Last updated on January 20, 2019
Finding flights is among the more stressful aspects of planning travel. When you press purchase on that flight, it represents not only your trip, but hundreds (thousands?!) of dollars, too. There is no fool-proof way to ensure that you always find the lowest fare, but there are certainly tactics and opportunities to lower your total airfare on any trip, and particularly during long-term travel.
Of note, if you’re debating about booking a round the world ticket for an upcoming long-term trip, the Round the World Flights: A Cost Comparison delves into the issue, offering heaps of resources and ideas.
3 Tips to Find Better Flight Deals
1. Fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday.
The best time and day to book flights is actually thing! Being strategic can save you a lot of money. Since most travelers leave on the weekends, including business travelers, mid-week travel is often steeply discounted. At least 80% of my flights these past eight years have departed mid-week. The other times I search for Saturday evenings flights, or off-peak times. If you’re scheduling time off of work and you’re on a budget, see what it would take to leave mid-week instead of on a weekend.
2. Use the “flex days” search feature.
Kayak and other booking sites allow you to search for a set date, and then “+/-” up to three days. Then the results will show a fare calendar of which dates are the most affordable for your planned route.
3. Fly to a hub and then take a budget airline or overland transport.
Check hub airports near your destination for the best international flight routes. When I fly to Chiang Mai, Thailand, I often book my flights into Bangkok and then I separately book the train or a one of the many budget airlines in the region—this tactic requires an extra step of checking in for another flight, but it usually shaves hundreds of dollars (and many hours) from my flights. (You save potentially hours on your total trip time because you are not tied to a partner airline alliance flight for that final, smaller leg. Local budget airlines usually offer many more flights per day than the major international carriers.)
My 6 Step Research Process
- Identify the primary “hub” airports near my destination, then select a mid-week, flexible date to begin the research.
- Input date and hub airports into Kayak, then use the flexible date feature to view a grid of the fares for that week.
- Repeat the process using Skyscanner (which also searches budget carriers), the search within my rewards cards program (I use Chase and have found amazing deals in the Chase search engine), and then if it’s a multi-stop journey I plug the dates into Indie from Bootsnall (which often finds alternative routes and fares combining differing airlines on each leg of the journey).
- I spend at least 20 minutes playing with the dates and potential airports, then I select the best flight and go to that airline’s website and research that exact time and flight—compare to see if the airline is offering it for cheaper.
- Use Google Fare Calendar to research that flight time again, and see if now is a historically good time to book the flight, or if you should wait a bit longer before booking. Seasonal changes in flight prices can seriously impact your fare.
- If I have found a fare that seems seasonally appropriate and hits the date and time that I need, then I book immediately so that the fare won’t increase while I sleep on it. You have 24 hours in the U.S. to cancel any flight, so it pays to trust your research and book the flight.
Best Flight Search Engines
- Kayak: I usually start here for my flight searches to get a baseline on the costs, then I move on to the search engine that pull in some of the low-cost carriers.
- Skyscanner: Use this as your first source for booking flights to or within Asia; the search engine pulls in a lot of the low-cost airlines too and can offer up some great fares you won’t find on the other aggregators.
- Orbitz: I have been surprised by some of the great flights I find on here leaving from the US, particularly if you book in advance and have some of the major hub cities as stopping points.
- Google Flights: You know it’s good if it’s from Google, the king of search. This is a nice place to get a baseline for price estimates at the time of year you’ll be traveling.
- Indie from Bootsnall: While generally a round the world flights finder, it works well to research for any multi-stop journey.
- Adioso and BookingBuddy: These two are not in my regular lineup of research sites, but several of my travel friends swear by them for flight research.
- Matrix.itasoftware.com: Access to the backend that many travel agents use to find flight deals. It’s not in my regular lineup, but I always have this one in my back pocket.
- Research online: I found many tiny airlines in Africa that are not listed in any aggregator, so checking a guidebook or online for local low-cost airlines in some regions is a good idea.
- Amazing List of Low-Cost Flight Routes: This is a google map with flight routes all the world’s low-cost airlines fly.
Your Next Steps:
Bookmark these steps and use my process to research your next flight. While I am no wizard, it’s a process I have refined over the last decade, and I’ve always found great flights using it. If you haven’t learned about travel hacking yet, that’s a worthy topic for research. With travel hacking, you can use rewards cards to earn points that can drastically decrease your fares, and offer perks too. I lightly travel hack with the Chase Sapphire Rewards card (here’s how I chose my credit cards for travel), and it generally saves me $600 to $1,000 per year on flights since I fly internationally on points rather than cash.