Airfare pricing is like the Wild West. Prices will vary by hundreds and thousands of dollars for no apparent reason, sometimes even between two searches within few minutes. A longer flight is not always more expensive than a shorter flight. Booking a round trip flight instead of two one-way flights is not always cheaper. You’re not guaranteed to get a better price if you book earlier.
So how can you figure out how to get the best price? Well, you really can’t. There might always be a better option out there, but you can do your best to get a great deal without going crazy in order to look for the best one. Here’s a few tips.
Flexibility is probably one of the most important things when booking a flight. The more flexible you are with your travel dates and even destinations, the better chance you have at getting a good price. Prices fluctuate greatly from day to day, sometimes by hundreds of dollars even for Economy seats. Flying on weekdays will usually get you cheaper prices, since most people look for weekend flights. Be aware of major holidays, prices will spike.
Also flexibility on destination will help. There’s usually deals on certain destinations at certain dates when you’re able to fly. If you’re looking for a great beach vacation, then it doesn’t really matter if it’s Turks and Caicos or Cayman Islands. Try to be open at trying different things.
You’ve probably noticed a price hike for the same exact flight when searching for it again in a few hours or even a few minutes. Did that specific flight really get that much more desirable in an hour? Most likely not. What happens is that prices increase when a particular route is repeatedly searched, in an attempt to scare you into buying at those prices before it gets even higher. It could also mean that it is a desirable flight. This is done through your browser’s cookies, files that are automatically saved on your computer with information in regards to a specific website visit. To avoid this, you should search in incognito mode. You’ll get more fair pricing that way.
Try Different Search Engines Or Try Airline Websites Directly
About 80% of the U.S. landscape in this market is dominated by just two major players: Expedia and The Priceline Group. Check out the Expedia brands for example. You’ll see almost any online travel agency you can think of, so yes, you’re basically searching the same website over and over, with small variations.
These websites will rarely give you the best available prices. One reason is because they work with airlines, and are biased towards their interest. Another reason is that they don’t have the best searching capabilities. Most websites don’t include budget carriers and different websites will focus more on certain airlines and push those towards the top of the results.
There’s is no one website that will guarantee you the best price. Do multiple searches and try international sites as well such as Momondo and Skyscanner. These include local carriers that won’t show up in websites like Expedia. Also use Google Flights and ITA Software by Google to find lowest fares. You can’t book directly there, but you’ll be able to find the cheapest prices available usually and then use those dates to search on carrier’s website. This brings us to one last point; an airline’s website might get you the cheapest price sometimes, so check there too.
Know What a Good Price Is For Your Destination
What if I told you that you can fly from NYC to Costa Rica for $400? Is that a good deal? If you’ve never looked into a flight to Costa Rica, then you probably have n idea.
If you have a destination in mind then search continuously, maybe a few times a day over a few weeks. This way you’ll get an idea what the “normal” price is for that route and what days are usually the best option. Now that you know what the normal price is, you’ll know when a great deal comes along.
Use Budget Airlines
Budget Airlines will offer much cheaper prices than traditional airlines. Obviously you get what you pay for, but for short flights especially, these airlines might be great options for great savings. Watch out for fees, as this is one of the ways that they try to make up for their low prices. Read 10 Things You Need to Know About Low Cost Carriers so you have an idea on what to expect and how to avoid unexpected fees.
Budget Airlines won’t always show up on Expedia and other websites, so you should try and search directly on their sites. Norwegian, WOW, Spirit etc. are just some examples where you should look for low prices.
Try Different Routes
There’s endless routes that will get you from point A to point B. Sometimes direct flights will be the cheapest option, but adding an extra stop might save you lots of money. When flying to Europe for example, you’ll usually find cheap prices to Reykjavik, Dublin and London, since they’re the closest to US. Flying to London first and then onto a European Budget Airline to your destination might save you a lot. You’ll be able to find lots of sub $100 fares within Europe.
Hidden City Trick
The “hidden city trick” is when you book a flight with a connection at the city which is you real destination. So if you’re looking to fly from A to B, then sometimes it might be cheaper to book a flight from A to C with a connection at B, and just getting off at B, disregarding the second leg of the flight.
Keep in mind that there’s some risks involved with this method. You might not be allowed to get off at your connection. If you’re checking in any bags, they might end up at the final destination. And, very rarely, the airline might ban you if they find out you’re exploiting this.
Skiplagged is one website where you can look for such fares.
Check Prices In Different Currencies
Currency is another variable that might affect the price of a flight. Here’s an example of a deal we posted a while ago, where booking in NOK was $41 cheaper than booking in USD. To check for such prices, go to the airlines website on their own language and use Google Translator if necessary.
Make sure to use a credit card that doesn’t have foreign transaction fees.
Be Aware Of Cancellation Policies
Always read up on the cancellation policy before booking. If you find something that looks like a good price but want to still lookout for a better price, make sure that you can cancel that ticket without any fees. This is also useful when you find a mistake fare (see next) and might not be sure if you’ll be able to fly on those dates, but still must book right away to take advantage of the mistake.
Follow Websites/Blogs That Post Fare Deals/Mistakes
Following websites and blogs that post deals on fares or mistake fares is always a good idea. Follow us first on Twitter. We post cheap fare deals and mistake fares, but the blog is not specifically aimed at that low fares. There’s other websites that are worth following, such as Airfare Spot, Secret Flying and Airfare Watchdog.
Mistake fares are usually unbelievable prices that come due to errors or glitches in the system. They’re not always honored by airlines, but in case they do, you’ll be very happy.
Sign Up For Frequent Flyer Programs and Credit Cards
You should sign up for almost any Frequent Flyer Program available. This is a great way to get free flights, free upgrades etc.. There’s even perks that come with just signing up and won’t cost you a thing. Some of these programs have their own shopping portals where you can earn miles for going through them when doing your online shopping. Some have dinning programs. There’s also random offers that they will send out, where you can just earn miles with minimal effort.
Sign up for credit cards. This is the best way to accumulate lots of miles without paying anything at all. Check out our credit card offers page where you’ll find tons of offers that will net you tens of thousands of miles in sign up bonuses. You can also earn miles by using these cards for everyday spend. Often these cards also come with higher status as well, so there’s some extra perks such as free checked bags, priority boarding or free upgrades.
You can also get into mileage runs. These are usually long haul flights, hopefully for cheap, which you take not because you want to go anywhere, but to earn redeemable miles and progress toward elite status on your preferred airline. Airlines will sometimes offer double or triple miles deals, so if you have the time and don’t mind flying, you can get miles for cheap.
Anything I missed? Have any extra tips? Let me know!