17 Little-Known Hacks for Finding Cheap Flights

a woman searching her phone for cheap airline tickets
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It’s no secret that we love a good deal, but this is especially true for travel. A survey by Experian revealed that the majority of vacationers spend more money than expected when traveling, so any savings we can drum up in advance is a great help. We’ve often heard that flying in and out of secondary airports can help you save and that Tuesday is the magic day to book, but what other tried-and-true tricks are there? We dug deep to find the best insider hacks to turn that epic getaway you’re planning into an epic steal.

It's All About Timing

Book at the right time. For domestic flights, 47 days out is considered the median best time to buy, while international travel varies by destination and should be purchased further in advance of your preferred departure date. If your dates are flexible, searching a +3/-3 (or 5/7) date range will yield a wide array of prices for you to consider.

Don’t book too early. You may know when and where you’re going—but don’t get overzealous! The average domestic fare found six months before a selected departure date was found to be 20% higher than fares searched for a month in advance.

Check multiple discount travel sites to make sure you're getting the best deal before you book. Sign up for alerts to get an email whenever your ideal flight's price drops.

Plan Your Itinerary

Go multi-city. Once upon a time, a round-trip ticket into and out of the same city was the cheapest and only way to go. Not anymore. Sometimes, flying into one city and out of another will yield better prices.

Go one-way. Just as round-trip tickets into and out of the same city used to be the way to go, so too is the case for round-trip tickets in general. Two one-way tickets may, in fact, be cheaper than a full round-trip ticket, so check just to see.

Keep an open mind. In need of an escape but don’t care where to? Type “Everywhere” as your destination city on Skyscanner, and you’ll get a list of the cheapest flights all around the world. Who knows? You may stumble upon your dream getaway!

Consider stitching flights together. If you’re not on a very tight travel crunch, building in a layover will almost always save you dollar bills. If you can make that layover functional (i.e., a half or full day!) and in a city you wouldn’t mind exploring, all the better. The trick is to not necessarily select a flight with a traditional layover, but instead to “stitch” separate tickets and flights together. So a one-way to Paris followed by another one-way to Buenos Aires might be cheaper than a one-way ticket to Buenos Aires, with or without a stop.

Arm Yourself With the Right Tools

Vary your search. Check aggregator sites such as Kayak, Orbitz, Skyscanner, and Airfarewatchdog as well as the individual websites of the airlines you are interested in; sometimes direct airline websites will have the best deals. Momondo.com pulls in every flight that exists, including lesser-known budget airlines, and usually has the cheapest flights (Kayak.com is a great tool, but it actually removed budget airlines from its search, so it doesn’t always provide you with the widest range of options).

Use the right tools. Hopper, for example, analyzes flight prices daily and will notify you as prices drop. It also has a predictive feature built-in. Hipmunk allows you to search date ranges to compare all your options in one low-stress results page. Skyscanner is great if you’re deciding between a few different trips. You can compare prices for different trips and dates and can also set alerts for particular routes and dates.

Trade your points. Points.com allows you to exchange, buy, and sell points from various loyalty programs. Trading or buying a few extra miles might be all you need to earn a travel reward.

See it all in one place. ITA Flight Matrix is an extremely powerful search and sort tool. It culls flight information from every service provider and also allows you to sort results by location, cost per mile, date ranges, and more and lets you reset your sales city to see the potential for altering your point of sale.

Try a budget airline. If you only want to fly budget airlines and you know your start and end destinations, WhichBudget tells you which budget airlines offer service in those locations.

Know All the Insider Secrets

Clear your cookies. When searching for flights, clear your cookies or cache, or hop onto a different computer so that your browsing history doesn’t follow you. Peter Greenberg for Quartz tells us, “While there’s no proof or hard evidence, there is growing anecdotal evidence that suggests airlines are tracking your behavior online, and potentially even tracking IP addresses, and prices could go up for flights that are searched frequently.” While you’re at it, set your particular web browser to incognito or private browsing mode when shopping for fares. In Chrome or Safari, Incognito is enabled by hitting Command (or Control, if using PC)+Shift+N. For Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer, hit Command (or Control, if using a PC)+Shift+P.

Use a fake point of sale. International ticket prices, and especially domestic flights while in another country, can be cheaper depending on where you’re searching from. If you have a VPN login, try searching for airfare while connected to it, as it might have the same effect of altering your registered location and point of sale and, thus, lower prices.

Keep your currency local. If you’re booking international flights, purchase them in the local currency. (Flights in converted rates are reliably more expensive.) Do this by selecting the native country as your location in the upper right-hand corner of the airline websites.

Take advantage of same-day changes. Many airlines only charge a $50 change fee on the day of your flight (others, like Southwest, don’t charge anything at all), and if you have elite status, some airlines will let you make same-day changes for free. This can be a great way to make a last-minute, money-saving swap. For example, if a flight you want to be on at 1 p.m. is $200 more expensive than the 8 a.m. option, check that there are seats on the flight you want to be on, then purchase the cheaper flight. Call the day of and make the change.

Looking for travel destination ideas? Check out our top editor picks.

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