10 ways to find cheaper flights

There is money to be saved when booking flights, and you should always spend time researching to find cheaper flights that suit your cruise vacation.

But be careful to avoid analysis paralysis where all of a sudden, nothing is good enough—that moment when the price is all that matters down to the last cent.

Because cheap can sometimes lead to unexpected costs and expenses.

A cheaper flight also needs to be the right flight

Having spent many years in the travel industry, we have always been confused about travelers who hunt for the most affordable flight at any cost. 

Of course, price matters, but you need to consider the overall cost. A slightly lower price on a flight arriving at midnight could force you to stay an additional night at a hotel. 

Keep the big picture in focus. Here are ten truths to consider when looking to find cheaper flights.

1. What is the best day of the week to find cheaper flights?

The short answer is that there is no particular weekday that is always guaranteed to be cheaper. 

Instead, your chances of finding a cheaper flight will increase substantially if you can be flexible with dates and times of travel. 

Flight prices follow the number of available seats on any given flight at any given time. If you are flexible with your travel date, you will stand a better chance of finding a flight with more available seats and a lower price. 

There are surveys, reports, and suggestions that certain weekdays are cheaper. But remember that even if this is historically true, there is no guarantee it will be valid for your period of travel, destination, and chosen airline. 

The pricing of flights follows the law of supply and demand. Let us explain:

  1. If any given flight starts to fill up, the remaining available seats will increase in price. 
  2. Airlines employ yield management experts to calculate which prices to charge at any given time to ensure that enough seats will be sold for the flight to be economically viable. 
  3. Yield management is a variable pricing strategy. Airlines try to understand, anticipate and influence travelers buying behavior to maximize revenue on a service that is
    • Limited in time – the flight will leave at a specific time and date
    • Fixed – there are only a given number of seats available

So when we see an airline campaign six months before scheduled departure, chances are that the yield management experts need more bookings to feel comfortable that enough seats will be sold before the planned departure.

Summary: There is no guaranteed best day to book. Be flexible and use price alerts to find cheaper flights that make sense.

2. Consider booking a flight with connections

After only a few searches, it becomes evident that the number of stops will significantly impact flight prices.

Popular direct or non-stop flights departing at convenient times will be charged a premium. The same trip with two stops adding hours of waiting time, will give you a lower price.

Consider booking a cheaper flight with stop(s) if you agree with the following statements.

I will:

  1. not spend tons of money in restaurants during transit times
  2. not go crazy tax-free shopping out of pure boredom
  3. still, have enough time at my destination 

Summary: Booking a cheaper flight with stops makes sense unless you spend the savings at the airports while traveling.

3. Is it better to book a flight directly with the airline? 

Always check with the airlines directly. Here’s why:

Airline campaigns and rebates would be two reasons, but there is more to the story.

If you are a travel agent or a travel aggregator, you want to ensure that you have access to all flights and all prices that can be booked.

It used to be that travel agents only needed the following to ensure that “all” prices were available to them to book for their customers:

  1. One or two GDS connections (Global Distribution System) 
  2. Selected direct connections with low-cost airlines or a low-cost airline aggregator  

But flight and price distribution has recently undergone a major upheaval, and it is hard to know if even primary travel agents have access to all available flights and prices. 

In the marketplace today, we are seeing airlines charging fees in selected booking environments. At the same time, they only make some price categories available in direct-connect type distribution channels. 

With this, the cheapest flight that fits your travel plans may only be available with a select few travel agents or, most likely, the airline directly.

Summary: You must also check with the airline directly to find cheaper flights.

4. Build your trip with one-way+one-way and virtual interlining

First of all, this is a classic risk/reward type tip. There is money to be saved, but you need to understand the risks when combining airlines to find cheaper flights.

Pros:
Combining airlines and virtual interlining is a new approach where you can get the best possible price by building your itinerary and connecting all available flights and airlines. 

You can combine low-cost airlines, regular airlines, and even trains and buses if you wish.

And believe me, the savings can be pretty substantial.

 Con:
When an airline files a price, they also assume responsibility for completing the trip per itinerary booked. This means that the airline will assist you with a solution in case of

  • Time table changes
  • Delays
  • Undelivered baggage
If on the other hand you build your trip yourself by combining airlines the airlines involved will only look to the successful completion of their individual part of the itinerary.

Explaining the risks of Virtual Interlining using an example:

You plan to fly from New York via London to Rome.

Your flight leaves New York four hours late, and you miss your departure from London.

Scenario 1: One trip, one booking, one reservation number

If you booked one trip for your entire journey under one booking reference on, for example, the American Airlines website, the airline would assist you when you arrive in London. 

The airline takes responsibility for getting you to Rome, your final destination. Hopefully, they can book you on a later flight the same day, or they would most likely offer accommodation and meal vouchers. 

Scenario 2: One trip, two bookings, two reservation numbers

On the other hand, if you booked one ticket with American Airlines to London and then a separate flight with EasyJet from London to Rome, the situation would be quite different. 

  • American Airlines would apologize for the delay but have no clue about the EasyJet ticket. 
  • EasyJet would view you as a no-show and move on after a few fruitless last calls echoing down the terminal for the missing passenger. You would lose your ticket. And if you had a return flight with EasyJet, that return flight would also be lost. You would need to buy a new ticket for this journey.

With virtual interlining, you will consequently take on a lot of responsibility for completing the trip.

A compromise could be to use a travel aggregator that uses virtual interlining technology when presenting flight options. Kiwi.com is one popular alternative, and they also offer a Kiwi guarantee to back up their offerings. 

Summary: Building your itinerary can save money but ensure you understand the risks involved.

5. Should I book flights through a travel agent?

You should at least check and compare prices before deciding to book your flight.

As we discussed earlier, the distribution of fares and prices is undergoing significant changes. As such, you should check with several different sources, including your travel agent.

When you contact your travel agent, you should look for specific fares that fit the type of travel you are planning. Examples can be:

  • If you are planning an international trip, you may consider asking about tour operator fares that would require some land arrangement to be booked with the flight. Check with your travel agent, but one night’s accommodation may be enough to qualify. And the benefits are usually lower prices, more flexible conditions for changes and cancellations, and more favorable payment terms.
  • Suppose you are planning a trip that involves flights within Europe. You need to be aware of baggage allowances and fees if not included in the fare. Make sure your agent compares the price of Economy Light with added cost for bags with, for example, Economy Standard, which includes baggage.
  • If you are a family of four and depending on your type of trip, you may be able to save money by combining different fare types. You could, for example, combine two Economy light fares without baggage with two Economy Basic including luggage for a total of two check-in bags for the group.
  • If you are planning a trip where dates may be subject to change, you may consider paying a slightly higher price for a fare that allows free date change.

So, it can help you find cheaper flights when you check with your travel agent. Be sure they are experienced and willing to research your flight options.

Below is a short overview of fares, booking classes, cabins, and fare families to prepare you for your call to the travel agent.

Traditionally we had several different types of fares (prices) 

  • Published fares (for all to book)
  • Negotiated fared (for example, larger agents rewarded for performance)
  • Tour operator fares (for example, agents that offer packages including flights)
  • Youth, student, ethnic type fares (specialty travel agencies)

And we have several different types of cabins

Each cabin consists of different booking classes, the level of service included and where you sit inside the airplane varies. 

  • Economy
  • Premium Economy
  • Business
  • First Class

And then there were fare families within the Economy cabin

Fare families are typically found in the Economy Cabin. The different fare families are paired with various features and restrictions. An example can be that the cheapest Light fare is non-refundable and allows no change of travel dates, whereas a more expensive Plus ticket would have much more lenient conditions.

  • Light
  • Basic
  • Standard
  • Plus

Summary: Should you also check with Online Travel Agents? There is often no need if you use price comparison sites – see below. But then again, allow them the opportunity to beat the price you have found.

6. Book your flights early, but not too early – enter price alerts

Goldilocks principle is all over this one. Airlines use yield management to decide which price to offer at any given time.  

Yield management uses seats available / seats booked to arrive at the correct price point.

How can we know when the time is right? We cannot.

So how do we solve this problem? We use price alerts and sit back and wait.

I recommend setting several price alerts at different price points to get a feeling for the price direction and rate of price change.

Setting the travel alerts is easy. Simply search the price comparison websites and look for the “Price Alert” function in the left column next to the actual flight results.

Acivate price alerts to stay informed about cheap flight prices
Activate the “Track prices” function and create a price alert in Kayak.

The price comparison sites will ask you to use their app or sign in with Facebook, Gmail, etc., but it works just as well to choose the email-only option where you simply enter your preferred email address.

Creating the price alert and receiveing updates by email.
Enter your email to create the price alert. The favorite deals “newsletter” is optional.

Summary: Use price alerts to stay informed about price changes.

7. Be smart when you pay for your flight

When you book a flight, you need to look at the total cost, including the necessary extras. 

The pandemic has again made travelers read the fine print of their insurance coverages.

If you choose to pay by card, you could be afforded extras such as travel insurance, cancellation insurance, buyer protection, etc.

Now, you may have this protection via a different means of payment. Fine, use it.

My point is that the ticket price is just one component of the total cost of your flight. 

Summary: To find cheaper flights, you must keep an eye on the total cost.

8. Find cheaper flights that do not add extra costs

When booking your flight, you must look at the big picture.

It makes no sense to spend time finding cheaper flights if the flight adds unexpected additional costs that outweigh the savings.

Here are two examples to illustrate this point:

  1. You book the cheapest possible flight saving money but arrive at an airport where public transport stops at 5 pm on weekends. Taxi anyone? 
  2. The cheapest flight has a return departure time of 6 am, forcing you to pay for an extra night’s accommodation and missing breakfast at the hotel.

Summary: These are just two examples where it could make more sense to pay a little more for the flight as the total cost for the trip would be less.

9. Use a VPN to make sure you do not pay too much

A VPN is a service that allows you to create a Virtual Private Network that protects your data and identity when you are surfing the Internet. The VPN connection hides your data and IP address in a “virtual tunnel” and prevents others from spying on your activities.

Even if this makes no sense to you, please read on. After all, did you ever understand how email or cell phones work? And did it stop you? No, probably not.

Consider using a VPN for one reason only when you search for flights.

And it is not to avoid browser cookies that some would argue could increase flight prices when we search over and over. 

We do not think this is true. The online travel market is too transparent, and any foul activities like this would have been discovered and proven a long time ago. 

Furthermore, this is not a factor as we use price comparison sites. Price comparison sites have no reason to increase the price based on user activity. They want to present the lowest price available for the itinerary chosen by the user. Period.

Instead, and far more importantly, some airlines use point-of-sale pricing. 

With point-of-sale pricing, any given flight may cost less if purchased in Canada than in the US. 

And with a VPN, you can change your location and present yourself as searching from another country.

This may give you a price advantage, especially when you book directly with the airline.

But as always, before you book, please read the rules to ensure you can travel on the ticket.

VPNs are available as a paid service and a free browser extension. I have only used NordVPN, and I do recommend them.

Summary: Consider using a VPN to access favorable fares otherwise unavailable.

10. Use more than one travel platform to find cheaper flights

More is not always better but given a choice, I recommend searching Kayak, Skyscanner, and Momondo to find more affordable flights.

Though they all strive to present the traveler with the best possible options, they have slightly different methodologies for arriving at the best, fastest, and cheapest options.

Be observant and start the exact search using the same filters on all three search engines.

From there on, it is simply a matter of selecting the provider you trust.

I will leave you with three points:

  • When you do simultaneous searches across all three brands, you will find that the same provider may present three different prices for the same flight.
  • Apply your filters before you do your search to receive only relevant options. If you filter after you search, you are merely removing options that were wasting space in the first place.
  • Be observant and ensure that selected options for extras like baggage are correctly carried over to the travel agency. The fact that the price is the same is not enough, check the details. Be sure you know exactly what you are paying for.

Summary: Use more than one supplier to check for the best price and ensure you are comparing identical searches.

Meet the author: With more than 20 years experience from the travel industry, Mattias offers tips, expert advice and a unique perspective anchored in having worked with market leading cruise lines, tour operators, consolidators, airlines and hospitality suppliers. Read more..