Travel: How to Find the Cheapest Flights

More often than not, flights are the most expensive part of traveling, so do everything you can to spend less on flights and more on the actual fun parts of exploring the world (which for me is food and more food). Here are a few tips on how to find the cheapest flights hiding out there on the internet.

Always search for flights using an anonymous browser so that the travel and airline companies don’t have access to your recent internet activity. Those websites are designed to recognize when a visitor has been searching for particular flights so that they can present the higher priced tickets to those very interested potential travelers. The more searches found on your computer for a certain destination, the higher ticket prices will be. You can browse anonymously by opening a window in “Incognito Mode” on Google Chrome, “InPrivate Browsing” on Internet Explorer or “Private” on Safari. Using the cookies found on your computer is a perfect way for these companies to manipulate their supply to take advantage of your demand. Nip that practice in the bud by not giving them access to your precious consumer information.

This is probably the most obvious piece of advice, but the list would be incomplete without it: avoid traveling during holidays. If you’re traveling within the United States than you already know to try to avoid Thanksgiving and Christmas travel, as the ticket prices skyrocket for these family reunion holidays. If you’re traveling abroad, be sure to do some research to see what holidays your country of destination may be celebrating during your vacation timeframe. Holidays abroad can be extremely fun to celebrate (It was certainly a lot of fun to show up in Thailand during the Water Festival. I ended up soaked head to toe when I attempted to walk from my hostel to the local convenience store for some snacks and sandals), but it can also cause your travel budget some true pain.

For example, it is known that you should not attempt to travel in China during the Chinese New Year. The world’s largest annual migration begins with the advent of the Chinese New Year, as far flung family members are expected to gather together again in their hometowns to celebrate the New Year. On top of the intense amount of travel back to hometowns, many families also now travel together to tourist destinations both inside and outside of China. Not only are prices for flights and hotels within China raised by this huge movement of the masses, but prices around Asia can be raised by the increase in Chinese tourism. It’s a smart move to do some cultural research on your destination so you can avoid the price jumps that come with major holiday travel. 

Flights are at their most expensive when scheduled on days in and around the weekend; the demand is much higher because it is so much easier to plan to fly when work and school are not in session. With this in mind, try to depart and/or return on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, the cheapest days to fly on. It might be a bit more of a hassle to start and end your vacation right in the middle of the week, but the savings are truly worth the trouble.

Just recently I’ve been searching for flights to Portugal, and found that just by keeping the flights in the middle of the week I would save a minimum of $300 dollars. On top of that, be willing to fly at the most inconvenient time of day: very early morning. It’s not particularly easy to get to the airport three hours early for your 6 a.m. flight, but that’s why those are the flights with the savings. If you can manage cheap middle-of-the-night transportation to the airport than you can most definitely save plenty by choosing those more inconvenient flight days and times.

Not only is Tuesday a good day to fly on, it’s also a good day to shop on. Many airlines will announce their sales and specials on Monday mornings, so by Tuesday afternoons their rivals have had time to organize and retaliate with competitive prices. 54 days before you leave is usually the day the cheapest tickets will be offered, but 105 to 21 days before the flight is still considered the ‘prime booking window’ [huffingtonpost]. If you miss out on that 54 day mark try checking out the prices on a Tuesday afternoon within that ‘prime booking window’ to see if you can find any discounts on tickets to your destination.

If your dates of departure and return are not set in stone, consider using sites like Sky Scanner and Airfare Watchdog to monitor prices during your preferred days. This flexibility will let you pick out the day that makes your wallet the happiest, rather than paying a higher price for a pre-determined departure day. Such flexibility is not always an option, but on the rare occasion it is, you might as well take advantage and try to save a couple of bucks.

This is one of my biggest regrets: not becoming a member of an airline’s loyalty program. For three years I was flying back and forth from Boston to Hong Kong with Korean Air; I can only dream of the discounts I could have earned had I thought to become a member with them. If you know you’ll be doing more travel in the future or particularly like a certain airline, see about joining their loyalty program so you can start earning those air miles and cashing in on those discounts as you trot around the globe.

If you have a VPN (Virtual Private Network), try changing what country your computer is “in” to see if the prices change. I was once booking a flight to Taiwan and had my VPN set to one of the American servers, as it usually was. Just for the fun of it, I decided to set my VPN to the Taiwanese server, and saw the plane ticket price drop about $50.00. I wasn’t sure if it was cheaper because the Taiwanese airline now thought I was a compatriot or simply because my computer no longer labeled me as a rich American, but either way I was perfectly happy to pinch a few pennies simply by clicking a few buttons.

Some advice from thriftynomads.com suggests booking connecting flights yourself rather than letting a ticket booking site do it for you. As a general rule, anything made less convenient also tends to be made less expensive. It’ll also help to be willing to choose those longer layovers.

Be basic: If you don’t mind an uncomfortable flight, go for those truly basic seats on the discount airlines, like Air Ryan, Primera, or China East. These are great options for shorter flights, when the lack of food and entertainment won’t be particularly bothersome. These discount airlines charge fees for everything, from checking a bag to eating a few airline peanuts, but they are wondrously cheap if all you want is a seat to a destination. Keep your luggage limited to just a carry on, pack a few snacks in your pockets, and enjoy a very tiny seat while you dream of the adventures that await you.

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