My Top 5 Resources and Top 5 Tips For Finding Cheap Flights
I love to travel and I also love to plan. It should be no surprise that travel planning is then a perfect storm of things I love to do. Before 2018 started, I had all my big vacations planned for the entire year. I plan almost all my family vacations. Given this skill and love, I have developed a reputation at my office as a resource to find cheap flights, as I have done extensive research on this myself. I was asked to give a presentation to my office on how to find cheap flights so I reapplied that to my blog post below.
To begin, I should state my travel philosophy: Spend little getting wherever you are going so that when you get there, you can spend more and have an even better experience. That’s not to say that I am only looking for dirt cheap flights that are very inconvenient (odd hours, long layovers). However, I think that the below resources and tips can help you save money when shopping for flights and may encourage you to indulge your travel bug a bit more.
My Top 5 Resources For Finding Cheap Flights
1. Google Flights Flexibility Tool – Let’s say you know where you want to go and the general time period but not the exact dates. That’s where the Google Flights Flexibility Tool can come in handy. You plug in your origin and destination and choose arbitrary dates in the range you hope to travel. You hit search but then you will find an option for “flexible dates”. This will pull up a grid with departure dates in the columns and return dates in the rows and in each square is the price for that specific departure/return date combination.
It allows you to adjust both your departure and your return date to find the cheapest flights. In some situations, it may not save you much money. In others, it could save you hundreds of dollars. Either way, you either save money or know that you wouldn’t save money by flying on a different day. I love this tool to ensure I’m getting a good price, particularly on domestic flights. Disclaimer: These flights are from Northwest Arkansas Airport (XNA) which is one of the most expensive airports to fly out of in the US so flight prices will be above average. All the more reason to find cheaper flights!
2. Google Flights Explore Tool – Now let’s say you know when you want to travel (i.e. I want to go on a weekend trip in a few months) but you don’t know where. The Google Flights Explore Tool could help you with that decision. If you plug in the dates you want to travel and where you will be traveling from, the tool will show you how much it would cost to fly to places all across the US and the world on those dates. It will look like the picture above.
3. Scott’s Cheap Flights – Many of you may have already heard of or use Scott’s Cheap Flights but if you haven’t, it’s an email newsletter sent out several times a day with cheap flights around the world that Scott finds. It’s a freemium model, meaning it is free if you want to receive several emails a day but without any customization (you can’t choose where the flights are from). However, if you want to pay for the premium model ($15/3 months or $39/year), you can customize it so you are only sent deals from your region (the US) and you get all the relevant emails. You typically have to act fast on the flights when you see a good price (within the next couple of days) but you can plan for far out 3 – 8 months ahead of time. I personally haven’t used Scott’s Cheap Flights as I am usually all booked up on travel to act on it but I have had friends who booked round trip tickets from Arkansas to Italy for $400 and Arkansas to Spain for $450 which is unheard of. That’s a steal for a major US hub. I also learned a lot from Scott’s Cheap Flight’s philosophy on finding cheap flights for my own strategies so thank you Scott for teaching me your ways!
4. Skyscanner – I use Skyscanner when booking international flights, particularly flights between international destinations. Remember that typical travel booking sites don’t show Southwest or Ryanair flights but Skyscanner does! I use this as a starting point for international flights.
5. The Points Guy – I don’t spend nearly enough money to really “play the travel points game” but I have read this guy’s blog a fair amount and he is an expert. If you are looking for ways to maximize your travel rewards, particularly if you like luxury flying (not for me), this is your guy. I personally just started using the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card (3X points on Travel and Dining) which I love and I think is one of the best travel cards out there, especially if you are not loyal to a specific airline. The card also gets me free airport lounge access into many lounges across the world.
My Top 5 Tips For Finding Cheap Flights
1. Booking flights is a balance between price and convenience. You will have to give up some of one for the other. That said, I always try and find a deal on reasonably convenient flights. By “reasonably convenient”, I mean 1-2 connections with short layovers. Nothing ridiculous where you must sleep in an airport overnight.
2. Cheapest Days to Fly: Saturday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Most Expensive Days to Fly: Friday and Sunday.
3. Remember that budget airlines (i.e. Southwest, Ryanair) don’t show up on most travel websites so you have to go directly to their websites to check fares OR use Skyscanner
4. 4-6 months ahead of time is a good lead time for international travel bookings. Flights over a year rarely go on sale.
5. If you want to travel internationally and live near an airport that is expensive to fly out of (like I do), know the big hubs where it’s cheap to fly to from your airport (in my case, that’s Chicago ORD, Dallas DFW, and NYC) and book your international round trip flights from there.
Those are my Top 5 Resources and Top 5 Tips for finding cheap flights. To show how I put these resources and tips to good use (especially the last tip), I wanted to show you how I went about booking flights for my upcoming Spain trip to visit my sister. She is studying abroad in Barcelona but I knew I also wanted to do a tour of Spain, so I wouldn’t necessarily have to do a round trip.
Using the Google Flights Flexibility Tool, I looked at the approximate date ranges for which I wanted to travel to see my sister. For a “reasonably convenient” (remember my definition above) round trip flight from Arkansas to Barcelona, flights were going to cost me $1,606 with two layovers (in ATL and Paris CDG). I knew I could find cheaper. I then started using tip #5 to plan, looking at flights out of NYC. I know that NYC is always cheap to fly to from Arkansas (or at least cheap relative to other places). Using Skyscanner, I was able to find cheap 1-way flights from Newark to Barcelona and then Madrid back to Newark, which allowed me to do a tour of Spain without having to return back to Barcelona to fly out. I then booked a round trip flight from Arkansas to LaGuardia airport for cheap and since I have good friends in NYC, I am staying a night on either end with them there.
XNA to LaGuardia Round Trip: $281
Newark to Barcelona: $318 (including bag fees), 3 hour layover
Madrid to Newark: $300 (including bag fees), 2.5 hour layover
Total Cost: $899
By using the tips and resources above, I was able to save $700. That is $700 I can spend on food and fun when I’m in Spain, which I am very much looking forward to.
If you have any questions about this, or how to plan your own travels, please don’t hesitate to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org