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Travel Tips

How Scott’s Cheap Flights Works—and How to Get the Most from Membership

Scott Keyes
By 
Scott Keyes
Co-Founder & CEO
7 min read
Last updated 
September 25, 2019

We get a lot of questions about how Scott’s Cheap Flights works, so if you’re new to membership or considering joining, read on for details on what to expect, and how to prepare for your first amazing flight deal.

How Scott’s Cheap Flights works

It's simple. You sign up and select your preferred departure airport. When there's an amazing deal on international flights—like New York to Barcelona for $298 roundtrip, Chicago to Quito for $183 roundtrip, or San Francisco to Seoul for $436 roundtrip—we send you an email with all the details on how and where to find the flight.

Getting started and selecting your airports:

  1. When you create an account, you'll be asked to pick your home airport.
    We'll let you know whether your home airport sees a lot of deals, and which nearby airports you can follow for additional deals.
  1. After you've selected airports, you'll be offered the chance to unlock all the best deals with a Premium membership (more on that in a bit) or you can stick with the free Limited membership and only receive a small sample of the deals.
  1. View previous and recent deals in your account; there may even be a few recently sent deals that are still active. If you're a Premium member, you'll see all the deals from your airport. If you're a Limited member, you'll only see certain deals.
  1. Watch your inbox. As soon as we find another amazing deal from your chosen airports, you'll receive an email with the deals.
active deals from Scott's Cheap Flights
How you'll see deals when you log in

How we decide what makes a deal

First things first. We don’t earn any commission from the airlines or OTAs when you book a deal, so our only motivation is to send you great deals. And, we won’t clog your inbox with just any deal. We only send a deal that we think is worth interrupting your day to tell you about—and that means it needs to truly be a great deal.

When it comes to determining if a deal is worthy, our team of Flight Experts looks at a number of factors; it’s a complex system that’s less about hard-and-fast rules and more about how all the conditions of the flight work together with the price.

Is the fare a great deal? Of course, it all starts with the price. If the price is close to the average price, it's not a deal. But we don’t just look at how much the price is discounted. We also consider if the price is actually what most would consider “cheap.”

For example, a first class fare to Dubai might go for $10,000; if it gets slashed to $5,000, that’s a huge discount, but it’s far from a cheap flight. On the other hand, if a typically-$1,500 flight to Australia drops to the $500s, that’s a great deal and a cheap flight and we’ll let you know about it.

But, price isn’t the only consideration. If it’s a dirt cheap fare with terribly inconvenient routing on a questionable airline, well, that’s just not a great deal. If it’s not a flight we’d put our parents on—or take ourselves—it’s not a deal we’d send. Our considerations include:

What’s the airline? We consider a lot of things when determining if we’ll send deals on a particular airline. Is it a notoriously uncomfortable experience with small seats, no legroom, and egregious fees? Is the airline known for delayed or canceled flights? Does the airline have any interline agreements (which can help you get to your final destination on a partner airline if your airline is experiencing irregular operations) or would you be stuck for several days waiting for the next scheduled flight if yours is disrupted? On the flip side, is it a great airline known for exceptional comfort and service? If it’s a five-star airline, we’ll note that in the email, and we might allow a slightly higher price for the added quality.  

Is the routing humane? Layovers are a common part of traveling, but there are acceptable layovers (a few hours) and unacceptable layovers (a layover from 10pm to 5am, for example, just means you have to spring for a hotel room or sleep on the airport floor—and no one wants that). We look for deals with layovers on the shorter side, or, if the layover is longer, we aim for enough time to go out and explore the city—in daylight. We also consider how far flung the destination is; if it’s a city typically reachable from your airport on a direct flight or with one connection, we won’t send a deal with three layovers.

What kind of availability is there? We’ll never send a deal that’s only available for one set of travel dates; typically we look for at least ten departure dates. We also look at when the deal is available. If the travel dates fall over peak times (summer, Christmas and New Year, or a local holiday like Carnival in Brazil), we may allow for a slightly higher price than we would for other dates—and we’ll note in the email that the travel dates fall during the holiday or event.

How often does this deal come around? When was the last time we sent it? Some destinations see more frequent deals than others, but we won’t bombard you with the same deals over and over again. Once we send a deal, we likely won't send it again for a few weeks, unless the price drops by a considerable amount or there is better routing or added availability. We also look at how rare a deal is; some destinations don’t see deals as often, so if a route rarely goes on sale, the price threshold might be higher.

It’s often not as simple as a deal ticking a certain box in order to qualify; we look at each of the criteria and the deal as a whole to determine if it’s worthy of space in your inbox.

How to read a deal

scott's cheap flights email
Sample email

We make it as easy as possible for you to quickly scan a deal so you don't waste time reading an email about a deal you're not interested in. Our subject lines clearly state:

  • the destination (country, city or cities, or sometimes region, such as if it’s a big Europe sale with lots of cities available)
  • the lowest price or price range; prices are always listed roundtrip
  • whether bags are included or if there's a fee
  • if it's a Mistake Fare (which means you need to act fast)
  • if it's basic economy

In the email we clearly list the destinations, departure cities, and prices. Sometimes we send big regional deals in which a number of destination cities are available. In those cases, we'll let you know which destination city is the cheapest and we'll let you know if the route can be booked open jaw (to Paris but home from London, or to Sydney but home from Melbourne, for example).

We’ll also tell you the available travel dates, the normal price, which airlines we found the deal on, and how long we expect the deal to last. And, we'll tell you exactly where and how to find the deal. Usually this involves looking at a flight search site or online travel agency (OTA) such as Google Flights, Kayak, Momondo, Skyscanner, or Priceline. We'll tell you the best place to conduct your search, and we'll link to a sample search.

How to book the deal

Using the sample search makes it a lot easier for you to find the deal, as you don’t have to start your search from scratch. Just click the link to the sample search—it’s pre-loaded with any filters you’ll need to use to find the deal—and then modify the search for your specific needs.

For example, say you’re interested in a deal we sent for flights to Tokyo in the $500s. In the email we’ll link to a sample search; in this case, it’s on Google Flights.

Scott's Cheap Flights booking instructions

When you click on the link, you’re taken to sample search results. In this case, that sample search is for dates in November, departing from Newark.

scott's cheap flights sample search

But say you’re in San Francisco and you want to travel in October. Just change the departure city and then click into the dates field to see the cheapest dates in October. You can also adjust the length of the trip.

changing dates on google flights

You’ll then get results for that city and dates and can select your flights.

Select the outbound and return flights. Google Flights will then direct you to the airline selling the tickets.

In this case, it’s Delta so when you click the blue “Select” button, you’ll be taken to Delta’s site to complete your purchase. Here you can select seats, if the fare allows, upgrade, add your personal details, and pay.

Sometimes we’ll point you to other search engines, like Skyscanner, Kayak, or Momondo, but the steps are generally the same.

How to get ready for a Scott's Cheap Flights deal

There are a few things you can do to help prepare so that when the perfect deal pops up, you can snag it.

First, make sure the emails are coming to your inbox. After you signed up, you’ll receive a welcome email. If that goes to your spam folder, be sure to mark the “not spam” button. If you’re a Gmail user and it goes to your promotions tab, simply go to the email in that folder and click the button at the top that says “not promotions.”

Think about what criteria a deal needs to meet for it to be worth it for you. A lot of our members say that deals have led them to travel to amazing places they might not have thought of otherwise. Are you open to all the options? Or do you have a short list of places you want to go, and you don't want to look at others? Are there certain dates you are able to travel or are you more flexible? If you know your specific criteria (whether that’s very specific or as wide as “somewhere in Europe in the fall”), you can easily ignore emails that don't fit and focus on the deals that do.

Don’t ignore deals that get you close to where you want to go. We call this the Greek Islands trick and it’s particularly useful when the place you want to go is a country or region that’s a bit more far flung. For example, deals to major European hubs like London, Paris, and Amsterdam come around often, but if you’re looking to go somewhere like Sicily or Santorini, deals are more rare and prices are typically higher. Consider an amazing deal that gets you to the European continent and then hop from there to your final destination on a regional flight, bus, train, or ferry.

>> We cover more on this travel hack and show you exactly how to book it here.

Get familiar with the best search and booking sites. We’ll typically send you to a flight search site or OTA to book the deal, so you may want to familiarize yourself with how they work and get our inside tips and hacks for using them to their fullest potential.

Act fast, especially in the case of Mistake Fares. A mistake fare is when an airline accidentally discounts a flight by more than they meant to—and the resulting savings can be huge if you book quickly. We’ve seen mistake fares like Los Angeles to Bangkok in business class for under $600 roundtrip, NYC to Nairobi for $242 roundtrip, and Miami to Rome for $286 roundtrip.

But mistake fares can disappear in minutes, and you’ve got schedules to coordinate, time off to request, childcare to arrange... if you’re not sure you’ll be able to book with confidence on short notice, the 24-hour rule can help.

The 24-hour rule is a US DOT regulation that requires all carriers flying to and from the US (whether they are US-based carriers or not) to offer free cancellations or changes for up to 24 hours, so long as the flight was purchased directly with the airline at least one week before travel. While not subject to this rule, many OTAs, like Priceline and Orbitz, have their own similar 24-hour rules.

This means that you can snag that mistake fare and if you realize you can’t or don’t want to take the trip, you can cancel for a full refund within 24-hours. This is helpful not only with mistake fares, but with any fares that meet the requirements.

Limited vs Premium membership

We offer two types of membership. Our Limited membership is free and gives you a little taste of the deals we send. Premium members get more deals, and they get the best deals, including peak summer and holiday travel. For example, in NYC, Limited members get an average of 15-20 deals per month, while Premium members get an average of 45-50 deals per month. More deals = more chances you'll find one (or more) that works for you.

Premium members also get Mistake Fares, which can be up to 90% off regular prices, and Hawaii and Alaska deals. They also get the deals as soon as we see them (Limited members get them 30 minutes later).

How much does Scott's Cheap Flights cost? 

Scott's Cheap Flights Premium membership costs $49 USD per year.

Got questions?

We’ve got answers—there’s a whole page of frequently asked questions and answers here, and if your question isn’t answered you can always reach out to our 24/7 support team.

Need advice on a specific trip? Join our Travel Community on facebook and chat with more than 90,000 travel lovers and cheap flight aficionados just like you.

Ready to join? Try Premium and save up to 90% on international airfare.

Last Updated 
May 22, 2019
How Scott’s Cheap Flights Works—and How to Get the Most from Membership
Scott Keyes
Co-Founder & CEO

Scott has traveled to 46 countries (and 46 states!), living in California, to Oaxaca, to Oregon. He’s left-handed, drinks five cups of tea daily, and holds a vendetta against the “Happy Birthday” song. On a dare, he once ate 13 hot dogs (and a bowl of Dippin’ Dots) at the ballpark. He grew up in Ohio and founded Scott’s Cheap Flights in a Denver coffee shop. Favorite airport: PDX.

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