Cheap Airfare: a how to guide for hitting the jackpot

Tickets can be the biggest expense of a trip and the deciding factor on whether you are going somewhere or staying home. Not to mention that finding cheap airfare can be a daunting task. Tickets tend to be expensive and confusing. So, how you do you know where and when to find the cheap ones? Or if you are making the right purchase? So many things that make most people just give up on the whole idea. But I promise it is not as complicated as it seems. In this post, I’ll show you how I find cheap airfare, as well as my criteria to book.

Cheap tickets are out there although they are more scarce than they used to be. There’s a growing demand & airlines are flying fuller flights giving airlines less incentive to offer great discounts. But there are ways around that. You’ll just have to invest some time recognizing what to look for when hunting for cheap airfare! But do not worry, that’s the purpose of this post, so let’s get started.

Resourcefulness & Creativity Go a Long Way

So, I don’t have the ultimate truth about this subject, a magic trick or a magic number because well, there isn’t one. In fact, there are many predictions based on industry behaviors from different sites to help you find the cheapest airplane ticket, and they still get it wrong because there’s no particular pattern to follow. Three of the most common predictions are:

  • Book 56 days before departure to save close to 30% OFF
  • Fly on Tuesdays, never on Saturdays.
  • Fly in the evenings, not in the mornings

Even though these tips have proven to work, they are not applicable 100% of the time because you’ll find exceptions to these rules. Then what do you do? You get resourceful. There are many tools & resources available to us; we just have to use them. Check my resources section to see what’s available.

ProTip: Don’t get married to a single method or resource & try new ones as they become available.

Law of Supply & Demand

The real key to starting a search for cheap airfare is to understand basic buying behaviors. For instance, it is cheaper to fly during the week; this makes sense because most of us have work during the week and only have weekends available. Start by finding out when the high & low seasons are for your destinations, because the lows will always be cheaper, as is flying after any important holidays. Kind of like the sales at the mall after Christmas, prices go down after you’ve bought all the presents. It helps to think about your least desirable flights because chances are you are not the only who dislikes early morning flights or a red eye, so those flights have less demand, so therefore are cheaper.

In conclusion, airfare fluctuates according to the day, the time, the seasons, the weather, school breaks, festivals and, of course, the holidays. We dictate the behavior of airfares with the same old ‘supply & demand.’

ProTip: Always, always try to fly on the less popular dates and times, keep these flexible, and you’ll always find a cheap airfare.

First Come, First Served

Having the flexibility to go anywhere, anytime would be great, but most of us don’t live off of travel blogging, and our flexibility is rather limited.  So, when you can’t move dates around, at least keep an open mind about your destinations. The more flexible you are with these, the more travel opportunities you’ll find. Maybe it won’t be Myanmar this year, but I did get Bali, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Flexible dates are great, but flexible destinations are better for finding that cheap airfare.

There are several resources designed to help you find cheap airfare using flexible dates and times or destinations, so you don’t have to search each flight manually.

ProTip: Keep  your destinations flexible.

Be Diligent

Search engines like Google Flight, Kayak, Hipmunk & Momondo are perfect for flexible search, price comparison & landing a cheap airfare every time you travel. A great tip is to use more than one resource at a time, let them assist each other. Not all the search engines work the same, meaning they don’t list all the same flights and airlines. Therefore, the results will vary, and you don’t want to miss a deal. I recommend independent sites like Momondo because they have no affiliations with airlines and they search high and low. Be patient, and your dream destination will come around. Meanwhile, you can enjoy and discover many other places. As a traveler, the order in which you visit destinations doesn’t matter.

About a month ago using Momondo’s trip finder to browse for flights with no particular destination in mind, I found round-trip tickets from Newark, NJ to Reykjavik, Iceland for $240.00 USD. How can you say no to that? Iceland wasn’t really in my travel plans for 2017 but keeping my search flexible and my mind open to the possibilities, I landed a pretty good deal.

ProTip: Use several search engines to search the same flight to make sure you are booking the lowest fare available on your ticket.

Get Creative with Your Route: Don’t Always Fly Direct

I can’t emphasize enough on how important flexibility is for finding cheap airfare. So, keeping your routes flexible, too, will save you money. I’ll use the same Iceland example to make my point. I found my tickets from EWR (Newark, NJ) to KEF (Keflavik Airport) for $240.00 USD. Excellent! Except, I don’t live in Newark. I live in Fort Lauderdale. Oops!

Nothing to worry about when a deal is that good. I used my cheap airfare finding skills and got myself a round-trip ticket from Fort Lauderdale to Newark for $110.000 USD. So, in total, I’m paying $350.00 USD for a round-trip to Iceland. Keep in mind that on average, flights to Iceland are about $850.00 USD from Miami. That’s a $500.00 USD save. Not a bad score, huh?

ProTip: Try different routes.

ProTip: Do a Google search and find out average prices for your destinations. Know your numbers to recognize a good deal.

Fly Low-Cost Carriers

Budget airlines may not be the most comfortable or hassle-free way to fly, but they will get you there. Budget airlines are the standard when it comes to affordable travel, and every day there are more of them. Getting creative with your routes and using different carriers can make a big difference. For instance, I got my Iceland ticket thru WOW Air and my domestic thru JetBlue.

You can replicate this example with almost every destination. Especially around Asia and Europe because there’s a plethora of low-cost carriers that have to keep their prices competitive. We go back to the old supply & demand law, too many suppliers = more competition = lower rates! For my trip to Morocco, I had to combine airlines, times and routes by flying thru Lufthansa on an early morning flight to Madrid for $450.00 USD and then hopping on a late afternoon flight from Ryanair to Marrakesh for $80.00 USD. See how all these tips start working together? The possibilities are endless. You can hop on low budget airlines all over the world, from Europe to Asia to Africa to America, in no particular order.

However, keep in mind that budget airlines have to make their money somehow, so they’ll charge you for everything! I mean absolutely everything! Choosing a seat during the booking? Skip that. Need to print your boarding pass? Be diligent and do it at home with your early check-in. Yes, they’ll charge for checking you in at the airport too. Snacks? Bring them with you. Checking bags is the most common way they charge you extra. Some even charge for carry-ons. Another reason to travel light.

ProTip: Be thorough when booking your flights on a budget airline to avoid additional fees add everything up. Uncheck whatever you don’t need!

Let the deals come to you

The search for cheap airfare is an ongoing task, and in our busy lives some days can get so hectic that we don’t have time to do a search. We could be missing a good offer for lack of time.

The solution? Simple, join different travel related mailing lists. Sign up for the newsletters of your favorite airline, and search websites or travel blogs (yes, I can be shameless). But seriously, mailing lists are a serious source of relevant information. This way you’ll get all the latest deals & flash sales delivered right to your inbox, so you don’t have to be looking deals up all day long.

Oh, but Angie! Too many newsletters! They’ll clutter my inbox!

– Don’t worry, then subscribe to mine and you’ll get curated deals by me. I’ll go thru all the deals and send them to you in one email. Besides, sometimes airline websites have mistake fares or glitches they won’t send you thru their newsletter.

 

 

I also recommend subscribing to these:

ProTip: Join travel related mailing lists

Play The Stopover Game

Cover more ground in a single vacation! Let’s say that you can only go on vacation once a year. That doesn’t mean only one destination per year. Tourism programs along with airline promotions are making stopovers a popular way to travel.

Stopovers are not to be confused with Layovers. Stopovers are multi-night stays in a city other than your final destination. So instead of hanging out at the airport during your layover waiting for your next flight, you can leave the airport and tour the city for a few days, all included in your airfare.

For example, if you have a trip from Boston to Thailand with a layover in Tokyo you can opt for staying in Tokyo a few nights then hop back on your flight to Thailand. That’s two vacations for the price of one.

Getting the stopovers is a little tricky because it varies with different carriers. Nonetheless, it’s doable. Some carriers are huge advocates, some not so much. Some stopovers you can arrange on the website at the time of booking, for others you have to call the airline. Also, some are completely free and, others charge a small fee. Ugh! Right?

But don’t worry I’m breaking it all down for you in this Stopover Friendly Airlines article

ProTip: Cover more ground. Do stopovers & have a two for one vacation.

cheap airfare stopover wow air

Wow Air Stopover

Join Reward Programs

There are three airline rewards programs that you should be joining: The Star Alliance, One World & SkyTeam. These incorporate almost all the primary carriers’ rewards programs available, meaning that I can save miles on the same account while flying different airlines. This is an easy way to get cheap airfares and even free flights. Not to mention, they come with some pretty awesome perks like access to the VIP lounge and free upgrades.

Rewards programs have special promotions that allow you to save miles while on the ground. An example of this is American Airlines Advantage Shopping Portal, and when you make purchases thru it, you save points that turn into miles. The shopping is not limited to the airline’s portal. You can get a rewards program credit card such as the AAdvantage thru Citibank or a point-accumulating card like Chase Ink or Sapphire to get points on your everyday purchases that will also go towards your mileage account. Plus, you can get tons of miles just by signing up.

Start getting familiar with these programs and their participating carriers by reading more on their websites:

ProTip: Join the rewards program mailing list. This falls under my previous tip of signing up for travel related newsletters, and is super important because the majority of these special offers won’t be available on the airline’s website.

ProTip: Sign up for at least one reward program. Best with the alliance of your preferred carrier.

Be in two places at once

This does not necessarily work all the time, but is worth the try because you could save big. Sometimes it’s cheaper to purchase tickets in other currencies or locations. This method comes in specially handy if you plan on touring thru a different country.

In other words: Let’s say you are planning a trip thru several places in Indonesia, and you are at home trying to buy your domestic flight from Denpasar to Jakarta. Change your location on the airline’s website, which changes your currency, and buy it in Rupiahs.

ProTip: Book in weaker currencies 

ProTip: Use a no-foreign-transaction-fee card. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Click here to learn more on how you can use this method to save.

Keep It Real

The concept of “Cheap Airfare” is relative. What do I mean by this? Well, when a plane ticket from Miami to Hawaii is on average $1,000 USD and you find it for $600.00 or $700.00 is consider cheap airfare because we are talking about a $300 or $400 save. So, don’t keep waiting until it gets down to $200.00, because chances are that won’t happen. Don’t forget you can use other methods like saved miles or points to purchase your ticket.

Honest disclaimer: For that specific flight to Hawaii, I’m waiting patiently for a glitch or a miracle sale. But because I’m in no hurry to go to Hawaii right at this moment, I can fly to Bali instead for less. Do you catch my drift?

Now, if you have a wedding or an event to attend to in Hawaii, yes, by all means get the $700.00 cheap airfare.

Book in Advance

How much in advance? Well, it really all depends. There’s a common prediction that states that the best time to book is 56 days in advance. It’s mostly true, but there’s always an exception to the rule. Sometimes an airline releases a deal to fly a year in advanced. I bought my ticket to Paris on October 2016, flights out on October 2017. For a $250.00 USD ticket I can be patient. Anyways you can always find other trips to do in the meantime.

Be patient and let the deals surprise you. Another very common booking rule is “never book too late.” Well, I very rarely break this rule, but when I found a flight for $115USD to Cancun, Mexico that departed the next day, I packed my bags. I got lucky on that one because it was a weekend getaway and a holiday on Monday. Had it been in the middle of the week, I might have sadly passed. These flights are more common than you think.

ProTip: Book early, but keep your eyes open.

Don’t Overthink It

Remember that it’s all based on the demand so the term “cheap airfare” is relative. Sometimes a cheap fare is still too high for what you are comfortable paying. Case in point: I’m still waiting for a miracle ticket to Hawaii. But keep your destinations flexible, and you’ll find a $600.00 USD round-trip to Bali. Like I did.

ProTip: Pick a number you can afford. Do a search with that budget, keeping your destination flexible (if possible your dates and time too.) Try different flight search engines and just see what happens.

Try to practice the steps in this article to recognize a deal and start building your own criteria in order to book your trips feeling confident that you made a good choice. When you recognize a good deal, go for it and don’t think about it again. People second guess their decision to book a flight because there might be a miracle sale tomorrow. But there might not be.

I’ve had it happen to me too. I booked a flight from Miami to Madrid for $420, while the average is $800. So, this was a good deal. However, the very next day, the airline had a special sale or a glitch (I can’t remember) and the same ticket was $150 less than what I payed for it. Ouch! Yes, it stung, but I still got a pretty sweet deal and have nothing to complain about. DON’T overthink things because you could end up staying home. Find your sweet spot.

Do a little driving

Last but not least, check the airports around you. I often fly out Fort Lauderdale because it’s the closest to my house, and is smaller and less hectic than the Miami Airport. Flights leaving from smaller airports often have cheaper airfare.  Nonetheless, I can’t discard MIA because some flights are cheaper leaving from an airport that can handle more volume.

ProTip: Keep your airports flexible.

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