1. Start searching as early as possible
Airlines generally release tickets 11 months in advance. Once you know your destination start searching and continue to check at least once per week.
Flight prices are live and fluctuate constantly due to supply and demand, so have a price in mind YOU are comfortable paying and be ready to jump on it.
Sure, there are last-minute deals that might beat what you’ve already paid, but that’s not guaranteed. If you want to play the game of waiting for a bargain, you’re better off NOT having a fixed destination in mind. More on that down below.
2. When is the best time to BUY your ticket?
There really is no hard and fast rule. However, there are some general trends to be aware of.
Peak season and holiday weekends will have the most demand, so expect higher prices. You can, however, stack the odds in your favor by buying at a certain time.
A study by CheapAir who analyzed 560 million flight searches, found an optimal time to buy was on average 7 weeks in advance (for domestic flights). Others have suggested a sweet spot of between 3-7 weeks in advance.
The WORST time was within 14 days of flying, or too far in advance, more than 5 months.
For international flights, Cheap Air found the sweet spot is 11-12 weeks prior to departure. As for which day of the week to buy on, they suggest no particular day was better than the other and buying on a Tuesday and Wednesday was somewhat of an urban legend.
3. What is the best DAY to fly?
It might not matter when you buy your tickets, but cheap flights can certainly be found depending on the DAY you choose to fly!
The consensus is that it’s best to FLY OUT on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. These are typical off-peak days with airlines carrying fewer business travelers, usually meaning lower fares and a surplus of seats. You also have a better chance of grabbing frequent flyer seats on these days (which we love).
Fridays and Sundays are usually the most expensive days to fly.
And don’t get confused with the idea that buying a ticket on a certain day will result in lower airfare. That’s a separate thing to the day you actually fly!
It has been suggested to try these combinations:
- Domestic: depart Saturday, return on a Monday.
- International: depart Tuesday, return on a Wednesday.
4. Be flexible with your flight dates
The best tactic for finding cheap flights is to be FLEXIBLE with your travel dates. Give yourself the best chance by searching a couple of days, or even weeks, either side of your preferred departure date.
If you are locked into exact dates, it will be more challenging to get the best deal.
5. Adjust your time of day for flying
If you can’t change the date of your flight, play around with the time of day you choose to fly, which can change the price dramatically.
Flying at unpopular hours, such as the red-eye or early in the AM instead of late morning through afternoon, increases your chance of getting the best deal. Most of the time, the cheapest flights leave either very early in the morning or late at night.
6. Identify the cheapest payment method.
Recently I got stung with a $94 fee for booking flights using my credit card, which I now avoid on cheap domestic flights.
In Australia, Qantas lets you pay using BPAY from a debit account, and Jetstar and Virgin through the POLi system which is also a direct debit payment from your chosen bank account.
I still use my credit card however when purchasing the more expensive international flights to gain those credit card member benefits and frequent flyer points, and for added consumer protection.
7. Check alternate airports
If there is more than one airport near your origin or final destination, check them both. The more options you have in terms of airports and travel dates, the more likely you will be to finding cheap flights.
Ensure you know where the airport is situated in relation to your accommodation and before you book your tickets. We messed up once and discovered I was flying into an airport much further away from the city centre. It cost me extra to pay for a bus into the city centre and a lot more in time than simply flying direct to the main airport.
8. Fly where the deals are
Instead of choosing a destination and then spending days or weeks trying to find a flight deal, considering flying to where the cheap flights already are!
Choose a destination you can comfortably afford and one you’ll enjoy. Use a flight search engine like Skyscanner that lets you type in your departure city and search for a list of cheap flights to anywhere in the world. If you are flexible with where you want to go, these are handy tools and fun to play around with.
Keep reading for detailed tips on how to do this down below in our “How to search for deals” section.
9. Consider round trip tickets
Even if you are only flying one way, sometimes they are so expensive that the round trip ticket is actually cheaper. Just forfeit the return leg portion. We have done this from Sydney to LA. Crazy, but it happens.
10. Use different airlines
For domestic flights within Australia, it’s often cheaper for us to use different airlines and book two separate one-way flights. For example, we have flown Jetstar Airways in one direction and Virgin Australia for the return.
Do your research and factor in online booking costs. If you do two separate airlines, you may be paying two online booking costs.
11. Avoid holiday periods
Obvious I know. But try not to fly up to 7 days before or after a major holiday period. However, certain strategies such as flying on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day (when the flight attendants are extra nice) or even on September 11 can save you a penny.
And we’ve all heard of the term “tourist season”.
Europe in the summer is peak tourist season. Consider visiting in the off-months instead. Sure the weather might be a bit cooler, but the prices for flights (and accommodation) will be lower, and there will be less people lined up at popular attractions.
Just make sure all the tourist sites and accommodation providers are open in those “down” months.
12. Consider a longer layover
Flights with longer layovers usually have lower price tags.
One advantage of the Expedia flight search is that you can plan for longer stopovers on the same ticket.
13. Join a frequent flyer program
Why not? These programs are free to join and you can earn points towards cheaper fares, upgrades, and free companion tickets.
And many programs are created for airline partnerships where they’ll recognize and honor each others’ miles – such as the Qantas / Emirates partnership.
We have benefited greatly from our Qantas membership. When we were living in Raleigh, North Carolina we had to attend a family wedding in Cape Town. I (Craig) had accumulated enough points to fly return trip from North Carolina → Atlanta → London → Johannesburg → Cape Town and return!
Whilst I had to pay a couple hundred dollars in taxes and fly a longer route, saving over $2,500 was well worth it.
Frequent flyer programs mostly accrue by miles. So even if you don’t travel very often, taking just one long haul flight will add to your points balance.
If you have a premium status, such as Gold or Silver, you usually gain access to the airline lounges even if you’re flying economy. You also get priority check-in, priority security, and priority boarding.
If you only travel once or twice a year it’s probably best for you to use a flight search engine to get your best flight deal. (recommendations below)
However, if you are a frequent flyer, paying a little extra for flights by staying loyal to a premium airline or alliance such as OneWorld could be your best long-term bet for getting flight perks.
For an extensive list of frequent flyer programs click here.
14. Sign Up for an Airline Affiliated Credit Card
If you are using a credit card, why not accumulate frequent flyer points? The best cards and benefits depend on which country you live in and what cards you have access to.
In Australia, we use a Commonwealth Bank American Express Card which gives us two Qantas points for every dollar spent.
We use this card to pay all our travel expenses, business costs, plus everyday living expenses and bills. This does take discipline. Make sure you don’t accrue interest by paying it off in full each month (very important).
And don’t forget to shop at member stores that are affiliated with the airlines. By shopping at these preferred stores you will also accumulate points. Our credit card program is linked to our phone bill company and supermarket chain.
For USA residents check out this credit card list by The Points Guy.
For Australian residents check out the list of cards here.
15. Sign up for Email Notifications
The best airfare sales can go largely unannounced. Sign up for your favourite airline e-newsletter as promotional fairs and discount codes reserved only for email subscribers can save you money. You can also be notified of last minute cheap flights.
16. Use Your Age or Student Status
If you’re a student or under 26 years old, ask about student discounts at STA Travel. STA Travel’s Exclusive Tickets can save you money.
17. Be careful of refundable tickets
It really depends on risk. If you’re taking a short trip and haven’t paid a fortune for it, don’t worry about purchasing refundable tickets or trip cancellation insurance.
However, if you’ve made a significant investment and face a high risk of cancellation, such as traveling during peak hurricane season or you have a potential medical condition, refundable tickets and trip cancellation insurance is a good idea!
18. Avoid fees
Most airlines are charging for everything these days, and if you have 2 bags or more, expect to be charged for it. Try to keep all your luggage within one bag per person, and make sure your luggage is not over-sized.
Alternatively, look for airlines that don’t charge fees, and some airlines will waive bag fees for frequent flyers or members of its credit-card program.
If you do need to check baggage, paying for it in advance is much cheaper than doing it at the airport. Check with each airline before booking so you can make an informed decision. For US based airlines check out this chart which displays all the fees compiled by Smarter Traveler.
19. Which seat is best?
It might not save you money, but it can save your sanity, especially if you’re traveling with kids or gadgets.
Seatguru shows you the best and worst seats on the plane, user comments, and photos. Find out the pitch of the seats, if they have powerpoints, personal TV screens, bassinets for infants and if baby changing facilities are available.
20. Consider a mileage run
Some people do what is called a “mileage run” if they are close to obtaining elite status for a whole year with a particular airline.
They basically find a cheap flight to anywhere and take that flight whether it be just a day trip or a weekend away. The cheap cost of the flight is seen as a small sacrifice to pay if the extra miles accrued allows them elite status for a whole year.
21. Delete your cookies/history
Some websites store your search data and will increase the price of the flights if they know the specific flights you are looking for. So when you come back a second time you are pinged as being more ready to buy and so are likely to be offered higher prices than you originally saw.
Clear your cookies or load each site in a new incognito browser window.