A major initial step of the travel planning process is booking your flights. Once you book, you know it’s real and can then move on to booking hotels, activities, etc. Since airline costs are usually a large component of the total travel expense, I want to make sure you get the cheapest flights and save as much money as possible. Here’s a flight buying guide to help you find the best flights at the best prices.
How Much Should You Be Paying?
You know that you should be looking for cheap flights, but how do you know what’s considered cheap? What is a good average price vs. a REALLY great deal? Below are the price ranges you should be looking for when flying from the US to various regions worldwide. If you stumble upon flights priced in these ranges, you should definitely purchase the flight because chances are, they’ll be booked up within days, if not hours!
- Canada/Mexico: $200-300 round trip
- Caribbean: $200-$300 round trip
- Hawaii: $200-$400 round trip
- Europe: $300-$500 round trip
- East and Southeast Asia: $300-$500 round trip
- South America: $400-$600 round trip
- Africa: $400-$700 round trip
- Australia: $700-$800 round trip
There are times when you’ll come across deals that are priced even lower than the range provided, but those are often times “mistake fares” or glitches in the airline reservation system. In those cases, I would advise you to book that flight ASAP! However, make sure you get a confirmation from the airline before making any other non-refundable travel arrangements. More recently, airlines don’t have to honor mistake fares like they were required to in the past.
Example: Recently I came across a flight from California to Beijing, China for $294 round trip, no bag fees. I’ve also seen flights from the US going to New Zealand for $400-600. These are by far the best deals you’ll come across. But they are also rare and short-lived, noted to last less than 24 hours.
Be Flexible With Travel Dates:
The easiest way to finding cheap flights is to be flexible with your travel dates. Simply leaving one day earlier or one day later than planned could save you hundreds. Flying midweek (Tuesday –Thursday) is often cheaper than flying on a Friday or Sunday, for example. Rather than selecting your dates first, do some research on flight prices to find the cheapest date ranges. Google Flights is really good for this research process because the prices are shown in a calendar view and change dynamically based on which departure date you select. (No need to submit the search, check price, press the back button, and search again. It’s a definite time-saver.)
Be Flexible With Airports
Also another important step in the flight cost research process. If you are flying to or from a destination with multiple airports nearby, check out the prices to all the airports close by.
Example: I live in the Bay Area, California and have three international airports to choose from (each 30 minutes away from me). Often times, I find flights going to the same destination that differ in price by the hundreds depending on the day. Sure, I spend more time looking for the best price, but in the end, the amount of money I save definitely makes up for the time spent!
In terms of destinations, it’s important to look at multiple airports because of those budget airlines that are extremely cheap in Europe and Asia. (You can fly roundtrip from most cities for less than $90 USD within those regions.) However, these budget airlines don’t fly to ALL airports. So, remember to try different airport combinations.
You can even take it one step further. Say you want to go to Paris, but the flights to Paris are steadily clocking in at $900 RT. But hey, you find a flight on sale to Brussels $400! That’s not where you really want to go, but it’s $500 cheaper. Remember, it’s extremely cheap to fly (or train!) between countries in Europe. What you can do is: add on a cheap round-trip flight from Brussels to Paris on Ryanair or Easyjet for $50 USD. By doing this, you’ve just saved $450 on your flights, just by putting in a little more work!
Other Tips and Tricks
Don’t let them know you’re looking to buy a flight. Try searching in incognito mode or clear your cookies after each search. This may result in a slightly cheaper ticket.
Use a travel credit card. Booking flights with a travel card usually means a multiplier on points! Whenever I book flights, I use my Chase Sapphire Reserve for 3 points per $1 spent. Don’t miss out on that travel bonus!
Book with travel points, if you have enough. By racking up enough points, you may be able to save on the entire cost of your flight by booking with points! I haven’t paid for a flight with cash in a long time because I’ve had so many points/miles through Chase, Southwest, Alaska Airlines, British Airways, etc. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, google “travel hacking”. Your travel life will change.
Use a cashback site. Cashback sites offer more for hotel bookings than for flights, but if you’re going to be booking anyway, it doesn’t hurt to check and book through an Ebates or other cashback portals.
Resources For Flight Research
Momondo | Whenever I begin looking for flights, Momondo is always Step #1. It’s the most user-friendly among all the airfare search sites. So much information is provided when you search, such as the best options for the cheapest, fastest or best overall flight options. It’ll also allow you to compare their flight prices to the prices of other aggregate airfare search sites so you know you’re getting the best deal.
Google Flights | Google Flights is really good for the research process because the prices are shown in a calendar view and change dynamically based on which departure date you select. It makes it super easy to hone in on the cheapest travel dates without the need to submit searches multiple times. It’s a definite time-saver.
Scott’s Cheap Flights | The best travel email subscription ever. Get notifications whenever there are mistake fares or extreme sales on flights, right to your inbox. Scott, I don’t know you, but what would I do without you…
The Flight Deal | My go-to flight sale site when I want to browse for places to go.
Secret Flying | I’ll check out this flight deal site every once in a while. Very similar to The Flight Deal. It’s awesome because it allows you to filter by departing city, destination, or both, as well as your travel timeframe.
With the above resources, you’ll be on your way to finding the cheapest flights out there. Happy travels!
Looking for more travel planning resources? Check out the resources I actually use for my own trip planning here.