Every traveller wants to know how to find cheap flights. I hate to break it to you but if you’re expecting to get a deal for a specific location, at a specific time, it’s just not going to happen. That’s not how airfare works. Yes, airlines still offer “deals” but most of the time if you come across a really low price, it’s probably a pricing error or a sale so book right away before they sell out.
Fortunately, if you have the time and like to hunt for a deal, it has never been easier. The amount of online tools available these days makes it incredibly simple to find one of those deals – you just need to know what to look for. 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.
If you’re able to travel during the middle of the week instead of departing on say a Friday, 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. If you’re flexible, there’s potential to save big, but if you have fixed dates, it’s unlikely you’ll find a cheap flight.
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.
If you want to know how to find cheap flights, then you need to start using Skyscanner.ca. Full disclosure, I write for them but that doesn’t mean I’m biased.
All you need to do is search “everywhere” through Skyscanner’s search engine and select “cheapest month” to get the best results.
The results will reveal the best prices for each country but then you need to specify a specific city.
I’ve selected London here as an example. Although my initial search found that the cheapest flight can be found for as low as $459, that was for February 2017. I decided to move the calendar dates to September just to show you the power of Skyscanner’s search. As you can see below, the dates I’ve selected shows prices as low as $560 which is really cheap for September.
Once I’ve selected show flights, I’m shown the following options. WOW air has deals for as low as $571 which is pretty close to the $560 that was originally quoted. The prices can change since Skyscanner does one last updated search for the final results. You’ll also see that Air Transat has a direct flight for only $644 which is still a pretty good deal in my opinion. **Note that WOW air has ceased their operations.
To make your final booking, Skyscanner refers you to one of their partners, in this case, Expedia.ca. As you can see, within just a few minutes I was able to find a cheap flight by being flexible and using the right search engine.
Check discount carriers
National carriers will show up in every search engine, but have you ever considered budget airlines? RyanAir, EasyJet, AirAsia, and WOW are some of the more recognizable budget airlines where you can get some awesome deals. On my most recent trip, I flew from Berlin to Munich via AirBerlin for $70 Canadian. Not all major search engines show discount carriers but Skyscanner does which is another reason why I recommend them.
Let’s put this into context with my previous point about route options. Flying directly to Rome tends to be a bit more 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 Rome 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 a travel rewards credit cards
I’ve written about the best travel credit cards in Canada but wanted to quickly touch on them again briefly. 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 discounts 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. Some cards offer 20,000+ points once you’re approved and reach a certain spend limit. Depending on where you fly to, those points alone could be worth up to $700 dollars. 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.
Join mailing lists
Major airlines do have flights sales on a regular basis, if you signup for their lists, you’ll be the first one to know. They also offer many points bonuses when booking certain routes which have their own value.
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 many deal websites, post the same deals hours after he has found them. I wonder where they found them. . .
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