How to find cheap flights? I get asked that very often as a flight attendant! Some believe that there are hacks where flights are cheaper on the third Tuesday of the month at around 22.35 😉 In my experience, these hacks are all a bunch of BS. But there are definitely ways to find great cheap tickets.
In 2019 I flew from Eindhoven to Prague and back for €45 for a five-day trip during a school holiday. This is a combination of flexibility, knowing where to search, how to search and plain luck. In this step-by-step guide, I will show you precisely how to find cheap flights.
1. Use a good flight search engine
If you’re not looking for a specific airline you want to travel with, a flight search engine will save you a lot of time. A flight search engine will do all the comparison work for you and will give you an overall view of all flight possibilities available.
My favourite flight search engine is definitely Kiwi.com. Their website and app are easy to use. They also list the most airlines, even low-budget airlines like Easyjet or Air Asia. When searching for a flight, I always start my search with Kiwi.com.
Prices in a flight search engine are not always accurate, don’t get too excited when you see a big fare difference. And some flight search engines don’t list all the available airlines, like low-budget airlines. Just stick with two flight search engines to start your search.
After checking your flight options with Kiwi.com, go to the website of the airline itself. Most of the time, the price is the cheapest directly there. I always book the flight and fill in all the details until you get to the payment. This is where you have a total overview of the full fare you’ll have to pay, including fees, luggage etc. This way, you can make a better comparison.
The truth is, the cheapest fare is usually at the airline itself. Search engine companies make money with the commission they receive, an affiliate link that refers you to the airline or charging an ‘admin fee’ when booking through their services.
But hold on! Let’s not rule out booking through a flight search engine completely to find a cheap flight!
When looking for more than one flight, it can always be useful to make a booking through a flight search engine! On Kiwi.com, you can check multiple flights and destinations all together in one trip. The search engine will find the cheapest option for you to a destination, even if that means that you’re using a mix of airlines.
This also means that you might have to pick up your luggage and check in again for a new flight! Always check their refund or rebook option when travelling.
2. Use budget airlines
Using budget airlines on shorter routes is a great way to travel via plane for much cheaper than regular airlines. Budget airlines usually don’t have free meal service, and the ticket rules are much more restricted. But as long as it’s safe, who cares? Pack a sandwich and bring an empty bottle and fill this up after security. If this gets you to your destination for a fraction of the price, it’s worth it.
I’ve flown with budget airlines like Easyjet, Ryan Air, Transavia, Air Asia, Vueling and Wizz Air. When flying with budget airlines, it’s essential to read all the instructions and restrictions that come with the ticket. Hand luggage restrictions are stringent, and if you don’t meet them, you’ll have to pay for the excess weight. Also, always make sure that you book the right airport. Ryan Air is famous for promoting Brussels when it’s Charleroi Airport, almost an hour further away from Brussels Airport.
3. Be flexible
When I was a student, I always managed to find cheap tickets. I even went to Marrakech with Ryan Air for a return fare of €20! The key to finding cheap flights is to be as flexible as possible. Flexible in date, flexible in time and even flexible in destination.
I used to go to any airline website and check which destinations had a deal and made my travel plans. Kiwi is excellent for searching for cheap fares for a specific destination in a certain period or for a cheap ticket in a certain period with an open destination.
Even most airlines have an excellent monthly overview to check the fare in a specific month for any destination. You can see which date is the cheapest to fly, and you can plan around that date.
4. Don’t travel on the weekends or on holidays
This tip is quite obvious! Travelling on weekends or during the holiday period will always be more expensive. If I search for flights leaving on Friday and coming back on a Sunday, the prices are higher. Travelling on any other day than the weekends is better when you’re searching for a cheap ticket.
Flights leaving in the morning are usually more expensive because most people prefer to arrive early to get the most out of the day of arrival. Flights leaving in the middle of the night or late in the evening are usually less popular and cheaper.
Tickets during high season can almost be tripled in price. Personally, I don’t want to travel in high season. Tickets are expensive, accommodation is costly, and the places are crowded. Travelling outside all the school holidays, the Christmas period or the summer high season in July and August is the best thing to do if you’re looking for a cheap ticket.
5. Use other airports in the region
Although it’s much easier to travel from the airport closest to your home, sometimes it can be cheaper to check out another airport in your region too. My nearest airport is Schiphol, Amsterdam. However, checking flights that depart from Brussels or Dusseldorf can sometimes be much cheaper.
I once flew from Brussels to New York with Delta Airlines instead of Amsterdam, saving me around €100. Luckily most flight search engines let you do a search where you include other nearest airports too. Don’t forget the extra costs of getting to the other airport though.
I have also seen tickets where it was cheaper to fly to New York from Dusseldorf via Amsterdam than from Amsterdam. Passengers had a more affordable ticket even though it had an extra flight, and they had to travel to Dusseldorf first.
Pay attention! If it saves you a lot of money, you can do this. Keep in mind that you will always have to use all flights when departing. Let’s take a look at my Dusseldorf – Amsterdam – New York example. If you book a ticket that leaves from Dusseldorf and you decide to get on the plane in Amsterdam, your ticket will be cancelled. Not departing from Dusseldorf will result in a no-show, and your whole ticket will be cancelled. You always have to start your trip at the official departure airport.
But on the way back, you could get out in Amsterdam. If you’re doing this, call your airline and tell them you’re getting out in Amsterdam. This way, you will avoid the aircraft from being delayed because they have to remove your checked-in luggage for security reasons. Some airports are not very efficient, and mistakes can still be made. So chances are also that your check-in luggage might be on the way to Dusseldorf. It’s a risk, but I’ve seen passengers do this.
6. Look for separate tickets
It’s no secret that non-direct flights on long distances are usually cheaper than direct flights. I typically use a search engine to see which different routes it generates. Then I’ll look up the separate flights on the website of each other airline. Sometimes this way, you can add an extra layover for a few days for free—a great way to add an additional destination to your trip.
Be careful! If your ticket is with a different airline (but it’s booked as a whole in one ticket) and you miss your next flight because of a delay, you’ll always be rebooked on a new one. If you book separate tickets by yourself, this risk becomes your own. Never book short layovers; always schedule at least a day or two to prevent this. The airline is not responsible if you miss your next flight because of a delay.
Especially for short flights, it’s worth it to check two one-way tickets with two different airlines. For example, you could fly to London with Easy Jet but fly back with Ryan Air. When you fly with two different airlines, you must not forget that each airline has various ticket restrictions.
>> Check out this post on how to travel on a budget in Singapore! <<
7. Do your research
Searching for the best flights for the lowest price available can be really time-consuming if you’re set on finding the lowest flight available. I have spent a fair amount of time looking for the cheapest flights with the least travel time.
Last summer, I made travel plans to travel to Thailand and Malaysia. I did my research to find the best cheap flights out there. This meant being as flexible as possible to change my travel dates or adjust the route I wanted to take. I only knew I wanted to start my trip in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
I did my research on which airports are there. Which (low-cost) airlines are there operating? Which airport connects to which airport (directly)?
To check the direct flights to or from any airport, I use flightsfrom.com. I used this website to check which direct flights were leaving from Penang or Langkawi, Malaysia. Based on this, I checked which different routes were possible for me if I came from Chiang Mai, Thailand. After looking up the different ways possible, I used Skyscanner and the airline’s websites to check ticket prices. I mainly checked low-cost airlines like Air Asia for that region.
Doing your research like this gives you a step ahead. Because you’ll know what is possible and you’ll know where to search for tickets. Yes, it takes some time. But it’s easy to do during an episode of your favourite show on Netflix 😉
8. Book when you’ve found a ticket
If you find a cheap fare for a flight that matches all your criteria, I will not wait too long to book it. Especially when it comes to low budget airlines. Airlines usually sell a few seats for a lower price, and when those seats are sold out, they will go a fare class higher. The last seats on the plane are usually the most expensive ones.
The chances for your specific flight to get a discounted price are low. If you’ve done, all your research and the ticket has a price you’re okay with. Book it. There’s no use in searching days for lower prices. I used to do that for days without any results. And when you’ve booked your ticket, the pre-holiday fun can finally start.
9. Join a miles program
Applying for a miles program is free, and it will earn you miles or points every time you book a flight. They are also connected to a group of airlines. For example, if I book a flight with Delta Airlines, Air France or KLM, the miles will all be saved together because they are all part of the Skyteam Partner Group. Flying with all the airlines in this partner group will give you miles.
Most miles programs are linked to a credit card too. Let’s take KLM, for example, again. When applying for their miles program Flying Blue, you can have your card connected to a credit card. This means that you earn miles even when you’re not flying. Every time you make a purchase with your credit card, you’ll earn more miles.
The more you fly, the higher your frequent flyer level will be, the more privileges you’ll get. You can get discounts to airport lounges, free upgrades, online shopping, meals, extra luggage and even free tickets
10. Know when there is a sale
There are a few times of the year when you know that almost every webshop has a sale going on. The biggest ones are Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Some airlines run their own sale weeks, like KLM, for example, is famous for their own ‘Wereld Deal Weken’. If you’re looking for a flight and Black Friday is coming up, it doesn’t hurt to wait a moment.
The best way to keep an eye out for sales is to sign up for a newsletter. I personally hate it when my mailbox is flooded with newsletters. So to keep an overview, I suggest signing up for the newsletters of the airlines you fly with the most. You can also give your favourite airlines a follow on social media. But chances are that you miss their latest post in your feed or timeline.
There are, luckily a few websites that post about the latest deals in flight land. I prefer having one newsletter with an overview of all the deals going on instead of having ten coming in. Great newsletters to check out are Secretflying, Airfarewatchdog and Scotts Cheap Flights. Another easy way to keep an eye out for finding affordable cheap flights.
11. Set up a price alert
Most websites can set up a price alert, one of the easiest things to find cheap flights. This means that you will get an email when your destination has a price drop. I’m currently trying it out to see how well it works. As soon as I know, I’ll add an update about this. I’ve seen this option on lots of websites and even on Google Flights.
These are my eleven steps on how to find a cheap ticket. Flight search engines and airline websites keep getting better and more flexible. They finally know that the customers want to have a better overview when it comes to finding tickets. The user experience is much better than years ago.
I hope these steps will make your life a little easier, and hopefully, it will help you find cheap flights out there. The most important thing to do is research the destination you want to go to. And if you find a great ticket, book it. Happy travelling!