Expensive flights can be the biggest deterrent from travel. But there are ways to beat the system and find the cheap flights.
When I first traveled from America to Europe, my flight was $180 from Los Angeles to London. People always ask me how I find cheap flights like that one. Since then, I’ve found many more ridiculously cheap flights for myself and others. Here are some tips:
1. Use Skyscanner
Skyscanner is God’s gift for finding cheap flights. I’ve always found the best prices on Skyscanner, and their search features are my favorite.
If you are looking for an exact flight between airports on a certain day, this site will still usually give you the best deals. However, sometimes you have to play around to find a better deal.
When searching, select the whole country you are traveling from and the country you are traveling to. Then select the whole month you want to travel in. This will give you the biggest possible search and the cheapest prices. This tends to catch close airports which wouldn’t be caught by simply selecting “nearby airports.” I’ve found tickets for half the price out of Milan, Italy compared to Turin, Italy. Traveling from Turin to Milan takes 1/2 an hour by train and costs €12 (or €7 by Blablacar.com). Similarly, flights out of Glasgow, Scotland generally run a couple hundred more than flights out of Edinburgh, an hour away by a bus that costs £1.50. Play around with your searches and think outside the box.
Skyscanner is not the only search engine. I’ve heard that Kayak.com and Momondo.com are also good for cheap flights. Then there are Expedia.com, Orbitz.com, Travelocity.com and many, many more. You can also book directly with airlines and sometimes find amazing deals on their home page. In my experience, anything that is cheaper than Skyscanner is only cheaper by a few dollars, and the extra effort for the paltry savings isn’t worth it. Skyscanner just does it all.
2. Search for budget airlines
The one exception to Skyscanner is budget airlines. In Europe, Skyscanner tends to catch these as well, such as Ryanair, EasyJet, etc. But it fails to catch JetBlue, the primary budget airlines of the US. These airlines also sometimes offer amazingly cheap fares, if you can find and catch them. Additionally, these airlines usually have consistently cheap prices, while other airlines will only have one or two very cheap days a month.
Sometimes the hidden fees, such as paying for checked baggage, a meal, etc, make budget airlines more expensive. Another disadvantage is they sometimes fly to and from smaller airports which can be out of the way. You’ll need to do a little research to see if the cost to get into town from a more distant airport is worth the cheaper ticket. In my experience, it usually is if you know about how to find cheap local transport.
3. Be flexible
If you’re willing to change your departure date or destination, you could end up saving as much as 90% off your ticket. Many times (but not always), mid-week flights are cheapest. Spring and autumn tend to be cheaper than summer, and January is almost always cheaper than December. Traveling to a bordering country can also be significantly cheaper. A cheap ticket from London to Belgrade, Serbia runs for $136, while a ticket on the same day from London to Osijek, Croatia is $41. A bus from Osijek to Belgrade, taking 3 1/2 hours, will cost you $6. Use the search options mentioned in #1 above to find the best deals.
4. Book each segment separately
This one might require a little more research. For example, the cheapest flight I can find right now from London, England to Portland, Oregon, USA is $555, with a layover in Iceland. A direct flight from London to Los Angeles one day earlier is $341, and another flight leaving to Portland two hours after arrival is $105 (saving over $100). The best way to find this type of a deal is to use the advice given in #1 above, searching a whole country for the cheapest destination. The longer the distance, the more useful this can be.
The cheapest flights from SE Asia to the US are almost always from Bangkok, Thailand. Flights are roughly twice as much or more from all the surrounding countries. Buying a journey in two segments from wherever you are to Bangkok, or using local transportation, and another ticket to the US is guaranteed to save you money.
5. Last minute is sometimes cheapest
Really? I’d always heard that you have to book plane tickets as far in advance as possible to get the cheapest ticket. Not true anymore. When I first looked at getting a ticket from Los Angeles to London for a departure date five months in the future, the price for the ticket was $300. One week before the flight, the price for a ticket on the exact same flight was $180. As a write this, a ticket from London to New York is $324 in five days, and around $650 in six weeks. Granted, the price drops down to around $280 in six months, if you want to wait that long.
Despite all the above advice, flight prices can change several times a day. I have also heard that there are times in the week (such as Tuesday night) when prices are cheapest. I haven’t confirmed this fact myself, but I did notice once that a ticket from London to Croatia, which is usually $40, was $20 when searching on a Tuesday night. If you don’t find a flight that fits your budget, it might behoove you to wait a little, checking back frequently to see if the price is different. And if you wait to the last minute, you just might get lucky (see #5 above).
If you would like me to help you find a flight for cheap, I will do the work for you for the nominal cost of $5 a flight. Simply use the form below to make the request. Make sure to include your target destinations, what kind of leeway you have on your travel times, if you’re willing to use local transportation or will only stick to connecting flights, etc. I can usually fulfill a request for finding cheap flights within 24 hours.