Flight prices frequently change, making it difficult to feel confident you are getting the best deal. Will it go up tomorrow? Will it drop in two weeks? Should I buy now or wait? There is no crystal ball or secret sauce to guarantee you’ll always find the cheapest possible fare. However, there are plenty of things you can do to feel more confident in your decision. Use these seven tips from experienced travelers to book cheap flights.
Smart Tips to Help You Book Cheaper Flights
1. Travel During the Off-Season
If you plan to travel somewhere around the same time, many others do expect to pay a higher fare. On the other hand, traveling during your destination’s off-season can be much more affordable.
Summers and major holidays tend to be busy seasons for many destinations, but not always. For example, flying to Europe around Thanksgiving tends to be very affordable because they don’t celebrate that holiday. Prices spike back up during Christmas. Likewise, traveling to New Zealand from June through August is considered off-season because their summer happens from December to January.
“By traveling during the off-season, I’ve been able to snag flight deals all over the world. Including flights from Lyon, France to Mexico City for only $320. The least expensive flights for similar trips from Lyon, France to Mexico City, Mexico usually cost between $510–680!” -Bri Sneller, Bucket List Bri
2. Be Flexible with Booking Dates and Airports
If you are flexible with your booking dates, you can save hundreds of dollars simply by changing up your arrival and departure days. Flight prices vary throughout the week. For example, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays tend to be cheaper than Fridays and Sundays.
You can take flexibility a step further by planning your vacation time around featured flight deals. Sites like Scott’s Cheap Flights will send you deals as they come up, including mistake fares which can be as much as 90% off.
“Use Skyscanner.net for the best flexible date options and to find the cheapest available airport. We recently did this with a flight to Tanzania. Our destination was Kilimanjaro, but we found a much more affordable flight by checking nearby airports, about half the price, into Dar es Salaam. From there, we booked a small flight to Kilimanjaro, which was much more affordable and made the overall cost less.” -Jessica Bartolini, Family Wellness Wanderers
3. Review Historical Fare Data
Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) and metasearch sites, like Google Flights, collect historical fare data, which can tell you about typical pricing for your destination over the past year. This data can help you feel more confident that you are getting a low fare.
For example, Google Flights, which aggregates flight data, shows a calendar with the cheapest possible flight prices by day. You can also review if a fare is low, typical, or high based on data from the past 12 months.
“I travel with my family multiple times a year, both domestically and internationally. Because we travel with our children, it’s important to us to get the best deals possible to make up for the number of tickets we have. We use Google flights for every trip we plan; we find it to be the most convenient way to compare and find the best deals on flights.” -MarthaVillaroma, Go Places With Kids
4. Monitor and Book Flights 1 to 3.5 Months Advance
The “prime booking window” is one to 3.5 months before the flight. During this time, airfares are their cheapest, but enough flights are still available, so you have options.
Depending on how much time you have to plan your trip, make sure you start looking for your flight at least a few weeks before you plan to buy it. Check historical flight data to get a realistic idea of a low fare for your trip.
If you find several flights that seem like good options, start monitoring them with alerts and buy when the price appears sufficiently low.
“Domestic flight ticket prices drop the most between 3-6 weeks before the travel dates. For international flights, I always book my flights as far in advance as possible. International ticket prices continue to increase until a very short window of time before departure that varies by destination and airline and can be difficult to track.” -Emily Cuneo, Emily Embarks
5. Price Match Deals and Cancellation Policies
Some OTAs and airlines have price-match policies that will honor the lower price if your flight drops within 24 hours of purchase. This applies only to the exact flight you purchased. To take advantage of this deal, you’ll need to monitor the price and be prepared to make a phone call if the fare drops.
Airlines are required to have a 24-hour cancellation policy. If another flight drops in price, you may be able to change it for a change fee or cancel the one you booked and buy the cheaper flight if you are within the 24-hour window.
This can be stressful and time-consuming. If the price difference is only a few bucks, this probably isn’t worth it. However, if it would save you several hundred dollars and have the cash on hand to cover the cost of a new flight before your refund processes, it certainly is an option.
“The US Department of Transportation (DOT) requires a 24-hour free cancellation window. If you purchase a ticket with an airline, you can cancel that ticket without any fees or penalties within 24 hours of booking. This rule applies to both paid tickets and award tickets booked with points or miles.” -Jason Steele, The Points Guy
6. Travel Lighter to Skip Baggage Fees
Another way to save on your flight is to travel lighter. It has become more and more common for airlines to charge extra fees for baggage. You might find cheap flights only to discover that it’s going to cost you several hundred dollars to bring your bags.
To avoid extra fees, plan on bringing as few bags as possible and avoiding checked bags unless included in the price.
“I make sure I travel with hand luggage only (my bag is the correct maximum size), travel light, and pack effectively. Some airlines will charge extra for bringing hold luggage on board, so this is a great way to keep costs down.” -Emma Jackman, Emma Loves German
7. Beware of Budget Airlines
The initial ticket price on a budget airline is tempting but often has hidden drawbacks. Some budget airlines post seriously low base fares then charge extra during checkout for seat assignments and baggage. These expenses add up quickly, especially on flights with multiple legs. Also, in most cases, you can’t change or cancel your flight, which could leave you stranded if something goes wrong.
You may be better off going with a slightly more expensive flight from a full-service carrier with better itineraries, excellent customer service, and in-flight perks.
“This strategy paid off during a recent six-month trip in Southeast Asia where I was flying at least every two weeks. Southeast Asia is a mecca for cheap flights and budget airlines but after missing one flight due to a visa issue and losing the entire cost of that ticket, I switched to only booking full-service airlines. In the last 3 months, I had to change or missed 3 flights. If those flights were on budget airlines I would have been out hundreds of dollars. Instead, I was able to change them all for no fee or cancel for credit with no penalties. Even though the ticket prices were higher I ended up spending much less over the course of the trip on flights.” Jason Kraemer, Flashpacker Co.
Watch out for Cheap Flight Myths
Not all cheap flight advice is up to date or accurate. There are several common myths that have been debunked. Check out another blog where I fact-check some popular claims to bring you the truth about how to book cheap flights.