The glamour of air travel- its aspirational meaning in the public imagination- disappearing before its luxury did, dissipating as flying becomes commonplace¨.
Note: While these tips usually help save money, they always won’t work. They are meant to help you get started on your search for the right flight; they are not considered hard and fast rules.
My Experiences Finding the Cheapest Flight
While I am incredibly grateful for my life as a Fifty-Plus Nomad, I must admit that there are tasks that I find a bit tedious after a while. Perhaps, the job that I have come to enjoy the least is finding the cheapest flights. (In fact, I now believe that it is often better to pay a bit more for better flights or comfort.
I always feel like I am playing a chess game against a dominant competitor who changes the rules capriciously. No matter how much effort I make, the competitor will win. Somewhere out there is a better deal.
That said, following the guidelines in the following lessons has saved me considerable money over the past several years and has become second nature to me.
Using Search Engines to Find the Cheapest Flights
In traveling around the world for five years as a Fifty-Plus Nomad, I learned a lot about finding the cheapest flights. One of the first things I learned is simply if you find one of the cheapest flights, book it right away. It can change in minutes. As time went on, I discovered more simple, handy tips for uncovering the cheapest flights.
Until recently, I don’t really think which search engine you use to buy the ticket made much difference. That was until I read Nomadic Matt’s Travel Hacking book and found out about Skyscanner. I like it because it separates ticket options by the best deal (which considers both time and cost), the lowest price, and the quickest flights. Skyscanner also:
- Is not an online travel agency. Instead, it links you to the airline site where you can learn more about the ticket’s features and buy the ticket directly from the airline (Note: Kayak also does this).
- Allows you to compare the cost of a given flight easily on other days.
- Includes budget and major airlines.
Frequently, the first flights (listed by price) in traditional online travel agencies, like Travelocity, involve incredibly complicated and inconvenient itineraries. (I remember trying to book a ticket from Merida, Mexico, to Tucson, Arizona. The first itinerary listed on Travelocity went from Merida to Dallas to Miami to Phoenix to Tucson and took 34 hours. The actual flight I booked cost only $30 more-Merida to Houston to Tucson- and took 8 hours).
I have learned over the years that you need to consider changing your preferred search engine periodically. Why? Because:
- The search engine eliminates the features that make it my go-to website. (Sometimes after being consolidated with a larger search engine or online travel agency).
- Other search engines begin to offer the same services. Some other search engine comes along that performs even better than my go-to search engine.
In addition, I recommend that you also compare prices with traditional search engines like Kayak and Travelocity. You should also double-check the price on the airline websites as well.
Easy Tips for Finding the Cheapest Flights 101
- Usually, it is best to fly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The other days of the week are more likely to attract either businesspeople (Sunday, Monday, Thursday, and Friday) or leisure travelers (Friday and Saturday).
- Several experts recommend that you also consult ITA matrix to find the best and cheapest flights. I read the instructions on how to use the matrix and found them confusing. If you are interested check out this link. Please let me know your experiences.
- If you have some flexibility on the date of departure, pick a date, and then look for the cheapest flights around that date. Most search engines and airline websites will allow you to check the price on several days around the date that you select.
- While there is no fool-proof time to buy an airline ticket, most experts maintain that the best prices are usually available six to twelve weeks before the flight. (Note: My personal experience confirms this).
- Compare the cost of tickets both one way and round trip. Sometimes, oddly, it can be cheaper to buy two one-way tickets than one round-trip ticket. One-way flights are often cheaper if you expect to spend more than a month on your trip.
- Sign up for flight deals mailing lists. These two sites — The Flight Deal and Holiday Pirates — provide handy flight deals from the US and Europe, respectively.
- Airlines are consistently changing their rules. Very few of the rules that I detailed in my Big Blue Marble Travel seminars ten years ago are applicable today. I encourage to subscribe to the following to keep with the airline rule changes: Smarter Travel and Johnny Jet.
- If you have time, consider breaking your trip up into shorter segments. Sometimes, for example, you may find an excellent deal on a trip to London but you want to visit Munich, which has very expensive flights from your departure city. It may be worthwhile to buy a trip to London, stay there, and then take another flight to Munich. The difference in price may cover your expense for staying in London. Or it may be a terrific excuse to spend a couple of days in London. Sometimes, airlines will let you layover in their headquarters’ city for the same cost you would pay otherwise. Icelandic Air for many years has allowed flyers to make a stop in Reykjavik for no additional flight cost. (Note: You still have to pay for your hotels and meals).
- If you have trouble reaching an airline, call one of their international numbers.
Buying Cheap Holiday Airline Tickets
- If you want to travel during the Christmas holidays, if possible, fly before December 18th and return after January 5th. Should you need to buy a ticket between these dates, the cheapest flights are on the holiday itself. (This also applies to Thanksgiving and Easter).
- For flights during the holidays, start looking for flights several months in advance. You will probably see a marked increase in price a month or two before the holiday season.
When to Buy The Cheapest Ticket
- Consider buying a ticket right away if you find one-way fares under those noted below:
- Within the same continent
- $125 for a distance under 1000 miles.
- $175 for a distance of 1000-2500 miles.
- $225 for a range of 2500 miles or more.
- Many travel advice sites suggest that you buy flights on certain times of the week. Whenever I have tried to follow their advice, I have not seen any real difference in price. (Their advice often is something like, book your tickets after midnight on a Wednesday).
Most Important Tip for Getting the Cheapest Flights: Travel in the Low Season
The most important rule for buying cheap airline tickets is to travel during the low season and be as flexible as possible when choosing your departure date. Purchasing tickets during the high season often costs 30% or more than flying in the low season.
- Here are the seasons that you will usually encounter when booking an airline ticket:
- High season: Summer season (in the Northern Hemisphere, June to Labor Day-early September). In the Southern Hemisphere: December-March), Christmas (Dec 18 – Jan 5), and the week before and after Easter.
- Low season: Winter (in the Northern Hemisphere, Jan 10-March 15. In the Southern Hemisphere: June-September).
- Shoulder season: All the rest of the year.
- As a rule of thumb, the low season is when schools are in session or employees are working. The seasonality factor is especially relevant for traveling to or from high-traffic, seasonal destinations like Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific.
Why it is Better to Buy Tickets From the Airline
- If you get a cheap fare from an online travel agency like Expedia, etc., compare the price of the same ticket on the airline’s website. If the cost is the same (or similar) on the airline’s website, then you are better off booking the trip through the airline’s website. (Note: Occasionally, the fare is radically different between the airline and search engine site. I remember one time the cheapest ticket on Travelocity from Miami to Cancun was $120 on American Airlines. When I checked the fare on the American airline’s website, the same flight was $420).
- Buying tickets directly from the airlines is generally better than online travel agencies because:
- Online travel agencies often charge you an additional fee if you need to change the flight.
- In the case of a problem, it is easier to deal with the airline directly than through a large, third-party online travel agency.
- Sometimes online travel agencies do not advise you of changes to flights. (If you do book through an online travel agency, confirm the flight’s time on the airline’s website a couple of days before the trip).
Other Tips For Finding the Cheapest Airline Tickets
- Most people are too obsessed with waiting to buy an airline ticket until they are sure that they will make the trip. I have learned that if I see a reasonable airfare, I will book that flight. If I wait until my plans are firm, the ticket will cost me a lot more than the initial price. Yes, sometimes, I decide to cancel the trip and end up eating the cost of the ticket. Most of the time, however, I take the flight and benefit from buying the ticket at its cheapest point.
- By buying a cheap ticket, I also decide to cancel or change a trip based on the other aspects of the trip– accommodations, transportation, tour fees, etc.. This is important because:
- Other than airfare, I can recoup most other costs without paying the penalty if I cancel a trip. Canceling or changing hotels and car rentals usually are easy and often free.
- Usually, the other elements of the trip represent most of the costs. Therefore, it is these costs (not the airfare) that I need to pay the most attention to when making my decision to cancel a trip. (Particularly since I bought a low-cost air ticket, in the first place).
Some Additional Air Travel Related Posts
- Why Alliances are Essential to Travel Providers. Are they Good or Bad for Consumers?Travel industry alliances are essential to the business´s survival. However, alliances have both good and bad implications for consumers
- Extra Fees: What are Ancillary (Extra) Fees and Why Are They Increasingly Becoming A Travel Industry Lifeline?More and more the travel industry depends on the sale of other products to expand and maintain its profitability. Expect to be bombarded with hints to buy other things (ancillaries) on your next cruise, flight, etc.
- The Internet Has Changed the Face of the Travel Industry More than Any Other Major IndustryThe internet has changed the travel industry probably more than another industry. This article discusses how these changes affect the consumer.
- Travel Industry Cost Saving Techniques: The Good, the Bad, and the UglyThe travel industry has made several changes to save costs in recent times. Some like using more fuel-efficient planes do not affect consumers that much. Others like reducing staff have made the experience worse for consumers.
- Business Travelers Versus Leisure TravelersThe travel industry gets most of its clients from leisure travelers. However, it makes more money from business than leisure passengers. The airlines put up with us leisure travelers because they couldn’t survive without us. However, they don’t hide their preference for business travelers.
- Why Are There So Many Connecting Flights? A Discussion of Why Airlines Love the Hub-Spoke Model More than ConsumersUnbeknownst to most consumers, the cause of most of our airline-related complaints is the hub-spoke model. Unfortunately, however, the hub-spoke model is also essential to the airline industry’s financial viability.
- Airline Schedule Changes: Why Don’t Airlines Keep their Promises?Learn why airlines change their schedules after you buy your tickets and what you can do about it.
- How Many Taxes, Fees, and Other Charges Do Consumers Pay For Airfare, Hotels, and Other Travel Services?The amount and number of travel taxes, fees, and other charges added to your bill will probably surprise you. Many are hidden and like everything else, taxes keep going up.
- Airline Consolidation: What Are the Disadvantages and Advantages For the Consumer?The airlines have consolidated so fast in the USA and Canada that only 5 players dominate the market. Learn what this means for consumers.
- The 3 Reasons Travel Prices Are So Radically Different than Other Products: Perishability, Capital Costs, and Yield ManagementHave you ever wondered why travel products seem to be priced so crazily? Learn the three economic factors that contribute to the pricing of travel products: perishability, high capital costs, and yield management.
- Why Pack Light Advice Doesn’t Work for Me (and May Not Work for You Either)I have had more problems because I packed too light than too much. Packing light advice is mainly geared toward people who are going on a whirlwind trip through Europe independently. I usually travel for long periods and stay in only a few places often with great climate variations. I also hate washing my own clothes.
- Some Hard-Learned Packing Tips From My 5 Years Traveling Round the WorldWhile I do not always follow packing light tips, there are many other tips that I use all the time. This post outlines the tips that were most useful during my 5 years traveling around the world.
- 3 Simple Baggage Tips to Avoid Wasting Time, Money, and TroubleA series of simple steps to avoid problems with your bags such as making your bag stick out from the others on the carousel and finding the most durable bag.
- Get an Upgrade to Avoid Uncomfortable Air TravelI have frequently managed to score business class seats either as an upgrade or for a modest additional fee. Learn how I did it and how you may be able to follow in my footsteps.
- Airline Bumping: What is it REALLY All About? Why It is Often a Blessing?Airlines routinely sell more tickets on a plane than there are seats. They expect no-shows. Most of the time this causes no problems. If there is trouble, often they can find volunteers who will receive some compensation to take a later flight. Once in a rare while, airlines have to involuntarily bump someone. This explains your rights if this happens to you and why I am glad I have volunteered to be bumped a couple of times.
- Round the World Tickets 101: Are They Worth the Trouble or Not?Once in my life, I bought a round the world ticket. My experience was favorable but I think the number of times these tickets are useful for most travelers is fairly limited for the reasons outlined in this post.
- Flight Schedule Changes: Simple Tips to Keep Flight Changes from Destroying Your TripIn the last ten years, I have spent nearly half of my life traveling around the world. One of the few unexpected changes is the sheer number of times airlines have changed my itinerary significantly. Sometimes it has worked out to my advantage. Other times, not. This post tells you what you can do if this happens to you.
- Why Buying the Cheapest Airfare is Often a Big MistakeI am surprised how often I can get significant improvements in convenience and comfort when I don’t buy the cheapest ticket. Often, for example, I can fly in business class from the US to Cancun for only $20-40 above the cost of the cheapest ticket. Often for a few dollars, I can get much more convenient flights as well.
- Top Tip: Eliminate International Flight Connections StressProbably the worst type of flights involve having to make a connection in a foreign country. Here are some tips to make these connections as stress-free as possible.
- Are Budget and Traditional Airlines Really that Different? Why Occasionally You Should Avoid Budget AirlinesOften nowadays there doesn’t seem to be that much difference between budget and traditional airlines (legacy carriers). However, unless the difference in ticket prices between budget and traditional airline is above 15%, I would recommend choosing traditional airlines for the reasons outlined in this post.
- Finding the Cheapest Flights 101: A Simple GuideA synopsis of my experiences with finding the cheapest flights and using search engines. The article also covers many tips for finding the cheapest flights, some of which are not discussed that widely elsewhere.
- Airfare Bundle Tickets: Advantages and DisadvantagesI often buy tickets with a mid-price range of bundled services attached. I often think the few extra dollars are worth it. You may or may not choose to follow in my footsteps after reading this post.
- Travel Hacking: How to Exploit Frequent Flyer and Loyalty Programs for Your Own BenefitHere are dozens of tips to hack your way toward low-cost flights and hotel rooms using frequent flyer and other travel loyalty programs.
- Frequent Flyer Miles: A Lazy Man’s GuideThis is a synopsis of my use of frequent flyer miles during my round the world travels from 2011 to 2015. It should help you to see how the programs have changed in the 2010s and give you some ideas how you can design a frequent flyer strategy that works for you.
- Airport 101: Avoid Immigration, Customs, Airline Check-In, and Security ProblemsWithout a doubt, one of the most frustrating parts of living as a fifty-plus nomad is dealing with airports. In my five years traveling around the world, I encountered several issues I did not anticipate including finding the right terminal, not having proof of onward passage, and unexpected fees. This post helps you avoid some of my mistakes.
- Frequent Flyer Miles: How to Master the Art of Redeeming MilesOnce you earn frequent flyer miles, you then have to figure out how to redeem them efficiently, Here are some tips from my own experience and that of experts.
- Earning Frequent Flyer and Other Travel Loyalty Points Without Leaving HomeI used frequent flyer points to pay for 40% of all my flights during my five-year trip around the world. It was easier to do in 2011-2015 when I traveled; however, it is still a good way to help pay for your travels. Here s a guide to how you can earn miles without traveling by using credit cards and buying affiliated products.
- Getting to the Airport Trouble-Free: 6 Simple TipsGetting to and from the airport and airport parking will be easier if you follow the six simple tips in this post.