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Spring is upon us, which means it is time for me to start planning my summer travels. Before I book hotels, excursions and research things to see in each place I visit, I book flights. Last year, I took 23 different plane rides, and since I am a frugal traveler, finding the best prices for plane tickets is always a priority for me.
Today I want to talk about how to find cheap flights in 2021, because it’s been a few years now since I last shared tips how to find cheap flights and there have been quite a few changes in the travel industry since then, and I have also learned a few new hacks since I wrote that article in 2015.
In this article I am sharing how I personally go about finding the best airfare for a trip I’m planning to take.
Use flight search engines to find cheap flights
I never start my search for cheap flights on an airline website, but I go to my favorite flight search engines and compare which ones have the best offers.
For my upcoming summer Europe trip, I am planning to fly into Paris, and checked Justfly and Expedia for the best rates:
What’s important to know is that JustFly also includes budget airlines, and lesser known airlines – in this case French Bee, a low-cost, long-haul airline that operates out of Paris.
As you can see in the screenshot above, Expedia does NOT include budget airlines – the first airfare that I’m being shown for the exact same search is considerably more expensive than the first airfare shown on JustFly.
Expert Tip: When you book a flight through a flight search engine and not directly with the airline, always double-check that all your information is correct:
- Date of the flight
- Name on ticket (Spelling!)
- Date of birth
- Price – make sure the final price is the price you were initially shown.
The reason that flight search aggregators are able to offer these extremely low ticket prices is because these are non-refundable tickets. If you book directly with an airline, you have the option to buy a refundable ticket – but they cost considerably more, sometimes twice as much.
A cancellation or any changes made to a booking will cost you a lot of money, so make sure that all the information you put in is 100% correct.
Sign up for fare alerts to find cheap flights
This is something I do every single time I start planning a trip: I sign up for airfare alerts for the flight I’m looking to book. The Europe trip I’m currently planning is still a few months away, and there’s no reason to book a ticket just yet – unless I stumble upon an incredible deal. Don’t wait too long, however: it has happened to me in the past that I missed out on a good deal because I decided to wait, hoping for a better deal, which never came. Some flight search engines will make it easy for you to remember to sign up for flight alerts with a pop-up screen, like Justfly (see screenshot below).
Expert tip: Sign up for airfare alerts with a couple of flight search engines. That way you’ll keep track of several providers and you make sure not to miss anything.
Be flexible with your travel dates
This is something I cannot stress enough: Flying out one or two days earlier or later can save you a lot of money. The easiest way to get a price overview is to look at the price calendar that many flight search engines offer:
You can see above that if I change my travel date from 20 August to 17 August, it’ll save me over 100 Dollars! That’s a big price difference, and if you are flexible with your travel dates, I recommend playing around with dates to find a cheaper flight – especially if you’re flying an expensive route.
How to find cheap flights: Book at the right time
This is a question I get a lot: How do you know when to book your flight? I don’t think there’s a golden rule, but at the very latest, book your flights one month in advance. Six weeks in advance is usually a good time to book a flight, but like I said above, sometimes it happens that you come across a deal that’s too good to pass up months before your trip. That’s why it’s important to sign up for airfare alerts as soon as you know your travel dates: to ensure you don’t miss out on a good deal.
You can use these times when to book flights* for the following destinations as a rule of thumb:
- North America: 1 month in advance
- Central America: 1 month in advance
- South America: 1 month in advance
- Caribbean: 1 month in advance
- Europe: 6 – 8 weeks in advance
- Middle East: 6 – 8 weeks in advance
- Asia: 6 – 8 weeks in advance
- Africa: 2 – 3 months in advance
- Australia: 2 – 3 months in advance
*these times are valid for travelers based in North America
Be flexible with your destination
If you are planning a trip to a certain country but you aren’t set on a specific city, you can save money by searching for flights to the country rather than a city. Skyscanner is one of the websites that offer this option, and as you can see below: flying to Hanoi is over $150 cheaper than flying to Ho Chi Minh City.
Expert tip: The more flexible you are, the cheaper the deals you find
If you’re planning a trip to a specific country or region and are flexible as to where you’ll start your travels, you will save a lot of money on your plane ticket. GoogleFlights has a great function that lets you see the map of the entire region – for example, if you are planning to travel around South East Asia. I looked up flights to Vietnam, but as you can see in the screenshot below, it will actually be cheaper to fly to Chiang Mai (Thailand) or Vientiane (Laos).
If you are flexible with your dates, you can opt to have prices shown for the entire month (see screenshot).
This is how I found a cheap ticket to Australia – knowing I’d be traveling around the country, I didn’t really care where I’d begin my trip. What was more important to me was finding the most affordable ticket. You can see on the GoogleFlights screenshot below that flying to Sydney is by far the cheapest option.
Be open to connecting flights
Another way to get to your destination for cheap is by buying a ticket to a bigger hub and then a separate ticket to your final destination. That works especially well in Europe, where you have a large number of low-cost airlines. In some cases you might also be able to find a cheap train ticket and continue your journey by train.
Let’s look at Jordan for example, which is usually expensive to travel to – especially if you want to fly non-stop. If I want to fly from New York to Jordan in May, the cheapest direct flight is $603. A flight with one stop is $397.
If you, however, fly to Budapest, which has cheap flight connections to Amman, you can get there for $100 cheaper:
I found a flight from New York to Budapest for $249 on Justfly.com, and a connecting flight from Budapest to Amman on Skyscanner for just $43.
If you’re not sure which regional low-cost airlines fly to the country you’re visiting, whichbudget is a great resource.
Take the time to research and compare prices
There are well over twenty flight search engines to choose from – so which one should you use?
To be honest, there’s not a single flight search engine that is better than the others. Some flight search engines work better than others when you look for domestic flights in the U.S., some flight search engines offer better results for international flights, and some win when it comes to specific regions, such as Europe or Asia.
And because there are so many flight search engines, it is important to shop around. Don’t use just one website to find cheap flights – look at a few, compare prices, set fare alerts, and spend some time playing around with different options (direct flights vs booking two separate flights for example), and then decide what works best for you.
It is also important to mention that a cheap option that is $300 less than a direct flight but takes 12 hours longer may not be the best option for everyone. Compare your options and decide which one works best for you.