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How to Find Cheap Flights (+ $150 flight voucher giveaway!)

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I’ve gotten a lot of questions recently about how I always manage to find cheap flights, so I thought I’d share some of my tips and tricks I use when researching flights with you here. Disclaimer: I don’t always find amazing deals, but before I book a flight, I spend a good amount of time researching all my options, checking my daily fare alerts and even when I decide to finally hit the ‘Book this flight‘ button, I cross-check several websites once again.

Here are some of the deals I found (and booked) recently:

  • Copenhagen – Los Angeles (one-way): $261
  • Bangkok – Chiang Mai (one-way): $17.50
  • Düsseldorf – Hong Kong (return): $530
  • Berlin – London (one-way): $45 (one week in advance)

So which rules do I follow when I book a flight and which steps do I take before I buy a plane ticket?

1. Time Your Trip Right & When To Book Your Ticket

I know that I am more flexible than most people, but if you time your trip right, you can save so much money. If you really have to travel to Europe in the summer, it will be hard to find an affordable flight. If you are able to go in May or September instead when the weather is still warm (perfect!), that’s when airfare is much cheaper than during high season in the summer months.

If you can travel in the winter, even better, because that’s when you get the best deals, even to popular winter escape destinations like Asia.

Also: Know when NOT to go! Peak travel days include Fridays, Sundays and Mondays – so there are usually less deals to be found if you’re planning to fly on these days. Weekends are usually more expensive to fly on than weekdays, so if you can, try to fly during the week. It does make a difference on which day you fly, so if you have flexibility there, you will save money.

momondo fare calendar
Use a fare calendar to see on which day the ticket to your destination is the cheapest. Momondo for example has a fare calendar.

When to book your ticket

I’ve read dozens of articles discussing the best time to book your ticket. Six months in advance? Six weeks in advance? Some say eight weeks in advance. In my experience, neither one of them is true. I often leave my flight alerts on (see #2) after booking a ticket and prices usually don’t go up until the very last minute. Last year, I waited until the ‘six week mark’ to book a ticket, afraid that prices would go up afterwards. Instead, I received a flight alert with a great deal – a cheaper ticket than I had bought – two weeks after I booked my ticket, and I was mad at myself for not waiting longer.

2. Sign up for flight alerts

The first thing I do when I know I need to book a flight is to sign up for flight alerts. I usually use Skyscanner for that, but other sites like Kayak and Momondo offer flight alert emails as well. That way I get an email every day with the current airfare to my destination on the date I’ve chosen. As soon as the price goes down to a fare I am willing to pay or I see a great deal, I book my ticket.kayak price alerts

3. Think outside the box

Think outside the box. And by this I mean the search box in the flight search engine of your choice. I usually first consult Skyscanner and Bookingbuddy.com to find a cheap flight. Skyscanner sometimes includes airlines that aren’t included in the search engine of Bookingbuddy.com which compares the major booking websites for me: Expedia, Orbitz, Onetravel, Travelocity (among others). The advantage of Bookingbuddy is that it opens all these websites for me in new tabs, making it easy for me to compare which site offers the best rate.

What I like about Skyscanner is that I can just type in a departure/destination country instead of a city, for example leaving from Germany. Germany is a relatively small country, but has five major international airports. I never know which airport happens to be the cheapest for my flight, but they are all about the same distance from my family’s house. I can just type in ‘From: Germany, To: Hong Kong’ and I might find out that Düsseldorf would be the cheapest option (like in my case recently).

And with a bunch of low cost bus carriers in Germany, it only cost me €10 to get to Düsseldorf. When I lived in New York, I flew out of all three major airports (JFK, La Guardia and Newark) and realized that it took me about the same amount of time to get to either one – in fact, it was faster to reach Newark (New Jersey) than at JFK, and ticket prices would sometimes be considerably lower from New Jersey.

But what if there aren’t any cheap flights on all these websites? That’s when it pays off to know about budget airlines that aren’t listed in the major flight search websites. NorwegianAir for example rarely comes up in search engines for transatlantic flights, but they are (by far!) the cheapest carrier between Europe and California. I tried them for the first time last fall on a flight to New York and absolutely loved my experience (I raved about it here), so I was glad that I checked the Norwegian website when I didn’t find a single decently priced flight on any flight search website.norwegian airlines top dealsNot all budget airlines are listed in the major search engines (Southwest is one in the U.S. that is not listed but often has cheaper tickets than American or United), so it is well worth researching which budget airlines cover your destination. I usually use Wikitravel to look up budget airlines for countries like Mexico or India, islands like Boracay or Koh Tao, or specific cities like Austin. In addition to Wikitravel, I check the route maps of budget airlines in Europe or Asia to see where I could connect… which leads to:

4. Know the major hubs

The more mainstream the route you take, the cheaper it is. Routes like New York – London with several flights a day have much cheaper tickets than routes like New York – Athens, which is less frequent. Thanks to the extensive budget airline network in Europe, however, you can easily save hundreds of dollars by flying into a major hub and continue with a low-cost carrier from there.

Whichbudget is usually a good starting point to see which budget airlines fly from a hub to your final destination. In Asia, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur are major hubs and well connected via smaller airlines – I found my $17.50 ticket from Bangkok to Chiang Mai with LionAir thanks to WhichBudget, for example.

5. Be willing to connect

This one goes along with knowing the major hubs – but you don’t necessarily need to change airlines to score a cheaper ticket: simply having a layover is always cheaper than a direct flight. Many people are willing to pay for convenience, which is why direct flights are the most expensive (except for routes with frequent direct flights such as Frankfurt – New York). If you are willing to connect somewhere along the way, you will save money on your ticket.

And connecting doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. I had 12 hour layovers in cities like Mexico City and Istanbul in the past and loved exploring the city for a day, or visiting some of my favorite places there (if it is a city that I know). Hipmunk has a cool layout that shows you the length of a layover in a graph, making it easy to choose a flight that has either a super short layover or one that is long enough to explore the city.

hipmunk flight overview
Hipmunk has a very cool layout which shows you exactly how long the layover of each possible route to your final destination is.

6. Don’t be set on a specific destination.

If you are flexible with your dates, why not be flexible with your destination? I had originally looked into flights to Vietnam for my winter getaway, all of which were pretty pricey, no matter what date I typed in. Hence I looked for flights to Bangkok instead, which were $200 cheaper than flights to Saigon. By going to Hong Kong in the end, I saved another $100. Like I said in #4: generally, you’ll be able to find cheap flights from your ‘hub’ to your final destination.

If you just want to go on a trip and are open to any destination, you can save even more – just type in ‘Everywhere‘ in the destination box on Skyscanner and it will show you all available flights from your departure airport on your chosen date, sorted by price. The more flexible you are, the bigger your savings.skyscanner everywhere search

7. Sign up for deal alerts

There are a number of websites out there that specialize in finding the best deals for flights, hotels and rewards program offers and it is well worth signing up for one of their newsletters, to receive emails with the best new flight deals, or to follow them on Facebook. It’s hard to keep track of all the good deals online and I am glad that there are websites that accumulate this information for me.

Some of the websites I like are:

Secretflying.com (I recommend signing up to the newsletter)
MillionMileSecrets.com

Some of the Facebook Pages I follow are:

Facebook.com/SecretFlying
Facebook.com/MillionMileSecrets

norwegian air window 787 boeing dreamliner

8. Start travel hacking

I wrote an extensive article on how to start travel hacking at the end of last year and highly recommend signing up for a rewards credit card to take advantage of rewards points which you can use to fly for free (or upgrade to business class for free) or for free hotel stays.

The FrugalTravelGuy wrote an excellent beginners guide on how to hit a minimum spending requirement which usually gives you 40,000 – 50,000 miles just for signing up!

$150 Norwegian Flight Voucher Giveaway!

Since I just booked another flight with Norwegian, I wanted to share my love for them again and asked Norwegian if they would like to give away a flight voucher to one lucky reader of Globetrottergirls.com. And I am happy to announce that they agreed to give away a Norwegian flight voucher for $150! Considering that you can fly to Europe from the U.S. for less than $200 with Norwegian, you could fly to Europe for as little as $50 with this voucher!

Norwegian LA to Copenhagen 2015
Flights to Copenhagen from L.A. for $190 – a steal!

All you have to do to enter the giveaway is leave a comment and tell me which Norwegian route you’d use the voucher for. Norwegian also has a comprehensive flight network in Europe with flights starting at €29.90, which means this voucher could also buy you up to four flights within Europe! Have a look at all of Norwegian’s flight routes here.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This giveaway ends on 24 March 2015, 12pm EST. The winner of the giveaway will be notified by email.

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96 Comments

  1. HOLY SHIT.

    I just found a flight from FLL to BKK for like $5something. I’m booking it now!!!

    THANK YOU OMG

    I would go FLL to Malta again because Malta was incredible!

  2. I would fly from New York to Oslo. I would love to see the fjords! Thanks for all the wonderful tips I will definitely be using these in my own future travel plans.

  3. I would fly from Bangkok to Athens! I have been to Athens but it would be lovely if I could bring my best friend to Greece with me on a discount.

  4. I would use it to fly from Los Angeles to Oslo. It is very expensive to fly to Europe from California, so I am looking for a cheap flight. My ancestors are from Norway, so I’ve always wanted to visit the country.

  5. Wow never knew there were such good deals especially from Cali all the way to Europe..which destination to pick?!!!

  6. The flight Finder on their site wasnt working on my
    Mobile… Not sure if it’s just me! I would love to go to London then off to Oslo Norway!! Then again it’s alllll on my list!

  7. Difficult to decide! But would love to fly London – Helsinki, travel by land to St Petersburg & Estonia, then fly from Estonia to Stockholm, then fly back to London. So more of a round trip!!

  8. At first, I was going to say that I would fly with Norwegian from the US to London (since I’m going to have to be booking that flight soon for my mom and I!), but I see that they also fly to Iceland! So I would definitely go to Iceland, because Iceland is awesome and I’m hoping to go back there later this year!

  9. LAX to Barcelona, to finally meet my extended Spanish family, is where I’d go! I’d love to see where my grandmother grew up, where she used to shoot fish in the river (that’s right, she’s a bamf!), and see her childhood home. But either way, I had never used skyscanner before, and I’m now planning trips with my friends that we have been taking about for years … thank you so much!

  10. Coincidently I used Norwegian Air just 3 days ago and loved them.
    I sm currently on a road trip – Helsinki to….who knows (in Estonia at the moment) so I would take a flight back from wherever my end point turns out to be

  11. I would definitely take the Norwegian NYC-Riga flight. My brother lives/works in Riga and I haven’t seen him in two years. So, that would be the first place to go. I’d love to check out the city with my brother, kick back a pint with him and make fun of his wardrobe (I’m the big sis and old habits die hard!).

  12. copenahagen to bangkok for me then a trip to the bridge over the river kwai..which was on tv here a few days ago!

  13. I am hopefully heading to Burning Man for the first time!
    Having traveled for the last 10 years on a shoestring teaching eco building, permaculture and sustainability along the way I am spoiling myself and finally going to the big desert experience. I deserve a treat I figure after all these years on the road. It would be a amazing if I won a flight to San Francisco from the UK x

  14. My heritage is Norwegian and Danish and I have never been to any Scandinavian countries. I live on the West Coast of USA so would fly to Norway from Portland or Seattle (if this is possible) and go straight to the fjords.

  15. Meow. I’m gonna say New York -> Santorini with my lady love. She’s been dying to go! Thanks for the promotion!

  16. I’m flying from NYC to Berlin, work my way through Germany and Austria, and then back through Copenhagen to NYC! Good time to go for Americans at the moment 🙂

  17. Hey ladies, another great useful post! I’m pleased to see that I am already using most of the methods you suggest but still picked up a few new websites so thank you very much 🙂

    I would use this voucher to fly from Helsinki to Svarlbard to see the midnight sun (or polar bears and the aurora). I’m Dying to go to Svarlbard, it sounds like such a magical place…

    Happy trails, Liz

  18. I would use it for my trip to England this May! It’s been 10 years since I’ve been back (how lucky I was to live there) and this trip serves as a graduation gift to myself.

  19. I would love to use the voucher for a flight to Bangkok, where I will be studying this year. I am going to do a masters programme that is located in 3 places (Germany, Argentina and Thailand) and I guess Bangkok is the perfect opportunity to try Norwegian Airlines, after reading your description of your flight. It would be great to save some money on my already pricey study program and to save the money for let’s say, a trip to the Philippines from Thailand…!

  20. Great tip! So many places to choose from and only ever being a last minute/wherever is cheapest/sounds fun kind of person it’s hard to say this far in advance. However, if I had to make a decision it’d probably be Thailand as an exotic treat.

  21. Well, I’m smack dab in the middle of the great Midwest in Minnesota, so I would fly to the coast and use the voucher to go to Iceland. From one artic blast to another!

  22. Hi Dani,

    I am from San Francisco. I left 12 years ago as a solo woman and have lived in many countries. I have lived in Latin America for 10 years (Central America for 5 years). As you can see by my email I live in Patagonia (Bariloche). I lived in Chile for 18 months on a resident visa and loved it but the earthquakes got to me. I am not a lover of Argentina as they want your money and it is a constant ripoff here. It gets to be too much. Prices are high and going higher…I have stories…Before this 12 years, I sailed a 50 foot boat from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia, lived throughout Europe and Sweden and took the Trans Siberia across Russia to China (solo). Anyway, so much to say, however, getting ready to depart Patagonia after my year here. I was either going to the Chile side to live or take off to Europe (after 20 years) to find my spot in this world. I love the weather in Patagonia, trees, mountains & water……but earthquakes on the Chile side and I don’t like Argentina. Where is that spot? I am going to check out this airline stuff you have on here. Thank you. I was thinking Northern Italy, Northern Spain or Switzerland. Been to all a long time ago, but now I know what I Iike. I would love to live in Norway, but the language thingy. I lived in Sweden a long time ago. Am I missing a spot? Slovania?

    Oh, that house sitting thing……Got burned in Costa Rica by a Canadian lady. Took care of her 3 sick dogs for 2 months, cleaned all the dirt out of the house, washed the doggy linens 3 times a week and took them walking every day. They never looked better. I paid an extra $462 in medication and food for the dogs because she was 2 weeks late. I cared for these dogs. We developed a great relationship. However, after I could tell she was abusing these dogs and they did not run to her after 2 ½ months when she came home (with another puppy in her hand), but ran the other way, I knew something was up. She never repaid me or let me see the dogs again. She also had a bunch of goldfish in a pond. I had goldfish when I was a kid and they always died. Not one of her fish died on me. Her turtle loved my fish and meatloaf…………he crawled under a rock when she returned! Ciao..

    1. Wow, that’s a terrible housesitting story 🙁 I am sorry to hear that. So far, I’ve mostly been lucky with my housesits. I think you’ll definitely find a beautiful place to call home in Europe – most likely in Northern Italy, but you should definitely check out Slovenia as well. I think you might fall in love with the Lake Bled area and Ljubljana. You’ll have to tell me what you think and where you end up!

  23. Hi I’m travelling to Central America for 2 and half months !
    Flying in Cancun head down the gulf coast into Belize so on. Just wanna ask what your highlights where when travelling there? Spots that I don’t want to miss?
    Trip isn’t planned just going with the flow, as its rainy season and we possible may get stuck in spots with conditions.
    Any tips I would love from an experienced travel to a not so expierence traveler living in Canada at the moment and so excited for a new adventure!
    Cheers

    1. Hi Monique, do you mean highlights just from Belize? Definitely Caye Caulker! Other than that – San Ignacio is conveniently located on the way to Guatemala and had some cool activities and Mayan ruins. I suggest you’ll hit up your local book store and just sit down for a while with the Central America Lonely Planet (or similar guidebook) because they have some great itinerary suggestions in there. You can even see their highlights on Amazon if you look in the book preview. But I recommend picking it up anyway, it was invaluable for me with all the maps and information on how to get around. Enjoy Central America!

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