You work 9 to 5 and now need a vacation. So you’re looking on Kayak or Google Flights for some deals, but how do you know you’re looking in the right place and that you’re actually getting the cheapest flights? Here are 9 tips to make sure you are getting the best deals.
Kayak has been my favorite website, but it doesn’t show all airlines especially the budget airlines. I have tried Momondo and Hipmunk, but they’ve usually been just a few dollar difference from Kayak. Skyscanner and Skiplagged were a highly recommended site, but every time I’ve used them, they have been significantly more expensive than anything else but may work for you. Google Flights has mixed reviews. The only time I use them is when I’m looking for what flights have non-stop flights between cities. And of course there’s always Priceline and Expedia, but I never use those. They don’t have as many search results as the ones above. Other than that, I tend to keep my searches in Kayak unless I’m looking at budget airlines, in which I’ll head to their actual website.
Flight Search Tips
1. Setup Alerts
If you’re researching a head of time, then you can setup alerts (daily or weekly) to inform you of prices changes for the specific dates you’re looking into.
2. Fly into Nearby Cities
Let’s say you want to go to Barcelona, but prices on all airlines are terrible, then consider flying into Madrid and take the train or a local flight. Flying into nearby cities will save you a lot even if you end up having to rent a car, take an Uber/Lyft, or train it.
3. Fly to Nearby Countries
Some airport hubs are cheaper than others. If you want to fly to Paris and prices aren’t great, consider flying into London Heathrow and taking the train into Paris instead. The reason? Heathrow is one of the largest hubs in Europe and can accommodate more flights, which means it’s cheaper.
4. Try to Go Off Season
Everyone is off and traveling for summer, spring break, Christmas, and Thanksgiving. So, avoid if you can. Also check the place you’re going to and see what is considered off season and plan around then.
5. Sign Up for Certain Flight Emails
Don’t sign up for every airline, because you’ll never look at it. We have a few carriers that we know are fairly cheap and are usually the ones we take unless for some reason Kayak/Google Flight tells us otherwise, so we subscribe to them. We have subscriptions to Southwest (domestic) and Singapore Airlines (international – mainly to Asia). For Europe, there are enough carriers out there for us to choose from and rarely ever take the same airline, so there’s no need to subscribe. Be aware that you need to be flexible with these as sales come up at any time and you have to be ready to purchase.
6. Sign up for Travelzoo
Again, you have to be flexible, but I’ve seen some of the cheapest tours ever. The “This Week’s Top 20” is the one you want to pay attention to.
7. Enjoy a Layover
Sometimes it’s just better to fly somewhere and take a layover for a night. In fact, some places are better as a layover (i.e. Singapore) and you can cross that place off your list. Remember, the layover has to be at least 8 hours in between; otherwise, the airport won’t let you out. We learned that lesson while in the laying over in the Philippines. We had 7.5 hours until our next flight and security denied us entry into the country because we were half an hour short.
8. Budget Airlines are Your Best Friend
Check the airports you’re flying into and see the list of airlines they serve and if you don’t recognize some of those airlines, then it’s probably a local budget airline that you definitely want to check out. The more you connect these, the better your price. However, you have to have the flexibility and time to do this.
9. Be Open to New Places
Some of my best trips have been when I was open to places I wasn’t expecting to go to. In 2015, my MBA program took us to Beijing, China for 2 weeks. I decided to travel with my boyfriend (now husband) afterwards. There was a direct flight from Beijing to Uzbekistan, so we toured the silk road. From Uzbekistan, there was a direct flight to only 3 countries (France, Germany, and Latvia). Well…we can go to France or Germany anytime, so we went to Latvia and that was probably one of the most rewarding experiences ever. It was an ex-Soviet Union country that has flourished into an amazing European cultural center with some of the fastest internet in the world (FYI…Skype was created in neighboring country, Estonia). Those were also the cheapest flights we’ve ever flown.
10. Think About You: Comfort
The last tip that I have is really about you as a person and your comfort level. While most of these other blogs will help you find the ultimate cheapest flight possible, they aren’t taking the 12+ hours you have to spend on a cramp flight into consideration. What I mean is that some airlines have more space in economy than others and other amenities that you’re paying a little more for to ensure comfort that may mean a lot to someone who has limited time to relax after arriving to their destination.
For example, it might be great to pay $300 round trip to Europe from San Francisco on Norwegian Air, but you have to remember to pack food and water before getting on, because they don’t serve you anything unless you are willing to pay $5 for a bottle of water. At the end of the day, paying more for food/water isn’t a big deal since your flight was cheap, right? Well, did you take baggage fees into consideration? Wow Air allows you only 1 personal item in the cabin. If you want to use the overhead bins, it’ll cost you $40 each way ($80 round trip for your bag to ride the overhead bin, not checked bag), not to mention if there’s 2 of you using the overhead bin. And they DO check every piece of luggage by tagging them, don’t think you’ll sneak away on this one. Also, did I mention, no TVs? Make sure you pre-download all your Netflix shows on your phone.
What I’m saying is that you do work and I know you’re trying to save as much as possible for your retirement, but an extra $50 here or there for a more comfortable flight won’t kill you. Also, you have limited time and unlike the blogs who can afford to have flights cancel on them, I don’t believe you have that type of luxury or time to deal with these issues. And some of these cheap flights are notorious for cancelling flights if they can’t fill all the seats.
So until we’re retired or have vast amounts of time, we do take our airlines into consideration and will pay a little more for a better international flight. However, we will fly cheap budget airlines with less comfort when the flights are less than 5 hours.
Bottom Line: Think about your how much comfort you need first and then find cheap flights with the strategies listed above. Nothing kills a trip more than a terrible 12 hour flight where you’re ready to head home to sleep in your own bed.