warning: budget airlines make money by charging you extra for everything. That includes things like extra legroom, luggage, drinks and meals, choosing your seat, and sometimes even printing your boarding pass. So if you decide to fly low-cost, make sure you read the fine print about any extra fees you’ll need to pay, add them to the cost of your ticket, and compare the amount to a full-fare carrier.
Also, remember to check the airport location. Ryanair was famous for offering flights within Europe for $0.99, but instead of landing in a city center, you’d end up in a different province. You could easily find yourself shelling out a lot of money on buses, trains, or taxis making your way back to your actual destination.
Finally, small airlines often don’t show up on mass search engines as they’re not interested in paying hefty commissions. If you’re traveling to somewhere remote, try searching in forums or asking around, you might find a local airline with reasonable prices. They may not offer flights every day, but in many cases can offer better deals than larger counterparts.
Use more than one search engine
There’s no one search engine which covers every airline all over the globe, so it’s best to use a variety of search engines and compare the prices on offer. Note that prices are often inflated, especially with sites which take a cut from bookings.
Ideally, you should try a variety of search engines, find the cheapest fare, and then compare it with what the airline has to offer. In my experience, the best sites to use are Momondo, Skyscanner, Kiwi, Kayak, and Expedia (but remember that budget and small airlines may not show up at all).
Look out for airline error fares
Even airlines make mistakes with their pricing, sometimes due to a technical fault or plain and simple human error. If you stumble across an incredibly low fare, book it anyway as they have to honor the pricing.
There are a few tools which can help you spot error fares such as AirFareWatchdog and Secret Flying, but they’ll work best if you’re flexible with your dates. You can also try using a flight search engine to view ticket prices over an entire month and see if any days have reduced fares compared to the monthly average.
Join as many frequent flyer programs as you can
No matter how often you fly, make sure you sign up to an airline’s frequent flyer program whenever you book a ticket. You can exchange miles for a variety of perks such as free checked luggage, upgrades, onboard meals, duty free items, and free flights. Many airlines partner together when it comes to rewards programs, so you can earn miles when you fly on a variety of carriers.
As well as earning miles by booking a ticket, there are other ways of collecting points such as using a rewards credit card, signing up to newsletters for special offers, and even using airline shopping portals to buy products from an airline’s preferred merchant.
It’s never too early to start searching for flights. Even if you don’t know the exact dates you want to travel or even where you’re going, start browsing to scope out the best possible deal. If you can be flexible, use a variety of search engines to compare the lowest fares, join frequent flyer programs, and opt for budget airlines whenever possible, you’re sure to get ahead in searching for a cheap flight.