It’s a battle against the machines. Armed with our software and algorithms, we race to find cheap flights across the web. It’s the airlines against the public. The most resourceful team comes out on top.
To take a moment to appreciate the times we’re living in, just think how none of this even existed before the 2000s. There weren’t any computer algorithms determining the price of travel.
It was simple. People were behind the prices.
Now, “robots” are called “AI” and “algorithms”. Yet, they are essentially the same thing. We are living the science fiction novels.
And we must adapt if we want to keep up with the times.
Below, I’ve gathered all the tips I’ve learned throughout my years exploring 19 countries. I also did a lot of research on various forums and blogs and learned a lot of new tips I hadn’t yet learned.
I put all of them in this article for you and to be honest, for myself, too. The next time I go and book flights, I’ll use this page as a checklist. Here’s to getting yourself the best flight price possible.
1. Compare flight prices using two different methods.
Method #1: Clear your browser’s cache and cookies and use private browsing or an incognito window while looking at flights. Use a VPN in place of a private browsing session for added protection. Additionally, consider searching for flights on one device and book using a different device.
Method #2: Sign into a flight aggregator website, such as Kayak, and use a plain browser window, cookies uncleared.
I say to use both methods because there’s a lot of mixed information about the reality behind flight aggregators and airline websites tracking cookies to make more money.
The reason method #1 is/could be important is because (supposedly) many airlines and flight aggregators (Kayak, Google Flights, etc.) (may) have computer algorithms that work to make them the most money. Their websites (may) track who is searching for what based on the user’s computer IP address. When they see an address searching the same flight multiple times, they (may) increase the price so you’ll buy sooner.
However, all of this is speculation and no one has confirmed it. Still, users notice that prices jump randomly while they are still searching for a flight for a certain route.
Anyway, to be safe, we can compare the prices we find using both methods. By using private or incognito browsing or a good VPN, along with clearing our cookies, computer algorithms won’t know who has previously searched for a specific flight route and hike up the prices in result.
What is Private browsing and incognito windows?
For those who don’t know, private browsing and incognito windows are tools that browsers offer to users to allow them some anonymity while browsing the web. While it doesn’t hide things like your location, it hides other things like your search history, cookies, or the files you download.
What is a VPN?
A VPN, on the other hand, is a service which changes your IP address and location, giving you extra protection from websites who collect this data. It’s been said by many that prices often are different if the website’s algorithms think you’re coming from a different destination than what your flight route indicates. I’ve been told that prices are especially low if websites see an IP address coming from a country that has a weaker currency.
A VPN is a legal way to take advantage of the algorithms and cause airlines to think you’re coming from a different location.
There are both free and paid VPN services out there that offer different things. I recommend you do some research on the right VPN for you if it’s something you’re interested in.
Airlines and flight aggregators track cookies: fact or fiction?
I want to be clear that some people will say that clearing your cookies or using a private browser isn’t important and doesn’t affect the price, as they say that “airlines and flight aggregators don’t track cookies”.
However, some credible sources say that airlines track your browser cookies to raise your price and get you to book sooner. Others say it’s a myth. Either way, I recommend you use both methods and use multiple different quality tools to find the cheapest flights in conjunction so that you can find the best prices.
Even still, there have been studies on this topic that suggest that if you’re logged into a website like Kayak and/or have a recent search history of the same flight route, you may actually receive better prices (link to study here) as a result.
As you can see, my research has given me mixed answers on this topic and I don’t yet know the true answer. I’m not sure if anyone does at the time of writing this. Myth or not, it’s helpful to be on the safe side.
I don’t want to give you a cut and dry conclusion until I know for absolute sure. I’m doing my best to find that answer, but as I have not heard anything definitive based on concrete evidence, until then I recommend using both methods above.
2. Book earlier in the week.
Airlines usually send out their sale prices on Mondays. The prices start to increase throughout the week, with the highest prices being saved for the weekends. For this reason, I recommend booking on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday.
3. Use greatescape.co to see a visual representation of the cheapest flights from your destination.
I stumbled across this service on a Reddit post by developers at MIT and I believe it’s a pretty new website. Both the idea and design is pretty great and it seems to be accurate so I think it’s worth giving it a try as it provides as visual way to view worldwide flights, filters and all.
4. Check your route using a number of the flight search engines mentioned in this list.
Remember to use both methods listed in tip #1 while searching.
5. Book with the airline’s website.
You’ll usually get a better price this way as airlines incentivize travelers to book through their website by offering lower prices. Plus, some airlines (Southwest Airlines) don’t even display their prices on sites like this, encouraging travelers to use their own website to book.
However, be aware you could be missing out on loyalty programs that online travel agencies, such as Hotels.com and Expedia, offer.
6. Be flexible, if possible.
If you don’t have specific dates and/or destination in mind, check flights leaving and/or returning on different days or months. Consider flying out of or into another hub airport, or choosing a new but similar destination altogether. These factors always affect the price, so it’s worth being flexible in your travels if you’re looking to save more money.
Skyscanner.com did a study of when the cheapest time of year to fly is. January, February, and September were the cheapest months to buy flights, generally. While there are probably exceptions to this, it’s a good guideline to follow.
Skyscanner has an option to check the cheapest months to fly for your destination. Click ‘Explore’ on the App, or ‘Explore our map’ on the main page and you can view prices to many different locations. When you click a destination, Skyscanner has a feature that allows you to see prices and how they compare to each other based on day of the month and month of the year.
7. Search for error fares using SecretFlying.com.
Because of human and computer errors, some flights will be greatly reduced in price by hundreds or even thousands of dollars. SecretFlying hunts down these prices and posts them on their website.
For example, an airline employee could mean to price a first class ticket from Denver to Paris at $1,300 and instead, accidentally miss a zero and price it at $130.
Just be aware that if you do find a good error-fare flight deal, some airlines will choose not to honor it.
Many, however, will honor the price. Or, they will refund your money and provide a bit of travel credit to generate some good press without paying the full price of their error. But act fast, because these fares can be corrected to a normal price at any moment.
And on that note, if you do find these deals, book through the airline’s website. I say this because the online travel agency websites—such as Kayak—have to put in a request for the ticket. This can sometimes take a while and risks the price being corrected before you get your ticket. In which case, your money will have to be refunded and more time will be lost getting your ticket. Buy directly from the airline to avoid this.
8. Consider breaking the trip up into separate flights you book yourself.
See if it’s possible and economical to book two one-way tickets, outbound and inbound (instead of round-trip) which can reduce the amount you pay considerably.
Alternatively, book separate legs of a single outbound or inbound trip yourself, instead of allowing search engines to clump them together. Just remember to allow plenty of time during your layover to grab your bag and get to the next gate on time.
Another option is to consider traveling to your layover city and then exploring it for however long, getting a flight days or even weeks later to your final destination.
Bonus tip: if you take this route, remember that red-eye (early morning or overnight) flights are usually cheaper because less people want to take them.
9. Look at taking a bus or car to major hub cities and flying from there instead of your local airport.
I’ll give you an example. When I was growing up in Petoskey, Michigan (USA), it was almost always much more cost-effective to buy a flight out of Detroit and drive the four hours downstate.
10. Keep checking throughout the week as much as possible.
This may seem like overkill. But in reality, many airlines change their prices using computer algorithms as often as every hour or even minute. Just remember, the earlier in the week, generally the better the prices offered.
11. Check airlines’ websites to find prices that search engines may not display in their results.
Additionally, some prices found directly on the airlines’ websites will be less than what an online flight aggregator found for you.
When you see a good price on Google Flights, Kayak, Momondo, or any of the other sites mentioned here, head to the airline’s website to see if there’s a price difference.
And remember, book using the airline website. I do not recommend you book using one of the tools listed in the article above. Those are simply for searching purposes.
12. Know the days it’s generally cheaper to fly.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays are generally the cheapest to fly Thursdays and Saturdays are a bit more expensive to fly. Mondays, Fridays, and Sundays are the most expensive days, thanks to their popularity with business travelers who care less about the price tag and more about the timing. Therefore, if possible, try to plan your travel day around these times of the week.
13. For those flying from the USA, including Puerto Rico: Pay for a subscription to Scott’s Cheap Flights (or other flight-finder services).
Rather than using computers, this type of service uses humans to find great flight prices and shares them with their email subscribers.
I’ve heard time and again how much people have been able to save on flights by getting a premium subscription with Scott’s Cheap Flights. Members have access to flight deals found by their team. Free members have access to great deals as well, but premium members are given 5x the amount of free deals.
When you sign up, you can see if you like their service by getting a free trial to take them for a two-week test run.
14. Search on Southwest Airlines’ website if you are departing from a city they operate in.
Southwest doesn’t allow their prices to be displayed on flight aggregator websites like Kayak, Skyscanner, and Google Flights. However, they often have the best prices and policies regarding luggage. Search directly on their website if you are departing from any of the cities indicated with a red dot on the map above. Or, go here to see a more updated list, in case I haven’t updated this article quick enough.
15. Before you book, check for added fees.
Some airlines have very few added fees for the essentials, if any at all. For example, Southwest doesn’t charge for a checked bag.
Others, however, really stack them up. Make sure you don’t end up paying more for things such as baggage or leg room on one airline than you would for another airline’s flight offer (at a slightly higher price).
On another note, make sure to account for if a hotel might be required on the day of travel, or if you’ll need to buy airport food or a meal on a long air commute.
16. After you’ve done your research and you find a great price, jump on it.
I repeat, jump on that price. Do not wait even an hour if you feel it’s the right price. You may find a better price down the road, but the chances are you will probably not (and if you do it probably won’t be much lower, anyway). If that price is the lowest you have ever seen and the lowest you can expect according to your research for that route and time of year, then take it.
Remember, as per federal regulations in the USA, you usually have a 24-hour cancellation window. This means you won’t be penalized if you buy a ticket and find a better price within that period. As long as it’s seven days or longer before your flight, the government requires airlines to honor this law. Use this cancellation window to monitor the price of your route and see if it goes down any further.
ThePointsGuy has a great article on this topic, as some airlines have more generous windows than others. He mentions another great tip: some airlines allow users to hold their reservation without paying, so you have more time to decide if that’s the flight you want.
There are a lot of factors that affect the price of your flight, and I’m aware of how overwhelming it can get. It is mind-boggling, the amount of information that’s out there on flights.
I’ve done a lot of research over the years. I’ve booked so many flights by now it’s become almost second nature, so shoot me a message using the form at the bottom of this page or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d rather someone else do the heavy lifting. I offer my services booking flights for fellow travelers, planning their trips with activities to do, and/or finding places to stay, with packages starting at $15 US.
17. Once you’ve booked, don’t stop shopping.
Check the refund policy for the airline you chose. Does it offer free refunds without penalty? Is it legally required to offer a 24-hour grace period, allowing you to cancel? If so, keep shopping after you’ve booked your ticket to make sure you got the best price. If a better price pops up, simply cancel your ticket and re-book with the new flight price.
And that’s it! These are my best tips to find cheap flights. Still, this list is being updated as the technology is constantly evolving with us. I hope you find the price you’d like. Feel free to contact me if you’d like some help or have a specific question.