Cracking the Code: Insider Tips for Scoring the Cheapest Flight Deals
Cracking the Code: Insider Tips for Scoring the Cheapest Flight Deals - Be Flexible with Dates and Destinations
Being flexible with your travel dates and destinations is one of the best ways to score super cheap flight deals. While it may require some extra planning and open-mindedness, the savings can be enormous if you're willing to expand your options.
Many travelers have a very specific idea of where and when they want to go on vacation. But by loosening up your dates by even just a few days or considering nearby alternative airports, you can unlock major discounts.
For example, say you're hoping to fly from Los Angeles to Honolulu the week after Christmas. Flights during peak holiday periods are invariably expensive. However, by going just a few days earlier or later, you could easily chop a few hundred dollars off the fare. Waiting until after New Years when crowds thin out can result in even more dramatic savings.
You can use flight search tools like Google Flights to easily view a calendar of prices for your route. This makes it simple to pick out cheaper travel windows. Setting up price alerts can also notify you when fares drop on your preferred or alternate dates.
Being flexible on your destination can also pay dividends. If you're open to visiting different islands in Hawaii or exploring other tropical locales like Mexico or the Caribbean, you have even more options for scoring deals.
For instance, flying from the West Coast to Maui instead of Honolulu could be significantly cheaper during peak weeks. Or you might find an incredible fare to Cancun while Hawaii is overpriced.
Using an exploratory map tool on Google Flights allows you to browse prices for destinations all over a region. You may be surprised by the affordable options just a short flight away from your initial location.
One fan of flexible booking, Amanda from California, explains "I used to only look for flights on my exact travel days, but I wasn't finding great deals. Now I search within a 2-3 week range and monitor multiple destinations. It takes a bit more work, but I've saved hundreds on my last few trips."
What else is in this post?
- Cracking the Code: Insider Tips for Scoring the Cheapest Flight Deals - Be Flexible with Dates and Destinations
- Cracking the Code: Insider Tips for Scoring the Cheapest Flight Deals - Use Flight Search Engines Wisely
- Cracking the Code: Insider Tips for Scoring the Cheapest Flight Deals - Know When to Book for Domestic vs International
- Cracking the Code: Insider Tips for Scoring the Cheapest Flight Deals - Fly on Off-Peak Days and Times
- Cracking the Code: Insider Tips for Scoring the Cheapest Flight Deals - Consider Alternative Airports
- Cracking the Code: Insider Tips for Scoring the Cheapest Flight Deals - Leverage Airline Sales and Error Fares
- Cracking the Code: Insider Tips for Scoring the Cheapest Flight Deals - Use Miles and Points for Free Flights
- Cracking the Code: Insider Tips for Scoring the Cheapest Flight Deals - Get Refundable Fares and Set Fare Alerts
Cracking the Code: Insider Tips for Scoring the Cheapest Flight Deals - Use Flight Search Engines Wisely
Mastering flight search engines is crucial for finding the cheapest airfare deals. While sites like Google Flights make it easy to search, knowing how to utilize all their features and customize your search is key. With the right techniques, you can unlock your dream trip for a fraction of what others pay.
The most critical first step is to cast a wide net in your initial search parameters. Don't narrow it down to specific dates or single airport options too quickly. Enter a date range of at least a week, search multiple nearby airports, and leave advanced filters like cabin class and trip type open. This gives the broadest possible look at fares and flight options.
Once you get search results, use the flexible date grid to analyze various departure and return combinations. Adjust your trip length and see how total costs change. Often the cheapest route is not what you'd initially expect.
For example, Scott from Seattle wanted to visit his brother in Denver. Rather than just search SeaTac to Denver International, he also looked at Bellingham and Paine Field airports. And instead of fixed 7 day trip dates, he searched within a 2 week range. This revealed that flying mid-week was hundreds less than the weekends he'd planned. An 8 day trip was also cheaper than 7 days for his route.
You can also filter the search results in multiple ways to home in on the ideal flight. Sort by price, duration, number of stops, or times that work for you. If budget is your priority, start with the cheapest prices. But for convenience, filter to nonstop evening flights. Mix and match filters to find your perfect balance of cost and logistics.
Make sure to check both roundtrip and one-way options. Sometimes two one-ways are cheaper than a roundtrip fare. But other times a roundtrip is the best bet. Don't assume either direction without searching both.
Flight search sites also update constantly as fares fluctuate. Set up alerts for specific routes and get notified if prices drop. Checking back regularly can reveal new deals. Sites may show completely different results day-to-day.
And don't forget to clear your cookies and browser history when running multiple searches. Sites can utilize this data to increase fares for frequent travelers. Searching incognito or in private browsing mode avoids this.
Cracking the Code: Insider Tips for Scoring the Cheapest Flight Deals - Know When to Book for Domestic vs International
Timing your booking strategically based on whether your flight is domestic or international is a key tactic for securing the lowest fares. While there are general best practices, each route has its own unique dynamics to consider. Understanding these nuances takes research but is well worth the effort for major savings.
For domestic U.S. flights, 6-8 weeks prior to departure is ideal booking window for most routes. This balances risk versus reward. Booking too last-minute with domestic can mean exorbitant walk-up fares. But booking too far out also has disadvantages. Airlines will often open up discount economy fares around the 2 month mark that weren't available before.
However, some domestic special events like college football games or major concerts see fares spike much earlier. Flights to Hawaii also frequently jump in price further out. The best approach is checking historical trends for your specific route. Use the flight search tools to view price graphs over recent months. See when the lowest and highest fares occurred. This reveals the prime timing for each destination.
With international flights, the conventional wisdom is to book much earlier, from 6-10 months prior. But again, each route is nuanced. Searching Google Flights' price graphs can uncover surprises. Flights to Europe from the U.S. often don't reach their lowest point until the 2-3 month range, with occasional dips even closer in. Main exception is peak summer season when booking further ahead is recommended.
For journeys to more exotic locales like Southeast Asia, deals pop up sporadically. Brandon of Los Angeles explains "I've been monitoring Bangkok fares for an upcoming trip. Prices were high at 330 days out but started dropping close in. About 2 months before my trip I got an incredible $480 roundtrip fare on China Southern."
Being ready to jump when a fare sale launches is key. Sign up for alerts from search engines, bookmark promising options, and check back frequently. For example, Eva from New York saw Chicago to Shanghai prices stuck at $800+. Then one day a 2 week fare sale opened up and she snagged tickets for just $425 roundtrip.
Cracking the Code: Insider Tips for Scoring the Cheapest Flight Deals - Fly on Off-Peak Days and Times
Strategically picking your days and times of travel is a simple but highly effective way to secure major savings on flights. The difference in fares between peak and off-peak periods can be eye-opening. Saving a couple hundred dollars by avoiding the crowds takes a bit of planning but is well worth the effort.
One of the biggest factors is choosing non-weekend departures and returns whenever possible. Flights leaving on Fridays and Saturdays typically come at a premium. Same goes for returning on Sundays. Although weekends are convenient for many, the mass demand drives up prices.
Just by flying midweek you can save bundle. As just one example, a Chicago to Fort Lauderdale roundtrip in early June runs around $327 on the weekends. But departing Tuesday and returning Thursday brings it down to only $237 on American. That adds up fast for families or groups traveling together.
Flying earlier in the day is also generally cheaper than late evening flights. The red-eyes usually come with a surcharge given the inconvenience factor. Again using Chicago to Fort Lauderdale, departing at 6am is $150 cheaper than taking the 10pm overnight trip.
When choosing specific dates, look at the airport crowd calendars available on many online travel sites. These show the forecasted passenger throughput. Days with lighter crowds are ripe for deals.
Of course, sometimes other factors override off-peak savings. Holidays and school vacations spike demand across all days of the week. And major events like conferences, festivals, or sports championships fill planes any day their held. But all else being equal, flying on slower days nets big rewards.
Jenna from Minnesota explains, “I used to just book weekend getaways out of habit. But when I started checking midweek flights, I found way better fares. Now I plan long weekends around the cheapest options, even if it means missing a day of work.”
The same principle applies when selecting your travel seasons. School holidays around Christmas, spring break and summer are most expensive. But traveling in the shoulder seasons of fall and late winter can yield huge savings.
For snowbirds heading south, Gotham of Florida says, "I used to come down to Orlando in late November which was hit or miss weather-wise. Now I aim for early December when crowds thin but temps are still nice. Found 20-30% savings on my flights."
Cracking the Code: Insider Tips for Scoring the Cheapest Flight Deals - Consider Alternative Airports
Expanding your airport options opens up a treasure trove of flight deals you'd otherwise miss. While it may require extra driving or train connections, huge savings make it well worth the effort.
Most travelers begin their search focused on the major airport closest to home. It's convenient and familiar. But you could be overlooking major price differences at nearby alternate airports. Budget carriers and niche routes can create big fare disparities.
As one example, Tori was planning a trip from the Washington DC area to Los Angeles and first checked Dulles (IAD) since it's only 45 minutes from her house. But on a whim she decided to also check Baltimore (BWI), which would be an hour+ drive. She was shocked to find the BWI flights a full $150 cheaper - even after accounting for parking costs.
Or take Matt's recent experience flying from the San Francisco Bay Area to Portland, Oregon. San Francisco International (SFO) is less than an hour's drive for him, so he started there. But fares were hovering around $350 for his dates. When he expanded his search to Oakland (OAK), he found a nonstop for just $128! Even with a 50 minute BART ride to the airport, he still saved big.
Checking alternate airports requires extra effort, but tools like Google Flights make it easy. Simply add additional origin and destination fields for the other spots you're willing to consider. The map interface helps you visualize distance and connections.
Focus your search on secondary airports serving the same metro region. But smaller regional airports can also be rich hunting ground for deals. Many people never consider them, so competition is less fierce.
Be sure to factor in total transportation costs and hassle when deciding if an alternate airport is worthwhile. But don't assume it's not worth it without checking. The potential savings may pleasantly surprise you.
Jen from Minneapolis explains, "I used to only look at MSP since I'm close by. But recently I found a SIoux Falls flight saving me almost $200 even after gas and parking to get there. Now I check both without fail - it takes 5 extra minutes but gives me peace of mind I have the best deal."
Cracking the Code: Insider Tips for Scoring the Cheapest Flight Deals - Leverage Airline Sales and Error Fares
Being ready to pounce when airlines release special sales or make pricing mistakes can lead to once-in-a-lifetime flight deals. But you have to be vigilant and well-informed to capitalize on these fleeting opportunities.
Many carriers run limited-time fare sales a few times per year, offering deep discounts on select routes for travel during specified periods. Signing up for airline email lists and social media feeds provides advance notice when these sales get announced. Scott's Flights and The Flight Deal also aggregate sale alerts in one place.
Then you have to be ready to act fast once the sale launches, as seats at the cheapest fares go quickly. Have flexible dates picked out in advance and be ready to book as soon as sales go live. Sarah from Los Angeles explains, "I had my eye on visiting Portland and Seattle, and luckily saw on Twitter that Alaska Airlines had a West Coast sale for winter trips. I logged on right away and saved $250 booking LA to Portland compared to weeks earlier."
Error fares present an even rarer chance at jackpot deals. These are mistakenly-priced fares that somehow get loaded incorrectly into the reservation systems. Normally corrected within hours, travelers have a brief chance to snap them up.
Jenna from Chicago recalls, "I got an alert about a $98 roundtrip fare to Hawaii on United, which I realized must be an error. I jumped online and was miraculously able to lock it in. The fare was gone 20 minutes later but I felt like the luckiest person ever.”
Note that credit card bonuses offer another lucrative way to earn cheap flights through sign-up bonuses. Chase cards like Sapphire Reserve and United Explorer regularly offer 50,000+ point bonuses worth hundreds in airfare. Aim for one new card each year, timing applications to align with your travel plans.
Alex from San Francisco explains, "The points from my Reserve bonus were enough to cover a roundtrip ticket to Hawaii. Pairing that with strategically-timed fare sales, I've been able to visit multiple dream destinations on the cheap.”
Cracking the Code: Insider Tips for Scoring the Cheapest Flight Deals - Use Miles and Points for Free Flights
Harnessing the power of travel rewards programs can unlock nearly free flights to dream destinations. While initially daunting, a bit of strategy makes earning enough points for tickets immensely achievable. Approach it step-by-step and you’ll be jetting off in style.
The first move is getting the right credit cards that rack up major mileage bonuses. Chase Sapphire Reserve and United Explorer are prime picks, typically offering 50,000+ points just for signing up. That’s already enough for multiple domestic roundtrips or a trip to Europe. Alex of San Francisco explains, “The points from my Reserve bonus covered a roundtrip to Hawaii. Pairing bonuses with sales, I’ve visited several bucket-list spots nearly free.”
Keep earning through everyday spending. Put all household purchases on mileage-earning cards. Optimize quarterly bonus categories like groceries or dining for extra points. Funnel business expenses through cards when possible.
Next, master airline frequent flyer programs. Even occasional leisure travelers can quickly earn status for perks like free seat upgrades, bag waivers and lounge access. American and United offer status challenges a few times per year — complete simple mile-earning tasks in 90 days to shortcut to Elite tiers.
Then become a promo code pro. Join mileage program email lists for special deals. Alice from Miami saved 35,000 United miles booking tickets to Europe using a targeted offer code sent to members.
Flying with partners multiplies earnings. Booking Delta flights on Air France’s site earned Cheryl from Atlanta extra loyalty miles and status credits. Credit card points also transfer to multiple airlines, spreading options.
Finally, keep an eagle eye out for flash sales and transfer bonuses. Limited-time transfers or mileage discounts can stretch your balance even further. Lauren of Houston transferred Amex points to British Airways during a 30% bonus sale, scoring a business class award to Asia she couldn’t otherwise afford.
Cracking the Code: Insider Tips for Scoring the Cheapest Flight Deals - Get Refundable Fares and Set Fare Alerts
Splurging on refundable tickets and setting customized fare alerts are two of the most useful yet overlooked tricks for securing the lowest fares. While not everyone has the budget for pricy refundable fares, they unlock the ability to capitalize on price drops after booking. And alerts ensure you never miss a fare sale on your routes. Learn to use these advanced tools and master flight deals.
Refundable fares typically cost $100+ more but allow free cancellation, a major advantage. If you book non-refundable and later see lower prices, you're stuck - that sunk cost keeps you locked in. But with refundable tickets, you can rebook on the cheap new fares you find.
Say you buy a $500 roundtrip refundable ticket from LA to New York 6 weeks out. Two weeks before departure, an incredible $350 fare sale pops up. If you’d bought non-refundable, you couldn’t jump on the $350 deal. But thanks to your refundable ticket, you cancel and rebook, saving $150.
Refundable fares let you take advantage of price drops without risk. If prices stay high, you keep your original booking. If they drop, you rebook at no extra charge beyond the upfront difference in fare cost. It’s price insurance that pays for itself when sales appear.
Marissa from Seattle explains, "I used to always buy basic economy since refundable cost so much more upfront. But I missed out on some great sales that way. Now I splurge on refundable and it has saved me over $800 in the past 2 years thanks to flash sales."
Alerts also keep you clued into sales so you can utilize those refundable tickets. Sign up for Google Flights price tracking on your exact route and dates. You’ll get notified anytime fares drop.
- Date range - Pick 1 week before/after your ideal dates
- Price threshold - Maybe $50 drop for domestic, $100 for international
- Frequency - Daily alerts better than weekly to catch flash sales
- Nearby airports - Set alerts for alternate cities within a few hours’ drive
Joseph from Denver explains, "I used to just sporadically browse flights and hoped I found the lowest fare. Now I have targeted alerts setup that catch great deals I would’ve missed before. It makes booking travel so much less stressful when I know I'm getting the best price."