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’re equipped with the tips and tricks to snag the cheapest flights and save as much money as possible.
Here is my flight-buying guide to help you find the best flights at the best prices!
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What Is Considered A Cheap Flight?
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: $100-$300 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
13 Powerful Tips For Finding Cheap Flights
1. Keep an eye out for mistake fares.
There could be times when you’ll come across deals that are priced even lower than the ranges provided, but those are oftentimes considered “mistake fares”, or price glitches in the airline reservation systems. In those cases, I would advise you to book that flight ASAP!
If you do happen to hit the jackpot and book a mistake fare flight, do make sure you get a confirmation from the airline before making any other non-refundable travel arrangements. More recently, airlines haven’t been honoring 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, with 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.
2. Be flexible with your travel dates.
Perhaps the simplest way to find cheap flights is to be flexible with your travel dates. Simply leaving one or two days earlier (or departing one to two days later) than planned could save you hundreds of dollars.
In general, the cheapest days to fly are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. The most expensive days to fly are Friday, Sunday, and Monday.
This is because airlines try to gauge business travelers who tend to fly out on Sundays or Mondays and return home on Fridays after their meetings are over.
Rather than selecting your dates first, do some research on flight prices to find the cheapest date ranges. Google Flights is really great for this research process because the prices are shown in a calendar view and are updated dynamically in real-time based on which dates you select.
I love how quick and simple-to-use the Google Flights interface is. No need to submit the search, check the price, then press the back button just to search again. It’s a definite time-saver!
3. Be flexible with the airport you fly in and out of.
Choosing your departing/arriving airport is 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 at all the airports close by.
Here’s a recent example for you. I live in the Bay Area, California and have three international airports to choose from (each 30 minutes away from me). Oftentimes, I find flights going to the same destination that differs in price by hundreds of dollars depending on the day.
I was recently planning a summer vacation and had to buy plane tickets for a trip to Phoenix, Arizona for me and my parents. We all know airfare during the summer time skyrockets to exorbitant amounts of dollars.
While I was finding that most roundtrip flight costs were ranging in the $450’s, I did a little bit of finessing and was able to find an airport combination that resulted in each roundtrip flight costing just $270.
This was a multicity flight starting from OAK to PHX, then from PHX to SFO. Both OAK and SFO are 20-30 minutes away from where I live, so this was a great win! (To save even further, I booked these 3 flights at the cheaper price completely with Southwest points! But more on that later.)
Sure, I’m spending more time looking for the best price, but in the end, the amount of money I save definitely makes up for the time spent!
4. Consider flying to a new destination entirely.
This one piggybacks off of the tip above.
In terms of international destinations, it’s important to look at multiple airports because of the presence of budget airlines that make it extremely cheap to fly throughout Europe and Asia.
If you’re not familiar with these airlines (such as Ryanair), you can basically fly roundtrip from most cities for less than $90 USD within those regions.
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. What do you do?
I say, just book the $400 flight to Brussels and find your way from Brussels to Paris on a budget inter-Europe airline!
Remember, it’s extremely cheap to fly (or train!) between countries in Europe. What you can do here is when booking flights, add-on a cheap round-trip flight from Brussels to Paris on Ryanair for ~$50 USD.
By doing this, you’ve just saved $450 on your flights, just by putting in just a little more legwork! Flying with 2 people instead of 1? Your savings just doubled.
However, it is important to note that these budget airlines don’t fly to ALL airports. So, remember to try different airport combinations.
5. Book during the “prime booking window”.
The window where domestic flights are likely to be cheapest are from 1 month to 3 months out from your travel dates.
Book during the “prime booking window”, the sweet spot that’s several weeks (or even months) ahead of departure, when deals are most likely to be had.
The “prime booking window” usually falls between 1 to 3 months for domestic flights, and 2 to 8 months for international flights.
6. Set yourself a reminder 21 days before your flight.
If you’ve been monitoring flight prices and you reach the 21-days-before-takeoff mark, then chances are, flights after this point are going to be more expensive.
Do NOT wait last minute. Prices spike in the two weeks leading up to a flight’s departure, rising 25% two weeks out and another 30% in the final week.
7. The cheapest time to fly is during the fall and winter months.
Flying during the fall/winter tends to be the cheapest, with the exception of mid-December to early January (Christmas and New Year).
The most difficult months to get cheap flights are during the summer–the most popular time to travel.
These are the months of June, August, and July–listed in order of increasing difficulty.
Why? Well for millions of people out there (students, teachers, and parents), this is the only time they’re able to travel. The increase in demand drives up the fares.
8. Don’t travel during your summer season, escape to someone else’s summer.
If summertime weather is what you’re after, instead of fighting for flights during the Northern Hemisphere summer months, you can travel to the Southern Hemisphere for their summer during January to March.
Remember in tip #7 when I said cheap flights are commonly found during winter? That’s why!
You’ll be able to enjoy good warm weather in places like New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Colombia, and Argentina during some of the cheapest times to travel from the USA.
9. Always check flight prices on Southwest.
I don’t think I’ve shared this with anyone outside of my friends and family yet, but Southwest really is my secret weapon to cheap flights.
Whenever I absolutely need to be somewhere on a specific date, I always check Southwest for flight prices. More often than not, I’ll book a flight through them, just in case.
Because Southwest doesn’t charge cancellation fees or change fees, I’m able to cancel my flight free of charge if I decide not to go, or if I find a better price with another airline. Even if prices drop on Southwest, you’re able to cancel and rebook–FREE OF CHARGE!
Plus, you get 2 free checked bags with each and every flight. Can’t beat it.
I also recently got 2 of their credit cards, meaning I’ve accrued a lot of Southwest points throughout the year just from credit card bonuses. At this exact moment, I have 91,000 points.
Plus, I’ve just qualified for the highly-coveted Companion Pass, which means my ‘companion’ flies free whenever I fly!
Because I have so much to explore on the West Cost still, the one-way flights I typically go for cost anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 points. With my 90k points and my Companion Pass, each pair of flight tickets will barely make a dent in my points.
Needless to say, these points are going to last a while!
Being able to pay for flights with points is everything. It means I essentially get to fly for free (just pay $5.60 for tax) any time I book through Southwest!
If you want your own piggy bank of SW points, you can sign up for the Southwest Credit Card here–and if you hit the minimum spend, you’ll get 40,000 bonus points to book all the “just in case” flights you need!
10. Subscribe to a newsletter all about cheap flight deals.
I love cheap flight alerts. My two favorite subscription services are Going (previously Scott’s Cheap Flights) and Secret Flying.
If you travel frequently or plan on traveling more frequently, sign up for Going–it’ll be well worth your money to upgrade to the Premium subscription too.
In fact, I personally use this! Going is the ONLY premium subscription service I use to find great travel deals. You can sign up here for free alerts.
While I have found that I don’t see quite as many great deals as with Going, Secret Flying is totally free. They have an app now, too!
11. Use a travel credit card to book.
Booking flights with a travel card usually means a multiplier on points! Whenever I book flights outside of Southwest, I use my Chase Sapphire Reserve for 3 points per $1 spent on travel.
Don’t miss out on that travel bonus!
Another benefit of booking with a premium travel credit card? All the travel protection that comes along with it, such as lost luggage protection, flight delay/cancellation reimbursements, car rental insurance, travel medical insurance, and more.
12. Book with travel points when you can.
I love my points. They’ve saved me thousands on thousands over all these years of traveling.
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 earned so many points/miles through Chase, American Express, Southwest, Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, etc.
So you may be wondering, what’s better points value–booking through a bank’s travel portal or transferring points to an airline directly?
The best value you’re going to get with your points is transferring points to an airline directly. Many airlines even run specials where they’ll give you a 20-50% transfer bonus!
Let’s say British Airways is running a special where they’re offering a 40% points transfer bonus. What that means is if you transfer 10,000 Chase/Amex points to the airline, they’ll actually count it as 14,000 points. You magically gain an additional 4,000 points to redeem for award travel.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just do a quick Google search for “travel hacking” to start. Your travel life will change after this.
13. If you fly a lot, consider a travel cashback program.
What if I told you you could now get cashback on travel basics like flights, hotels, activities and excursions, rental cars, and more?
This is all possible with the shiny new WayAway Plus membership.
Ya’ll, I am obsessed with this travel membership–a cashback site for ALL THINGS TRAVEL. I signed up last year and used it to book a flight and a few hotels for an upcoming trip and have already saved myself a couple of hundred dollars!
The WayAway Plus membership offers members up to 10% cash back on airline tickets, hotel bookings, car rentals, and other travel services. Long story short: I’m never booking a flight or hotel without cashback ever again.
The best part is that there’s no minimum balance before you get to cash out. You get to withdraw all your cashback to your PayPal at any time.
If you think you’ll be doing some traveling over the course of the next year, I think you’re going to save big with this membership. You can sign up for 50% off your first year here.
14. 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.
My Favorite Travel Resources For Cheap Flights
Google Flights | Whenever I begin looking for flights, Google Flights 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 the flight prices between various airlines so you know you’re getting the best deal.
- Tip: If traveling domestically, also consider checking the Southwest website directly because Southwest flight prices are not pulled into the Google Flights interface (they offer some really affordable flights and run sales a lot).
Going (previously 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– whoever you are, I don’t know you, but what would I do without you… sign up for free alerts here!
The Flight Deal | This is my go-to flight sale site when I want to browse for places to go. They have an email subscription as well.
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.
Priority Pass | Before heading to any airport, I’ll always check for the presence of airport lounges that I have access to through my Priority Pass membership. This membership grants you access to over 1,300 airport lounges around the world that offer meals, drinks (including alcohol), showers, comfy sofas, private wifi, and even meal vouchers at participating airport restaurants. It’s definitely a must-have if you want that added airport comfort! It’s especially great for international travel and long layovers.
Hopper | If you’re not sure if you’re getting the best price for a flight you want to book, Hopper can help with that. Hopper offers its signature price prediction technology to help you plan out when to book for the cheapest flights, hotels and rental cars.They now also offer travel protection options and price freeze to help you lock in the lowest possible price on hotels and flights.
With all the above tips, tricks, and resources, you’ll be on your way to finding the cheapest flights out there. Happy travels!
Should You Buy Travel Insurance?
If you have a credit card that automatically carries travel protections at no cost, and you use that card to purchase your flight, then you may not need to purchase separate travel insurance.
The terms and conditions will vary by card, but these forms of travel insurance typically cover damaged or lost baggage, flight delays or cancellations, and even reimbursement for lodging and meals if your flights are delayed long enough. Rental car insurance is typically covered as well.
Personally, I rarely buy additional insurance when I travel. But that’s usually because my trips tend to be on the shorter side, my flights tend to be booked with points, and I’m traveling with just one other person.
If you don’t have travel insurance through your credit card, and one/some of the below sound like your case, then buying travel insurance can be a smart move!
- you plan on taking a longer and/or more expensive trip
- you plan on traveling with many family members
- you have a lot of non-refundable bookings
I know there are a lot of insurance options out there, but in my opinion, World Nomads is the best travel insurance provider on the market.
Their coverage is very comprehensive, making it a good choice if you are more adventurous and plan on partaking in thrill-seeking activities or plan on moving around with lots of electronics and expensive gear.
For a cheaper alternative (great in cases where you think you’ll need more basic coverage), we like SafetyWing.
Looking for more travel planning resources?
- Check out the resources I actually use for my own trip planning here.
- Monos Carry-On Pro Review: Is It Actually Worth The Price?
- 45+ Genius Travel Hacks: Your Guide To Saving Money While Traveling
- 14 Advanced Ways to Save Money For Travel
- 25 Top Travel Gadgets That Will Make Your Next Trip So Much Better
- The Ultimate Minimalist Travel Packing List