One 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 12 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. Get the right credit card
If you plan on going out of the country, I highly recommend the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®. That’s because it’s accepted everywhere, there are no foreign transaction fees and it has a chip with pin capabilities to save you time when making purchases or buying train tickets. Here’s more on the card.)
6. 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!
7. 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.
8. 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.com, Kayak, Yapta.com and FareCompare.com. Here’s a chart that compares the leading airfare alert sites.
9. 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.
10. 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, you can use their miles (points) towards your tickets/hotel/car/etc.! Right now, 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.
11. 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.
12. 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. Here’s a controversial website that will help you find the hidden cities.
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!
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Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.