Save on plane tickets: how to find cheap flights to your dream destination

Flying is tough these days, from flight delays and cancellations to exorbitant airfare prices. If you’re looking to get your travel fix following the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions, you’ve got a lot of work to do. Cheap flights from the peak of the pandemic are a thing of the past, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to save money when planning that dream vacation. Here are some tips that can help you find cheap airline tickets.

1. Compare flights

google flights

Google Flights (Credit: PCMag)

Not sure which airline to fly to? Services like Google Flights(Opens in a new window)skyscanner(Opens in a new window)and momondo(Opens in a new window) compare flights and prices between airlines. Meanwhile, sites like Kayak(Opens in a new window)Expedia(Opens in a new window)and orbitz(Opens in a new window) They are online travel agencies (OTA) that allow you to book directly through their websites.

However, lower prices through OTAs do have some trade-offs, such as having to go through their customer service teams for any changes, some of which may require additional fees. In many cases, you can cancel within 24 hours, but not always. Generally, this rule only applies to tickets purchased at least seven days in advance. If you’re booking outside of the United States or through an OTA, be sure to check their cancellation policies.

If you are under 26, StudentUniverse(Opens in a new window) offers cheap travel reservations for students. The site also has an agreement with Amazon.(Opens in a new window) whereby Prime Student members can get up to 10% off flights, plus 10% back on hotels as an Amazon gift card after their trip.

Unfortunately, the “trick” of avoiding price gouging by searching in incognito mode or deleting your cookies is a myth(Opens in a new window).

2. Know when to buy

spiral bound calendar sitting on a pink background

(Credit: Getty Images/Nora Carol Photography)

What is the best day to buy plane tickets? Turns out it really doesn’t matter.

“If you buy flights on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday instead of Saturday or Sunday, prices have only been 1.9% cheaper on average over the last five years,” according to the Google Flights team, which recently analyzed(Opens in a new window) five years of historical airfare data.

“So if your trip is only a couple of weeks away, don’t wait for Tuesday – book your flight now in case the price goes up,” says Google.

Most of us know that the further away you can buy your tickets, the cheaper they will be. But how long should you wait? Google sets the sweet spot between 21 and 60 days before your flight, “with average prices bottoming out 44 days before departure,” he says.

That’s not always true for the busiest travel times. If you’re traveling on Thanksgiving, consider shopping at least 36-74 days before departure; prices tend to bottom out 52 days before Bird Day, says Google.

“For domestic travel over Christmas, the lowest average prices have been 22 days before departure, but that may be getting closer,” according to Google. “Prices have tended to fall between 20 and 88 days before departure.”

Here are some general rules for other popular destinations and departure times:

  • Spring Break (March/April): 23-59 days before departure; lowest at 38 days.

  • Summer holidays (July/August):14-44 days before departure, minimum 21 days.

  • Flight from USA to Europe: The sooner the better. Consider booking 129 days before departure; the lowest prices are between 50 and 179 days.

  • Flights from the US to Mexico or the Caribbean: 37 and 87 days before departure; lowest at 59 days.

3. Fly Budget Airlines (but watch out for fares)

two different Spirit Airlines planes on the airport tarmac

(Credit: Jillian Cain/Getty Images)

Flying on budget airlines like Frontier, Southwest, Spirit, or RyanAir can test your patience(Opens in a new window)but they are a great way for budget travelers to save a few hundred dollars on airfare.

The most important thing to keep in mind when booking with low cost airlines is that they usually make money through hidden fees. Services such as food and beverages, choosing a seat, checked baggage, and sometimes even carry-on baggage often have additional charges. These fees can vary widely from airline to airline, so be sure to read the fine print carefully.

For example, Nerdwallet(Opens in a new window) He calculated that the average passenger can expect to pay about $25 in extra fees at Southwest, which doesn’t even charge for checked bags. Meanwhile, he can expect to pay around $100 for Spirit or Frontier, which only allow passengers to bring one personal item that fits under the seat in front of them at no charge. All other bags will incur a fee. Need more than 28 inches of legroom in Spirit? That will be $60 for 36 inches(Opens in a new window) from space.

You can avoid most cheap fares by taking only one carry-on bag and skipping seat selection. Also, some airlines offer credit cards(Opens in a new window) that allow passengers to avoid certain fares.

4. Avoid weekend outings

google flight schedule

The real savings come when you are flexible about what day of the week you go out. According to Google, “flights departing on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday have been 12% cheaper than weekend departures.” Excluding international destinations, savings can exceed 20%, she says. Google Flights has a calendar user interface that allows you to quickly get an overview of price differences.

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5. Take advantage of scale

google flight map

If you have time to spare while traveling to your destination, you can often save some money by foregoing direct flights. “On average, nonstop fares have been 20% higher than for a connecting flight,” says Google. For example, if you are going to Amsterdam but flights are too expensive, it may be cheaper to fly to a city like Stockholm and then take a cheap flight to Amsterdam.

roma2rio(Opens in a new window) is a great resource for putting together different flights and finding the cheapest option. Travelers choose a departure location and destination, and the site will display different routes by plane, train, bus, car or ferry, along with the expected price and travel time. Filter through the fastest options and you might find a combination that works better than a direct flight.

Google Flights also has a great Explore feature that lets you see flights around the world, with the cheapest ones highlighted.

In the meantime, if you’re traveling to a specific city, consider flying to airports that are further from the main city. Just check that there are affordable public transportation options to your destination so you don’t have to pay a hefty taxi bill.

6. Receive notifications

google flight price tracking feature

Most travel sites will allow you to set up alerts that tell you when flight prices change. In Google Flights, change price tracking for any route or flight you are interested in booking.

There are also numerous airline newsletters and travel websites like Thrifty Traveler(Opens in a new window)air ticket guard dog(Opens in a new window)and Dollar Flight Club(Opens in a new window) that can notify you about offers. For a price, sites like Cheap Scott Flights(Opens in a new window) it can also alert you to erroneous fares (extra low fares caused by airline mistakes) which can result in incredible deals if you act fast.

With the tips above, you can plan your dream vacation without breaking the bank. Remember to use the points you may have accumulated through your credit cards or previous trips and ease the financial stress of traveling.

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