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Booking the Cheapest Flights

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I n the realm of budget travel, the cost of airfare is usually the largest cost that you will incur. Cutting costs at this step opens up the possibility of a cheaper trip and opportunities to spend in other areas. If someone tells you that there is a formula for booking a cheap flight, they are simply not telling the truth. Airlines use complex algorithms to decide what to set fares at and to whom and when to do so. Thankfully there are tools and tricks at your disposal that you can use to be wheels up at the lowest cost possible.

No Cookies

Don't worry, you can still indulge in the baked goods as you please. I'm talking Internet Cookies. Cookies are little bits of informations that are left on your computer by websites to keep track of your browsing patterns. Air carriers use cookies to deliver variations in prices to users that may be browsing around for a flight.

You can combat this by searching for your flight in a private browsing session or clearing your cookies.

  • If you are using Google Chrome, go to File->New Incognito Window.
  • If you are using Mozilla Firefox, click the menu button and then New Private Window
  • If you are using Apple Safari, go to File->New Private Window.
  • If you are using Internet Explorer, click the menu button, and click New InPrivate Window under the "Safety" submenu. In Microsoft Edge, go to the menu, and click New InPrivate Window.

Research and Tools

Getting the best price on airfare will require a little research. I personally love this part of planning a trip because it is the first step of making a journey a reality. I use a few different tools when I am researching airfare.

Google Flights

My favorite tool in airfare research is without a doubt Google Flights. Flights has a robust interface that offers extremely flexible search criteria. Additionally, you can log in and track routes using your Google account. Google has even started using their historical data to suggest when they believe the prices for flights will increase. I often start with this tool, especially if my destination and dates are flexible. As you can see in my search below, I searched for tickets from Orlando to Europe for two weeks in May and it returned the prices for various countries that fit within that criteria.

I also use this tool to search all of the departure airports that are in reach of me. There might be a mega deal that is worth the drive or bugging a friend for a ride to a different airport. Use commas to delineate the airports you choose. (This works on arrival airports as well)

Flights also has an "Explore Map" feature that lets you see the prices to destinations on an interactive map from your chosen departure locations. I will admit that I have used this to book flights to random destinations just because they were cheap.

Hopper

If you have your eye on a route, Hopper's report tool gives excellent information based on historical data from that route.

Other Tools

There are other useful tools that can be used to research air travel routes. Some additional resources that I use are:

When you find criteria that you are satisfied with, it is a good idea to check other tools to be sure you are getting the absolute best price.

Prime Tips

This is where things get a little into the weeds considering that everyone's travel needs are different. The key to getting a great airfare is flexibility. The more flexible you are in arrival and departure times and origin and destination, the more likely you are to get a great fare.

Days

There is no proven formula for which days are the best for looking at airfare or which days are the cheapest for flying. In my experience, airfare is usually more expensive to book late into the week and on weekends. It is said that Tuesdays are the "best time" to book a flight. It is also said that Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are the best days to fly on. If you are traveling on a holiday, traveling on the actual date of the holiday will most likely be cheapest.

Economy Airlines

Giving up a little convenience and comfort and using budget airlines such as Frontier, Spirit, or Norwegian may offer unbeatable fares to and from certain destinations. Bare in mind additional fees that come with the territory of budget airlines. Again, flexibility is key. Don't pay for a seat assignment and try to keep your baggage within the free allotments. What you are after is cheap airfare, not world class service.

Look at two one way tickets

Purchasing two one way tickets (even if it is from different airlines) will be cheaper in some cases versus purchasing a roundtrip fare. This even works with different airports if that is a feasible possibility for you. I was able to find a really cheap one way flight to Athens, Greece, and an even cheaper return flight from Oslo, Norway a little while later and planned my trip to Europe around that. This method takes a little research and cost analysis, of course.

Look for one ticket at a time

If you are purchasing tickets for multiple travelers, look for one ticket at a time. Multiple travelers may offer a higher rate per passenger than if purchased separately.

Deals

Be on the lookout for deals and promotions from airlines. If you see a flight that you like, don't hesitate to book it. If you are not within 7 days of travel, the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires airlines to give you a 24-hour cancellation window. Some airlines such as American allow you to hold a ticket and lock in the rate for 24-hours before paying.

24-Hour Cancellation

Continuing from my last point, after you book your airfare, check within your 24-hour cancellation window to see if rates have changed. If there a cheaper rate available, book it and then cancel your first ticket. Be sure to check the cancellation policy of your airline of choice.

Points

If you have racked up points with airlines or credit card companies, use them when the redemption value is higher than usual. You can often use major bonuses to your advantage and get more bang for your buck (or points).

In the End

If you take anything from this, it is the fact that FLEXIBILITY is pivotal for getting airborne for as cheaply as possible. My advice is generally that when you have decided on a destination, watch the route and settle on a price that you are happy paying after researching general pricing on that route. There may be a lower fare later, but there also may be a much higher fare as well. I typically purchase airfare for larger trips at least six weeks in advanced. That being said, there are often last minute deals that can be had if you just want to get away. Tools like Hitlist and Wanderu are useful for this.

Airfare travel is a free-for-all game and airlines are out to make the most money possible. Good luck and happy hunting for the cheapest fare out there!

Do you have any tips for getting a cheaper flight that I may have missed? Leave them in a comment below!

Chris Fluitt
Chris Fluitt
I am an all around tech guy, a graphic designer and programmer, a car enthusiast, and a coffee and beer lover. When I'm not behind the keyboard I am probably exploring a national park.

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