We’ve all experienced the tiresome, repeated searching when trying to book the cheapest possible flights to any given destination. With endless search engines and continually fluctuating prices, the approach to frugal flight booking is overwhelming. Here’s some key tips that will save you time, frustration and most importantly money when booking your next flight.
Don’t miss our other guides on How to Find Airline Mistake Fares, How to Get Free Extended Layovers to Hack One Trip Into Two, and Round the World Tickets: The Ultimate Guide!
1. Keep your searches top secret
You’re not crazy for thinking that a flight price has changed after searching it a few times in your web browser. Based on the cookies in your browser, flight prices do increase when a particular route is repeatedly searched, as the site wants to scare you into booking the flight quickly before prices get even higher. Always search for flights in incognito or private browsing mode to see the lowest prices.
In Google Chrome or Safari, incognito is enabled by hitting Command (or â€œControlâ€ if using PC), Shift, â€œNâ€. For Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer, hit Command (or â€œControlâ€ if using a PC), Shift, â€œPâ€. This will open a new browser window where your information is not tracked, thus not inflating prices as you search. Note: if you’re using an older version of OS X, open Safari then click â€œSafariâ€ in the menu bar, and select â€œPrivate Browsingâ€.
Your cookies are reset each time you re-open an incognito window. So if you want to start with a clean slate for each flight search (so your previous searches aren’t â€œrememberedâ€, potentially inflating costs), close all your incognito windows, open a new one, and then perform your flight search.
2. Use the best flight search engines
All search engines have inflated flight costs as part of taking a cut from the airlines. Some search engines (e.g. Expedia) consistently inflate much higher than others (listed below). It pays to familiarise yourself with sites that offer the best prices.
Use These to Book
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- Momondo (a broad search engine that sometimes shows cheaper fares than Skyscanner)
- AirWander (lets you extend layovers into stopovers to visit 2 destinations with 1 trip â€“ see tip #7)
- JetRadar (includes budget airlines, which many search engines don’t)
- Google Flights (good tool to quickly compare flight dates â€“ not usually the best prices)
As of 2020, most budget airlines will now appear in the broad search engines we are recommending (but NOT Southwest). If you want to be 100% sure though, you can do an additional search for regional budget airlines (we’ve listed as many we know of further below).
Finally, no single search engine is consistently perfect (though we typically find the cheapest price on Skyscanner or Momondo). As such, you may need to try a combination of search engines to ensure you’re not missing any results. There doesn’t seem to be one that gets the cheapest flight 100% of the time.
3. Identify the cheapest day to fly out
While many theories exist around booking specifically on a Tuesday to save money, the reality is there is no consistent truth to exactly which days are cheapest to fly. Most of the time it is cheaper to leave on a weekday, though this isn’t always the case. Your best strategy is to get a quick visual of prices for a whole month to see what days are cheapest for your specific route. Here’s how:
Step 2. Enter your departure & arrival cities
Step 3. Select â€œone-wayâ€ (even if flying round trip â€“ you’re just determining the cheapest days to fly out first)
Step 4. On a computer: click â€œDepartâ€ but instead of entering a date, select â€œWhole Monthâ€, and then â€œCheapest Monthâ€ so you can browse all dates to see which is cheapest. Hit â€œSearch flightsâ€ to easily see which date is cheapest.
In the mobile app: Tap the departure date, then change the view to â€œChartâ€. You can easily swipe left and right to find the cheapest date, and tap on one of the bars to see the price.
Repeat these steps for your return flight if applicable. You can still book a round trip in one booking, but doing these steps first will let you see which dates are generally cheaper to fly in/out on for your round trip.
Kiwi.com and Google Flights work similarly to Skyscanner, plus they have map views as well, so you can see where the airport is. For tracking when and where is cheapest to fly, Hopper also offer price analysis and track fluctuations (i.e. when is best to fly).
4. Fly for free with points
The cheapest flight you can book is free, and the easiest way to do that is with points. If you don’t have any, don’t fret â€“ signing up for just one travel rewards credit card and hitting the minimum spend can land you a major points bonus, often enough for a free flight!
You can sign up for an airline rewards card that earns points with a particular airline, or a more general travel rewards card that lets you redeem points across a variety of airlines. As a beginner card, we recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. You can earn up to 60,000 in bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months after your account opening. That’s worth $750 when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards, and more than enough for an international flight. And since it includes trip cancelation insurance, car rental collision damage waiver, lost luggage insurance, and no foreign transaction fees, it’s the perfect all-rounder travel credit card. You can compare this card with other top credit cards.
- 60,000 reward points (worth $750) after meeting the minimum spend of $4,000 in the first 3 months
- $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit.
- 5x points for purchases on Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3x points on dining, and 2x points on all other travel purchases.
- Includes trip cancellation/interruption insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, lost luggage insurance and more.
- Can transfer your reward points to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- No foreign transaction fees
- Annual fee: $95
- Learn More
Do you have your own business? Then consider the Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card instead, where you can earn a whopping 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 in the first 3 months from the account opening. That’s worth $1250 through Chase Ultimate Rewards. You’ll also earn 3 points per dollar on the first $150,000 spent in select business purchase categories per year, and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. Learn how to apply.
We recommend using your card for everyday purchases, and to treat it like cash, using only the money you have in the bank, and paying your balance off each month. That way, you won’t be charged interest, and you’ll effectively get your points for free!
For more tips on how to master points travel, check out our guide How to Get Free Flights with Travel Credit Cards and Points for everything you need to get started.
5. Befriend budget airlines
Budget airlines offer significantly cheaper tickets than their full-service counterparts. It should be obvious, but this comes with compromises such as less leg room and no â€œfreeâ€ food/drink on-board (which by the way, is normally covered in your higher-priced ticket with full-service airlines).
If you are considering flying budget, which in our opinion is a great way to save, I’d highly recommend reading our guide on 7 must-know facts about budget airlines.
Below is a comprehensive list of budget airlines around the globe. Red indicates true budget airlines while blue implies the cheapest companies available where budget airlines don’t exist or aren’t plentiful.
But Firstâ€¦ A NOTE ON BOOKING BUDGET AIRLINES. Always read the fine print and do the following:
- Check where the airport location is (some budget airlines fly to airports further out of town).
- Ensure you’ve booked & paid for your luggage allowance. Adhere to restrictions on weight, height, and # of bags allowed. Some airlines (e.g. Ryanair) will charge hefty fee if you’re over. Remember, paying only for the exact luggage space/weight you need is how budget airlines keep their prices lower than traditional airlines!
- Read the fine print. The best example is that Ryanair WILL CHARGE AN AIRPORT CHECK-IN Fee â‚¬/Â£55 if you do not check-in online in advance and print your boarding pass, or use their mobile boarding pass. A warning of this fee is clearly stated in all capital letters in the first sentence of your e-confirmation. In a nutshell, always read and follow instructions!
Remember, if you want to book the cheapest flight possible (not service-of-the-year-award-winner), be adaptable, do your research, and know the budget airline’s requirements & restrictions.