Save on plane tickets: how to find cheap flights to your dream destination

Flying is tough these days, from flight delays and cancellations to sky-high airline ticket prices. If you’re looking to get your travel fix following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, you’ve got your work cut out. Budget flights since the height of the pandemic are a thing of the past, but that doesn’t mean there’s no way to save money when planning that dream vacation. Here are some tips that can help you find cheap airline tickets.

1. Compare flights

Google Flights (Credit: PCMag)

Not sure which airline to fly? Services like Google Flights(Opens in a new window), Skyscanner(Opens in a new window)and Momondo(Opens in a new window) Compare flights and prices between airlines. Meanwhile, sites like Kayak(Opens in a new window), Expedia(Opens in a new window)and Orbit(Opens in a new window) are online travel agencies (OTAs) that allow you to book directly through their websites.

Lower prices through OTAs have some trade-offs though, like having to go through their customer service teams for any changes, some of which may require additional fees. In many cases you can cancel within 24 hours, but not always. As a general rule, this rule only applies to tickets purchased at least seven days in advance. If you’re booking outside of the US or through an OTA, be sure to double-check the cancellation policy.

If you are under 26, StudentUniverse(Opens in a new window) offers cheap travel reservations for students. The site also has a deal with amazon(Opens in a new window) where Prime Student members can get up to 10% off flights, plus 10% back on hotels as an Amazon gift card after your trip.

Unfortunately, the “trick” to avoiding price increases by searching incognito or deleting your cookies is a myth(Opens in a new window).

2. Know when to buy

spiral calendar sitting on a pink background

(Credit: Getty Images/Nora Carol Photography)

What is the best day to buy plane tickets? Turns out it doesn’t really matter.

“If you buy flights on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays instead of Saturdays or Sundays, prices have only been 1.9% cheaper on average over the past five years,” according to the Google Flights team. , who recently analyzed(Opens in a new window) five years of historical airfare data.

“So if your trip is only a few weeks away, don’t wait until Tuesday to arrive, book your flight now in case the price goes up,” Google says.

Most of us know that the further away you can buy your tickets, the cheaper they will be. But how long should we wait? Google places the sweet spot between 21 and 60 days before your flight, “with average prices hitting a low 44 days before departure,” it says.

This is not always true for the busiest travel times. If you’re traveling for Thanksgiving, consider purchasing at least 36 to 74 days before departure; prices tend to bottom out 52 days before Bird Day, according to Google.

“For domestic travel around Christmas, the lowest average prices were 22 days before departure, but that could reduce it,” according to Google. “Prices tend to drop between 20 and 88 days before departure.”

Here are some ground rules for other popular departure times and destinations:

  • Spring break (March/April): 23-59 days before departure; the lowest at 38 days.

  • Summer holidays (July/August):14-44 days before departure, minimum 21 days.

  • Flight from USA to Europe: The sooner the better. Remember to book 129 days before departure; the lowest prices are between 50 and 179 days.

  • Flights from the United States to Mexico or the Caribbean: 37 and 87 days before departure; the lowest at 59 days.

3. Fly Budget Airlines (but watch those fees)

Two different Spirit Airlines airplanes on the airport runway

(Credit: Jillian Cain/Getty Images)

Low cost airlines such as Frontier, Southwest, Spirit or RyanAir may test your patience(Opens in a new window)but they’re a great way for cash-strapped travelers to save a few hundred dollars on airfare.

The most important thing to keep in mind when booking with budget airlines is that they usually make their money through hidden fees. Amenities such as food and drink, seat selection, checked baggage, and sometimes even carry-on baggage often incur additional charges. These fees can vary widely from airline to airline, so be sure to read the fine print carefully.

For instance, nerdwallet(Opens in a new window) calculated that the average passenger can expect to pay around $25 in additional fees on Southwest, which doesn’t even charge for checked bags. Meanwhile, you can expect to pay around $100 for Spirit or Frontier, which only allow passengers to bring one personal item for free that fits under the seat in front of them. All other bags will incur a charge. Need more than 28 inches of legroom on Spirit? It will be $60 for 36 inches(Opens in a new window) from space.

You can avoid most budget charges by only bringing carry-on baggage and skipping seat selection. Additionally, some airlines offer credit cards(Opens in a new window) that allow passengers to avoid certain fees.

4. Avoid weekend departures

google flight schedule

The real savings come when you’re flexible about what day of the week you go. According to Google, “flights that depart on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday are 12% cheaper than weekend departures.” Excluding international destinations, savings can be as high as 20%, he says. Google Flights has a calendar UI that lets you quickly get an overview of price differences.

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5. Embrace the layover

google flights map

If you have time to spare on your journey to your destination, you can often save money by foregoing direct flights. “On average, nonstop fares were 20% higher than a nonstop flight,” Google says. For example, if you are going to Amsterdam but the flights are too expensive, it may be cheaper to fly to a city like Stockholm and then take a budget flight to Amsterdam.

Rome2Rio(Opens in a new window) is a great resource for putting together different flights to find the cheapest option. Travelers choose a starting point and a destination, and the site will display different routes by plane, train, bus, car or ferry, along with the expected price and travel time. Filter the fastest options and you might find a combination that works better than a direct flight.

Google Flights also has a great Explore feature that lets you see flights all over the world, and the cheapest ones stand out.

If you are flying to a specific city, consider flying to airports further away from the main city. Just check that there are affordable public transport options to your destination, lest you end up with a hefty taxi bill.

6. Get notified

google flight price tracker

Most travel sites will allow you to set up alerts that will let you know when flight prices change. On Google Flights, switch Track prices for any route or flight you wish to book.

There are also many newsletters from airlines and travel websites such as Thrifty traveler(Opens in a new window), airfarewatchdog(Opens in a new window)and Dollar Flight Club(Opens in a new window) who can inform you of offers. For a price, sites like Scott’s Cheap Flights(Opens in a new window) can also let you know when there are wrong fares – very low fares caused by airline errors – which can lead to amazing deals if you act fast.

With the tips above, you can plan your dream vacation without breaking the bank. Don’t forget to use the points you may have accumulated through your credit cards or previous trips and relieve the financial stress of travel.

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