How To Find Cheap Flights to Your Destination With These Top Tips

Travelers often find themselves spending most of their vacation budget on flights. While finding a cheap flight that meets your travel needs can sometimes be tricky, this article will go over strategies to find fantastic airfares.

Nowadays, you can find cheap flights on a variety of different websites. The problem is that some of these sites are better and more user-friendly than others. If you are looking for a way to find the cheapest flights to your destination, check out our comparison of some of the best affordable travel sites.

The more cash you save, the more resources you will have available for your vacation. Here are the top ways & strategies for how to find cheap flights.

Top 15 Travel Search Engines

1. Agoda

If you decide to use Agoda to find your cheap airline flight, you should already be a seasoned traveler since this site offers far fewer trips than most of the other sites mentioned here.

Possessing an excellent reputation with those who use it regularly, Agoda searches hundreds of travel sites to compare flights and find the best deal. However, it can sometimes be slightly tricky to navigate since it does have you going back and forth much more often than other sites.

Yet, with 20 million reviews from mostly satisfied customers, Agoda can be helpful if you know what you’re looking for and how the cheap airline ticket process works.

2. Cheapoair

First of all, you have to love any site named CheapOair. Once you get past the catchy name, you’ll find a site that is fun to use, has helpful information, and comes through in helping you get the ‘cheapo’ airline ticket you desire.

Using its search engine, you’ll be able to search results based on your preferred airline if you wish, making your search much quicker.

Also, if you sign up as a member of CheapOair, you get regular access to promo codes that save you money on fees, which many people find can quickly add up to increased savings.

Like other sites, you can scan the site’s QR code to install an app. But unlike many other sites, CheapOair also features airport maps, which can keep you from getting lost in airports that are getting bigger by the day.

3. Expedia

Expedia is one of the first travel sites that debuted in 1996 and is still popular today.

Expedia lets you enter your cellphone number to receive a downloadable link for its app. You can use this to get even more deals to save money once you arrive at your destination.

Easy to search and understand, Expedia also offers lots of great information on finding the cheapest flights, such as the cheapest days and months to fly, which day of the week is the best to buy your ticket, and much more.

4. Google Flights

Since you search for everything else on Google, it only makes sense that you use Google Flights to find cheap airfare, too. Extremely thorough and fast, you’ll likely find what you need on this site quicker than you will anywhere else.

Like some other travel sites, it already has your nearest airport loaded up when you arrive for your search.

But unlike other sites, Google Flights has an interactive map that shows your flight path, detailed information on ticket costs and flight times, and information about things to do, hotels, car rentals, and more for wherever you wish to go.

This powerful search engine allows for tons of customization, including pricing, flexible dates, and the ability to enter multiple airport codes or entire regions in the “Where From” and “Where to” search boxes.

In the example below, I searched for a flight from San Francisco to any European destination. I customized the search by setting the ticket price (no more than $550) and the flexible time frame (within the next six months). It generated a map that seamlessly compared airfares to various cities within the same region.

In February, the search revealed a $91 ticket from SFO-LGW (London Gatwick). If you have plans to go to Edinburgh ($467) or any point in Europe, you can purchase this ticket, stay in London for a few nights to explore the city, then take one of the daily high-speed trains to Edinburgh or Paris. Or, fly using a budget airline to Tel Aviv ($350), Lisbon ($371), or St. Petersburg ($472).

Alternatively, there is also a $184 ticket from San Francisco to Rome in September that you can use as a springboard to fly to Dubrovnik, Croatia ($470) or Malta ($473), effectively saving you over $250. That also allows you to stay in Rome for as long as you want (free stop-over!) to check out its magnificent artistic treasures and phenomenal archaeological sites on a budget.

In short, utilize Google Flights to identify cheaper nearby airports if flying direct is substantially more expensive. Doing so does not only save money but also allows you to add another city to your itinerary.

Despite its terrific features, Google Flights’ search engine is not as comprehensive as the other two. It only searches airlines and well-established OTAs (Orbitz, Expedia, etc.), therefore missing out on the budget selections. Even so, it is still a brilliant tool in identifying when and where it is the cheapest to fly. Just remember to always compare your results with Momondo and Skyscanner.

5. Hopper

When you use Hopper to book flights, you may feel as though you are trying to decide whether to buy or sell stocks. By comparing airline flight prices much like stockbrokers compare stock prices, Hopper constantly analyzes millions or even billions of prices each day.

Doing so predicts how prices may change and thus will send you price alerts as to whether it suggests you buy your ticket now or wait until the savings are even better.

Saving you up to 40% on ticket prices, Hopper will send you instant alerts about cheap airline flights through its app, giving you a chance to get the best flight deal before others beat you to it.

6. Hotwire

Laying everything out right in front of you from the moment you arrive on its website, Hotwire specializes in helping you find great deals on last-minute flights. Saving you as much as 40% on ticket prices, you can narrow your search based on the airline, departure time, number of stops, travel dates, or other criteria.

Should you not be bound to any particular schedule, Hotwire features its Hot Rate Flights. If you opt for this, it’s like taking a shot in the dark in that you won’t know which airline you’re flying or your exact flight time until after you’ve booked your flight. But on the plus side, you’ll get an incredibly low price.

7. Kayak

Searching hundreds of airline ticket sites in the blink of an eye, Kayak is known for being very fast and helping to find the cheapest flights you’ll ever encounter when seeking a plane ticket to anywhere in the world.

If you want even better deals offered only to its members, you can become a Kayak member by simply submitting your email address or signing in with your Google account. Once you do, you’ll be eligible for private deals and personalized recommendations, both of which can give you even more savings.

Conveniently laid out, you can immediately search for flights to and from New York and other cities worldwide. Should you have any questions during your search, the site has an excellent FAQ section.

8. Momondo

Free to use with no hidden charges or fees, Momondo gives other travel sites a run for its money.

Momondo is one of the best online tools in finding cheap airfare out there. This search engine sifts through the entire web and ensures that no stone is left unturned. Momondo even tracks obscure Online Travel Agencies (OTA) and relatively unknown budget airlines to grasp the best possible deal available. If you want deeply-discounted airfares, this should be your first stop.

Momondo also has an “Explore” option if you want ideas on where to fly cheaply. Type your home airport, enter “Anywhere” in the destination box (or a specific region, like South America), select a preferred date, or type “Anytime,” and wait for it to generate the cheapest flights at the most affordable times from your home airport.

Whether you’re traveling economy, first-class, or somewhere between, this site lets you find cheap flights fast. Allowing you to compare deals from more than 900 different travel sites, Momondo gives you booking flexibility with no change fees.

If taking adventures is part of the life you’re making for yourself, or you’re just not sure where you want to go, the site features trending cities and countries, along with detailed flight information about each.

Whether you’re considering Seattle, Frankfurt, Tokyo, or other destinations, Momondo gives you lots of helpful information quickly and easily.

9. Orbitz

Very similar to Expedia, Orbitz is easy to understand and navigate. If you’re on a budget, Orbitz has a specific section for plane tickets under $199.

When you sign up to become an Orbitz member, you can get insider prices that will save you money on your airline tickets, hotel reservations, and car rentals.

Also, if you’re a member, you earn what is known as Orbucks travel rewards, which you can use for discounts at whatever destination you choose. The site even shows you specific hotels where you can use your Orbucks, how much you’ll save, and more.

Additionally, should you get an airline ticket and then need to change or cancel your trip, Orbitz has a section where you can make updates, track refunds, or use a credit or coupon for a new trip booking.

10. Priceline

When you are ready to name your price for an airline ticket, go to Priceline and enter what you hope will be the winning bid. Since airlines don’t like empty seats, this gives you a chance to cash in.

Once you’re on Priceline, get your travel details laid out, enter the flight details on the website, and submit your bid with your credit card information.

If you win, you will be notified your tickets have been booked, and your credit card has been charged. However, you can only submit one bid every 24 hours per flight, so keep this in mind.

11. Going (Formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights)

Should you be in the market to get cheap airline flights to various worldwide destinations that may save you as much as 90%, join Going. Offering Premium and Elite membership options, you can try the Premium free for 14 days or use the limited version of the site for free.

As for how you can save 90% off your flight, Going specializes in finding what is known in the airline industry as “mistake fares,” meaning the airline messed up along the way. As an example of this, Going made a mistake on a flight to Santiago, resulting in the ticket price dropping from $1,200 to an astounding $61.

12. Skiplagged

When you’re looking for cheap airline flights, see what you can find with Skiplagged. Along with showing you hidden-city ticketing trips, it also has an excellent tool that lets you compare its deals with what you can find on other sites such as Expedia, Kayak, and many others.

Though the site sometimes takes a bit longer to navigate, you may find you get lower ticket prices than you thought possible.

13. Skyscanner

Working with over 1,200 travel providers, Skyscanner offers a neat feature. Once you arrive on the website, its search tool already has your nearest airport loaded and shows possible departure and return dates, all of which can help to speed up your search for a cheap flight.

Easy to navigate, the main page also shows you the best deals from your location to various destinations such as Cancun, London, San Juan, or Maui.

Perhaps the simplest of sites to use, Skyscanner gives you every expense upfront, is very detailed about travel restrictions in place at your destination, and has excellent graphics as a bonus.

Even though it sometimes skips some lesser-known OTAs from its searches, Skyscanner still provides a fantastic jumping-off point when searching for incredible deals. It also has an app that is quite intuitive and easy to navigate.

Like Momondo, this perennial traveler favorite also allows you to search for affordable destinations from your home airport. Enter your departure city, type “Everywhere” in destination, and select “Cheapest Month.”

Compare your results with Momondo to ensure you are snatching the best fare. Eight out of 10 times, Momondo’s airfare will come out cheaper by a few dollars.

Related: 10 Tips to Book Last-minute Flight Deals

14. Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines is one of the few airlines that doesn’t aggregate with third-party sites, meaning you will have to book with them directly, but it’s usually worth your while. With low fares and free checked bags, it’s one of the most popular airlines to travel with.

If you are looking for a job in the travel industry, they also have one of the best reputations and offer the highest pay. As a Southwest Airlines staff member, you can get free unlimited travel privileges for yourself and eligible family members.

15. Swoop

When you want to find the cheapest flights out of Canada and to various destinations in the U.S. or abroad, consider using Swoop.

User-friendly for novices or beginners, it lets you select your departing and destination airport as well as your depart date, an optional return date, and how many people will be traveling with you.

Once you hit “search,” your results come up quickly and are easy to understand. Best of all, it also has tabs for My Bookings and Flight Status, both of which help you keep track of every detail of your flight.

Pro Tip: Do Not Forget To Check the Airline Website Directly

If you have a simple itinerary involving no more than two carriers, I’d write down the names of the airlines recommended by the search engines and then head out to their respective websites to run an identical search. That may yield a slightly lower price. Moreover, booking directly with the airline also provides extra protection as they ordinarily have customer-friendly refund policies when they cancel a flight or change the schedule significantly.

If your search on a specific airline website did not result in cheaper airfare, go back to the search engine that churned out the best ticket and close the deal. Just be mindful that any changes or cancellations using an OTA may result in a voucher that expires instead of a full refund. Although some OTAs have started offering refunds, the process can still be a lengthy ordeal. For added protection, I’d consider purchasing travel insurance.

Mistake Fares

If you prefer to relax and let others do the legwork for you, you can subscribe to travel websites that devote every waking hour scavenging for cheap flights and mistake fares online.

These websites have dedicated employees that closely monitor various travel search engines for dirt cheap plane tickets. Newsletters are immediately sent out to their subscribers when these deals are uncovered, so they don’t miss out on these fantastic deals.

Curious about these error fares? They usually are the result of computer glitches that happen every so often.

Since these flights are cheaper than cheap, you need to pounce the moment the deal enters your inbox as they ordinarily disappear at the speed of light. My suggestion is to book them quickly. After all, you have 24 hours to cancel these bookings anyway.

Some of these platforms require paid subscriptions, so my strategy is to sign up for the free ones (although Going offers a free trial period).

  1. Airfare Watchdog– FREE
  2. Secret Flying– FREE
  3. The Flight Deal– FREE
  4. TravelPirates – FREE
  5. Going – PAID
  6. Thrifty Traveller– PAID

Other Strategies To Save More Money on Airfare

Know When to Fly

Flying during holidays, special events, and long weekends will be incredibly pricier than flying all other times. Departing early in the morning or taking a red-eye flight is cheaper than flying during the day.

Consider booking during off-peak periods for significant savings. Another tip is to fly the day after a holiday or during the holiday itself, but never before.

Know When to Book

Sadly, there is no secret formula for the right time to book. Ticket prices seem to be primarily driven by demand. The more passengers are interested in flying on a specific route on a particular day, the more expensive the fares become.

My only suggestion is not to wait until the last minute. If there is one thing that’s certain about airfare, it becomes unreasonably unaffordable if you purchase closer to the departure date.

Doing the opposite is not recommended, either. Booking way in advance, say 10-11 months out, may not yield the best prices either. Unless you are travel hacking, then booking 11 months out for those award seats is the way to go. I will talk about travel hacking later in this post.

In any case, using an incognito/private browser while searching can save you a few dollars.

Add a Free Stop-over if Flying Direct Is Pricier

If vacation time is not a concern, searching Google Flights can help you identify alternative, cheaper airports near your final destination. Instead of flying direct to your original intended city, you can opt to fly to these nearby airports to save some cash.

Flying to these inexpensive airports also provides the traveler an opportunity to tack on a free stop-over. That is similar to the London and Rome examples above. Feel free to stay as long as you want in these more affordable hubs before continuing to the last leg of your trip, either via train or a budget airline.

For example, add a stop-over in Madrid for a few days if a ticket to Barcelona costs at least $200 more. Besides the fact that the train between these two cities costs less than the airfare difference, you also get to spend some time in another city.

And, since Google Flights provides a bird’ s-eye view map of any region, this also gives the curious traveler a chance to select lesser-known destinations you may not have considered at the onset. You do not only get to save, but you also get the opportunity to explore uncrowded off-the-beaten-path locations.

Depart or Arrive at a Nearby Airport

Depart or arrive at a nearby airport. For example, substantial metropolitan areas such as NYC, Los Angeles, London, and my home airport, San Francisco, are located near at least three international airports. Make sure you run your flights across all possible options.

Some Airlines Offer Free Stop-overs

Certain airlines offer irresistible free stop-over promotions to entice tourists to visit their home country. IcelandAir is one of the most generous as it allows passengers to stop over in the country for up to 7 days before embarking for their final destination.

On a trip to Norway a few years back, I purchased a $350 airfare from Seattle to Bergen on IcelandAir, giving me a week-long stop-over in Iceland. I was so thrilled to get to visit two countries for the price of one! Icelandair flies to almost all the major cities in Europe, so consider it when planning a vacation to that region.

Utilize the Explore Option

You got bitten by the travel bug but don’t know where to go? Do not worry, let the search engine roll the dice and decide for you.

My top recommended search engines all have the “explore” option, which is the perfect solution to travelers who are undecided about their next destination. It is a money-saver to start with a blank slate.

Enter your departure city and type “everywhere” or “anywhere” in the destination field, fill out your preferred dates, and let them point you to your next frugal vacation.

In a nutshell, being flexible with your dates and destination is the secret formula to finding the cheapest airfare.

One-way vs. Round-trip

Booking round-trip almost always yields cheaper airfares compared to booking two separate one-ways, but this trend is changing, so always compare how much two separate one-ways and one round-trip flight cost.

On some rare occasions, booking round-trip tickets is cheaper even if you only need to fly one way. When this happens, pick the cheapest round-trip ticket, fly, and ditch your return flight after reaching your final destination.

Use the Multi-city Feature

Familiarize yourself with the multi-city function when searching for cheap airfare. Feel free to combine multiple flights into one multi-city search to save money if you have several flights lined up simultaneously.

For example, SFO – LAX (Sept 4), LAX – SFO (Sept 9), SFO – SEA (Sep 20), SEA- LAX (Oct 1). However, always compare the fares of the multi-city search with one-way and round-trip queries.

Book Open-Jaw

Open-Jaw bookings may yield cheaper airfare compared to two one-ways. Open-Jaw flights are similar to round-trip flights, except that the airports may differ on each leg.

There are three variations: Destination Open-Jaw where there are two destinations (SFO – Rome / Venice – SFO), Origin Open-Jaw where the flight will return to another city other than where the passenger came from (SFO-Rome / Rome-LAX), and a Double Open-Jaw where all the cities changed (SFO-Rome / Milan-LAX).

Booking open-jaw saves you valuable time from backtracking and can save you some money if an alternative flight is cheaper than a typical round-trip flight.

You would need to use a multi-city search for open-jaws. But again, do not forget to compare the cost between 2 separate one-ways and one open-jaw booking.

Book for One Person

If traveling with a group of friends, try to book individual tickets instead of booking for all. It is not uncommon that ticket prices will be lower if booked individually.

Periodically, airlines offer different fares for the same flight, depending on demand. So, booking ahead can capture those “saver” fares – you would want to be the early bird that catches the worm.

Are you traveling as a couple or as a family? Try to book one person at a time and see what this approach churns out. You might be pleasantly surprised.

24-Hour Cancellation

Although it involves a little effort, I try to maximize the 24-hour free cancellation window. Essentially, after I book cheap airfares, I monitor the various travel websites for the next 24 hours in case something more inexpensive surfaces.

If I find a better deal within the window period, I cancel the original booking for free and book the new one. Even if it is conceivable to keep repeating this process indefinitely, I do not recommend it.

This practice can be a time guzzler, so I only suggest changing your ticket once during 24 hours to save time and energy.

Pay With Local Currency

Compare paying in USD and the local currency.

When I booked a domestic flight between Santiago & Punta Arenas, Chile, on a recent trip to Patagonia, it yielded a $450 airfare since I was signed up as paying in USD. When I selected my country as Chile and chose to pay using local currency, the airfare went down to $150.

Don’t forget to use a credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees when making these “international” bookings.

Fly Budget Airlines

Budget airlines in certain regions are a dime a dozen, so I cannot list them all out here. A great springboard would be to search at Momondo, as that engine appears to capture fares from a wide range of budget airlines.

A word of caution, though, please read the fine print thoroughly. Airlines tack on hidden fees to these inexpensive tickets all the time. Landing cheap airfare on a budget airline does not always mean it is inherently cheap. Be prepared to sit in the middle seat and use only a carry-on if you want to avoid paying for these extras.

That said, sometimes, it is less costly to pay for services upfront than the last minute. Case in point, since I failed to pre-purchase a piece of check-in luggage with Vietjet, a budget airline in Vietnam, I had to shell out $75 at the airport. Had I paid for that luggage upon booking, it would have only cost me $25. Oh, well.

Consider paying if you think you will need some of these services when it is time to fly. Trust me. It will save you more than a handful of changes.

Tactics To Earn Free or Partially Free Flights

Volunteer Your Seat

If you have a lot of flexibility and time, I suggest giving up your seat whenever they ask for volunteers. Holidays and long weekends are the prime time for these goldmines.

U.S. flights typically offer a guaranteed seat on the next flight plus a voucher for a future flight. The amount varies, but the highest I’ve received was $1,000. European airlines will pay you cash instantly by depositing money to your debit or credit card at the gate.

Write the Airline

If your trip was less than what you expected or you’ve encountered inconveniences along the way, you can always reach out to customer service and share your grievance.

I’ve written about delayed/lost luggage, flight delays, missed connections, canceled flights, dysfunctional inflight entertainment systems, involuntary downgrades such as getting assigned to a middle seat when I pre-paid for the aisle, etc. They typically compensate with a voucher that can be used towards your next flight.

Flight interruptions due to natural causes such as inclement weather are generally not eligible for compensation, but it would not hurt to try.

Travel Hacking

Almost all of my flights in over the past decade were redeemed using travel points accrued from generous credit card sign-up bonuses. I’ve leveraged this strategy to fly on premium cabins that I otherwise couldn’t afford. The following section is an overview of this lucrative money-saving travel strategy.

Anyone remotely interested in travel should be at least familiar with how travel hacking works, as it has the potential to save anyone an enormous amount of money. I see it as the perfect union of frugality and travel.

Every major airline or hotel brand has its loyalty program, and loyalists naturally get rewarded with free flights and hotel stays. Free travel is attained after reaching a certain number of points, usually dependent on the cost of the redemption. Case in point, an inexpensive 50-minute regional flight on coach, will require significantly fewer points than a Trans-Pacific flight on business class.

Back in the day, the only way to accumulate these “loyalty” or “frequent flier” points was by consistently flying with these airlines or staying in these hotels. But that is just now a thing of the past. Currently, anyone can earn these frequent flier points by travel hacking.

Simply put, travel hacking is the art of applying for specific travel credit cards to earn generous sign-up bonuses that can be ultimately redeemed for free flights and luxurious hotel stays. You can also use travel hacking to access certain travel perks, such as the Southwest Companion Pass.

It is by far the best strategy to save money on airfare!

Whether you are a novice or an expert traveler, I highly recommend dabbling in travel hacking as it allowed me to see places I would never have imagined visiting in this lifetime for a fraction of the price.

 


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Amanda Kay, an Employment Specialist and founder of My Life, I Guess, strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes, and more. She focuses on what it’s like being in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and surviving unemployment while also offering advice and support for others in similar situations - including a free library of career & job search resources.

Cummings is the founder of the personal finance blog The Frugal Expat. As a traveler and expat, he has learned a lot about how to save money, live frugally, and invest for the future. His mission is to help people in saving, investing, and reaching financial independence.