My most dreaded and utterly hated part of any trip is paying for flights just to get me to the really exciting next part of my journey, or finding cheap flights to places in the world that I really want to visit. When you add the fact that you might be paying not just yourself, but possibly for your spouse and children, things become a little more complicated.
I’m from the UK and currently visiting South America. You may already guess that I’m frequently on a plane. Now, I know what you’re thinking…“Mr. Moneybags over here,”but I assure you that’s not the case. I just apply a few techniques that I’ve picked up over the years to make sure I get plane tickets that are as cheap as physically possible. How do I do it? Well, there’s a number of ways, but first and foremost, I take my time. I research, compare, and contrast, and don’t just jump at booking the first flight I see. Most times, just taking my time is enough to find the best flight deals.
Here are my top tips for finding cheap flight tickets.
Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean
Research forums, blogs, and articles
The first thing I always do before booking any flight is some search engine research. Chances are I’m not the first person to ask about flying to a particular place, so I simply search for things like,“cheap flights to Australia from the UK,”or,“cheap flights within Europe,”or wherever I happen to be searching. Other questions like“best way to fly to…”also yield similar answers. Basically, I create a lot of search terms and handpick the results that seem to involve human interaction or human opinion, much like this article, as generally it means that someone has had the same experience that I’m having. This type of research usually gives me a good base to start with in order to know what I’m looking for, and a little bit of extra information to go on for ways I can best search for flight deals in the future.
The things I like to look out for here are:
- Price – if I can hone in on what seems to be the average price people are paying for tickets, I know that if I can find any prices under that, I’m in for a bargain.
- Where they booked – different sites offer different deals, no deals, or even inflated prices, as they’re charging you for them being the middle man, so knowing exactly where someone booked something can be a huge help. It’s worth noting this still won’t guarantee that the site they used will offer you the same price.
- How far in advance they booked.
If you can get a good grasp of the general public consensus, you’re halfway set to having an idea of the least and most you can expect to pay for a certain flight, helping you distinguish what would be a cheap trip from a way overpriced one.
The whole world and their dog (literally, sometimes) is on social media these days, so it’s a good place to garner their experience. I like to throw out a Facebook status asking if anyone has had success with booking cheap plane tickets to places I’m thinking of visiting – or, sometimes, when I’m looking for inspiration to any place in general – and then sit back and wait for help to come through.
Taking advantage of social media followings and activity is also a great way of getting deals. Now, I’m not lucky enough to have much of a following, but I have friends who do and they have brands willing to offer them freebies, cheap plane tickets, or payment in exchange for some exposure. I would most likely receive one of those“cry-laugh”emojis if I even dared to get in touch asking for such discounts, but if you’ve got it, use it.
Utilize friends in high places
Excuse the little pun there, but if you happen to know people in the airline industry, or even those who work in the travel industry in general, you’d be surprised at the discounts they sometimes get which can also be offered to friends and family. Just ply them with gifts and niceties and make sure you don’t just pop up to them after 10 years of no contact, and I’m sure they’ll be glad to lend you a helping hand if they can.
How long in advance?
There’s differing consensus over this, with around six months in advance or three weeks as a last-minute booking apparently yielding the most cheap plane tickets. Oh, and that every Tuesday, online flight prices are supposed to refresh. I’ve yet to compile any concrete, peer reviewed research on whether any of this is factually accurate, but there’s definitely some truth in booking as far away as you physically can, or as last-minute as possible, where airlines are looking to book up seats as quickly as possible. I recently looked at flying from Melbourne to back home in the UK for September 2017 (roughly four months ahead of time), and return prices were ranging from £1,200 to £2,000. I then checked November 2017 (roughly six months ahead) and managed to find return flight tickets for as cheap as £560!
Company websites or price comparison sites?
The simple answer to this is both. I like to be thorough when booking my flights online and not assume that one platform is cheaper than another. My favorite method is to use Skyscanner’s flight search engine, click “whole month,” where you can then browse each month of the year to find the cheapest ticket possible, write down the date and time, and then just do a quick comparison on both the airline’s official website and other comparison site websites for that same flight to guarantee I’ve got the cheapest price possible. Kayak is a similar flight search engine to Skyscanner for booking and comparing flights online.
Returns or one-way flights?
Again, I find there is no set answer regarding this for finding cheap flights for a trip. I take the time to compare both one-way flights and return deals, even if I have no intention of taking the return flight, as sometimes, it actually offers the best price of the two options.
Direct flights or stop-offs?
As above, I compare as many options as I have the physical and mental energy for. I’m rarely pressed for time with my trips, and I quite like airports, so I have no preference for taking a direct flight over one that includes a stop-off or two, other than which is cheap and which is not.
The best flight deals are only as good as your dastardly tricks and “in the know” methods are. All of the above are fairly conventional tips, which are always my go-tos straight off the bat, but if I’m still struggling to find a deal, there’s usually other forces at play as to why not. Knowing these will separate you from the rest of the herd and help you find the cheapest flights out there:
- Clear cache and cookies – so, you may or may not know, but cookies are used by companies to track your movements and searches on both their website and via search engines like Google. This crafty marketing tool helps them target you specifically with higher than usual prices, as they know you demand a product or service of theirs, or related to theirs. To clear this before beginning a search (and do it before every search for flights), open your browser (Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, etc.), click Settings, click History, then Clear Browsing Data, make sure Cookies and Cache are definitely selected, and then press Clear.
- Use deal websites like Groupon to book flights online. These sites often have package deals which turn out to be incredibly good value for money. My main experience with them has been booking a cheap trip to Europe with hotel, flights, and even a meal for around £100.
- Search online for discount codes – like with all forms of online shopping, comparison websites and airlines themselves offer discount codes out as a marketing tactic to get more people to book flights online. Just search Google for things like “Skyscanner discount codes” or “American Airlines discount codes” and you just might get lucky. It’s not foolproof but it’s worth a shot.
- Sign up to airline mailing lists – to get official discounts and be notified of airline sales, I sign up to as many mailing lists as possible. I get notifications to my phone, and check every few days, just in case something of interest pops up. I created a separate email address specifically for deals so that they don’t clog up my everyday mail boxes.
So, the above should at least offer a head start in your search for cheap airline tickets. Basically, compile a list of all possible options for flying – one-way, return, stop-over, direct, month to fly, etc. – even if you don’t intend to use them all and compare the prices of each result. Keep an eye out for deals and discount codes. Most importantly, keep your cache and cookies clear.