Apart from wondering where to go next, “How do I find the best deal on my flight??” is probably the biggest question on every traveler’s mind.
With a ton of budget options, third-party booking sites, ticket add-ons, and conflicting info out there, searching for the best flight online can sometimes have you feeling like you’ve wandered into the wild west.
Not to worry, pardner—I’ve gathered all my best flight-finding advice into one comprehensive, BS-free guide just for you. (This one right here! 🤠)
I’ve spent years perfecting the art of uncovering the BEST flights online, and the method is simple: be flexible, do your research, and tweak until just right.
Keep the following tips in mind and you’ll be scoring those max-value flights for minimum $$$ in no time!
Pre-booking stage: Let the flight deals come to you
The rule every travel pro lives by? A-B-S, baby—Always Be Searching.
Even if your next vacation is just a distant daydream right now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be keeping an eye out for killer deals! Some of the cheapest flights I’ve ever booked have been ones I wasn’t actively looking for at the time.
At this stage of the game, travel apps, flight price alerts, and discount airfare newsletters are your friends. Some of my faves include Scott’s Cheap Flights, an email service that sends you pre-vetted deals on international flights from your home airport, and Hopper, a handy travel app that predicts flight prices up to a year in advance (so you know exactly when you should book).
Google Flights also has a great feature that allows you to comb through the cheapest flights to any destination all at once! Just type in your home airport, some potential travel dates, and leave the destination box on “Where to?”, then check out the price bubbles that pop up all over the map.
The less choosy you are about your destination, the more likely you are to stumble across an amazing deal!
OTHER CHEAP FLIGHT RESOURCES:
Booking stage: How to find the best flight to any destination
Once you’ve decided where you want to go, it’s time to get down to business—grab a coffee and settle in because this bit can take some time.
A few things to keep in mind as you search:
Generally speaking, the cheapest days to fly are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday.
Tuesday after 2:30 p.m. EST is when US-based airlines typically release their fares and is considered the best time to shop.
Booking too early or booking too late can both cost you money—the sweet spot for most international trips tends to be between 3 months and 30 days out.
It’s a good idea to clear your browser cookies if you’re checking the same flight continuously; websites monitor you and may raise prices to try to scare you into buying.
Ready? Start by punching the same flight info into a bunch of different search engines (Momondo, Skyscanner, Kayak, and Google Flights are all good options!). Make note of the results before playing around with trip details to see if anything changes.
Remember: your number one advantage when hunting for a great deal on airfare is flexibility!
Use search engine tools like price graphs to check future dates for cheaper tickets.
Compare prices from your home airport with nearby airports to find better deals.
If time of year isn’t a big concern for you, search for flights during your destination’s off season.
Experiment with different trip lengths.
Try looking at one-way tickets rather than roundtrip fares (check out Skiplagged).
See if switching airlines during your layover can save you some cash (Kiwi is great for this!).
One of the surest ways to save on airfare is with airline rewards programs and credit card points. (My personal faves? Chase Sapphire Preferred and AMEX.)
By taking advantage of credit card sign up bonuses and viewing everyday expenses as an opportunity to earn points, you can rack up miles pretty quickly! Check out The Points Guy’s beginner’s guide for an awesome primer on travel hacking if you’re unfamiliar with the ins and outs.
One last thing to keep in mind: cheaper is NOT always better!
The best flight is the one that’s perfectly tailored to all of your travel needs, and price is only one facet.
Think carefully about how long you’re going to be in the air for and how much discomfort you’re willing to put up with for the sake of a lower price (is 16 hours stuck in a cramped seat or a tiring overnight layover worth the hassle here?). Do you need a flight with halal or kosher meal options? Lots of legroom? An aisle seat close to the bathroom?
That budget airline ticket may look temptingly cheap, but take a second to do the math on how much it will really end up costing once you’ve factored in baggage fees, meals, and seat selection. Sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes it’s not.
Whatever you do, don’t go leaping for the “BOOK” button at the first sight of what seems like a good price—investing a bit of time upfront to shop around will often pay off in the end.
Post-booking stage: Getting the max value out of your flight
So you scored an amazing deal on your airfare and are psyched about putting the cash you saved towards having fun on your vacay—congrats!! 🙌
You COULD dust your hands off now and call it a day… or you could go one step further to totally max out the value of this flight.
First, you have to get travel insurance. I know, I know, nobody likes to buy it and everyone’s sure their trip will go smoothly from start to finish. That’s probably true, but insurance is one of those things that you don’t need until you really need it.
Trust me: just get it. The money you saved hunting around for the best flight price isn’t gonna mean much if you have to shell out for an unexpected expense when something goes wrong!
(That being said, you might actually have trip coverage already without even realizing it if you bought your flight using a credit card that offers travel insurance as a perk! Read up on the fine print.)
Second, optimize your flight for comfort with Expert Flyer. If you got stuck with a crappy middle seat when you booked, Expert Flyer will help you snag a better seat later on by sending you an alert when one that matches your preference frees up!
Your flight experience is only as good as your seat, so make sure it’s a comfy one.