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How to Find the Cheapest Flight Tickets to Your Next Destination

6 minute read

By Alannah Koene

Flight ticket prices often change minute by minute according to obscure conditions and algorithms. Since flights represent one of your trip’s biggest expenses, navigating these airfare fluctuations to find the cheapest tickets can be overwhelming.

If you know where to look, you can find cheap fares to almost any destination. Here’s how to find the cheapest flight tickets no matter where you’re traveling.

Use Flight Search Engines

Flight search engines aggregate data from various airlines, so travelers can find and compare the best flight deals. These search engines allow users to search for flights by destination, date, time and other criteria, making it easy to browse travel options.

Not all search engines are equal, however, and it’s best to compare your results from several sites. For example, some search engines don’t include budget airlines or booking sites that aren’t in English, limiting your flying options.

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Popular search engines include:

Pick by Price, Not Destination

If you’re not picky about where you’re traveling, consider shopping for airfare with price rather than destination in mind. Flight search engines offer search tools that allow you to input your preferred departure airport and preferred dates to find and compare the cheapest destinations to fly to.

Your search results will likely yield a few destinations that aren’t attractive to you, regardless of the price. Most of the results should include beautiful destinations for low prices due to seasonal dips, airline sales or pricing mistakes. You might even come across an intriguing destination you’d never considered before.

Be Flexible With Dates

Airline ticket prices fluctuate throughout any given week or month, with prices sometimes doubling from day to day. If you have an approximate time period during which you’d like to travel but aren’t selective about your departure and arrival days, try searching for flights according to dates to find major savings on your overall itinerary.

When browsing flight search engines, search for flights for the entire month of when you want to travel. Most sites show the best and worst days to fly according to current airfare prices, and cutting your travel costs in half can be as simple as shifting your itinerary by a day or two.

Travel on Weekdays

Many people mistakenly believe in certain hacks for which days to book flights, but it’s true that some days are cheaper to fly on. Flight prices are always unpredictable and fluctuating, but weekdays are generally the best time to fly.

Business travelers often fly early and late during the week, and vacation travelers usually fly on Thursday and Friday and return on Sunday. That means Tuesday and Wednesday are slower travel days, and airlines cut tickets on these days to encourage more traffic. If you fly on one of these days, you can take advantage of off-peak flight discounts and enjoy a less hectic airport.

Avoid Peak Season

Flexibility on flight dates and times isn’t always enough, and it’s sometimes best to avoid a season altogether. Peak season is when destinations see the highest traffic of the year, and it can vary from place to place. For example, warm destinations, such as Mexico or Greece, are popular during the winter holidays, and travelers prefer Iceland or Alaska during the summer to take advantage of good weather.

Airlines typically hike prices during these months to capitalize on the major travel influx. During off-peak or shoulder seasons, such as February to May or September to November, you can find deals from airlines eager to sell tickets. You’ll still get to take advantage of good weather but without having to deal with crowds of other travelers.

Book in Advance

Waiting until the last minute to book rarely results in deeply discounted fares, and you’re more likely to be price-gouged the closer to your flight date you book. Airfare prices tend to have a sweet spot depending on demand, so booking way in advance may not be the most cost-effective option either.

As a general guideline, book flights around 2 to 3 months before your departure. If you’re flying internationally or during peak season, book 5 to 6 months ahead of time.

Set Fare Alerts

Airlines occasionally have sales or discounts, but they often don’t last longer than a day and can be hard to find if you’re not constantly checking airline websites. To receive news and updates on sales, sign up for airline mailing lists, and periodically check if sales apply to destinations or dates you have in mind.

Other travel sites, such as Flighthub6 or Skyscanner, allow you to set fare alerts for specific routes and dates. That way, you’re more likely to be aware of any steep price drops or notice when prices gradually start increasing.

Don’t Fly Direct

As appealing as a direct flight sounds, it’s usually not the cheapest option. Mixing up your route with connections or different airlines can help you find sneaky discounts.

For example, it’s sometimes cheaper to fly to a different major city and take a budget airline to your actual destination. You’ll compromise by spending more time on flights and between connections, but you can save hundreds this way. If you can schedule your connections strategically, you may have long enough of a layover to explore a city before heading to your main destination.

Buy Tickets Individually

If you’re traveling with friends or family, avoid searching for multiple fares in a single booking as airlines group seats together and apply the most expensive fare to each in the booking.

For example, if you search for four tickets, the airline will show you a fare based on the highest price regardless of their individual cost. That means if three seats cost $300 and the fourth costs $400, you’ll pay $1,600 as opposed to $1,300.

Save hundreds of dollars by booking individually. You can usually pick your seat during checkout, so you and your group can sit together.

Earn Points With Travel Credit Cards

Travel reward credit cards pay you points and miles for purchases you make with the card, which you can later redeem for flights and other rewards. You can sign up for general travel credit cards or for points to use toward any airline or airline-specific credit cards that pay into that airline’s reward program and offer perks, such as priority boarding and free checked bags.

These programs usually have online portals where you can redeem your points and book flights, but they don’t necessarily offer the best exchange. They don’t show all available flights and may be withholding cheaper options or certain airlines altogether. Instead, research flight deals separately, and contact your credit card company to have an employee book any flight you want.

Search for Tickets in Weaker Currencies

If your home country’s currency is stronger than most destinations, search for airfare according to the best currency exchange rate. You can find the same airline, flight and booking class for a cheaper price by searching for flights on another country’s site for the same airline.

For example, Costa Rica has a great exchange rate for the U.S. dollar, and taking extra time to compare prices can save a few hundred dollars. This tip doesn’t always work, but it’s worth considering if your home currency is high.

Consider Budget Airlines

Big-name airlines come with perks, such as checked bags, inflight entertainment and meals, and they used to be one of the few options for international travel. If you’re willing to sacrifice comfort for frugality, budget airlines can get you to most destinations for a lower cost.

Keep in mind that budget airlines may fly to smaller airports, and you might need to travel to another airport to make a connecting flight. They also often penalize travelers for overweight baggage, which may cost you as much as booking with a big-name airline.