Bucket List Travel Tips

Travel Hack: Do a Cheap Flight Search Like a Pro

Travel Hack: Do a Cheap Flight Search Like a Pro - title
 

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. Narrow your list of cheap flight search engines

Skyscanner Elite

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.

Another great thing about Skyscanner is that, as an all-in-one travel resource, you can also use it to find the best rental car deals and hotel deals. It doesn’t get easier than that!

 

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.

 

Travel Hack: Base your cheap flight search on the current market

 

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?

Check out How to Get Cheaper Flights Through Norwegian Air Shuttle!


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.

 

travel hack: check nearby dates

 

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.

 

travel hack: look at nearby airports

 

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!

 

 

Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen, Morocco

 

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!

 

Layover in Tower Bridge, London, England

I took advantage of my 12-hour layover in London to take a brief foray among some of the big sites, such as the Tower Bridge!

 

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!

Trip duration

 

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

travel hack: incognito window

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!


 

For random deals sent to my email, resources like TripAdvisor airfare alerts, TravelZoo Top 20 Deals, and airfarewatchdog are also fantastic sites for staying up to date with the best deals.

And don’t forget to follow Television of Nomads on Facebook and Twitter! As Skyscanner Elite ambassadors, we have access to flight deals that you certainly won’t want to miss!

 

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:

 


Are cheap flights your thing? You might also appreciate how to get a free plane ticket!


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How do we find the cheapest flights? Learn our secret cheap flight search resources to score the best travel hack deals, including expert tips for using them! How to find cheap flights: all the travel hack secrets travel bloggers use for doing a cheap flight search like a pro and getting the best airfare deals!

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Can you think of another travel hack for improving your cheap flight search?

Let us know in a comment below!

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45 Comments

  • Reply
    Craig Tierney
    September 13, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    I don’t have any additional tips but I loved these – they make my dreams of traveling seem more achievable since flight cost has been a huge barrier for me and my wanderlust. Skyscanner has been added to my favorites list 🙂

    • Reply
      Lauren West
      September 13, 2016 at 1:25 pm

      Glad we can offer a few tips, Craig! If you want us to include your departure city in any of our daily cheap flight updates, let us know!

  • Reply
    Mary Lou Harris
    September 18, 2016 at 6:27 am

    Thanks for the tips. I find it an ever changing travel world out here.

    • Reply
      Lauren West
      September 18, 2016 at 2:14 pm

      Absolutely, Mary Lou! Technology has made travel incredibly accessible, which is a blessing for many of us, but also comes with its own set of consequences. Glad we could help out a little!

  • Reply
    Gareth
    October 3, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    This is a great list of tips but I’d like to add a couple of my own. Admittedly, the first one might only be applicable to Ryanair/Easyjet and therefore Europe but both these airlines offer regular sales on specific destinations (and we are walking reeeeeally cheap here) throughout the continent. So, if you aren’t fussy about where you go, choose a destination on where the budget airlines are offering flights to. The second is kind of an extension of your 6th point. A growing number of airports (Incheon in Seoul is particularly great about this) offer passengers who have a long layover there a FREE day-trip in the city. So, if you plan your flight path accordingly, you can actually have a really great outing in a new city without any cost. Hope these ideas helped and great article

    • Reply
      Lauren West
      October 4, 2016 at 8:01 am

      Thanks Gareth, that goes along quite nicely with #2! I tend not to be fussy about my destination so I do that quite often as well, and it really is one of the best ways to score incredible deals. Thank you for your input!

  • Reply
    neha
    October 3, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    Great tips..we are gonna bookmark it and use these tips on our next flight booking.

  • Reply
    Lindsay
    October 3, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    Super helpful post! Thanks for sharing ^^ I use Skyscanner, but sometimes feel like I’m flailing about when looking for good flights! I’ll be sure to give your methods a try next time I book a trip (or am daydreaming of one)!

    • Reply
      Lauren West
      October 4, 2016 at 8:02 am

      Oh thank you! It’s such a valuable resource once you’ve mastered all the little tricks.

  • Reply
    Jessica
    October 3, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    This is pretty much exactly what we do! 😉 Use Skyscanner all the time. Last winter we went to Myanmar and if we stayed over in Bangkok for the night it was more than $1,000 cheaper than flying direct from Incheon. Breaking up the flight can make a HUGE difference. Never expected Daegu to be the cheapest to Japan!

    • Reply
      Lauren West
      October 4, 2016 at 8:01 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Jessica! It’s crazy how much you can save with such an easy little fix!

  • Reply
    Kathy
    October 3, 2016 at 10:33 pm

    Hey, I love this post. So much advice. I always use skyscanner. Its my favourite and so simple to use. Great post!

    • Reply
      Lauren West
      October 4, 2016 at 7:58 am

      I know, right?! Before I discovered Skyscanner, I would have like 20 tabs open going through expedia, orbitz, priceline, kayak, travelocity, vayama, and anything else google popped up to me and it was always so overwhelming!

  • Reply
    Arnav
    October 4, 2016 at 4:17 am

    Thanks a ton for the bunch of helpful travel tips.Pinning it for future reference.

  • Reply
    Tina and Jimmy
    October 25, 2016 at 1:20 am

    Great Tips on searching for cheap flights! I noticed that playing around with date and just changing one day difference makes a huge cost savings in airfare. As well as get to know which flight search apps have best savings for where your located as to where your going.

    • Reply
      Lauren West
      November 27, 2016 at 3:01 am

      True–it’s crazy how much prices fluctuate day to day!

  • Reply
    Sasha
    October 25, 2016 at 1:20 am

    Great post, you have almost all of the tips I use listed in this post. You write with great humour and sass, it was a fun post to read. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Helene
    October 25, 2016 at 2:14 am

    Hi ! Thanks for this post ! I think I’m already doing most of the thing you say (which is reassuring it means I got good deals so far ^^) I didn’t know about the 52 days though! thanks for your article! I’ll forward it to my friends that ask me the same question all the time too ! 😉

  • Reply
    Naomi
    October 25, 2016 at 5:56 am

    I have saved so much money looking for alternative airports to fly to (or fly from), this is by far the best tips for cheap travel flight hacks! Well done!

  • Reply
    Ivy
    October 25, 2016 at 8:18 am

    Great list! I’m obsessed with planning so I practise #9 religiously lol. I’m really picky with airlines when it comes to long-haul flights so we don’t have many options depending on which country we’re flying to. We almost always buy our flights close to a year in advance to lock in the best price!

    • Reply
      Lauren West
      November 1, 2016 at 4:17 pm

      Sometimes it pays off to be selective! Cheaper airlines will save you a buck, which is okay for some, but they’re not always the most convenient!

  • Reply
    Roger Wellington
    October 25, 2016 at 10:59 am

    Thanks for the step by step guide to finding cheap flights! These tips are so useful – I’ve never used Skyscanner before so I can’t wait to give it a try. I’ve always used Kayak, but will need to drop it for Skyscanner.

    • Reply
      Lauren West
      November 27, 2016 at 3:04 am

      Kayak is great as well–I’ve just been able to master Skyscanner so much more effectively for my purposes!

  • Reply
    Soraya
    October 25, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    There are awesome suggestions! I never thought to use the incognito window to search for flights – duhhhh that’s the best idea! I have been using Skyscanner a lot more lately, which has been great helping me search for cheap flights.

    • Reply
      Lauren West
      November 27, 2016 at 3:04 am

      Incognito can definitely help you if you’re searching over an extended period of time!

  • Reply
    Soumya Nambiar
    October 25, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    I use Skyscanner and Kayak too. I also prefer splitting the trip in the case of long flights and searching to get the best option. Some of the long layovers are fun as well. Incognito is something I have heard before but never used it till now since I was always confused where to set it. Thanks for the information.

    • Reply
      Lauren West
      November 27, 2016 at 3:06 am

      No problem, Soumya! Glad it could be of some help!

  • Reply
    Deni
    October 26, 2016 at 5:11 am

    Skyscanner is my go-to as well for flights! I have luck getting a flight from Toronto to Edmonton to see my family in February for $411! Normally, it’s anywhere between $600-$1,000. I also like how it gives you the option to send notifications to your email. I’ve only done it once, but it made it a lot easier to find a cheaper flight without having to go through the hassle of checking the website every day. Also, the calendar tip is my favourite of the bunch. If you can be flexible with the dates, you can score the cheapest flights no problem! Thanks for such a comprehensive list!

    • Reply
      Lauren West
      November 27, 2016 at 3:07 am

      That’s an incredible deal, Deni!! Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Eric || The Bucket List Project
    October 26, 2016 at 6:40 am

    Great tips…I use many already especially the incognito mode! I just wish there was a way to do an “Any” from the Starting point! Why? because I have often known where I want to go but find that leaving different cities provide drastically different prices.
    For Example, I needed a ticket to Banglore (BLR) India on the 28th of December. I spent 3 hours plugging in multiple cities as my departure city. Why? Because I live in New Orleans and found if I left San Jose, Cali it was $350 cheaper and I could get a ticket to San Jose for $100…so total it saved me $250!!!

    • Reply
      Lauren West
      November 27, 2016 at 3:09 am

      Next time try putting “United States” as your starting point, instead of specific cities, and Skyscanner will list all the departure cities, ranked by price, to your destination of choice!

  • Reply
    Jing
    October 30, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    Great tips, Lauren! I’ve been using Skyscanner but I didn’t know about the cookies tracking and gradual price rise. Now, I’m aware. Thanks! 🙂

  • Reply
    Melissa
    November 7, 2016 at 7:42 pm

    How awesome is skyscanner!!! I love it. Have to say travelling with a 5 year old I’m not a fan of layovers, but if it’s a decent amount of time and a good saving it’s a great to add a free stop over to another destination. Thanks for sharing 😀

    • Reply
      Lauren West
      November 27, 2016 at 3:10 am

      Yes layovers definitely have a time and a place–traveling with a 5 year old probably isn’t one of them I can imagine!

  • Reply
    Abi
    November 19, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    Hi Lauren! I was planning to go to Japan next year and I found your blog very helpful. Thanks a lot for the tips especially the incognito part 🙂

    • Reply
      Lauren West
      November 27, 2016 at 3:10 am

      So glad we could help you, Abi!

  • Reply
    Allison Wong
    January 22, 2017 at 7:54 pm

    Thanks for the great tips! Using it to plan more holidays this year

    • Reply
      Lauren West
      January 23, 2017 at 8:20 am

      Oh how lovely! Make sure to share any awesome deals you get!

  • Reply
    Television of Nomads
    February 11, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    […] Travel Hack: Do a Cheap Flight Search Like a Pro […]

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