“Score!” I shrieked as I clicked “Complete Purchase” on my laptop screen. On this fateful day in December, I’d just found cheap flights to Cuba for the small price of $116 – round trip. Without a plan, I decided to buy these tickets, and found myself soon after planning a trip to the land of old cars, Cuba Libres, and amazing cigars.
Finding cheap flights is something we all wish we could do for every trip we want to go on. I’m here today to tell you yes, it is in fact possible to get to basically anywhere in the world using a set of steps to find cheap flights. Here are the seven steps I typically take to find a cheap flight to everywhere I go:
1. Decide where in the world you want to go
Having an idea of where in the world you want to go can help you determine the best strategy for finding cheap flights. Ask yourself a couple of questions – What regions have you been dying to explore? What destinations fit your budget? How many days do you have designated for travel? What kinds of activities do you want to do? What kind of food are you craving? Keep these things in mind as you begin to look for cheap flights, and it can help you narrow down your search.
Pro tip: If you have no idea where you want to go (and you just want to find a cheap flight deal), sift through some inspirational travel articles to get some ideas. One of my personal favorites is the New York Times 52 Places to Go in 2017.
2. Determine which budget airlines service that destination
Once you’ve figured out where it is you’d like to go, do some research about which budget airlines service those areas. Typically, budget airlines don’t appear on all flight aggregators, so it’s good to know which ones fly within which regions. These airlines usually have the best fares, but they also come with high fees if you don’t read the find print.
Some regional budget airlines include:
- United States – Spirit, Frontier
- Europe – WOW Air, Ryanair, Easyjet
- Africa – Kulula, Fastjet
- Asia – AirAsia, Jetstar
- South America – Aeromexico, Gol
- And many others depending on your intended route…
Once you’ve found a couple of low-fare airlines, take a note of their flight prices, their baggage policies, their boarding pass policies, and which airports they fly out of. Often, these budget airlines fly out of airports farther outside of the city, or from terminals within a large airport that are separate from the more “mainstream” airlines. For example, in Lisbon’s main airport, the terminal for Ryanair (a cheap European air carrier) is detached from the one for the rest of the international flights. In London, Ryanair flies out of many of the smaller airports, but not Heathrow.
Pro tip: If you’re going to take a budget airline, make sure you read through all policies thoroughly. Some airlines charge over $100 in fees alone if you’re not careful!
3. Get in the know
Once you’ve figured out the typical price for a , you’ll need to get a bit of intel. The best way to do this is to sign up for relevant newsletters and follow relevant pages on social media to stay in the know about fare sales, flight deals, and mistake fares. Below is a list of some of the sites I follow to find cheap flights:
- Fare sales
- All major international airlines (United, American, Southwest, Delta for US residents)
- The Points Guy
- Cheap flight deals and mistake fares
Pro tip: Sign up for everything. A little bit of spam email is worth it to be in the know about some incredible flight deals!
4. Check a flight search aggregator
The last step in your airfare research is to check a couple of flight search aggregators to see what they pick up. Different websites have different search algorithms, so I recommend trying 2-3 different sites to make sure you’re finding the cheapest deals.
Some major flight search aggregators include:
Pro tip: On top of checking 2-3 different sites for the same route, I’d also check at different times of day, as flight prices on the aggregators fluctuate frequently.
5. Cross-check on the airline’s website
Before you buy anything, go to the source – the airline’s website. Sometimes you can find the absolute cheapest fares by cutting out the middleman and buying directly from the airline. Not only that, but if your flight gets delayed or cancelled, or you need to make a change for whatever reason, it’s easiest to get compensation or help from the airline if you’ve bought your ticket directly from them.
Pro tip: Once you’ve done your research and chosen an airline, buy all of your flights directly from the airline’s website.
6. When you find a good sale, act quickly
If you still think the average flight price for your destination is too expensive, it’s wise to keep checking back for a few weeks, then buy when the price drops. Flight prices can fluctuate by date, day of the week, and time of day, so it’s a good idea to check back at different times during the week to find the absolute best prices. Once you know the normal ticket price, you’ll be ready to buy once you see it drop!
A great example of this is when I went to Turkey. For days the round-trip price hovered around $750, but I decided to keep checking each day and see if the price dropped at all. Suddenly, one afternoon, the price dropped to $500 RT, and since I knew what the average price of the ticket was beforehand, I knew that this was a discount. I bought immediately, and a day later, the price had risen again to around $800.
I bought my Cuba flight through the same methodology. I waited for a while, checking prices, then found a fare sale and bought my flight right away. You can read a little bit more about my “buy now, think later” philosophy here.
Pro tip: When you see a flight price that is abnormally low based on average ticket prices, buy it quickly or you may miss out.
7. Get creative
If you’ve tried all of the above steps and still can’t find a flight within your budget, try getting creative with your departure and arrival locations. For example, if you live in San Diego, you can try looking for flights out of LAX. Or, alternatively, if you’re trying to fly into Barcelona, perhaps you could fly into Madrid and take a train. There are loads of different routes you can explore if your ‘point A to point B’ route is mega-pricey, and they don’t all have to include travel via plane.
Moreover, if you’d a points and miles aficionado, don’t be afraid to explore booking part of your leg using miles. For example, I just booked a trip to Madrid, where I booked the first leg in United miles and the second leg in Delta/KLM miles. It was a little wonky, but it worked out and ended up enabling me to fly for free! Getting creative with booking your flights can help you find the absolute cheapest way to get to the destination of your dreams. That’s the point, right?
- The Ultimate Guide to Finding a Cheap Flight – Nomadic Matt
- How to Book the Cheapest Flight Possible to Anywhere – Thrifty Nomads
- 10 Ways to Find Cheap Flights – Johnny Jet
What methods do you use to find cheap flights? Where are some cool places you’ve gone using flight deals? Share your expertise in the comments!