The search for cheap flights is a tiresome feat.
With constantly fluctuating prices, thousands of third party comparisons and endless airlines to choose from, it’s as if the secret to scoring sweet savings is by staking out your laptop 24/7.
Luckily, there’s an easier way.
This guide transforms the harrowing process into a foolproof crusade, providing you with today’s best money-saving tips guaranteed to help you find cheap airfare.
Want to score the best deals on flights for your next adventure? Download these 13 tips all in one page – read anytime, anywhere.
How to score cheap flights
No matter how frustrating the battle can be, finding the best deal on flights is worth the extra effort, so you can then use those savings on more important experiences.
So if you want to save time, frustration and – most importantly – money when booking your next flight, check out these 13 simple tips:
1. Know when to book
Deciding when to book your flight plays a major role in how much you actually pay for it.
Generally, the more convenient your flight, the pricier the plane ticket will be, so consider these three tips before booking:
Because there’s an uptick on business travel bookings on Fridays, you should avoid booking any flights on this day. Instead, studies show that Sunday is considered the best day of the week to book.
Booking anywhere from 2 to 5 months before your trip will yield the most savings. Here's the general rule:
- book your flight 8 weeks before domestic travel, and
- 24 weeks before international travel.
But keep in mind, you can also score great deals when booking last minute (less than a week before your flight). Since this is a much riskier method, the best time to do this is when you’re looking for a nice weekend getaway and have flexible plans. But if you’re booking a trip that’s essential for you to be on, don’t gamble and plan ahead.
Don’t fly mid-day
Most people don’t enjoy travelling early in the morning or late at night, which means these times typically offer the best deals on flights.
However, opting for an early morning flight will not only get you a better deal on that flight, but will also save you having to pay for an extra night of accomodation. Just be sure you’re aware of your hotel’s check-in times and factor that into your schedule.
Fly on a Tuesday
Friday and Saturday are considered the most convenient times to fly for the majority of travellers, which makes them the most expensive days to fly.
Try booking in the middle of the week for fewer crowds and better deals. While Tuesday is arguably the best day to fly, Wednesdays also offer decent prices.
But when searching for flights, be sure to select the entire month to see which days offer the cheapest prices as they may fluctuate depending on events or holidays.
2. Make use of discount airlines
Use the country’s cheapest airlines when flying to save cash. Low-fare airlines in Canada, such as Flair and Wow Air, offer insanely cheap flights on both international and national flights.
These airlines are able to offer such great deals because you’re only actually paying for the flight itself. This means you’ll need to be aware of additional fees as airlines will try and grab your money any other way they can (i.e. with checked baggage).
I once got a flight from Paris to Amsterdam for $34 through Ryanair with only my carry-on in tow. But if I didn’t read the fine print before my flight, I would have had to pay an additional €110 if I had missed the online check-in, €35-€50 to check my bag, and another €50 to print my boarding pass at the airport (which is a rule enforced for non-EU citizens).
These flights are then most ideal if you’re taking shorter trips and have little luggage to take with you.
3. Check baggage restrictions
To avoid paying for excess luggage, check the baggage restrictions with your airline. Before you leave the house, make sure to weigh and measure your luggage ahead of time so there are no surprises when you reach the airport.
Personal items, such as purses and laptop cases, are usually allowed in addition to your carry-on free of charge. But sometimes when an airline says you’re only allowed one item for carry on, they mean one item. This is typically a concern when flying with a discount airline, so make sure you know all the rules ahead of time so you’re not paying for them later.
4. Fly under the radar when booking
Big brother is always watching! When an airline sees you searching for a particular flight over and over again, they will display a higher price in your browser since it knows you’ll probably end up buying that ticket regardless.
Switching to the "incognito" setting or clearing the cookies in your browser will prevent airlines from tracking what you search and jacking up the price.
5. Book directly from the airline
While third-party websites are a good resource to compare different airlines and rates, you can save $100 to $400 by booking directly from the airline itself.
But before you do, make sure you ...
Make use of Google Flights
Google provides the best resource when searching for flights. As a third-party booking agent, Google Flights compares prices with different travel times, dates, airlines and itineraries.
But it keeps me coming back for two reasons: its calendar and map.
Google Flights shows you all available prices for your intended destination in its calendar, making it easy to compare rates and see which day is cheapest to fly. (But remember, these prices change daily!)
Its map will also show you how much it will cost to fly from a specific airport to various locations, so if you’re flexible with your destination, you can plan accordingly.
Use the home court advantage
Where you buy your plane ticket also affects the pricing. If you change your residence to that of the airline's home country, you’re more likely to score a better deal.
For example, if you’re using Skyscanner to book a flight from Dublin, you should use skyscanner.ie (the Irish version of the site) instead of skyscanner.ca.
Apply coupon codes
Subscribing to insider newsletters is a great way to get discount codes for a flight.
And while it may seem unlikely to find a coupon when you need it, Coupons.com has an entire section dedicated to travel coupons. So not only can these codes give you a good deal on a flight, but you’re bound to come across additional codes for hotels and rental cars as well.
Related: Deals and Tools
6. Get alerts on deals
While it’s just not realistic to constantly be searching for the best deals, there are two ways you can set yourself up so you know when to jump on an offer:
Set up a price alert
By setting up a price alert on your favourite booking engine and subscribing to their newsletter, you’ll instantly find out as soon as prices drop on a particular flight.
Websites like Airfare Watchdog and CheapAir are both great resources.
Use social media
Airlines are getting with the times and making good use of their social media platforms.
Many airlines now post about last-minute deals on their Twitter and Facebook pages. So be sure to adjust your notification settings and follow your favourite airlines as these deals tend to go quick.
7. Go with vacation bundles and perks
Airlines and third-party booking sites all offer travel packages, bundling together your plane ticket, hotels, rental car and more for a discounted price.
You’ll earn more savings by buying everything you need at once (with an average savings on Expedia of $300) while saving yourself the headache of having to sift through these options individually.
Some of the best vacation bundles can be found with Costco Travel or through your airline or hotel loyalty program. It’s generally free to sign up, but exclusively using one or two of these loyalty programs will help you quickly earn points for more savings.
Look into credit card perks
Depending on your card, you can also get a great deal on travel insurance and cover refunds on everything from cancelled flights to rental car insurance.
8. Be flexible
You can find better deals if you focus less on flying to a specific destination and more on the type of trip you want.
While there are many ways to do this, there are three things you should keep in mind when bending over backwards for your budget:
Fly out of a nearby city
Search flight options to and from nearby cities to help cut costs.
When returning home to Moncton from Dublin earlier this year, I also considered flying into St. John’s, Halifax and Montreal. I knew that whatever airport I flew into, I could use my Air Miles to help get me back home if need be. In the end, I was able to save $200 flying into Montreal and catching a drive home with my brother (and that includes the cost of gas).
Check out various routes and see what your options are when booking, but be sure to account for any additional transportation costs those routes may have.
Related: Which AIR MILES Credit Card Is Best?
Know how to get to your final destination
When looking at cheap flights, third-party booking engines will often search for a destination rather than a specific airport, so it’s important to know exactly where you’re going once you’ve landed.
This is exactly how I got a $100 flight from Dublin to Paris. But what I didn’t know at the time was that Paris has four different airports ‒ one of which is a two-hour drive from the city centre.
I then had to pay €15 ($24) for an airport shuttle from Aéroport Paris Beauvais Tillé to porte Maillot in downtown Paris. We then needed another €30 ($46) for an Uber to take us from the drop-off point to our Airbnb. This means my $100 flight really cost $170.
While this was still the cheaper option in the end, since a flight closer to the city centre was upwards of $230, it’s important to account for all costs to see what’s worth it for you and adjust your search accordingly.
Volunteer when an airline overbooks
Airlines tend to overbook their flights, meaning they’ve sold more tickets than there are seats on the plane. They do this to maximize profits, assuming some people won’t show up for their flight at all.
When an overbooking situation occurs, and you don’t have any concrete plans, offer to get on the next flight out and be rewarded with a swanky travel voucher from the airline. You may even score other travel perks like priority lounge access or a first-class seat if available.
9. Look for refunds
Most airlines will allow you to rebook a flight when the price drops after purchase and will give you a refund for the difference. While refunds are usually given as a voucher that you can use on your next flight, it can be worth getting if the price drop is significant.
You’ll have to keep checking to see if the price goes down after purchase and call the airline before it goes back up again. In order to be considered for a refund, you’ll have had to have bought your ticket directly from the airline (not a third-party website) and will need to rebook the same flight for the exact dates and times.
But keep in mind that most airlines view the refund request as a ticketing change and will charge you their standard change fees which will be subtracted from any possible refund. That fee can be as high as $150 to $250, depending on whether it’s a domestic or international flight. The price drop then has to exceed the fee to be eligible for a refund.
How to save on holiday flights
Studies have shown that the last couple of weeks in the calendar year top the list for the priciest flights to nearly all destinations.
So while you’re guaranteed to be spending more on flights during the festive season, that doesn’t mean you can’t still add a few more tricks up your sleeve.
10. Once again, book ahead
According to Skyscanner, the best time to purchase your ticket for a Christmas flight is during the week of October 22, while the best time to book for New Year’s Eve is the week of October 29.
With Christmas and New Year’s Day both falling on a Tuesday this year, you’ll want to plan accordingly, since flying out the weekend before is almost guaranteed to have the highest prices.
Related: Travel in Heaven Instead Of Hell
11. Make it a morning flight
Flying early morning is best when booking any flight, but this is even more true over the holidays.
There are very few people at the airport on Christmas morning, so if you’re travelling with family and want to avoid the crowds, this is the best time to go.
In fact, the best-priced bookings are for early morning flights on the actual holiday (2 a.m. to 6 a.m.).
12. Beware of weather delays
When flying in the winter, there’s always a chance your flight will be delayed or canceled, which can sometimes come with added costs. While it’s a bit of a gamble to fly out on the actual holiday and risk missing your yuletide plans, your flight is less likely to be delayed if you fly early in the morning.
Your chance of being grounded due to weather will all depend on the airport you’re flying out of. But if you need to make a connecting flight, consider choosing an airport that’s further south so there’s less of a chance you’ll run into problems.
13. Consider a tropical holiday
Many people prefer taking a tropical Christmas vacation to get away from the cold over the holidays. If this sounds like your cup of tea, be sure to book your trip a week before the holidays rather than the week after to score the best deals on packages and hotels.
So, where are you headed next?
Ready to plan your next adventure? Let us know where you’re heading and put these tips to the test so you can watch your savings grow.
And if you have any more suggestions on how to find cheap flights, leave your tips in the comments below.