In today’s age, with so many options available on the internet, it’s hard to know where to find the least expensive flights. Of course, many flights can be booked for nearly free by using the credit card method, but that is beyond the scope of this page. Here, I’ll outline a few tips to save money on paid airfare.
If you are just looking for a good deal on a getaway, and aren’t too picky about where or when, then there are a few places I would look. Occasionally, if you get lucky, you’ll even be able to spot a mistake fare, where airfare for a particular airline or route is MUCH lower than it should be due to technical issues. A few examples of this would be a Seattle to Dubai flight I saw for $200 round trip recently, or United Airlines’ $10 roundtrip fares for any domestic flight in the US back in 2013. However, most good fares are not mistakes and are just rock bottom prices implemented by airlines for a short period of time.
The first place I usually look is Kayak’s explore map. This map displays the lowest round trip airfare prices found by people searching on Kayak over the past two days. You will need to put in a departure city, and then you can filter the results based on price, time of the year, or a number of other factors. Strangely enough, Kayak does not display any links to this map on their home page, so many people do not know about it.
In addition, The Flight Deal has a team of experts continually searching for some of the lowest airfares available on both domestic and international flights from the US. Many of the deals posted on this page expire within a few days of posting, but the prices are always good.
If you are okay with spending a few more minutes of time looking through the pages of a forum to find a good deal, I would recommend checking out the “Mileage Run Deals” forum on Flyertalk. This forum was originally intended for people who were looking for good deals on flights to top up their frequent flyer accounts to elite status, but has evolved into a place where cheap flights of all kinds can be found.
On the other hand, if you already know where you want to go, or you’re slightly less flexible with when you can travel, I would recommend using Google’s ITA Software Matrix Airfare Search or “ITA Matrix.” ITA Matrix is an extremely powerful tool for searching flights, and it offers a wide variety of options. For instance, you can see a calendar of lowest fares between a couple of cities. Or, you can figure out the least expensive way to get from the Pacific Northwest to anywhere in Europe by typing “SEA, PDX, YVR” into the “Departing from” field and a variety of European airport codes separated by commas into the “Destination” field. This would search for flights departing from Seattle, Portland, or Vancouver to any of the European airports you specify. Of course, you can also just do a classic flight search as well to find the best deals between Miami and Cancun over Presidents’ Day Weekend. All of the options can be overwhelming at first, but it is easy to get familiar with using ITA Matrix after using the site a few times.
One thing that sets ITA Matrix apart from the other airfare searches on the web is that you cannot purchase airline tickets through ITA. Once you find the specific flight you are looking for, you will have to search it on another site. I usually prefer to buy from the airlines’ websites directly if possible, but sometimes if you are flying a variety of airlines you will have to book through an Online Travel Agency or “OTA” like Expedia, Orbitz, or Hipmunk. For very complex itineraries, you may have to use Hipmunk for booking as it takes the advanced routing codes that ITA Matrix also uses; this will be covered in a future blog post.
Budget airlines like Ryanair are also a great option for booking cheap flights if you are flying one of their routes. Budget airlines generally fly shorter routes, and are sometimes not included in results from ITA Matrix or on Kayak’s explore map. If you are flying a shorter route, especially within Europe or Southeast Asia, research whether taking a budget airline is an option. If you do choose to fly one of these airlines, make sure you read all of their rules and baggage policies because they are very strict and may charge extremely high fees if you do not comply. Be aware that most budget airlines require you to book through their own website.
To recap, if you are looking to just find good deals on flights and don’t care where or when, then Kayak’s explore map, The Flight Deal, and the Mileage Run Deals forum on Flyertalk are good bets. If your plans are less flexible or not flexible at all, ITA Matrix will likely give the best results. If you are flying a short route within Europe or Southeast Asia, budget airlines may be the best option. So use what works best for your situation. Hope you enjoyed these tips and happy flight hunting!