There's a secret that airlines don't want you to think about: you might have paid 50% more for your seat on a flight than the people sitting around you.
It can happen even if you thought you did everything right to get the cheapest flight. You've probably spent hours comparing various search engines, looking through different airlines, scrolling through travel dates, and it still didn't make a difference!
Airlines have all kinds of clever tricks and secret algorithms for deciding what price they think they can get you to pay. To help you make sense of it all, here's our guide on how to find cheap flights to anywhere. Take it from us; it's been our job for over three years.
- What do cheap flights look like?
- Take advantage of error fares to secure the cheapest flight
- Avoid booking last minute, but here’s when to try for a last-minute getaway
- Forget these money-saving myths
- How to find cheap flights with search engines
- Know when to book with travel agents
- Pick the right moment to book to get the best rates
- Choose the right season to fly
- Fly on the least busy day of the week
1. How to find cheap flights to anywhere: Start by knowing what cheap flight prices look like
The first trick to find cheap flights to anywhere is knowing what makes a good deal in the first place.
It doesn't really matter how many hours or days you spend stalking the prices if you don't know what you're looking for. You've probably experienced that first hand if you've ever had a flight drop in price not long after booking.
If you always go to the same destination, then it's easier to tell what prices should look like after a year or two, but if you're going somewhere new, there are a few tell-tale signs to watch out for.
We consider many different factors when looking for cheap flights, for example:
- Are the flight prices at least 30% less than the standard price?
- Are the flight prices lower than the average for that season?
- Are the flight prices lower than what other airlines are offering?
- Does the price include perks like checked bags and a free, flexible change policy?
- For business class fares: Is the cost less than 2.5x-3x a deal in economy
Sidenote: Dig deeper in our how do I know if I have a good deal article for more pointers on how to find a deal to different destinations.
Now that you have pointers on what a cheap flight should be, let's talk about when they're at a price they shouldn't be...
2. Take advantage of error fares to secure the cheapest flight
Have you ever come across a ticket price that made you say, "No way that's real!"? If you have, then you've encountered the mystical “error fare”.
Error fares are simply mistakes that happen when the airline systems are pricing up flights. You'd be surprised how often they happen, and they're usually gone almost as soon as they show up. (Airlines aren't exactly known for wanting you to score unreasonably cheap flights, are they?)
Here at JFC, we've seen our fair share of error fares over the years in the different regions that we cover. We all do a little happy dance when we spot one (and send out the notice to our club members asap!)
Some examples of error fares we've found:
From the USA
The standard price for flights to Australia is often well into the $1000s and can involve two or more stops. So seeing one-stop tickets go down to $300s felt like winning the lottery.
In the EU/UK
The standard price for a good business class fare (including lie-flat seats and the usual add-ons) can kick the price up well over £2000. When you see a long-haul business class flight that only costs three digits, you have an error fare!
If you spot a price that seems outrageously low (sometimes cutting as much as two-thirds off the standard price), book first and ask questions later! Flight deals are like the stock market, they fluctuate ALL the time, and the best prices don't stick around for very long. That's even more true with error fares as you're racing to beat the airline to fix their mistake.
To catch an error fare, you pretty much have to be constantly looking for them on flight search engines. We can tell you that it's a lot of work to spot them, so join our free deal newsletter, and we'll just tell you when an error fare is out there.
Sidenote: Error fares can be canceled and refunded by the airline, but over 70% of them are honored. Follow these error fare guidelines, and you won't lose out.
While being snappy is essential for booking error fares, it's often true of flight tickets in general - that's why our business is to make you the first to find out about them.
3. Avoid booking last minute, but here's when to try for a last-minute getaway
If you've ever looked for a nonstop flight for a weekend trip anywhere on a difficult Wednesday afternoon at work, you've probably noticed that flights get very expensive on short notice... Why? The simple answer is that airlines know they can charge more.
Statistically speaking, most people who buy last-minute tickets are business travelers who don't pay much attention to the cost since their company pays. Airlines are aware of this, and they charge accordingly.
Concur.com - Average airfare by booking window between 2018 - 2020.
The way they do this is through a system called yield management. Basically, airlines charge different prices for a single-seat, which their algorithms adjust based on demand.
But in recent times, the type of last-minute travelers has been changing thanks to the pandemic. According to CheapAir's study, we're seeing more last-minute travel due to constantly changing travel restrictions, unexpected trips, and family emergencies.
Don't panic just yet! There's a silver lining - when airlines struggle to fill up seats, they do the reverse and churn out last-minute deals. While we wouldn't recommend relying on these for a specific trip you have planned, there are times when grabbing a flight at short notice may pay off.
In that case, there are many sites like lastminute.com, CheapOair, or TUI if you're in the UK that help airlines fill up seats.
Since these tickets are basically on clearance, be prepared to make some compromises by giving up extra perks like early seat selection or flying from a departure airport further away.
There are a few tips and tricks for landing a cheap last-minute flight, but it can sometimes just boil down to luck (not myths).
4. Forget these money-saving myths
We guarantee you've heard some of these myths when looking for cheap flights before. Some of them stem from old truths, others... not so much. So let's get into debunking the most common myths:
Myth no. 1: Hide your cookies when booking
This myth seems to be everywhere! As it goes, flight search engines track your interest in a flight and hike up the price if you come back to book it later!
The "unfortunately the price has gone up" message on Google flights brings no joy at all for anyone.
While there is no denying the airline industry's nickel and diming ways, this particular myth doesn't hold much weight. Our team goes through hundreds of flights every day to find cheap flights, including multiple searches to the exact location. The fare price doesn't change because you've visited a web page before.
This may have been a trick some dodgy travel agents tried in the past, but those days are long gone.
It's always possible that a flight you were eyeing goes up just because of how frequently the prices change. Or maybe someone else has booked the same flight, triggering a change to a new price bucket.
Myth no. 2: Booking as early as possible
It's possible to see affordable flights as early as a year before, especially when using the Google Flights calendar tool. Yet, booking as soon as the flights are released isn't always the best strategy.
How airlines price their tickets is complicated, but it is a long game. They don't usually actively manage their fares for domestic flights until 3-4 months before departure and as many as five months for international flights.
So waiting in the metaphorical line for airlines to open shop and release tickets could mean paying the standard price, and that's certainly not how to find cheap flights to anywhere.
Myth no. 3: Tuesdays are the cheapest days to book
This may have been true back in the days when airlines loaded their flight tickets once a week, probably on a Tuesday afternoon, and if you booked early, you were more likely to get one of the cheaper flights.
Nowadays, fare changes no longer happen once a week and can fluctuate after just a few minutes even. Instead, fares are based on complex algorithms that consider the best price based on the season, time, popularity, human psychology, etc.
So marking down Tuesdays as the flight booking day isn't a thing anymore, but knowing the right time to book when hunting for the cheapest flight can make a difference (we'll get into it in a bit).
Myth no. 4: Low-cost airlines always have the best deals
You might be tempted to search for the cheapest ticket with low cost airlines. This is fine if you're in a hurry, have no flexibility, and are okay with budget airlines' no-frills policies.
But if you don't look beyond the walls of budget airlines, you're potentially missing out on deals with better airlines. It doesn't take too long to compare prices between different airlines, especially with the number of tools available.
Always, always, always compare prices.
While these are the most common myths we hear, we know there are many more floating around, but, it's time to get back to the facts.
Since we just spoke about comparing prices, let's talk about the tools we use to do it.
5. How to find cheap flights with search engines
They say a worker is only as good as their tools - that's true for cheap flight hunting too! The sites we're going to run through each have unique valuable ways to help you spot super affordable flights. Here's a rundown on how to use them for the best results.
Google Flights is our go-to tool to find the cheapest flights to anywhere. We've used it so much that we've made an in-depth guide on how to master the Google Flights features to find insanely cheap flights.
The main highlights are the Explore Page which shows you a world map with (nearly) real-time prices for your itinerary (so you also find the cheapest place). You can use the filters here to filter out airlines, durations, stops, connecting flights and even filter by interests.
It's also the gateway to finding the cheapest price on hotels, vacation rentals, and things to do while you're there.
The second feature is the handy calendar tool that shows up once you've selected your destination. It shows the cheapest dates in green and sometimes suggests even cheaper options.
Protip: Set the filters you'd like to have from this page and head back to the mapping tool. Google Flights automatically applies the filters - making your search for great deals a lot easier!
Google Flights' main con is the airline listings - they don't have ALL of them. While you'll see most full-service airlines and budget airlines. A few airlines don't show up or may not list their prices on searches, like Southwest.
When this happens, you may need to go directly to the website or look at what OTAs offer.
OTAs or Online Travel Agencies are the middlemen of the flight world. While a few popular ones are aggregated by Google Flights, you'll find many more on other aggregator sites like Skyscanner and Momondo.
Unfortunately, we've heard many travelers are skeptical of OTAs since they question if it's still safe to book with an online travel agent. But they're definitely worth checking, especially for expensive long-haul flights as their prices can be a lot lower than what airlines offer. To make things easier for you, we've ranked the top OTAs for you, but here's where you can find their deals.
Using Skyscanner is pretty straightforward. Just add in your departure city, destination, travel dates, and you're all set. They also have flight filters, e.g. choosing nonstop flights only, flexible tickets only, and adding nearby airports.
What makes them stand out from other OTA aggregators is their flexibility. For example, you can choose to see the "cheapest month" or "whole month" when selecting dates.
Plus, the "search everywhere tool" shows a list of flight deals around the world, directly answering your questions about how to find cheap flights to anywhere. But, sometimes the prices aren't accurate, so it's best to use it as a starting point.
Kayak and Momondo
Next up, Kayak and Momondo. We're talking about them together because they have the same parent company and many similarities. They both pull from large OTA databases, including popular OTAs like Expedia and much lesser-known ones. This is great for finding the lowest fares, but it makes them a little slower.
Momondo has upped their filter game lately. Apart from choosing which OTAs you'd like, you can also select the flight quality. This could mean choosing flights with wifi, hiding red-eye tickets, or mixing & matching fares.
The mix & match fares, also known as “hacker fares”, are a combination of separate airline tickets. This sometimes leads to lower prices but could mean different refund policies.
Not sure if you're getting the cheapest flights? The "Our advice" section at the top corner lets you know if a price is likely to drop in a few days. It works similarly to Google Flights' price graph by calculating recent price data. But sometimes the stickman appears, which is code for "IDK yet."
On the other hand, Kayak takes the best of both worlds from Google Flights and Momondo. The interface is very similar to Google Flights. Plus, they have the flight quality and OTA filters like Momondo.
One unique feature is their fee assistant, which calculates the flight price to include baggage fees. So, let's say you plan to carry a checked bag - simply choose your destination and dates, click on the checked bag icon - bada bing bada boom, no surprises!
Checking for alternative prices on flight search engines is a must to find the cheapest flights available. Even if you have miles/points or are part of a frequent flyer program, it's still worth checking. These airlines ain't loyal, and your wallet shouldn't be either.
Sidenote: To up your chances of getting a great deal, try combining these tools into a single workflow by using a comparison tool. We've released a free browser plugin that converts Google Flights pages to equivalent searches in Skyscanner, Momondo, and Kayak for easy comparison. You can grab it on the Google Chrome Store and Firefox/Mozilla Edge.
6. Know when to book with travel agents.
Booking via Online Travel Agents (OTAs), instead of buying your ticket directly from the airline, will often make your flight cheaper, but not always!
When this is true:
Online Travel Agents sometimes get 'exclusive' fares from specific airlines, allowing them to sell add-ons like checked bags for far less than the airline sells them, even if the base ticket price is the same. This is especially true for most long-haul flights with traditional full-service airlines like British Airways, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, etc.
When this is not true:
European budget airlines, like Ryanair, Easyjet & Wizzair, almost always offer the cheapest fares on their website. On the US side, it's uncommon to find cheaper OTA's for full-service airlines like JetBlue and United Airlines.
While still in the minority, a few full-service carriers like Delta, American, KLM & Air France have decided to buck the trend and offer the cheapest fares only on their website. There are some drawbacks to buying flights with Online Travel Agents, but overall it's generally safe and can make your flight cheaper.
7. Pick the right moment to book to get the best rates.
Like we talked about in the myth-busting section, gone are the days when airlines release tickets once a week. They've made it very difficult to predict when any particular destination will go up or down in price.
The good news is that we've noticed some patterns in the times when great flight deals show up. We go more in-depth in the best time to book a flight article, but here's the gist of it:
From our experience, the cheapest months to search flights are usually after the general holiday/high season in January, February, August, and September.
On the flip side - the closer you get to the holiday season in May, June, April, and October, the more it'll cost to book a flight. December is usually the most expensive.
This is all a rule of thumb of course; prices reacting to demand is still a thing. Big world events like the Olympics or even regional events like the Brazilian carnival can greatly impact the fares you'll see.
8. Choose the best season to fly
After choosing the best time to book, the next step is figuring out when is the right season to fly. ”Well, that's an easy one” you may be thinking “just go during the low/off-peak seasons."
That might work for year-round destinations like Iceland, but booking a beach vacation in the Caribbean during the hurricane season isn't such a good idea.
An easy way to find the sweet spot between peak season and cheap international flights for any city is to hop on the Google Flights explore page, click on a destination and scroll down the infobox on the left. You'll find helpful tidbits on the weather and, in some cases, popular holidays and festivals.
Traveling during the shoulder season (the period between the high and low seasons) is often the best of both worlds - good weather, fewer crowds, and deals on more than just the flights. Knowing what to expect during each season will help you decide if it's worth visiting during the off-season.
Here are a few guidelines for each region:
Low Season: November - March. During the winter, the temperature drops, and in some countries, rainy days increase. December is an exception here - prices go up for ski season, Christmas markets, and Christmas break.
Shoulder Season: Early October for Southern Europe, April - May for Western Europe. During this time, the weather is still comfortable, but the holiday crowds are yet to come.
Low Season: July - October for Southeast Asia. You'd want to avoid going during the Monsoon season when typhoons and tropical storms occur frequently.
Shoulder Season: Generally June. The weather is a lot cooler with little rain.
Low Season: October - April. The 'top end' or Northern territory is also affected by the Monsoon season. While the rest of Australia varies, the general rule of thumb is June - August, during the winter.
Shoulder Season: September - November during spring and autumn/fall in April to May.
Low Season: June - October. The rainy season starts in June, and hurricane season picks up in August.
Shoulder Season: November - Mid-December. The rainy season is coming to an end, and it's right before the holiday rush.
Low Season: Generally May - September in Brazil but in the Southern parts (think Patagonia), it's during their winter in June to November.
Shoulder Season: Varies a lot from country to country, but it's usually after a big festival. For example, in Brazil, it's after the Carnival in March.
Low Season: Another region that varies a lot because of its massive geography. It's mostly November - March during the fall/autumn to the spring season, but school holidays like Christmas, Fall, Winter, Spring break, and Easter can spike up prices.
Shoulder Season: Sometimes during March to May when school's open as well as September. There's much fewer crowds during the start of the winter in November - December for ski destinations.
Low Season: It also varies a lot by country. For example, South Africa's low season is in their winter season, from June to August. This also happens to be the low season for Egypt for the opposite reason when it's super hot.
Shoulder Season: Mostly January when the Christmas crowds are gone.
Finding the cheapest flights for each season is a patience game. A convenient way to keep track of prices is using Google Flights alerts; this lets you know when prices have changed for your specific dates.
9. Fly on the least busy day of the week
So, you've figured out the best season to travel, but what about the cheapest day to fly? The answer varies really heavily on the route.
But usually, we've noticed that Tuesdays & Wednesdays are the cheapest days to travel, followed by Mondays and Sundays as the next cheapest. Unsurprisingly, Friday and Saturday are the two most expensive days to fly.
For short-haul flights - Mondays, especially during the evening, can be very expensive. This is usually due to travelers returning home after a long weekend trip. This doesn't mean you won't sometimes find cheap flights departing on Fridays & Saturdays - just that most of the time it's easiest to fly cheaper early in the week.
So there you have it, folks! Finding cheap flights to anywhere doesn't have to be a total nightmare. Sure, it takes a bit of effort and some patience, but with the tips outlined in this article, you'll be well on your way to snagging some sweet deals on flights. Whether you're using flight search engines, setting up price alerts, or being flexible with your travel dates, there are plenty of ways to save money and make your dream trip a reality.
Just remember to keep an eye out for additional fees and charges, and try to book your flights at the right time. With a little luck and a lot of perseverance, you'll be jetting off to your next adventure in no time. Safe travels!
If you want to find out more about finding cheap flights, take a look at our other guides.
Happy flying! :-)
Please note, while we do have links to other websites in our articles, none are affiliate links, and we do not benefit from you clicking on them; we just think they’re a good resource :)