How to Find Cheap Flights: The Complete Guide to Traveling for a fraction of the cost

matt@mattsflights.com by Matt Guidice

You want to travel to your dream destination, but you can’t afford the tickets. Sound familiar?

We’re here to help.

While the cost of air travel has decreased dramatically in recent years, the price of a single ticket still holds people back from flying. Luckily, there are ways to cut your airfare by up to half – if you know where to look.

Finding cheap airline tickets is both an art and a science, but the real key to getting deals is flexibility. If you’re dead-set on a day, time, and departure/arrival locations, you’re limiting your options significantly when it comes to the ticket search. The more you’re willing to adapt, the less you’ll spend!

With all the tools, resources, and websites available, you have many options for finding flights. We’ll show you which ones work best, where to look for cheap tickets, and how to book them for a fraction of the average cost.

Before we get into the cutting-edge tools, let’s start with a question: how much should you spend on plane tickets?

Cheap Flights To Anywhere

The most popular travel destination for Americans is the Caribbean, and a roundtrip flight to and from a major island airport should cost less than $300. Since there are 26 countries & territories in the Carribean (including Puerto Rico), the ticket price will vary, however $300 is a good baseline for the major destinations.

A low-cost flight to Mexico or Central America costs around the same: $300 or below, depending on the season. Even during the high season (December-March), you can usually navigate your way to great travel deals with the right planning.

The cost of flights increases when you have to cross an ocean. Flying to Europe and Asia is pricier, but a round trip ticket of $500 or less is a deal.

Most flights to South America go over land, but the distance is still massive when you’re going to Bogota, Rio de Janeiro, or Santiago. Expect to pay around $600 for a ticket.

Tickets to Australia are among the priciest given the island nation’s great distance. If you can find a ticket for $800 or lower, you’ve done well. The same goes for New Zealand. If you have safari dreams in Africa, expect to pay about the same to get there.

These price points are a guideline, not a hard rule. If you’re traveling during the high season, you may have to pay a bit more. Then again, a low season ticket can be much cheaper. It’s all about flexibility.

How To Find The Cheapest Flights

Whether you already have a destination in mind, or if you’re open to various locales, start with the right mindset before you search. These time-tested tips will help you find the best deals in the shortest amount of time.

When To Book A Cheap Flight

  • Avoid peak travel months. As we said earlier, the high season in any location raises ticket prices. New Year’s, Christmas, and the summer months (mid-June through August) are the most expensive dates in general. Traveling during events – say, Oktoberfest in Germany, or Lunar New Year in Vietnam – will also cost you more.
  • Book well ahead of time. If it’s a Domestic flight, 3 months advance booking usually secures the best deal. For international, you can book up to 8 months ahead if you’ve found a suitable deal. You may risk missing out on later sales, but the benefits outweigh the risks. Ticket prices tend to rise the closer you get to your travel date.
  • Travel on the cheapest days. Airlines are still focused on business travelers. As a result, tickets cost more on Fridays and Sundays – just before and after the weekend. Saturdays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays tend to be the cheapest.
  • Don’t worry about what time you book your flight. This is outdated travel advice and has no bearing on the price of your tickets. The same goes for clearing your browser history or cache. It won’t do anything.

Finding Cheap One-Way Flights

The same rules apply when finding a one-way ticket, but expect to pay more than half the cost of a round-trip ticket. Airlines know these flights are usually for business travelers, and thus they up the price knowing the company will pay.

There’s one technique that helps find one-way tickets, and that’s booking with specific airlines. Budget carriers like Air Asia and Ryan Air are more affordable for one-way tickets, as are JetBlue and Condor.

For one-way flights and multi-city journeys, there’s another technique to utilize: the open jaw ticket.

Open Jaw Tickets: The Savvy Traveler’s Secret Weapon

One of our readers discovered that a round-trip ticket from Dallas to Oslo costs $900, with two layovers each way, including an overnight in Turkey. Flying round-trip from New York to Oslo would only cost $550, with a half hour stopover in Madrid.

Our reader ended up booking one-way tickets to and from New York and Dallas, with a round-trip ticket between New York and Oslo in between. In total, this multi-city journey cost our reader just over $700. The extra money he saved helped out on his week-long trip in Scandinavia.

This is called an open jaw ticket, and it’s the key asset for the budget-conscious traveler. You won’t always have to plan a multi-city journey, but doing so means you can save hundreds – especially if you plan on visiting different cities.

If you’re just looking to get from point A to point B, like our Dallas to Oslo traveler, you can usually get a short layover in the stopover airport. Just be sure to keep the time of your flights carefully in mind as you book, especially when there are time zone changes.

You may also have a larger hub airport closer to you. If our Dallas traveler had flown from Houston to New York, he would have saved an additional $100. The cost of a bus ticket between nearby cities is negligible, and if you can spare a few hours on extra travel, you’ll secure a better rate.

Where To Find The Cheapest Flights

Start your search on Google Flights, but don’t book a ticket just yet. Google’s robust ticket searching tool is comprehensive and offers a lot of utility, but it doesn’t always find the best fares.

Google Flights

For the variety of features and ease of use, it’s tough to beat Google Flights. One of our favorite features is the map search. Leave your destination blank after you type in your departure location and your travel dates. Click and drag on the map to find your favored region.

A green font means there’s a deal to be had. For a two-week trip lasting November 14 to the 28th, we can get from New York to Lisbon for $380 – or head a bit further east to Madrid for only $280. A ticket from Madrid to Lisbon, by the way, is a mere $31. Score!

Things get even better if your travel dates aren’t set in stone. Open up the calendar view by double clicking the date; Google Flights will show you the cost of leaving on any particular day. If we shift our trip dates to the 12th to the 26th, we’re paying $227 compared to the previous $280.

There are still more ways to secure cheaper flights. Remember our Dallas to Oslo example from earlier? Google offers three types of flight searches: round-trip, one-way, and multi-city. Multi-city flights are the savvy traveler’s secret.

If your round-trip ticket is outside of our pricing guide, try a multi-city trip going from your closest airport to a nearby hub. Stick to three or four airports at best, and make sure the timing lines up. You’d be amazed at how much money you can save.

Momondo

Momondo has a similar interface to Google Flights. You won’t have to spend too much time figuring out its features. It also occasionally has flights that Google doesn’t return.

Momondo can also compare its ticket prices against those of competitors, like Expedia and Priceline. It’s among the best sites for getting a comprehensive look at travel prices and dates.

One of our favorite features of Momondo is the price alert. If you’re set on a destination and date but don’t care for the price, hit the price alert button on the left side of the screen. Momondo will send you an email if the price goes down, potentially saving you a huge chunk of change.

Kiwi

Kiwi doesn’t have the most robust features compared to Google Flights and Momondo, but it has come through in the past in securing the cheapest ticket. This is a search engine dedicated to cheap travel via any possible means.

To start, you can include bus and train tickets in your search. Travelers to Europe tend to appreciate this feature the most, especially when you have multiple countries in mind.

One newer feature is the “Go Nomad” button, which will appear on the right while you search flights. Click it and start setting up a multi-destination journey through a particular region; Kiwi will help you find the quickest and cheapest way through your adventure. It’s easier than handling the multi-city open jaw ticket yourself.

Other Search Engines

Since Momondo will compare its prices against its competitors for you, there’s not much reason to spend time specifically on those sites. Budget airlines like Spirit and AirAsia are already included on Google Flights, Momondo, and Kiwi. That being said, they do occasionally have sales, so check their websites from time-to-time for rock-bottom rates.

Southwest is the only major carrier that doesn’t list its flights on the search engines. If you’re flying domestically within the US, spend a few minutes checking this discount airline to see if you can find a better deal than on our recommended list above.

SkipLagged: The Secret Search Engine

Airlines do not like SkipLagged. For now, you shouldn’t run into any trouble using this website, but make sure you know how it works before you book.

SkipLagged specializes in hidden city fares. Essentially, you’ll book a ticket to a major airport, but your intended city is a layover along the way. You don’t take the final leg of the journey.

Airlines intend for the layover stops to be just that: a brief pit stop without the cost of a full-price ticket. Yet with SkipLagged, you take advantage of these lower rates for layovers to get cheaper travel.

For example, a one-way ticket from San Francisco to Mexico City costs $168 on Google Flights. On SkipLagged, you’ll buy a ticket that says you’re going to Guadalajara, but you’ll get off in Mexico City and pay only $118. The last leg of the journey to Guadaljara flies out without you, and you save $60 with this trick.

SkipLagged works best with open-destination travel. Type in your nearest airport and a date you want to leave, then see what results the search engine returns. If it’s a hidden city ticket, you may save money. Otherwise, check with our other search engines to make sure your regular fare ticket is at its lowest price point.

There are disadvantages, of course. Typically, you can’t bring any checked bags with you, since they’ll end up at the listed final destination. You also can’t use flexible dates with the search engine. SkipLagged charges a $8 fee for its services.

Last, and most importantly: your entire round-trip ticket is canceled if you skip a leg of your departure journey. If you wanted a round-trip flight between San Francisco and Mexico City, your entire ticket would be cancelled after you didn’t show up to the Guadalajara flight. This means there’ll be no return ticket waiting for you.

Sound complicated? Read through SkipLagged’s full FAQ first. They can definitely help you secure cheaper travel – just make sure you’re confident in your booking.

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