Every traveller wants to know how to find cheap flights. We’ve heard the tips before e.g. book at 2 A.M. on a Wednesday during a full moon or clear your cookies so the airline doesn’t see your search history. I hate to break it to you, but those tips simply won’t work. Some people even spend hours searching for lower airfare, but what’s the point of spending 10 hours looking for cheap flights just to save $100? Your time is much more valuable than that and I’m sure there are less time-consuming ways for you to save $100.
Now, I’m not suggesting you pay the first price you see when looking for flights. I just think there are practical ways for you to save money on airfare without you having to do much work. There are so many online tools available these days available that’s become easy to get great prices on flights, you just need to be flexible. Here are my top tips on how to find cheap flights.
Having flexibility is the best way to find cheap flights. Airlines price their flights based on demand. Prices will always be higher depending on the day of the week and the time of the year. As you can imagine, peak season and holidays are usually when flights cost the most. In other words, if you have a set location with set dates, finding cheap airfare may be difficult.
If you’re able to travel during the middle of the week instead of departing between Friday-Monday, there’s a good chance you’ll save a little bit right away. The time of the day also makes a big difference. Early morning or late night flights can sometimes be cheaper since those flights tend to have less demand. Obviously, the off-season always has lower fares.
The same theory applies to destinations. At any given moment, there’s probably a pretty good price to get from your home airport to another city. As long as you’re flexible, you can save big.
Use Google Flights
Let’s assume you’re flexible to some degree. You could be fully flexible with your destination and dates or you might only be flexible with one of the two. You should begin your search on Google Flights. That’s right, Google owns a flight search engine and it’s one of the best. The landing page will look similar to the image below.
Do you see where it says Explore destinations? (look to the right of the big red arrow). Click that and it’ll take you to a screen that looks like the image below.
Since you haven’t selected a location and you have a generic date set of “1-week trip in the next 6 months,” Google Flights will show you the cheapest flights and destinations available. The prices in green show destinations that are of good value right now while prices in black show good prices to select destinations. London for $534 is a great price but Vancouver for $282 seems like a killer deal so I’m going to click that to see what my final price is.
You’ll notice that the price has changed. This is typical since Google will check prices again after you’ve selected your flights. In this case, the prices come out to $348 CAD with Air Transat. Although that price doesn’t include luggage, that’s still an incredible deal.
Now, let’s say you’ve got set dates but you’re flexible with your location. You can easily find the cheapest places to go via Google flights also. For example, I decided to check flights to Asia between May 2 – May 16 and Google found the following prices.
There are no crazy cheap prices but Hong Kong for less than $1,000 and Shanghai under $900 are pretty good. Heck, Beijing for less than $800 is a crazy deal and did you see Nairobi is only $950? These cheap tickets may have multiple stopovers, but the point is, you can see how easy it is to find cheap flights if you’re flexible.
For people who have a specific destination in mind but flexible dates, you just need to adjust your filters. For the purpose of this example, I’ll pick a 1-week trip to Cairo anytime in the next six months.
According to Google Flights, May 17 – May 26 is the cheapest week to fly to Cairo, but if you look closely, the cheapest flight requires two stopovers. However, the 1-stop flight is only $30 more.
Searching all of the above took me less than 10-minutes and I was able to search a bunch of dates and specific locations. Once you’ve found the flights you want to book, Google will usually redirect you to the airlines to make your final reservation.
Set up a travel alert
Being fully flexible or even a little flexible for travellers is often impossible. Many people have specific destinations in mind or they need to be somewhere at a specific time, but that doesn’t mean they need to pay more for airfare than they need to. All you need to do is track your prices through Google Flights or KAYAK. To do this, you just need to put in your dates and locations, although Google Flights also requires you to pick your specific flights. Once you run the search, there will be a tab you can press to track prices for your selected flights.
If the price drops for your flights, you’ll get an email. By doing this, you don’t need to constantly search for cheap airfare.
Check discount carriers
National carriers will show up in every search engine, but have you ever considered budget airlines? RyanAir, EasyJet and AirAsia are some of the more recognizable budget airlines where you can get some awesome deals. I typically pay between $80 – $120 to fly from London to Amsterdam on Easyjet but if I took British Airways or KLM, it would likely double my price. Canada even has discount airlines in Swoop and Flair but their destinations are limited and sometimes they fly to or out of secondary airports e.g. Abbotsford instead of Vancouver or Hamilton instead of Toronto.
Let’s put this into context with my previous point about route options. Flying directly to Istanbul tends to be expensive but what you could do is look for the cheapest flight into Europe and then “connect” with a budget airline. So in theory, you could book that Toronto to London deal and then get a “connecting” flight to Istanbul on a discount carrier. This does add time but the savings might make it worthwhile.
Keep in mind that although budget airlines offer ridiculously low base fares, you’ll get charged for everything else e.g. checked luggage, priority boarding. These fees can add up so check the final price before buying.
Consider your route options
Multi-destination (also known as open jaw) can sometimes save you money. This type of ticket is when you fly into one city and out of another. They’re cheaper in the sense that sometimes you’ll pay less in airport taxes and you won’t need to return to your starting city to fly back home. You’ll need to figure out your own way to get to your final destination, but that shouldn’t be too hard.
Free stopovers are also becoming increasingly popular. You’re not necessarily saving money, but you’ll get to visit another country for “free.” Air Canada allows passengers to stop in Toronto for up to 7-days while IcelandAir does the same for Reykjavik if you’re heading to Europe. Many of these free stopovers are unadvertised so you need to play with your departure dates with the multi-destination searches to see what kind of routes you can find.
If you take advantage of stopovers, multi-destinations, and even budget airlines, you can come up with some creative itineraries for a decent price.
Use travel rewards credit cards
I’ve written plenty about the best travel credit cards in Canada on the blog, but I want to quickly touch on them briefly here as well. If you’re responsible with your spending, then using a travel rewards credit card can be a great way to get cheap flights. You won’t get deals just by being a cardholder but the points you accumulate can be redeemed for discounts or possibly free flights.
The key thing here is the signup bonuses. Depending on the travel rewards program and where you’re flying to, the bonus points you get could be worth more than $500. If you start putting on your purchases on your credit card, you could quickly accumulate points. Don’t forget, many of these cards offer travel insurance too which helps you save on your overall trip costs.
Sometimes the included credit card benefits can also make travel cheaper. For example, the WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard comes with a free annual companion voucher starting at $119 CAD and the primary cardholder gets their first checked bag free. Up to 8 passengers on the same itinerary as the primary cardholder also get their first checked bag free. Those benefits alone could save you hundreds of dollars a year and that doesn’t even count the $250 WestJet dollars sign up bonus you get.
Join mailing lists
Every travel company which includes airlines, vacation package companies and tour operators always alert their subscribers of any sale first. The reason this happens is that loyal customers are more likely to book these deals so the companies want to reach them first. If you sign up for travel mailing lists, you’ll get flight deals delivered right to your inbox.
There are also other sites that just know how to find cheap flights (by using some of the above tips). NextDeparture.ca is my favourite and probably the best Canadian based airfare deal website right now. The owner Rishi seems to find killer deals daily. I’ve noticed that other deal websites post the same deals hours after he has found them. It’s pretty obvious where they found their deals.
Finding a flight deal is a thrilling experience, but you need to consider your time. If you’re spending 20 hours searching just to save $200, you’re basically putting your own value at $10 an hour – your time is much more valuable than that. Check out the other parts of my cost of travel series for more tips on how to save on your next trip.
Check out other parts of the series below
Part 1: Budgeting for a trip
Part 2: How to pick a vacation destination
Part 3: How to find cheap flights
Part 4: How to save money on hotels
Part 5: How to eat cheap when travelling
Part 6: The best way to exchange money
Part 7: The basics of travel insurance
Part 8: Sticking to your travel budget