Last Updated on June 5, 2023
The impact of inflation can be felt across the globe, be it prices for utilities, rent, groceries and eating out: everything has become more expensive. The cost of international travel is certainly no exception, with the average cost of flights considerably more than before the pandemic.
According to NerdWallet’s Travel Price Index, the overall cost of travel is now up 18% compared to April 2019, and even 2% higher than the same month in 2022.
However, the good news is that continued digital innovation and competition among online travel agents as well as airlines has also made it easier than ever to actively seek out cheap flight deals, and savvy travelers can also usually still find good deals for accommodation. Below, I’ll discuss some of the best tips when looking to find low-cost flights and book more cost-effective holidays. Let’s get into it!
1 Target Online Travel Agencies and Comparison Sites
Let’s start with the obvious, as the internet is clearly the place to go if you want to book discount flights.
Whether you use an online travel agency or an established flight comparison site, you can often find savings and discounts compared to booking directly with the airline. To get an affordable flight, don’t be set on a particular airline – be open to use an airline that gives you the best price, even if you’ve never used them before.
These deals come in particularly handy when you want to take a spontaneous trip, and if you’re flexible when it comes to the destination, you can save even more money.
2 Choose Your Travel Dates Wisely
If you also have flexibility in terms of travel dates, you can save even more money!
For example, midweek flights are usually much cheaper than flights that take off on weekends (by around 1.9% on average). Tuesdays and Wednesdays are especially good from the perspective of bargain hunters as they’re the days when the least amount of people travel.
When you browse individual airlines or comparison sites, look for the “calendar view”. That way you can say the price for flights to your destination for an entire week or even the entire month. If you’re flexible with your travel date, you can simply select the date that offers the cheapest flight.
The same rule applies to the time of your flight. Flights that take off prior to 6am are usually cheaper. I know that getting up at 3am to make it to the airport in time for an early flight is brutal, but it can safe you a lot of money.
3 Book Early and Proactively
Flights tend to be at their cheapest when they’re first released. They then peak over a period of time, before potentially falling once again closer to the flight as they’re discounted in anticipation of them going unsold.
While you can theoretically find great deals by booking late, you run the risk of the flight being sold out if you wait too long. I recommend signing up for “fare alerts”, which is a feature that many online travel agents and flight comparison websites offer. Even Google Flights offers this feature. That way, you can monitor the price for the flight you’re planning to book, and hit the “buy” button when the price drops to a number that you’re willing to pay or that you feel is a good deal. Don’t wait too long though: Don’t wait longer than about six weeks before your departure date. After that, prices usually start to increase.
If you’re planning to travel during the school holidays, which is when flight and accommodation prices are the highest, definitely book your tickets early. This is because demand is higher than usual during the school holidays, and if you wait too long to book a ticket, you’ll be left with hefty prices.
4 Consider the Impact of Additional Costs on Budget Airlines
When trying to find the cheapest possible flights, you’ll most likely be drawn to budget airlines in the US, South East Asia and Europe.
The prices for low-budget airlines often seem like a steal at first sight, however, these airlines usually try to increase their revenue through hidden costs and charges that increase your total cost of travel.
One of the most common charges on low-cost carriers are baggage fees, which may be applied in instances where you pack more than the amount permitted in the airline’s T&Cs. They typically also charge an extra fee for you to book a selected seat on a flight (which may be necessary when traveling in a group and not wanting to be separated), and other unforeseen costs can include card payment fees and no food included in the flight.
The good news is that you’re able to review these details before completing your booking – so depending on how much these charges add up to, you can decide if the overall airfare is still a good deal.
Of course, you can negate baggage costs by traveling as light as possible, but many of the low-cost airlines even charge for carry-on luggage these days, so you’ll face an extra charge even if you pack light.
As a general rule, I’d recommend comparing flight prices in full before making a more informed decision.
5 Consider Paying for Flights with a Credit Card
If you have a credit card with that allows you to collect points for every dollar you spend on it, you may also want to consider using this to pay for your flight.
This way, you can pay for your flight without using your everyday cash, but be aware that some reward flights are not worth using your points for. Do the research first and see how much of a good deal a rewards flight, aka a free flight, really is.
If you don’t have a credit card with a point balance, paying via card may still be most viable option for you, since most credit cards offer payment plans these days, which means that you’ll be able to pay off your flight in installments rather than in at once.
What’s also good to know is that in many countries, especially in the U.S., in Europe and the UK, credit card payments are protected, and it is easy claim your money back through your credit card company should something goes wrong on the seller’s side.
Credit cards are also recommended when completing purchases abroad, because of the more competitive exchange rates and the fact that you’ll be able to dispute purchases in case a service you pay for isn’t provided.
In any case, be sure to compare different payment methods and choose the one that offers the best overall value.