Friday, June 15, 2018

7 Simple Ways to Find Cheap Airplane Tickets

Photo by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

Here is a disappointing fact. Air travel is significantly more expensive than it was a few years ago. I recall a time in the not so distant past when a one-way ticket from the east to the west coast cost about $100. Search fares from New York to San Francisco these days and prices are at least 50% - 100% higher.

There are economic reasons for why the cost of air travel has risen. Consolidation among airlines, oil prices, and fewer planes flying fewer routes are the most significant reasons for increased fares. If you are a travel nerd, like me, Nomadic Matt wrote a detailed explanation of why airplane tickets are so expensive.

Higher prices do not mean you and your wallet are completely at the mercy of the airlines. Plenty of deals and sales are available on airplane tickets every day. Cheap fares are out there for consumers. It just takes some research and a bit of perseverance to find them.

In this post, I will share my best seven tips for finding cheap airplane tickets. Use them, and you will never again be the person who paid the most for a seat on the plane.

Start Researching Early

Begin your search for plane tickets as soon as you start thinking about a trip. By searching early you will have an idea of what it regularly costs to fly to your destination. When a deal comes along, you will be able to recognize it and act quickly. 

I always start my search on Google Flights. In my opinion, it is the fastest and most comprehensive search engine available at this time. You can filter searches by airlines, stops, duration, and bags. The bags filter adds applicable baggage fees to the base price. You can also set alerts to notify you by email when ticket prices rise or fall.

Wait To Book The Flight

Depending on when you start researching it may pay to wait before purchasing tickets. There is a sweet spot for airline prices. Typically, the best prices for domestic flights can be found between 45 and 60 days before the trip. For international flights and any destination during peak travel seasons, purchase a ticket around the 90-day mark.

Whatever you do, purchase your ticket at least 30 days before your trip. This is when the most significant price increases occur.

One more thing to think about. The less flexible your travel plans, the sooner you should buy tickets. For example, if you have to take an early morning flight to Miami to board a cruise ship in the afternoon, don't wait for the 60-day mark to purchase your ticket. It may cost you more but in this case, flying out in the morning is more important than the price.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Be Flexible

If you want to pay the lowest price for air travel: be flexible. There are many variables that affect airline ticket prices. Airlines consider the time of day, the day of the week, and the time of year when setting fares. They know that people like to travel around holidays, that snowbirds flock to the Caribbean in the winter months, and that SXSW takes place in Austin every March. The airlines recognize this and they increase their fares accordingly.

Try avoiding days and times that most people want to or need to travel. This means not flying during holidays or when a popular festival or conference is happening at your destination. Try to fly on Tuesdays or Wednesdays because more people travel on the weekends. Moreover, book an early morning or late night flight because no one really wants to stand in a TSA line at 4 a.m. 

If you can't be flexible on day and time, be flexible on destination. Google Flights has a cool map feature that will display fares from your home airport to destinations around the world.

Being flexible on dates, times, and the destination is the #1 thing to do if you want to land cheap plane tickets. Use Google Flights (or your preferred search engine) and play around. Adjusting your plans, just a bit can save major dollars.

Fly In Or Out Of Neighboring Airports

We don't know when or where an airline will offer a deal. It is a good idea to include neighboring airports, big and small, in your search. Google Flights can help with this too. Click the airport button to show a list of close by airports at your destination and origin.

What is close by? That is something you have to decide. Time is money so driving an hour to save $20 may not be worth it. You should calculate how much you need to save to justify the extra gas, parking, and possible overnight accommodations. It may not make sense in every case, but it is worth a look to save some money.

Photo by Aaron Barnaby on Unsplash

Fly Budget Carriers

Budget airlines are the ace up your sleeve when it comes to saving money on air travel. These no-frill operations fly comparable routes to the major air carriers for less. Want to fly from the US to Europe for hundreds instead of thousands of dollars? Check out WOW or Norwegian Airlines. Wondering how you can afford an expedition through several cities in Asia? AirAsia can help with that.

Here is a list of budget airlines around the globe. Most of these carriers do not fly to the US so you may not recognize the names. However, consider them the next time you are visiting the countries or areas that they serve. 

Of course, the low fare means you are giving up the frills and extras that may be included in a major airline's base fare (I say 'may' because the majors are charging more and more fees these days.) On a budget airline you will pay extra for checked and carry-on baggage, seat assignments, printed boarding passes, food, entertainment, etc. You should add any fees to the base fare to determine if you are saving money by flying a low-cost carrier.

Book Separate Tickets On Different Airlines

There is no rule that says you have to fly one airline for your entire trip. In fact, you may be able to save money by booking each leg of your trip separately. This tip works especially well if you want some control over when you fly. Here's an example.

I was looking to fly round-trip from DC to San Francisco this summer. American Airlines had a sale on the route. There was only one outbound flight offered at the sale price and it was trash (a late afternoon flight with a quick connection in Phoenix that I probably would have missed). There were several suitable inbound flights, though. I booked a one-way ticket from San Francisco to DC and purchased a separate ticket on a different airline from DC to San Francisco.

I saved some money but more importantly, I am flying at the times that I want. Since we know time is money, booking separate tickets paid off.

Sign-up For Alerts From Fare Deal Sites

I wrote about this tip in a blog post about saving big money on travel. There are many websites and apps dedicated to the cause of finding cheap flights. They do the legwork while you reap the benefits. I highly recommend visiting these sites at least once a day. Better yet, sign-up to receive email and/or social media alerts so you see the best deals quickly. 


Like everything you buy, airfares go on sale from time to time. Plan early, be flexible and use online tools to find the cheapest airfare for your next trip. 

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