At Scott’s Cheap Flights, you know we’re all about cheap flights. It’s right there in our name. We spend hundreds of hours per week finding amazing flight deals on our mission to help people travel more and for less money by scoring cheap flights to destinations around the world.
We’ve previously shared some tricks of the trade in our Ultimate Guide to Finding Cheap Flights and detailed 25 ways to save money on flights. Here, we’ve summarized ten of our favorite flight hacks with insider tips on finding and booking flights, secret tricks that can shave a little more off the cost, and things you need to know when looking for a great deal.
Open to a multitude of destinations? Google Flights has a handy Explore map that’ll show you the cheapest places you can fly from your airport. Simply start your search as you usually would, by inputting your departure city and dates, but then leave your destination open.
Click search, and Google Flights will show you the cheapest places you can fly. You can move the map around and zoom in on a region, and you can change the dates from specific dates to flexible dates. If you choose flexible dates, you can see the cheapest prices for a weekend, one-week, or two-week trip in a specific month or in the next six months.
Being flexible on your travel dates—even by just a day or two—can sometimes result in big savings. And, in general, the more flexible you can be, the better off you are when it comes to finding the cheapest flight.
Looking for a two-week trip to Paris from October 5 to 21? Sometimes if you’re willing to fly to another European airport, such London or Amsterdam, you could save. If you widen your search to any destination in Europe for any dates in October, that increased flexibility greatly increases your chances of finding a deal. And, if your plan are as wide open as, “I want to go somewhere in the fall,” you’ve got the best chance of scoring a fantastic deal, like nonstop to London in the $300s/$400s roundtrip, or nonstop to Hawaii in the $300s roundtrip.
Business travelers often travel on Monday and Friday, while leisure travelers often fly on Friday and Sunday for weekend or week-long trips. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays tend to be slightly less popular days, which means prices can sometimes be lower. This isn't always the case, but again, it goes back to flexibility; if you have the flexibility on which days you fly, you may be able to save a few bucks.
It used to be that out-and-back roundtrip flights were the most economical option; international one-way flights were more expensive. While that’s still mostly the case with full-service legacy airlines, an increasing number of budget carriers offer more flexibility without a premium cost. On these carriers, a one-way ticket is generally half the cost of roundtrip, so if you’re traveling long-term or unsure of your plans, you aren’t penalized with a higher-priced ticket for a one-way.
Additionally, there are options for open-jaw flights or flights with multi-day layovers that allow you more freedom to create a non-traditional flight itinerary without a significant increase in cost.
No matter which flight search engine or online travel agency (OTA) you use, always check the price against Momondo. This site searches hundreds of smaller OTAs, so it can sometimes unearth lower prices that what you’ll find on other sites.
Flight prices can change in an instant, so if you find a great deal don’t let it slip away. If you want to book quickly but aren’t 100% certain you can take the trip, let the 24-hour rule help. This USDOT regulation says airlines must let you lock in a price for a certain amount of time, or allow free changes or cancellations for up to 24 hours after purchasing. Most airlines choose the latter (though some offer both).
This means that as long as your flight is going to or from the US and you’ve booked direct with the airline for travel at least seven days in advance, you can cancel your flight for free up to 24 hours after booking. Many OTAs, such as Priceline, have their own versions of the rule, too. So, you can snag the cheap flight before the prices rises, and you have a day to make sure you can actually take the trip.
Additionally, if you book a flight and the price drops within the first 24 hours, you can book the cheaper flight and cancel the more expensive ticket.
Sometimes, with seemingly little rhyme or reason, you may be able to save on a flight by changing your currency or fudging your location. If you’re looking for a flight with a specific foreign-operated airline, open one window with your actual location and currency and another with your location and currency set as the location and currency of the country where that airline is based. Complete your search on both, and compare the prices.
You may find you can save a bit—or quite a bit, actually—by booking in the carrier’s home currency or location. But note, this doesn’t always work (sometimes it actually results in a higher price).
One thing that won’t make a lick of difference: clearing your cookies. There’s no proof that airlines raise the price if they see you’ve already searched for a specific flight.
Often, you can reap significant savings by booking a flight close to where you want to be, and then connecting with a separate booking on a regional carrier to your final destination.
We call this idea of focusing on getting across the ocean/to another continent as cheaply as possible the Greek Islands trick because it works particularly well for destinations that are a big far flung or which aren’t served by a lot of carriers. In the Greek Islands example, you could save hundreds by booking a flight to Athens and then booking a separate flight on a local carrier to your island of choice instead of trying to book all the way through to the island on one ticket.
But, this can also work with major destinations. If you want to go to Paris, check out flights to Amsterdam, London, and Barcelona as well. If the savings are considerable, you may want to book one roundtrip ticket to your entrance city and then a separate flight (or train) from there to your final destination. And as a bonus, you can add a day or two in the other city.
Always make sure you’re comparing apples to apples on the extras that you’ll actually need.
For example, let’s say you find a flight on a full-service carrier that includes a meal, seat selection, and a checked bag. It’s $100 more than a flight on a budget carrier that includes none of those. If you need all three and would end up paying more than $100 for them a la carte on the budget airlines, you may want to book the full-service carrier. But, if you’re traveling carry-on only and always bring your own food, you may want to book the budget carrier and pay a smaller fee for the seat selection only.
Likewise, if you’re considering a basic economy flight, compare the cost of adding any extras to the cost of upgrading to main economy. Sometimes it’s cheaper to upgrade from basic to main economy rather than add the extra fees.
A long layover doesn’t have to mean sitting on an uncomfortable chair counting down the hours until your next flight. Several airlines and airports offer free or very low cost tours to transiting passengers; some even offer free or discounted hotel rooms if you’re staying overnight.
Typically you’ll need a layover of at least six hours to take advantage of these programs, and there are some restrictions, but these tours offer the chance to get out and explore your layover city at no (or very low) cost, turning a travel inconvenience into another adventure.
With the rise of budget carriers and basic economy class, a free checked bag—or even a free carry-on—is no longer a guarantee on an international flight. When carry-ons are included, there are often limits on the size and weight. Additionally, some budget airlines change bag fees per leg, which means if your flight has a connection, you’ll pay these costs twice.
Avoid the extra fees by packing light. There are endless tips and tricks to reduce the amount you need to bring. A few tried and true hacks: wear your heaviest and bulkiest items on the plane, pack lightweight layers, do laundry on your trip, limit the shoes, and use packing cubes to save space and stay organized.
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