How to find the cheapest airline tickets and travel smart? We all love to find the cheapest airline tickets, as money saved there can be used for some other fun stuff while we are on holiday. But there is a problem: airlines, online flight search engines, travel agencies, and anybody else in between, are trying to maximize their profit and sell you ALL the tickets at the HIGHEST price. This is not a bad thing by definition, it is how the travel business model is working in the current economy.
While airlines are struggling to sell tickets as early as possible and at the highest price available, they are also trying to sell ALL the tickets, and there is a catch. In this effort to sell all possible tickets, prices are going up and down, depending on how many seats are for sale and what is actual demand for airline tickets.
By looking at different options, we can find the best possible price for your next trip and find the cheapest airline tickets for you so you can actually travel smart!
Travel booking myths
There are literally thousands of websites advising on ways to find cheap tickets, and many of them are providing obsolete information. Information so old that became a myth. So, first, let’s debunk those myths about booking online tickets.
Myth number 1: Searching with an incognito browser will get you cheaper flights
Searching incognito might not be helping. Airlines and flight search engines are more advanced than just memorizing your choices and spiking up ticket prices. This also doesn’t make sense in today’s competition, as customers will switch quickly to another flight search engine or airline website if their prices keep going up. In short, incognito will not make your airline ticket cheaper.
Myth number 2: Booking on certain days of the week will get you cheaper tickets
There was a long-standing myth that booking on Tuesdays will get you cheaper flights since airlines need to close sales figures by Wednesday. Whoever invented this myth is making lots of sense but only if airlines are some 19th-century companies that have weekly decision-making and reporting schedules (like they do in restaurants with menus).
The airline business is a high competition, ruthless quest for higher profits, and cost-cutting. Pricing and sales of tickets is done 24/7 with complex algorithms that cannot be beaten by simply booking on Tuesdays. Otherwise, travel agencies and airline offices would be busiest on Tuesdays (hint: they are not).
Myth number 3: Booking on a certain day before a trip will get you the cheapest tickets
There is also an ongoing myth that booking a flight exactly 54 days before the trip (or some variations of this ‘magic’ number) will get you the cheapest prices. This goes together with the above myth about Tuesdays. There is a certain window when tickets are cheaper than usual, but this window can be from several days to several weeks and cannot be pinpointed to the day.
Since we have these myths out of the way, let’s see how can we really get the cheapest tickets and travel smart.
Start searching early
If you want to get cheaper flights, you have to start early, as earliest as possible, even if you don’t have trip dates yet. Delaying your search will not make your airline ticket cheaper, quite opposite! You don’t have to actually buy your ticket, but just to have some idea about prices, connecting flights and timetables. A very useful tool is the flight calendar, where you can see in real-time what dates have best prices for certain routes. Here is an example:
(Just replace London in a destination field with your desired destination.)
The good thing about this is – it’s free and it’s fun and you can learn a lot about ticket pricing throughout the year.
Search on multiple websites
Don’t limit yourself to a single website, try several different websites and compare results. Flight search engines are comparing results from hundreds (or even thousands) of airlines at any given moment, but maybe certain search website is not having good deals for your specific route. Trying several websites takes a few minutes only and could have you hundreds.
We are recommending the following websites:
Kayak.com – Well-known global search engine, covering all destinations around the world, connecting to as many airlines as possible with every search.
Jetradar.com – Also very good search engine, with some focus on local airlines that might not pop out on big websites.
Kiwi.com – Newest kid on a block, that can surprise you with great deals.
From other flights search engines, we also recommend:
Skyscanner – One of the top search engines. Also offers subscription and price alerts.
Google Flights – The Internet giant has a very comprehensive flight search engine, together with travel guides and recommendations.
Momondo – simple and clean website for flights and hotel searches.
Once you explored and compared tickets on these websites, it will be wise to check also on airlines’ websites for a specific flight. For example, you have discovered a cheap flight from London to Istanbul with British Airways, then go to the British Airways website and check exactly the same flight. You might get a good deal there and make your airline ticket cheaper.
Be flexible with flight dates and times
Even if your flight dates are fixed, consider traveling a day earlier or day later, this might influence the price of tickets quite a bit. Even choosing different times of the day might get you some savings. Check the calendar above and see how prices fluctuate from day to day.
Don’t book too early, don’t book too late, so when?
This is a tough one. There is no exact science in the price of tickets and their trend. There are so many elements that determine prices: time of the year, season, weather conditions, fuel prices, large events nearby, etc. You might think that cheap tickets to London in June are sure thing, and there go few thousand Glastonbury Festival visitors and your ticket price will double/triple.
We don’t expect from you to become a travel trends expert, but some common sense should be used at least: when you are sure about travel dates and all other details, airline tickets should be purchased no later than three weeks before the flight (this in case of regular planning, emergencies are a different story). This will make sure that you: a) have a ticket, b) get the best price possible.
You can get some last-minute deals and get tickets really cheap, but that is useful if you go on impulse travel, e.g. you can travel on short notice then you are probably not reading this guide anyway.
So, remember – getting a ticket is sometimes more important than getting a cheap ticket. Having no ticket and having to reschedule your trip or hard-earned days off might cost you much more.
Explore nearby airports
If you live in a place with multiple airports (like London, for example), check flights from each one of them, you might get a better deal between them. If you have a nearby airport available (for example: if you are living in Vienna, you can use Bratislava airport – 50 minutes by bus, tickets are very cheap) you can get a great deal with little or no extra effort.
The same goes for destination. If you are planning to rent a car at the airport, you can choose a cheaper airport and drive from there.
You don’t have to have direct flights
If the flight is three hours or longer, getting a direct flight might be more expensive than getting connecting flights in between. So we suggest you make your own connecting flights.
Some search engines, such as Jetradar.com, offer multicity routes, which you can explore to make multi-city stopovers (or layovers). If you don’t have this option, try and book legs or trip segments individually. In general terms, two-way tickets are usually more expensive than multi-city tickets. For example, trip Athens-Paris-London-Athens will be cheaper than Athens-London-Athens.
Search for single tickets first
If you are traveling solo, this is not a problem, but if you are travel in a group or as a family, searching for group tickets will get you the highest price, as the airline will calculate ticket prices based on the prices of a highest priced ticket in a set. This, of course, will not work if you have underage kids, as you will have to buy their tickets together with the adult.
Pay attention to hidden charges and extra fees
Most of the airlines today adopted a budget airline business model – checked-in luggage is not included in the ticket price, seats are booked for a fee, etc. If you are planning to bring checked-in luggage (a suitcase or a large bag), you will need to take this expense into consideration when deciding on a ticket.
Some of the budget airlines are offering special discounts if you buy priority boarding, they allow you to bring two carry-on bags. This should be enough for most travelers. And what is worth, your check-in and departure from the destination airport will be fast (no need to wait at the luggage belt).
Fly with budget airlines
For flights up to three hours duration, budget airlines offer the best services for the ticket price. The bad thing about budget airlines is that they charge everything separately, luggage, seat, meals, etc, but for a short flight, this shouldn’t be a problem. Tickets are usually so cheap, even adding extra services like extra legroom for your seat, will not affect the total price.
The good thing about budget airlines is they are usually always on time as they cannot afford to pay various airport penalties for late departures or arrivals and they are doing their best to take off and land on the dot.
Subscribe to your favorite airlines and flight search engines
This might look like a long shot, but airlines and search engines are working around a clock to get the best deals for their customers and they advertise their deals constantly. It is a big chance that you are just planning a trip and you get a newsletter of a flash sale for your exact destination. These newsletters might also inspire you to travel to a destination you never thought of, so give it a try.
Look at the departure and arrival times and layovers
You can get really cheap ticket and unbelievable savings and then you realize your flight departs at 3 AM, you have a layover of 14 hours and you arrive at your destination at midnight. You will probably be extra tired from this adventure trip, not to mention that you will have to pay for expensive transport to get to the airport (morning taxis are more expensive) and a layover will cost money since you will have to have some food at the very expensive food court at the airport.
Crazy layovers and flight times are also not recommended if you are traveling with children, as their moods will definitely be affected by this schedule.
Get travel insurance (or use credit card which has it included)
Accidents happen. Your long-time planned trip to France needs to be postponed or canceled because you sprained your ankle, and that $1,500 airline ticket doesn’t have a refund option (we are looking for the cheapest flights and they usually don’t provide this option).
With travel insurance, you will be covered (there will be some papers to be filled out and claims submitted, but that’s not too bad). The other option is, when you buy your ticket online, to use a credit card that has travel insurance already included. If you are not sure you have this, talk to your bank, and if you don’t have it already, ask to be upgraded/insurance to be included. We already talked about this in our post about car rentals.
It’s a crazy world out there in the airline ticket business. But, the sooner you start to navigate through all the options we suggested, the better.
So, remember, there is no magic formula to find the cheapest airline tickets – do some research and use common sense and you will be fine. You might get great deals by just tweaking your travel dates or you will receive a sales offer with some huge discounts for your dream vacation, you never know! Safe travels!
P.S. Situation with COVID-19 has created massive turbulence in the airline industry: many airlines went bankrupt and disappeared from the market, and many others are struggling and depending on government bailouts. This will be reflected in the ticket price, but not necessarily will make tickets more expensive. The airline business is still highly competitive and one of the main competing areas is actually price, so book away (subject to local regulations regarding the movement of people, of course!).