The Complete Guide for Booking the Cheapest Flights (Part I)

In On a Budget, Traveling Cheap by 7 Comments

Share this Post

Booking the Cheapest Flights

How many posts about booking cheap flights have you seen?

If you’ve been wandering around the web in the past couple of years, chances are you stumbled into quite a few.

You know what the problem is? If you read one, you read them all. 

Most of the posts out there are basically copy/pasted, paraphrased versions of the same basic, non-practical stuff. 

That’s why I finally decided enough is enough, and decided to compile a real, comprehensive & practical go-to-guide for booking the cheapest flights out there. Instead of desperately searching for ways to get cheap flights, all you’ll ever need is this guide right here.

Note: Due to the length of this guide (almost 7,000 words!), i decided to break it into 2 parts so it’s easily consumable & you don’t miss out on anything.

Are you ready? Fasten your seatbelt. Here we go.

Free Guide:

Download the Full Go-To-Guide for Booking the Cheapest Flights

Free Bonus: Want the full guide? Download the full PDF guide format & start saving money on your next trip.

  1. Be flexible

    To score the cheapest flights, you have to become flexible and follow the money – where not a lot of it required, that is…
    When you’re short on cash – always try to let the cost determine:

    • When to go
    • Where to go (if you’re adventurous)

    Obviously if you’re forced to fly to specific places, on specific dates – then you probably have a lot less wiggle room for scoring a bottom dollar flight (but don’t worry, there’s still hope).

    You see, flight prices are a lot like the ocean: They never remain still, they fluctuate on different
    seasons, and they too have their peaks and lows. Always aim for the lows.

    To do this, you should always keep an eye on the weather channel.

    You might be thinking what the hell does the ocean got to do with anything?

    It doesn’t, i’m just kidding. 

    But it’s not far from it actually: As a Travel Freak, you should always be ready to depart – whether it’s 6 months from now or 6 days from now.

    When price is your main factor – be prepared at all times to pack your backpack and head to the airport. Forget about flying from NYC → London in christmas. Ain’t gonna happen… 

    Key Takeaway: When you’re short on cash – let the cheapest periods (and destinations) determine when you’re next flight should be.

  2. Fly indirect

    Now is not the time to get spoiled. Indirect flights can save you huge amounts of money. In busy seasons especially – it can be pretty tough finding a cheap flight (that’s why you should avoid flying in peak seasons, but sometimes shit happens). Booking an indirect flight is a small sacrifice compared to it’s potential reward.

    Key Takeaway: When non-stop flights are expensive, choose indirect flights to reduce your flight costs.

  3. Lose the weight

    Pile of Luggage

    Credit: Rob Faulkner

    Don’t worry i’m not suggesting you go on a diet (unless you think you should).

    I’m talking about your luggage.

    Think about your last trip for a second. Remember how much you packed and how much of it you ended up using?

    That’s my point – you don’t need all that crap! 

    When you fly with low cost airlines, every pound costs.

    It’s time to make some hard decisions & trim the fat (again, not calling you a cow or anything like that).

    I’m not saying you should fly empty-handed. But packing 15 set of pants for a 2 week trip is probably too much.

    Packing is a skill, and you should learn to master it – one trip at a time.

    I can’t tell you how many miserable travelers (especially female travelers) I met on the road who screwed their entire trip just because they decided to carry their entire house with them. Don’t make that mistake.

    Pro Tip: For you ladies struggling with this –  take a look at how Kristin from Be My Travel Muse was able to travel a full year just with carry on luggage

    Key Takeaway: Learn how to travel ULTRA-light. Besides saving money, you will get to
    enjoy your trip without depending on materialistic things to entertain you and hold you back.

  4. Compare flight prices, but don’t push it

    Too Many Flight Aggregators

    There are just too many flight aggregators out there today. Comparing flight fares on every single one of them is just a waste of time. We’re not getting any younger here…

    So which ones should you focus on? 

    Focus on the select few that have repeatedly proven to offer the cheapest flights in the market.

    Don’t worry i’m not sending you off to do research. I have already done the ground work for you.

    From a flight fares comparison we made (we’ll post the results soon), we found the top 5 flight aggregators to be (ordered by cheapest first):

    1. Momondo
    2. SkyScanner
    3. TripAdvisor
    4. Kayak
    5. Hipmunk

    5 is more than you’ll ever need. I usually try to stick with the top 3 on this list depending on time constraints. 

    Pro Tip: I also recommend using Google Flights in case you need some help choosing your next destination.

    Key Takeaway: Yes, do your research. But don’t go overboard with the number of flight aggregators you’re comparing. Do something more useful with your time.

  5. Fly with low cost airlines

    Low Cost AirlinesLow cost airlines (also knows as budget airlines) are great for travel bootstrappers. They usually offer significantly lower flight fares compared to the big boys’.

    However, there is no such thing as free lunch (literally in this case).

    Here’s the catch: the flight itself is indeed low cost. Noticed how i highlighted the word flight? That’s because anything else besides flying you from origin to destination will probably cost you extra. 

    That includes luggage, food, priority boarding, reserved seats, and other extras…

    So here’s another reminder telling you to pack ULTRA-light. Otherwise you’ll discover that low cost is pretty expensive.

    Another thing to keep in mind with low cost airlines is that most budget airlines don’t even show up in flight aggregators. So if you want to land a great deal, you’ll have to dig a little deeper and go directly to the low cost airline’s website.

    Key Takeaway: When you fly low cost, you get what you pay for – a plane carrying your ass from A to B. Don’t expect much more than that. They’re called low cost flights for a reason. To find the cheapest low cost flights to your destination, go directly to the airline’s website and book from there.

  6. Combine multiple airlinesMultiple Airlines

    Who said you have to stick with just one airline? This isn’t a marriage.

    By combining multiple airlines in your itinerary, you can reduce your flight costs significantly. The good thing is that almost every flight aggregators does this for you. But then again – most low costs flights don’t appear in flight aggregators.

    So why bother choosing between low cost VS regular, if you can simply combine the two and get a better rate? Did you find a cheap, indirect long-haul flight on Momondo? Wait a sec, Don’t book the ticket just yet.

    First find out what low cost airlines fly from your connecting hub to your destination. Then check what it costs to book each flight separately. In many cases it will be cheaper than just sticking with the fixed itinerary offered by the flight aggregator.

    Key Takeaway: Combine multiple airlines to find the best deal possible. Mix traditional airlines with low cost airlines to get the price even lower.

  7. Keep your feet on the ground

    Who says you have to fly, anyway?

    How did we move around before the Wright brothers invented the first airplane? (Don’t worry I’m not suggesting you ride a horse across the world)

    We tend to forget that flying is not the only way to get from A to B.

    These days you can go through entire Europe without once hopping on a plane, and it can be cheaper (and faster) than you think. Whether it’s via train, bus, ship/cruise or by renting a car.

    Similar to flights – the sooner you book your train/ship/bus ticket, the cheaper it will usually be.

    Beginner Alert: Novice travelers find the idea of booking a train ride a few months in advance a little weird, especially since most of the train tickets are non-refundable. That’s a HUGE mistake. We’re used to thinking about trains & busses as less “formal” forms of transportation, compared to flights. These days it’s no longer true. 

    Approach train rides (and often bus rides) in the exact same way you approach flights. Similar to flights – the sooner you book your train ticket, the cheaper it will be (you can sometimes save up to 75% by booking a few months in advance).

    Key Takeaway: Don’t exclude other forms of transportation when planning your trip. The sooner you start planning, the cheaper it will be booking your ground transportation.

  8. Combine flights & ground transportation

    You guessed it. You can also combine flights & ground transportation and enjoy the best of both worlds.
    This approach is especially recommended if you’re visiting several countries and take your time.

    Key Takeaway: There are a many ways to move around these days. Don’t limit yourself to just one transportation vehicle.

  9. Get rid of the cookies Lose The Cookies

    YES!

    But what the hell do cookies have to do with anything?

    First, a quick newsflash: You’re being WATCHED. Companies & website owners track everything you do. Why are they doing this? To sell you more stuff of course…

    Airlines & travel agencies are no different.

    Buying a plane ticket is not like buying a piece of gum – it can take us a while to finally reach for our credit card. Airlines & online travel agencies know this  – and they often exploit this.

    How?

    When you land on their flight page – they are fully aware of it, and they start to monitor your every movement on their website.

    They track things like the number of times you visited the flight page, how long you remain on the page, how often you return to the page, where you’re scrolling on the web page, what your clicking etc’. They basically try to determine what you’re interested in, and how interested you are on a particular flight.

    If they identify a pattern, guess what often happens – they get greedy.

    Suddenly the price of the flight increases due to sudden “crazy demand”, or they tell you things like: “Hurry up! There are only 2 spots available at this price!”. They use a variety of techniques and tricks to get you to book the flight now, and not let you get away without a deal. Because they know that if you do get away, there’s a high chance you’ll go to one of their MANY competitors.

    The bottom line is – don’t believe everything websites tell you. They’re (probably) LYING to you!

    So let’s get rid of those tracking devices shall we? Except that it’s not actual tracking devices, it’s just cookies, but different cookies than the ones we crave so much.

    The Geek Explains: Cookies on the web are what websites use to identify you and track your actions. They plant a cookie – a unique identifier in your browser when you visit their page, which helps them track your behaviour.

    The easiest way to do this is to browse in Incognito mode.

    Incognito ModeIncognito makes you immune to cookies, and therefore removing the websites from their tracking superpowers. 

    This doesn’t mean you should become a cookie hater and start browsing the internet in incognito mode every time. Cookies are actually a very useful thing. It’s what allows you to automatically view your Facebook page without having to type in your credentials every time you visit. It’s what allows you to put things in your shopping cart in Amazon, and purchase the items a few days later.

    Key Takeaway: Incognito is not good just for hiding your porn history (boys will be boys). You can outsmart those greedy salesmen and keep your money in your pocket.

  10. Play destination rouletteCountry Roulette

    If you haven’t decided where to go next and you consider yourself a Travel Freak – then let the flight fares show you the way & determine your next destination.

    Google Flights help you do just that.

    Looking for great beaches for affordable prices? Want to go hiking? Want to explore different cultures?

    Google Flights has got you covered – it will match a destination within your budget that offers you the things you’re looking for.

    Key Takeaway: If you’re feeling adventurous, don’t be afraid to raffle your next destination. Let Google Flights to the shuffling for you so that you’re only offered places that are within your budget & interest (including places you never knew existed). Carpe diem!

  11. Sign up for frequent flyer programs

    Start signing up for frequent flyer programs. Whether you’re planning to fly across the world, or you’re just visiting grandma for Christmas – you’re leaving money on the table if those miles aren’t counted.

    If you choose your travel credit card wisely and start flying a few times, you will start earning some pretty amazing bonuses: free flights, business & first class upgrades, lounge access and a lot more goodies.

    Pro Tip: Flying is not the only way you can collect frequent flyer miles. Airlines usually partner up with hotels, retailers, restaurants & other service providers. So when you join an airline’s frequent flyer program, make sure you check out the places you can accumulate frequent flyer miles on the ground. You’re most likely shopping there already.

    Key Takeaway: Flying without a frequent flyer card is a sin. Stop pissing money away! If you play your cards right (see what i did there?) – then you’ll be earning sweet bonuses in no time.

  12. Stalk the airlines

    Credit: A. Strakey

    Credit: A. Strakey

    Many airlines & flight aggregators are known to offer exclusive deals & coupons to their email list subscribers and social media followers. Whether it’s frequent flyer deals, cheaper flight rates or special announcements – you want a piece of that action. Subscribe to the airlines’ newsletters, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter…

    Being one step ahead of everyone else can pay off.

    Pro Tip 1: If you’re really serious about this, create a dedicated email address for all travel related stuff to easily keep track of what’s going on to avoid travel related stuff polluting your personal email.
    Pro Tip 2: Select the option to get Facebook & Twitter notifications when airlines post something on their wall or profile so that you don’t miss special deals.

    Key Takeaway: Keep your eyes & ears open for special deals & offers. Subscribe to airline newsletters, like their Facebook pages, follow them on Twitter.

  13. Don’t rule out alternative airports

    You’d be surprised how often tickets are a lot cheaper just because of an alternative or lesser
    known airport. Don’t exclude an airport that is a little further away from your home. That extra little effort can sometimes be worth big bucks.

    Pro Tip: Most search aggregators have a “nearby airport” checkbox available. This is usually unchecked by default. Make sure you check it.

    SkyScanner - Add Nearby Airport

    Momondo - Add Nearby Airport

    Pro Tip: Low cost airlines especially are known to fly from/to deserted airports, so make sure you check them out as well.

    Key Takeaway: When you book your flight, don’t just automatically run to your favourite or closest airport. This is a fine example of sexier ≠ better. My rule of thumb is if i can get there in under 5 hours – it’s a viable an option.

  14. Book in advance

    Book in Advance

    The days of catching dirt-cheap last-minute flights are over. With so many new low cost airlines entering the market every day, it has become a completely different ball game. Once these low cost tickets get sold out, guess what the big boys do?

    Yep – they increase their prices. So don’t wait too long – book in advance.

    How far in advance?

    A study made by the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) says that the best time to book domestic flights is 50-100 days in advance, specifically 57 days in advance being the sweet spot.

    For international flights, you should book further in advance. Between 150-225 days is the ideal range to book for an international flight. The research showed that booking 171 days in advance has proved to be the cheapest.

    This obviously depends a lot on your flexibility and the destination you’re headed.

    In any case, try to book your flight at least 4 weeks in advance.

    Pro Tip: Fortunately for you, even if you booked your ticket and cheaper alternatives later became available, you still have a chance to save your money and book the cheaper alternative. 

    Key takeaway:  Book at least 4 weeks in advance, and no sooner than 7-8 months (depending on your destination). 

  15. Buy 2 one-way tickets instead of a round-trip ticket

    In some cases, 2 one way tickets can be cheaper than simply booking a round-trip flight. Plus, this gives you the flexibility to use different airlines, extend your trip or visit other countries, without having a return flight hanging over your head.

    With a growing number of low cost carriers, your flight choices are growing as well – so don’t limit yourself.

    If you combine this principle with traveling from alternative airports and choosing different routes, you can end up saving a significant amount of CA$H.

    Key Takeaway: Never book the round-trip flight without comparing the cost of 2 one way flights. A lot of time you’re throwing away money and not even realizing it.

Half time

This concludes part 1 of this two-part guide. This was “the warm-up” part of the guide. The serious stuff is coming up in part 2. You gotta walk before you fly – which is exactly what part 2 of this guide does. 

Part 2 will be released soon. 

Can’t wait? You can download the full guide in PDF format right now from the big download button below.

Download Full Guide

In the meantime, let us know in the comments which of these tips resonated with you the most, and if you’ve got more tips for booking cheap flights please share them with us in the comments, and we’ll add them to the guide (if they’re any good 🙂 ).

Share this Post

Comments

    1. Author
      Rafael

      Glad you liked it Emil. Part 2 of this post is coming out soon so stay tuned!

  1. Danielle

    Great read. You mentioned the top 5 flight search engines being momondo, skyscanner, tripadvisor, kayak and hipmunk (i never heard of them till now). Did you actually test this?

    Also, when do you expect to release the second part of the guide?

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Author
      Rafael

      Hey Danielle. We certainly did. We have a post coming up covering a price comparison we did for some popular benchmark flights. We compared the top 10 flight aggregators and their flight fares for similar routes and dates, and we found out that these were indeed the top 5 flight aggregators.

      I apologize for not mentioning it on the post. I will make sure to link it here when it’s published (in the meantime i added that this is coming up in parentheses).

      Part 2 of this guide is coming up this weekend. But if you want you can download the full guide (including part 2) from the big download button 🙂

      Thanks for your feedback!

  2. Pingback: The Complete Guide for Booking the Cheapest Flights (Part II)he Rest | TravelFreaks

  3. pilgrimage tours

    I will surely avoid the hassle of trying point number 12 it was funny though. But these tis will really let me to book cheap flight that will cause to save money. Now I am eagerly waiting for second part.

    1. Author
      Rafael

      It all depends on your goals and how short on cash you really are 🙂

      I’ve actually done this for years… I have a dedicated email address just for promotions (airlines, hotels etc’) which I check every week or so.

      Every once in a while you find a gem in there.

      And part 2 is already live in kicking – http://travelfreaks.net/booking-cheapest-flights-2/

Leave a Comment