I’m often asked for advice on how to find a cheap airline ticket, so I’ve outlined my pointers for finding the cheapest tickets.
– Head to kayak.com and register for a free account. You can search for flights without registering, but doing so gives you the option to search with the “My dates are flexible” option. When you perform a search, click that option and change the date flexibility to “3 days before and after” for both the departing flight and the returning flight. Note that the feature doesn’t work for every airline it searches. For instance, let’s say you search on the June 6 with 3 days before and after. It may list the lowest price of $500 on the June 6 and $700 for June 7. However, center your search around a flight on the June 7 and it may find a lowest price of $450 instead of $700. Point being, it’s worth playing with the dates if you are flexible and really looking for the cheapest ticket.
– The cheapest round-trip tickets will generally be the ones where the trip is less than 30 days in duration. Keep this in mind if you’re planning a month long trip overseas, as cutting the trip length from 32 days to 29 days could save you some money on the flight (and on accommodation, of course).
– Flights on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Saturdays tend to be the cheapest. This is because people tend to start their trips on a Thursday or Friday and end them on a Sunday or Monday to get the weekend in.
– Flexibility with the dates is key. If you’re really flexible, try moving the whole trip back a week, two weeks – even a month, if nothing else just to see if the prices change.
– Flights from big cities have smaller prices. For instance, flights from a major airline hubs like Chicago to London will almost certainly be cheaper than a flight from Milwaukee to London. It may mean taking the bus to the nearest big city, but you might save $300 – and some headaches, since any time you have a layover, there’s a chance of a missed flight, a canceled flight or your bag getting diverted to some other city.
– If you’re flying internationally, checkout flights with foreign regional airlines. This is an extension of the point above for international destinations. For instance, if you’re headed to Southeast Asia, a flight into Bangkok will almost certainly be the cheapest ticket. From there, you can get a cheap ticket to whatever regional destination you need – plus you have the option of spending a few days in another city. The same idea holds true for flights to Europe by flying to London or Dublin, then getting a cheap flight on one of the no-frills budget European airlines like Ryanair or EasyJet to Paris, Rome, Berlin or Barcelona. Kayak’s U.K. site at kayak.co.uk may be helpful if you try this, as sometimes you can find flights on there that don’t show up on the U.S. site and end up being cheaper, even after the exchange rate from British pounds to U.S. dollars (but make sure you use a credit card with a low currency conversion fee, like those by Capital One).
– As for how far in advance to book the flight date, this can vary drastically. In general you need to book at least a week in advance to get a decent price, as once your less than 7 days out, the prices go up – but I’ve seen exceptions to this, especially flying between major hubs, where you can still get a cheap flight just days beforehand. If you’ll be flying during a heavy travel season, like summer in Europe, it’s generally true that the earlier you book, the better, as if you wait until one or two weeks out in during those times, you might have trouble even finding a seat. After you do a flight search with kayak.com, checkout the Chart tab at the top of the results page. This will show you a range of prices by date for the two cities you’re searching on.
– If you find a cheap flight, but it’s on some unheard of foreign airline, check out the airline reviews on airlinequality.com. Most the foreign airlines are on par with the U.S. and European based airlines, and are often times even better.
– Use the right credit card. This is a whole other topic, but as an example, if you book a flight with a Discover Platinum card during one of their special promotions, you can get 5% cash back. Additionally, some cards provide automatic travel insurance and even lost luggage compensation.
– Whatever airline you fly, see if they’re partnered with an airline you have a frequent flyer account with for mileage credit. A round-trip flight to from Chicago to Bangkok will score you about 17,000 miles, bringing you within reach of the 25,000 miles you need for a free round-trip domestic flight with most U.S. carriers. If the airline you’re flying with is partnered with a local airline you don’t have a frequent flyer account with, then open one! It’s always free to open a frequent flyer account, and that way you’re getting credit for the miles where you otherwise wouldn’t.
Watch for special double mile promotions. During certain parts of the year, United offers double qualifying miles. Not only do you get more miles for future usage, but you also get double qualifying miles which get you to premier, premier exec or 100K faster.