Updated Jan 2020
Years of travelling on a tight budget allowed, nay, forced me to develop a strategy to find cheap flights without getting ripped off. Just because you’re working with a smaller budget, it doesn’t mean you can’t explore the world – you need to be thrifty and be willing to hunt around for a bargain. The below tips will help you to find cheap flights and live out your wildest travel dreams ✈️
Cheap Flight Comparison Tools
If you haven’t discovered these cheap flight comparison tools yet, then you’re definitely missing out on some serious bargains. They’re great for finding cheap flights both on specific dates and for when your dates are flexible, as they compare airline combos to get you the best matches.
The basic info they need is departure/arrival airport & date’s, although even they are flexible. Once you’ve plugged in your search terms, they process the info and give you a heap of options with pricing. You can narrow these down by departure/arrival times, price, airlines, etc. They also allow you to find the cheapest fares on nearby dates, which is super handy.
When you’ve found a cheap flight though, be wary of some of the websites they try to get you to book with. I opt to pay a little extra to book through the airline directly or someone like Skyscanner, Kayak or Expedia. Using more reputable booking sites avoids the risk of getting ripped off with dodgy bookings.
Utilise Google Flights
Google Flights has been a godsend for helping me find cheap flights recently and is now rivalling sites like Skyscanner and Kayak in its thoroughness. And if you want to get a bit more technical, jump on ITA Matrix for a gander. A lot of the big search companies (including Google Flights) use this as their search backend and rebrand it, so it’s worth a look if you have the time. A bunch of super-smart dudes from MIT designed it, so you know it works.
Watch The Watchdog Sites
There’s a heap of airfare watchdog sites out there these days, and how they help you to find cheap flights is to spot abnormally low fares. Airlines do stuff up sometimes or try and sell a few seats on the cheap, and these guys are your best bet for finding these bargains. I’d start with Airfare Watchdog and then work your way through the others to find ones you feel comfy with.
Find The Cheapest Airport
Let’s say you’re travelling from Sydney to Melbourne in Australia. Melbourne’s main airport is Tullamarine, but a lot of cheap flights arrive at a smaller airport called Avalon. A lot of people accidentally exclude this airport from their searches, meaning they’re stuck with the often higher Tullamarine fares.
Kiwi is an excellent tool to find cheap flights to airports you may not have thought about in your search. When searching, pop in your departure city and date range. It’ll then show you approximate costs to a heap of countries and cities, which you can quickly sort through to make sure you’ve picked the best arrival airport.
Another great tool I discovered recently and has been a total game-changer for me is Escape. Not only is it damn pretty, but it has found me flights for way cheaper than other sites. I recently saved $400 flying from Melbourne to Vancouver thanks to Escape, so definitely recommend them.
Book Flights Individually
Although it’s easier to book your flights all at once, you’d be surprised by how much you can sometimes save by booking each flight leg separately. I check if this is the case for all multileg flights I take and have saved a bucketload doing so. As a bonus, if your flight has a stopover in a city you’re keen to visit, you can stop there for a few days and then continue your journey onwards.
Two things to keep in mind with this is checked luggage and customs. If you do book the flights separately, you will need to leave enough time to get your bags, go through customs, check back in and then head to your gate. Also, check if you will need a visa if you have to go through customs again to catch your next flight. It can be a bit of a pain, but hey, anything to save a few dollarydoos!
Use Budget Airlines
I’ve never had an issue flying budget airlines, yet I know a lot of people avoid them out of fear of things going wrong. Sure, the seats are a little squishier, and meals and baggage often aren’t included in the fare, but they get you from A to B and are crucial to helping you find cheap flights. And a lot of the comparison websites don’t include all these airlines in their results – cheeky buggers.
The only things you need to be aware of is the fine print. A lot of budget airlines have insanely cheap fares, but as soon as you start adding in checked luggage, seat selection, etc., you’re paying as much as you would on a premium airline. So check this out before booking, because you may be better of going with a standard airline instead if you have check-in baggage.
Some of my favourite cheaper/budget airlines include:
Check With Airlines Directly
You’d be surprised at how cheap flights can be when booking directly with airlines. I will always check directly with the airline after using Skyscanner/Escape/Kayak/Kiwi to find the overall cheapest fares and have picked up some serious savings this way (and scored a hell of a lot of airfare miles!).
Some of the best airlines that can have surprisingly low fares include:
Know The Pilot
A friend put me on to I Know The Pilot a few years ago, and since then it’s been a tremendous help in finding me cheap flights. At this stage, they have local sites for Australia, New Zealand & USA. But stay tuned, because they’re releasing more local sites in time.
How it works is you subscribe to their newsletter and let them know which city you want to see flights leaving from. Their magic internet robots then scan the web for deals and sales. When they find one for you, they immediately send you an email so that these often short term sales get to you ASAP.
Keep in mind with I Know The Pilot that the sales are for travel during specific periods. This can be both a positive and a negative, as you could use it to plan your next holiday, but rarely for last-minute trips.
To find the cheapest flights, you need to shop around – there isn’t a ‘one size fits all quick fix’. You need to sign up to sites like Airfare Watchdog and I Know The Pilot to be alerted to super cheap deals and be flexible in your travel dates and desired airports. Use sites like Skyscanner, Kayak & Escape to find flight options, then browse the various discount travel websites suggested by these search engines to find the best deal. You should also check out the airlines directly, and not be scared of flying budget airlines.