12 Ways to Find Cheap Flights

Cheap flightsOne of the most common questions I get is this “How can I find cheap flights?” It’s not rocket science—all it takes is some due diligence and time. Here are my 11 best ways to find cheap flights:

1. Be flexible
The key to finding cheap flights is to be flexible with your days. If you aren’t flexible, then you aren’t going to get a great deal. It’s not that difficult to figure out that the most expensive time to fly is when everyone else is too (i.e. holidays, Fridays, Sundays and Mondays).

2. Consider the time of day
You aren’t the only one who also wants to leave after work and school so when doing your flight search don’t put a specific time. Generally, the most expensive times to fly are peak business travel hours (8 to 10 am and 5 to 7 pm). Cheaper seats tend to depart early in the morning (5 to 7 am) or late in the evening (after 8 pm). NOTE: By leaving early in the morning you also have the best chance of not getting delayed.

3. Alternate airports
Not only do you want to be flexible with dates and times but be flexible with airports too. For example, rather than flying into (or out of) Miami when going to South Florida, check out Fort Lauderdale Airport (FLL)—it’s 25 miles north and usually much cheaper. You can also check out West Palm Beach, which is another 49 miles away. To help you with all the major U.S. alternative airports (by actual driving miles), I created a website called AlternateAirports.com.

4. Consider making a stop
Sometimes booking a flight that has a connection as opposed to flying nonstop can save you money. But you have to ask yourself if it’s really worth it. If it’s hundreds of dollars then yes, but if it’s just $20 do you really want to increase your chances of getting delayed or stuck? And be sure to avoid making connections in airports that have a terrible on-time track record like San Francisco, Chicago O’Hare or all of New York’s airports. Here’s a link to an airport and airline scorecard to help you make a good decision.

5. Search tools
Everyone knows there’s not one website out there that has the absolute cheapest price for airfares, hotels, car rentals, cruises and package deals so the trick is to do your research and check them all to see who has the best deal at that moment in time. That’s one of the reasons I created JohnnyJet.com to begin with.

We now have a search engine (below) where all you have to do is input your city pairs and dates and click check rates. Six windows will open up as they simultaneously search a variety of travel websites like Expedia, Priceline and TripAdvisor. It not only saves you time but money as well. Check it out for yourself!

6. Sign up to newsletters and use Twitter
To save as much money as possible, make sure you sign up to all the airlines’ deals newsletters and subscribe to newsletters on third party sites like TheFlightDeal.com, AirFareWatchDog.com, and mine on JohnnyJet.com. Also, be sure to follow all the airlines on Twitter so you can be the first to know about sales and follow industry experts and aviation enthusiasts to be informed of unadvertised or mistake fares. Here’s a handy resource list I compiled of everyone worth following on Twitter.

7. Sign up for flight alerts
If you don’t want to constantly manually check airfares (I like to) then sign up for fare alerts. Many sites offer this service for free including Airfarewatchdog.comKayakYapta.com and FareCompare.com. Here’s a chart that compares the leading airfare alert sites.

8. Speak to a human
You never know if an airline representative can find a better deal but in my experience, it’s usually only worth it (most charge a $25 fee) when booking a mileage award ticket since they can check partner airlines and alternate cities much quicker. To help you get in touch with your airline I created AirlineNumbers.com that lists all of the airline’s phone numbers and websites. To bypass the airlines’ annoying and time consuming automated prompts, log on to GetHuman.com.

9. Use frequent flier miles
It’s true that it’s almost impossible to use your frequent flier miles during the holidays unless you are flexible with dates or are willing to use double or triple the usual amount. However, if you have a credit card that doesn’t have blackout dates like the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express or the Barclaycard Arrival(TM) World MasterCard® – Earn 2x on All Purchases you can use their miles (points) towards your tickets/hotel/car/etc.! There are a couple credit cards currently offering big bonuses—like 40,000 miles! Here’s a list of some of the best. Warning: Do NOT sign up for a travel rewards credit card if you can’t pay the balance off your balance in full each month—it’s just not worth it in the long run.

10. Buy two separate tickets to Europe
If you are traveling to a secondary destination like Sardinia in Italy it might be wise to breakup the trip up into two separate tickets. Several years ago, I needed to get from New York to Sardinia. When I priced out the tickets directly to Olbia (Costa Smeralda Airport) the airlines all wanted around $2,000! I couldn’t afford that and I then figured out that by buying two separate tickets — the first to London on a major airline and then the second to Olbia on a low fare carrier, I saved over $1,000! Just make sure to leave plenty of time between flights (preferably a day), because most low-fare carriers usually depart out of secondary airports. And don’t forget to pack light because they have crazy baggage fees.

11. Hidden cities
This hidden city trick is against airline policy so you didn’t learn it from me. But—once I needed to get to Cleveland from L.A. and a nonstop one-way ticket was $600. I took my own advice and searched alternate airports and when I found a ticket to Buffalo for only $230 I noticed the flight first stops in Cleveland ON THAT SAME EXACT $600 flight. I know it makes no sense since Buffalo is farther from Cleveland and you have to take two flights instead of one but that’s the airlines for you.

If I wanted to break airline policy I could’ve just gotten off in Cleveland and let my connecting ticket to BUF go to waste. But if I did that I would’ve bought a one-way ticket, made sure not to check bags or put in my mileage account number. Remember I’m not recommending this and if you do it a lot you WILL get caught.

12. Consult a travel agent
As you can see, bargain hunting can be a time-consuming process but it can pay off big time especially if you are traveling with multiple people. If you don’t want to spend the time and energy then call a travel agent and pay their fee, which can be $25 or more. I check with mine but usually only on international flights since sometimes he has different inventory than the travel sites. To give you an example, once I was flying from London to Bangkok and everything I was finding online was over $1,000. I called my travel agent and he found a flight on Etihad through Abu Dhabi for $550. It was well worth the $25 fee.

So there you have it…you pretty much just turned me upside down and shook all the tricks out of me. I hope this guide helps you find cheap flights and more importantly, motivates you to spend with the ones you love.

Happy and safe travels!

Comments

  1. Great tips! Of course, I always seem to be in a hurry, so I end up paying more.

  2. Rachel Snyder says:

    These are all tips I will definitely keep in mind when booking my flight to Oslo! Buying two separate tickets seems like the most useful idea for me. I wonder why the date of when you book them wasn’t mentioned in this article. Does that affect the ticket price at all?

  3. The hidden cities thing… there’s no way to know this unless you check multiple destinations and just happen to notice that a flight has a stop (but no plane change) & then goes to the final destination? Sounds complicated. And mostly like a luck only occurrence, but I’ll keep my eyes open for something like this in the future and heed your warnings.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I had to use a travel agent for our trip to Germany, but it paid off. She was able to save us more than her $40 fee. With her inventory, she found us a flight with only one stop (instead of two) on a carrier that offered free meals. Having a flexible schedule also helped as there was a huge difference if we left the US on or around May 20th. She was able to find flights that I couldn’t see at all on my searches. Overall, my savings per ticket was approximately $400 by being flexible and using an agent! That savings helped pay for a hotel I found on a discount website. Thank you for your great tips!

  5. We booked American Award travel from San Antonio to Istanbul for Nov 2013/Dec 2013 travel. After the third revision the travel time had risen to 24 hours! With lots of research we discovered a Turkish Airlines Houston-Istanbul not stop. Due to a promo the tickets were $680 each round trip.

  6. Great tips!! I haven’t used those first 2 online resources yet, but the travel agent a few times yes. Have used FareCompare and CheapTickets in the past, but for the next trip I will give your suggested SkyScanner and Flightfox.

  7. Great tips! thanks.

  8. Where is your booking search engine? Do not see it below

  9. Thank you for sharing these tips. I will add it to my bag of useful information.

  10. I wonder. I checked a nonstop flight to Tokyo for around $ 1500, but the same Airline only asks $.1100 if I continue my flight from Tokyo to China. Can I book the cheaper one, and NOT continue to China and get away with it? I don’t understand these silly regulations.

  11. Thank you for the tips, will surely handy for people travelling with families

  12. Jazzngas. says:

    Fares from Europe to the US are usually cheaper than travel originating in the US. Be clever and use this knowledge to your advantage.

  13. AFJohnson says:

    I just booked r/t to Madrid for Aug 2014 at $617.00 p/ticket. unbelievable, in 30 years of travel I have never purchased an international flight that low.

  14. All great practical points that work! Leveraging these tactics together can land exponential savings. There is a guide titled ‘Beat the Best Online Fare – Every Time, Every Flight’ that shows how to do this. It’s a free download
    Here’s to exciting travels and none of the bills!

  15. Excellent information, as ever, Johnny. I like the idea of using a travel agent, but how do you find one without a specific referral? Do you have a website you can recommend that gives a list of excellent travel agents in various cities. I live in San Diego. Thank you!

  16. Lukasz Basisty says:

    One of the most popular ways of booking cheap tickets that I found missing in the article is booking the ticket well in advance. I have tried this a lot myself. If you plan the trip well in advance and book the ticket two months before the actual travel date, you will surely save a lot on the fare.

  17. Great article, really good tips – I could not agree more – the more options to compare prices, airlines, routes and search engines you have the better chances of getting a great deal out there! I’ve recently discovered this pretty sweet search engine that combines hundreds if not thousands of flight search sights and airline (both cheap and expensive ones)

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