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How to Find Cheap Flights

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bethaney1Today’s piece on finding great flight deals is written by Bethaney Davies, a Kiwi travel blogger who runs Flashpacker Family. She travels around the world with her two small children and blogs about travel with little kids. Bethaney is a pro when it comes to squeezing the most from every travel dollar she spends and shares lots of smart travel tips on her blog.

Flights account for a large portion of most travelers’ budgets. Learning a few tricks to save money on flights can really help stretch your travel dollar further, allowing you to travel more frequently or stay away longer. More travel? That’s not a bad thing, is it?

Everyone’s heard the tales of travelers who hack air mile point schemes and travel around the world, perpetually, in business class. That’s not me. I’m not interested in signing up for dozens of credit cards, or spending time manufacturing spending on them. Living outside of the US, it’s just not doable anyway.

After 10+ years of travel I have a few creative ways of cutting the costs of flights. No credit card hacking required. Just some good old fashioned internet travel detective work.

Here are my 10 best tips to finding cheap flights:

Know When to Buy

All the research suggests that you should either book well in advance (11 months), or book your flights about 6 to 8 weeks out from travel. Finding great deals booking flights at the very last minute is very rare.

According to research done by CheapAir, 47 days out is the perfect time for booking domestic flights and 1-4 months out is the window for international flights.

Set Up Fare Alerts

Many flight search engines allow you to set up a fare alert that monitors the price of a route over the travel dates you select. Do this now if you’re even thinking about booking a trip. Email alerts will be sent to you if the fare starts to rise, notifying you that it’s time to think about booking. The alert will also ping you if a fare drops, allowing you to book at bargain rates.

This is a real money saver. Fare alerts are easy to set on Skyscanner and Kayak, but I think Google Flights is the most convenient way to do it. Find out how and read more tips on using Google flights here.

Search on Deal Sites, Book on Airline Sites

It’s almost always better to book directly with the airline.

Fares are usually the same as you find on flight search engines like Expedia but you’ll avoid any booking fees, credit card payment fees and additional change fees booking engines apply if you want to change your flight later on.

Sign Up for Airline Newsletters

You always want to be in the know! Signing up to airline newsletters and their Facebook pages is a great way to get early alerts on sales.

Air Asia is a prime example of this, as you’ll get an early warning of their sale dates and routes coming up for sale.

Flexible Dates are Best

Having flexible dates is one of the best ways to save money on booking flights. Unless your travel dates are absolutely fixed because you’re traveling to a specific event, always investigate whether or not you can fly for less a day or two earlier or later.

Google Flights does a great job of alerting you if a fare is lower on a nearby date. On Skyscanner you can look at fares across a whole month which is also helpful.

flexible-dates

Consider Alternate Airports

If you’re flying in Europe, this is an especially great tip. Many of the cities have a major airport and then a few minor airports, commonly served by lower cost carriers. London is a great example of this. Heathrow and Gatwick are the main airports but you’ll also find London City airport, Stansted airport, and Luton airport are easily accessible and offer great deals on flights to other European airports.

Don’t forget to factor in the higher cost of reaching these alternate airports when deciding if it’s worth the fare savings.
flexible-airports

Budget Airlines Aren’t Always a Better Value

Most budget airlines come up looking on flight search engines but some airlines like Southwest exclude themselves from these sites.

Before you book, “do the travel math” and work out whether or not the budget airline is really a better deal once you factor in the price of luggage, transport to reach the alternate airport, and all the ridiculous fees they charge you for things like printing your boarding pass.

Follow Flight Deals Sites

By following flight deal sites you can pounce on mistake fares. This is a huge tip! Seriously. If you only do ONE thing I say, please do this. Believe it or not, airlines actually make mistakes in their computer systems and often error fares appear at super, discounted prices.

You’ll have to move quickly as they never stick around for long. The best way to stay in the loop and get alerted to these super cheap flights is to follow the Facebook pages or get email alerts from sites like The Flight Deal, Secret Flying and The Points Guy. The deals that pop up are amazing!

Other flight discount sites

Learn How to Get Cheap Upgrades

Gone are the days of dressing smartly and asking nicely for that business class upgrade. There are a couple of creative ways to get cheap business class upgrades on flights these days. One of them is to bid in a business class auction run by your airline. Some airlines sell off the remaining business class seats a few days before departure in a blind auction.

Here’s How it Works:

  • Buy your ticket in economy class.
  • Receive an email from the airline informing you of the option to bid for a business class upgrade. (We received ours a week prior to the flight.) If you don’t receive and email check on the airline website. Here’s a list of the airlines that offer bidding for business class upgrade and links to the relevant page on their website.
  • Select the price you’re willing to pay for the upgrade and place your bid. Your credit card will not be charged unless the bid is successful.
  • Wait until just before your flight to find out if your bid has been successful. You’ll be notified about 24 hours before flying if your bid was successful.

Here are more of my tips on how to do this.

Use Paypal to Avoid Booking Fees

Many airlines lump you with additional charges for booking with your credit card, or even your debit card. One of the best ways to avoid this is to pay with Paypal, as you’ll get reduced fees. Check this list of airlines that accept Paypal.

None of these ways to save money on airfare takes a lot of effort. All of these tactics can be employed in almost the same amount of time as searching for flights on a booking engine and they’re very simple to implement. Now that you know these tips there’s no excuse for paying more! Start saving money on flights and traveling more! Keep reading if you’re interested in booking last minute travel deals.

TL;DR

There are ways to get great travel deals even if you’re not a travel hacker, or if you live outside the USA (where the best points deals live).

  • Set up airfare alerts and sign up for newsletters
  • Be flexible in your dates and the airports you fly in and out of
  • Do your research and know when to buy
  • Follow the flight deal sites
  • Use Paypal to avoid fees and bid on cheap upgrades

What are your best tips for finding great flight deals without points? Share them with us in the comments.

Follow Bethaney on Twitter and on Facebook.

Image Credit: Jay Mantri

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