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How to Find Cheaper Airline Tickets

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When I first started traveling (and was very broke) I would spend hours, sometimes even days, searching websites for the best deals on tickets. Over time I learned a few tricks. I talked to other travelers and travel professionals about how they found cheap flights. After a while I came up with a formula for finding the good prices on plane tickets. Now I spend on average 2-4 hours searching for a ticket, but I pretty much always a deal that’s significantly cheaper that’s what most people pay. Not long ago I booked a ticket from San Francisco to Taipei for $516 during at time of year when the vast majority of websites produced tickets that cost from $700 – $1000 or more. That’s about 25 – 50% cheaper than an average ticket–and that’s a pretty good example of the price that I usually pay compared to the norm. These are seven simple things that you can do to keep your flight costs as low as possible without wasting too much time searching for tickets.

1) Fly Tuesday – Thursday

Ticket prices are set according to demand, so the cheapest tickets can be found on the days with the least demand. Most people, especially business people, fly on Mondays and Fridays, so those days tend to be the most expensive, while midweek flights are usually cheaper. I’ve had the best luck flying on Wednesdays (and occasionally Sundays), but it’s always good to check flights on several different days before purchasing a ticket.

2) Be Flexible About Flight Dates

If your flight dates are flexible, you may be able to find a much better price checking prices in a range of around three or four weeks. The prices of flights can vary dramatically from one week to the next. Waiting an extra seven days has saved me hundreds of dollars on a single flight before.

3) Be Flexible About Airports

If you are in or near a large center, check schedules that leave from all of the nearby airports. Small budget airlines often don’t fly to major airports, but to nearby secondary ones. Those budget airlines are often much cheaper than the bigger ones.

4) Check Prices Early on Wednesday Mornings

This tip is not my own, but I believe its effective. According to Nora Dunn, a certified budget travel expert, airline companies usually set prices on Tuesdays around midnight, and that they sometimes post special temporary seat sales at this time.

5) Check Local Budget Airlines

Most regions of the world are served by budget airlines that don’t show up in big search engines. Which budget is a search engine that will tell you which budget airlines fly the route that you are looking for. Check those airlines websites for normal and special fares. They often have amazing deals. I have flown from Taipei to Manila round-trip for less than $50 on a local budget carrier before (mind you, the flight landed at Clark International Airport near Angeles City, rather than Manila International Airport, as I mentioned in tip #3).

6)  Check All Possible Booking Options

Different flight booking websites usually charge different prices for the same flight. To save time, I use price meta-search engines, like Booking Wiz and Fare Compare, that compare several booking websites at the same time.  After I have found a few flights that look promising, I check the airlines’ websites to see if they offer a better price for the flight or have any special deals. Sometimes the airline website is cheaper. Sometimes the booking engine is. Airlines also have different websites to serve different countries. If you’ve found a flight that you’re interested in buying directly through the airline’s website, try logging into a the same airline’s website for a different country (Canada, or the UK for example). Sometimes in the rounding up or down or prices and the exchange of currency you’ll find an even better deal.

7) Track the Flight’s Price

Yapta is a flight search engine that allows you to track changes in ticket prices over time. Just search for your desired route, then find the tickets you’re interested, and click on “Track Price Drops”. You will have to enter your name and email address. After that, Yapta will send you an email every time the price of one of your selected tickets changes. That way, if the airline drops the price for some reason (it happens regularly) you can snap up the ticket right away. Alternatively, if you have already purchased your ticket you can still track the price and request the airline to refund you the difference if one day you see the price drop below what you paid.

Conclusion

I’m not the most talented travel hacker out there, but I don’t aspire to be. I don’t care to spend more than a few hours finding cheap airfare. After that I prefer to spend my time doing fun things, rather than trying to whittle an extra $30 off my ticket.  If you’re like me, then this guide should be all you need to save a bit of money without wasting too much of your valuable time.

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14 Responses to How to Find Cheaper Airline Tickets

  1. Jeremy Branham April 24, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    I like these tips. As a budget traveler, I often research stuff on airlines. A while back, I created a post called “6 travel tips to find the cheapest flight.” I agree with these tips but would add that people need to pay attention to taxes and fees and also how many stops/airports on the itinerary. Many times, flying to the border in a country and crossing over by car or train can save hundreds of dollars as it prevents international fees and airport taxes.

    Granted, time is also a cost consideration and sometimes it’s worth paying a little more if it saves time.

    • Matt Gibson April 27, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

      That’s a really good point. I’ve never researched enough to find out about those extra costs. Are there any good examples you can think of?

  2. Gautam April 27, 2012 at 7:41 am #

    Excellent tips (a couple are common knowledge, though), Matt! You need to consider the cheaptickets brand (cheaptickets.sg, cheaptickets.hk and cheaptickets.th) too, especially while travelling to Asia! Especially since you use farecompare. I have found that their fares tend to be competitive most times!

    • Matt Gibson April 27, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

      I just took a look at the cheap ticket websites. They only seem to list big airlines, and none of the budget carriers. All the tickets I found there could be bought for nearly half the price flying with Air Asia or Cebu Pacific. Budget airlines are super cheap in Asia. I’ve been meaning to add a better list to this article. Thanks for reminding me!

  3. SEO Delhi January 3, 2013 at 7:17 am #

    There is one more aspect to cheaper airline tickets. You shall also check the on-time performance of the airline, the seat width and what would these be offering you in the flight. At times, even getting one glass of water is not without paying them a good sum of money.

  4. Routeless Me February 14, 2014 at 7:48 pm #

    Another good tip is if you’re flying from, let’s say, Atlanta and you want to end up in Malaga Spain, booking directly there via a flight search engine is a rip off. You want to find the cheapest flight from Atlanta to continental Europe, and from there you can take advantage of all of the low cost, budget airlines or busses to get where you want to ultimately end up.

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  8. Mark Framness September 30, 2014 at 5:31 am #

    Matt,

    I also suggest scour your personal network to find anyone you may know who is an employee of airlines, if you are on good terms with them you may be able to avail yourself of employee discount fares.

    Note though such flying is often standby and as a friend of an employee your priority is lower than that of current and former employees. I’ve done it in a trip from Chicago to Cancun and going to Cancun it worked perfect and then on the way back we had to take three swings to get on a flight from Miami to Chicago.

    Had I started planning sooner I could have had biz-class tix from Chicago to Shanghai at US $350/way-seat (and then bought a $100 full fare from Shanhai to Manila). That would have been less expensive than the full fare sardine class seats we did fly on, plus I would have been able to stretch my legs!

  9. Astrid May 18, 2016 at 10:08 am #

    Thanks for these tips, Matt! We fly with our kids and it can get pretty expensive! So any way to get a cheaper ticket is good for us.

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  11. Agness of aTukTuk June 26, 2017 at 5:06 pm #

    Flexibility seems to be the key when searching for cheaper flights! Excellent tips!

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