Our travel pursuits have taught us lessons often inquired about by our followers on Tumblr and Instagram. And the most common question? How we’re able to travel hack our way to cheap flight tickets. Well you asked and we’re answering—here are our tips and tricks to performing a cheap flight search like a travel hack pro!
Digging for a dirt cheap flight is always a tedious task, and it’s incredibly easy to get overwhelmed quickly during any flight search. Some choose to seek out mistake airfares, with savings of an average of $600 per ticket. But for a normal cheap flight search, one is inundated with dead ends. Tricky airlines raise the prices at every refresh of the browser, and the sheer immensity of sites claiming to be the best cheap flight search engine are near impossible to sift through. The first step to learning how to find the cheapest flights to anywhere is to be one step ahead of them.
So seriously, stop it with the cheap flight search madness. Quit wasting your time and dolla bills, and implement a travel hack or two from this list into your next cheap flight search!
- 1 1. Narrow your list of cheap flight search engines
- 2 2. Base your destination on the current flight market
- 3 3. Check for flights on dates around your selected dates
- 4 4. Search for airports/cities around your destination
- 5 5. Don’t be scared of a long layover
- 6 6. Or, make your own layover
- 7 7. Conduct your cheap flight search like a spy
- 8 8. Book your ticket at the best time
- 9 9. Plan ahead: subscribe to airline/airfare-watch email lists
- 10 Beyond the Cheap Flight Search
- 11 Like this post?
- 12 You Might Also Appreciate…
- 13 Can you think of another travel hack for improving your cheap flight search?
1. Narrow your list of cheap flight search engines
For any deliberate cheap flight search, I always (literally 100% always) begin my search with Skyscanner. I’ve been using Skyscanner since my flatmate in Prague introduced it to me in 2012 during our quest to find the cheapest route to Morocco, and it’s been my main cheap flight-finding squeeze ever since. From our jackpot $299 ticket win from LA to Peru, to our $340 cheap flight find from South Korea to Sri Lanka, and, most recently, our cheap flight tickets to Vietnam, Skyscanner has always had the most authoritative role.
And why Skyscanner? The ultimate customizable flight search tool for the smart traveler and savvy cheap flight-finder, Skyscanner allows you to be as specific or vague as you need to be. In seconds, you can have an overview of hundreds of flights from your designated starting point, conveniently organized by price. And here’s the best part—you don’t even have to know where (or when) you want to go.
2. Base your destination on the current flight market
What does this mean for your cheap flight search? Basically, set your destination based on what’s currently cheapest.
Take a look at these flights out of LAX. Using Skyscanner, I can see all the cheapest flights out of my departure city to everywhere in the world, and choose my destination from that list! Guatemala, I see you!
(Of course, that’s often easier said than done.)
For example: It’s June. It’s your sister’s wedding in a month. You have to be at place X on day Y and have to be back for work by Z.
Not the most flexible scenario.
However, not every travel situation is quite this restricted.
Since I’m currently teaching English abroad at a private school in South Korea, my vacation time is fairly limited. I get 1 week off in the summer and 1 week off in the winter, with all dates predetermined and outside of my control. So no, my dates aren’t flexible. But, my destination is.
Using Skyscanner, I can access a list of the cheapest flights out of South Korea to anywhere in the world for the dates of my vacation. I’ll typically set a personal maximum I’m willing to pay per person for a flight (usually $400), and pick the most enticing destination that comes in under that price.
Also—for daily wanderlust-stirring updates of cheap flights from all over the world, make sure to follow Television of Nomads on Facebook. And if your city isn’t being included in our daily updates, PLEASE CONTACT US AND LET US KNOW! We’d be happy to help you in your flight search!
Looking for cheap flight travel hacks to score a bargain trip from the U.S. to Europe?
3. Check for flights on dates around your selected dates
Prices can vary DRAMATICALLY from one day to the next, sometimes by hundreds and hundreds of dollars. So, when conducting a cheap flight search, one travel hack is to always refer to Skyscanner’s calendar to see the price variations from day to day.
For example, look at this calendar of flights from Los Angeles to Peru on Skyscanner. As you can see, changing the departure date from the 12th to the 11th cuts MORE THAN HALF off the cost of the departure ticket. And look at the return flight price for the 20th! No thank you!
By referring to Skycanner’s calendar, you can tweak your dates to accommodate the current flight market and score deals like this remarkable $239 flight from LA to Lima! This is how we scored our cheap flight to Peru and managed our astounding near-empty Machu Picchu experience!
4. Search for airports/cities around your destination
Just like flexibility in dates can save you a few hundred bucks here and there, so can flexibility in airports. We live on Jeju Island in South Korea, but I almost never search for flights directly out of Jeju. Rather, I search for flights out of South Korea in general, and choose the most cost-effective city, which usually turns out to be Seoul. However, other major cities in South Korea are also worth a look, such as Busan and Daegu. For our flight to Beijing for Chinese New Year, we ended up flying first to Daegu, as we were able to score the cheapest flight to Beijing from that city.
Let’s say I want to take a trip to Japan. Let’s look at the flights out of South Korea to my arrival city of choice above—in this case, Fukuoka. Jeju’s 4th on the list, while Daegu actually ranks as the cheapest departure city out of South Korea to get to my destination of choice, in this current flight market. Knowing this information, I can now quickly look into flights from Jeju to Daegu, and flights from Jeju to Seoul, add the cost of these to the cost of the flights to Fukuoka, and choose whichever is cheapest and best for my schedule!
This logic applies anywhere! While planning my first backpacking trip to Morocco, we used Skyscanner to maneuver a string of ridiculously cheap flights from Prague to Milan, then to Barcelona, and onward down through Spain until we took a ferry off the coast to Morocco. With this method we were able to save HUNDREDS of dollars, and afford a trip that otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to take! While this may be on the more extreme side, you could still benefit from the logic.
If flying out of the states, check the international flights out of major airports near you, and then separately look for the cheapest flights that can get you there. You’re almost guaranteed to save some money this way!
5. Don’t be scared of a long layover
No, not everyone has the time or patience for a long layover. But, if your number one goal is saving money, this is definitely one travel hack you’ll want to consider when conducting your cheap flight search. As we’re currently teaching English abroad in Korea, we have limited vacation. This restricts the amount of times we can really take advantage of the cheap flights with long layovers, but we’ve certainly been there. From 8 hours in Colombia, to 12 hours in London, or even longer in Taiwan, long layovers can actually be a mini-trip in disguise!
If you opt for a long layover, make sure to research the logistics of leaving the airport and having a little day- or partial day-trip in your layover city. Make sure to find out if you’ll need a visa to exit the airport, how long it will take to go from the airport to the centralized city area (and how much it will cost), as well as when these routes of transportation stop running! And don’t forget a fantastic travel day bag!
And if a long layover is simply out of the question, use Skyscanner‘s customizable toolbar to only show results under a certain travel time length. This will help weed out those long-layover flights cluttering up your search and save you valuable time in your cheap flight search!
6. Or, make your own layover
Sometimes, you may find it cheaper to separately book each leg of your trip on your own than booking an identical travel route as one package with built-in layovers.
For example, we’re currently considering flights to the Philippines for our winter vacation in December. It’s actually much cheaper to book flights separately from Jeju to Seoul, from Seoul to Manila, and then from Manila to El Nido (our final destination), than it would be if we booked a package from Jeju to El Nido, EVEN THOUGH the package would take us through the same exact route (layover in Seoul and Manila)!
If flying to Europe from the states, you could apply this same logic. First, search for flights from your desired departure point and your desired arrival point, and make note of any layover cities that pop up. Let’s say you’re flying from Los Angeles, California, and intend to end up in Prague, Czech Republic. You’re probably not going to find any direct flights between these two cities, but you will find flights with layovers in London or Paris. To try to cut flight costs, you might want to look for a flight from Los Angeles to London or Paris (or even look through Skyscanner’s Deals to find a cheaper entry point into Europe), and then look at a discount European airline flight from London or Paris to your final destination, Prague.
Most of the time you can save hundreds of dollars by splitting up your flights in this way, even though you’re traveling the same exact travel legs. Just make sure to check the luggage requirements of these discount airlines, and if you’ll need to purchase extra luggage space, make sure to buy it online ahead of time to save money. For pro tips on what you should actually bring on the plane with you, check out this carry on essentials packing list as well as our own essential carry on packing list.
One major benefit of splitting up your flights like this (besides saving on cost) is a greater control over your itinerary. You can scour all the available flights and actively select how long you want to stay in a place based on what’s available, as opposed to flights being randomly grouped together for you.
This kind of travel hack also requires more attention to make sure the travel legs you book are close enough together in time, without being TOO close so that you miss your connecting flight. Make sure you account extra time for customs, baggage claim, flight delays, and maybe even an airport transfer!
7. Conduct your cheap flight search like a spy
Take your cheap flight search to the next level with some Carmen Sandiego-style stealth. Cheap flight search engines and airlines track your browser cookies, and can use them to identify the recent searches you’ve made. With this information, these sites actually raise the prices gradually to fuel up some urgency in you to hurry up and input that credit card info! So don’t get tricked!
Fight this by clearing your browser history and cookies regularly, or take it a step further and complete your cheap flight search using Google Chrome’s incognito mode.
Here’s a speedy travel hack: with the Google Chrome browser open, press and hold Ctrl+Shift+N to pop open the incognito browser effortlessly. BOOM, we got ourselves a cheap flight search master!
8. Book your ticket at the best time
Flight prices bounce around like nobody’s business. So when’s the best time to actually book your ticket?
Despite travel hack claims to the contrary, there really isn’t a static magic number. Airlines are different, flights are different, timelines are different, and most of these fluctuate independent of everything else.
Still, there are guidelines that can help you decide when is USUALLY the best time to book your ticket. So when is it?
54 days before your intended flight.
In 2015, this was, on average, the best time to buy flights, according to Cheapair. So, if nothing else, you can look at flights 54 days before (and the dates hovering around this magic number) to potentially find the greatest deals.
Otherwise, aim for the “Prime Booking Window.”
And when is this prime booking window? 21-112 days before your intended flight. Yes, that’s a pretty wide open window, but it’s better than nothing. During this time period, you should definitely check for fares often, using your browser’s incognito mode, and set some Skyscanner fare alerts to notify you of any price drops. When you get a price that you can feel good about, you might want to go ahead and book it!
For more tips on when to book your flight for Americans, check out Best Time to Book Flights from the United States.
9. Plan ahead: subscribe to airline/airfare-watch email lists
Skyscanner is our golden tool for deliberate flight searches, but how about our recommended resources for receiving travel alerts? For this, Skyscanner alerts are a great way to stay in touch with price changes, as well as airfare tracking with Yapta.
PRO TIP: You might want to have a look at other deal-finding sites, such as Priceline. Here are some tricks for finding the best Priceline Express Deals!
Beyond the Cheap Flight Search
We hope you’ve appreciated our travel hack tips for scoring the cheapest flights yourself. But what about once you actually get on the plane? Before you board, make sure to check out our guide to TSA carry-on restrictions as well as this guide to airport security since 9-1-1. For additional resources, please refer to:
- 10 Things Not to Forget Before an International Trip
- How to Get Back Something You Left on the Plane
- How Early Should You Arrive at the Airport?
- What to Do If You Lose Your ID While Traveling
- America’s Busiest Airports and Their Quieter Alternatives
- How to Find Cheap Airport Parking
- TSA X-Ray Machines: What you should know
- How to Get a Refund on Your Flight
- How to Make an Airline Complaint
Are cheap flights your thing? You might also appreciate how to get a free plane ticket!
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Can you think of another travel hack for improving your cheap flight search?
Let us know in a comment below!