how to find cheap flights

These tips could save you loads of money. (Photo: Kinwun / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Tips + Trends

11 Easy Ways to Find Cheap Flights

Being able to find cheap flights can open up the world — literally. Affordable airfare can help you travel more often, get you out of your comfort zone to explore exotic getaways, or help you knock a few things off your bucket list.

Whether you’ve got a specific destination in mind or simply want to travel more, these tips can help you maximize your travel ambitions and score cheap flights.

1. Have a Flexible Travel Schedule

The quickest way to find a cheap flight is by being flexible with which days you travel. Certain days are naturally more expensive to fly on than others, mainly because there are more travelers, such as business travelers, on those days. Flying during the middle of the week or on Saturdays can often be the most affordable option for most destinations.

If your schedule doesn’t permit flying on the cheapest travel days for your route, compare different flight times. Flights at certain hours will cost less than others that might be popular with business travelers trying to make a same-day conference. You may also find that connecting flights with long layovers are cheaper and give you a couple of hours to explore a place.

how to find cheap flights
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2. Compare Alternate Airports

Flying through alternate airports can sometimes help you save money. These airports may be on the other side of a large city or in the outskirts of a nearby town.

However, when calculating your flight savings, don’t forget to factor in any ground transportation costs. Keep in mind that you may no longer have easy access to mass transit and might have to rent a car or find a shuttle bus if you fly into one of these airports. If flying in for a same-day event, you may also need to allow additional driving time to reach your event location.

A great example is flying into Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) instead of Miami International Airport (MIA). This alternate route may not be cheaper for every flight into South Florida, but it’s a popular way to find cheap flights. Plus, it is sometimes less stressful to fly out of a smaller airport.

3. Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute

If you have a particular destination in mind, your best prices can usually be found between two and six weeks from departure. Booking months in advance may mean you spend a few dollars more.

Waiting to book your flight within two weeks of departure can be the most expensive time to book. If you must wait until the last minute to solidify your travel dates, being flexible with your destination can be helpful.

4. Use a Flight Search Engine

The quickest way to find cheap flights is by comparing different airlines using a flight search engine. These search engines can make it easier to filter the available flights than going directly to the airline website. Some examples include Google Flights, Kayak and Momondo.

Most search engines let you see the lowest ticket price by calendar day. You may also be able to filter results by flight time, airline, alliance or plane type. These advanced filters can help you find the perfect flight that complements your travel needs and spending limit.

Note: If you want to fly on Southwest Airlines, you will need to browse flights on their official website. Southwest doesn’t provide their flight options to the third-party travel search engines or booking websites.

5. Request Fare Alerts

Some flight search engines track historical prices to predict future ticket prices. These prediction tools may recommend you book now to secure a below-average price. It may also tell you if the current price for your travel dates is higher than normal.

If you’re not ready to buy your ticket today, you can request fare alerts. The flight search engine will track the daily ticket price changes. You can receive a notification when the price is within your buying range.

6. Consider Booking a Connecting Flight

Flights that require a connecting flight can be cheaper than flying nonstop. The layover may also allow you to stretch your legs if you get restless on long trips.

how to find cheap flights
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7. Book Separate Fares

Another possibility is booking separate nonstop fares instead of a multi-stop itinerary. This tactic can help you find cheap international flights. For example, you may fly a legacy carrier to leave the United States but then fly on a low-cost or regional airline once you arrive at your destination.

Note that booking separate fares won’t always be cheaper. But taking a few extra minutes to explore this possibility can potentially save you a small fortune.

8. Avoid Airline Fees

Discount airlines may seem like your cheapest option at first glance. But the total price can quickly skyrocket if you decide to check a bag or reserve your seat. These no-frills airlines or even a basic economy seat on a major airline might be your best option when you’re mostly flying with a small personal item.

9. Pay with Points

One way to make expensive flights affordable is by booking an award flight with frequent-flyer miles. The quickest way to earn miles is by using credit card rewards points/miles that can transfer to your airline of choice.

Redeeming your travel rewards can save you from spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on your flight. While it takes time and loyalty to earn sufficient miles, an award flight can make it possible to squeeze at least one more trip into the current calendar year.

10. Consider Vacation Packages

Bundling your flight and hotel into a vacation package can be beneficial. Vacations by Marriott helps you save up to 20 percent on your vacation cost while earning Marriott Bonvoy points.

Packages also help you save time since you book your flight itinerary and lodging at the same moment. You might also be able to get exclusive on-property amenities or resort credits with select deals.

11. You Have 24 Hours to Cancel a Flight

Once you find a flight you like, the U.S Department of Transportation requires airlines to offer you a 24-hour cancellation period, if necessary. You may decide to cancel if a better deal becomes available.

This 24-hour cancellation policy doesn’t apply to flights booked within seven days of the scheduled departure.

American Airlines will allow you to reserve your flight for up to 24 hours before paying. This feature gives you the flexibility to at least hold your seat and still explore other options without the hassle of paying first and then having to call to cancel a flight should you find a better deal.

John E. DiScala, aka Johnny Jet, has traveled over 100,000 miles a year since starting his free newsletter in 1995 and has visited close to 100 countries. He was named by Forbes’ as one of the Top 10 Travel Influencers and writes about everything travel on Johnny now travels the world with his wife and their two children.