Have you ever found yourself wishing you could take a trip, but practically fainting when you saw the price tag for flying? Have you read through blog posts titled “How I scored flights to Europe for only $100!” only to learn that they’ve spent years racking up credit card debt and gaining fickle airline miles? Is the cost of air travel enough to make you shut your laptop and hide inside a blanket fort? Don’t you wish you could discover the secret to finding cheap flights?
I have done my fair share of travel, and have spent the last few years constantly searching for cheap flights. I’ve scored some amazing deals ($6 one way flight across Europe? Yup.) and found that there is really just one secret you need to know to find cheap flights online. And since I’m here to encourage you to book those tickets and travel, I am going to share that secret with you.
The Number One Secret to Finding Cheap Flights
Ready for it?
Flexibility is the number one secret to finding cheap flights. There are many ways that you can be flexible, but the more flexible you are, the more likely it is that you will find flights that are a steal.
Be flexible with your online search
Too many people use just one search engine online and rely on what prices it can come up with. There are thousands of different flight search engines out there, and odds are many of them will give you different prices for your flights. Some online search engines will sneak in a small commission fee, making your flight slightly more expensive. There are also some that will lure you in with “estimated” prices that are quite low, only to spike back up when you look further.
When researching flights online, try looking at several different sites and comparing their prices. Look for the small print, and read what is included in those “taxes and fees” that are added. And always make sure to do your researching using an incognito tab, or secret browsing. This way sites can’t see your cookies and track your browsing history.
What to know some of the sites you should check out? I’ve made a cheat sheet for finding cheap flights, which includes some of the best online flight search engines available to you. Keep scrolling to the end of this post to find out how you can get a copy for free!
Be flexible on your dates
This is one that many people can’t always be super flexible with. Full-time jobs, families, and life schedules often dictate when and how long your trips can be. But the more flexible you can be on your specific arrival and departure dates, the more likely it is that you’ll score those cheap flights. Many online search engines have features where you can check “flexible dates” on your search. Some even have an awesome fare calendar, where you can see the prices for flying on each specific day of the month.
Being flexible on dates also allows you to take advantage of great deals that are posted for shoulder season and low season travel. By avoiding travel during high tourist season, you are almost always guaranteed to spend less money.
Be flexible on your airport
Flexibility with airports applies to both your departure airport and your arrival airport. Many travelers live in areas that are serviced by more than one major airport. Cities like San Francisco or New York make it easy to play around with different fares, leaving from different airports. If you are like me, and your closest major airport rarely sees great deals, try widening your search to surrounding airports. Are you willing to drive a little further, to a different airport, if it means you fly for a cheaper fare? Sometimes it still works out to be less money spent.
Also, try playing around with departing from smaller airports. In some cases, you can find great deals to connecting major hubs and save a bunch of money! Plus smaller airports tend to be more hassle free! When flying into or out of European capital cities, using their smaller airports is almost always cheaper. I saved a bunch of money in Europe by flying out of Brussels South Charleroi Airport. It was an hour’s bus ride from the city center, but it made my flight to Romania insanely cheaper.
You can even try searching for flight deals leaving from major hubs that aren’t near you. A few major hubs for flying out of the US include Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Miami, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Sometimes if you book two different itineraries (one leaving from a major hub to your destination, and another from your home airport to the major hub) you can end up saving money. Just be cautious about making sure you give yourself enough time before flights, because you may have to check in and go through security twice.
Be flexible on your airline
There are so many airlines out there. And while I understand the importance of some brand loyalty (for airline miles, status and credit card points), if you really want to take advantage of finding cheap flights, you’re going to have to throw that loyalty out the window. You have to be willing to take advantage of whatever airline has a great deal to your desired destination.
For the most part, you’re going to find the cheapest flights on budget airlines. Makes sense, right? Despite the fact that you’ll often have fees tacked on for luggage, seat selection, meals, etc., using budget airlines is usually one of the best ways to get cheap flights. Now, every now and then some major airlines will have amazing sales or error fares that get posted, and you may want to take advantage of that. Being flexible on airlines doesn’t mean you will always have to give up the comfort and amenities of the bigger airlines. You just have to know where to look.
Be flexible on your baggage
Baggage has become such a big extra expense for travel these days. Many major airlines usually allow for 1 carry-on and 1 checked luggage per person for free, on international flights. But the costs begin to add up when you bring more than one checked item, or when your luggage is overweight. In addition, flying with budget airlines usually means having to pay for any checked luggage AND any carry-on luggage. Being flexible with your luggage has the potential to save you anywhere from $30 to well over $100.
Packing lightly isn’t as truly awful as it sounds. I used to be a habitual over-packer until my budget forced me to start traveling carry-on only. I came to love the challenge of limiting myself and learning what I could really get by with. It is also incredibly freeing to only have a small bag to worry about when traveling. Plus, without checking a bag, there’s pretty much no way that the airline can lose your luggage!
Be flexible on your travel time
There are two ways that you can be flexible with your travel time. First, exercising flexibility on the arrival and departure times of your flights can save you money. Many times flights that leave super early in the morning, or super late at night (you know…those beloved red-eye flights) will be significantly cheaper than flights leaving at peak times. Hopping on a plane at 6AM can seriously save you hundreds of dollars.
Secondly, you can save money by being flexible on your overall transit time. Sure, direct flights can be more convenient. But often by having a layover of a few hours, you can score a cheaper flight. Sometimes you can even opt for a longer layover of 6 or more hours, and be able to spend some time exploring your layover city. Then it’s like two trips for less than the price of one!
Be flexible on your destination
If you really want to take advantage of the secret to finding cheap flights, you have to be flexible on your destination. Let’s face it- some places are just expensive to reach. Flying to Australia or New Zealand from the US will pretty much always cost you a pretty penny. But if you’re determined to take a trip without spending a ton of money on airfare, you’ll want to be open to many destinations. Traveling to Europe wasn’t high on my list of travel dreams for 2017, but after stumbling across an amazing flight deal to Brussels, I thought- I may as well see more of Europe!
If you do have certain destinations that you are just dying to get to, keep an open mind for other places around it. For example, if you really really wanted to visit Amsterdam, but came across a good flight deal for Paris, it may still be cheaper to fly to Paris and then take a train, bus, or a low-budget flight to Amsterdam. Don’t just limit your search to one destination and you may have a better chance of finding cheap flights.
Find Your Cheap Flights Today!
You can scour the internet for tips on getting cheap flights or saving money on airfare. But in all the research I’ve done, I’ve found that the secret to finding cheap flights is truly to be as flexible as possible. I have used hundreds of websites claiming to be able to find you the best deals, and quite honestly- most of them are owned by the same few companies.
Don’t waste your time trying to search thousands of different sites to find what you’re looking for. I’ve done it and have found a handful that constantly turn out great deals and reliable information. And since I love you, and I want you to travel without having to sell your organs to fund your airfare, I have compiled all my resources into a handy little cheat sheet.
All you need to do is type your email address into the box below, then go to your inbox to confirm your sign up (this helps keep interweb spam bots from ruining my life). Then, you will receive an email from me with my cheat sheet in printable PDF form, and you are on your way to scoring some hella cheap flights!
Tell me what great flight deals you’ve scored, in the comments below!