At JFC, we've made it our mission to uncover the cheapest flight deals known to mankind. We're no strangers to the daily grind of sifting through thousands of flight tickets, dodging sneaky fees, and outsmarting those pesky airline pricing algorithms to bring you only the crème de la crème of deals.
Suffice it to say, we've got some pretty juicy insider knowledge on how to score unbeatable deals. We've shared a few basic tips in this article, but if you're ready to take the plunge and dive deeper into the world of finding cheap flights, keep reading.
1. Book flights that avoid airport rush hours
The cheapest time to fly is usually the first flight on schedule in the wee hours of the morning. This happens because airports charge lower fees for their take-off spots during these hours.
But, if you're more likely to hit the snooze button, the second cheapest time is during the late hours of the night. In the industry, it's called a red-eye flight - departing at night and arriving in the morning. As a result, you'll sometimes see a red-eye logo marked on your itinerary when booking flights.
It's especially true for transatlantic travel - a round-trip ticket with an overnight leg is often cheaper than a day flight. Airlines know we're all suckers for cheap fares and convenient flight times that don't disrupt our beauty sleep, so they jack up the prices accordingly.
If you want to score a cheap flight with reasonable flight times during the holiday season, booking at the right time is everything.
2. Be as flexible as a gymnast
Not literally! But you also don't need to be retired to have flexible travel plans - there's a bunch of stuff you can fine-tune to bag a cheap flight. For example:
- Instead of setting your sights on a single destination during a single set of dates, come up with a list of destinations that appeal to you. The wider the list, the more likely you'll be able to score an awesome deal.
- Use Google Flights' flexible price-map tool to identify which destinations have cheaper options during the time of year you plan to travel.
- Check nearby departure airports. It's not uncommon to cut a long-haul ticket from somewhere like the US to Europe in half by selecting a different, nearby departure airport.
- Keep an eye out for nearby destinations. Suppose you're flying somewhere fancy like Koh Samui (Thailand). Because there isn’t a lot of traffic directly there, you might be better off getting a long-haul fare to nearby Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, or Singapore and grabbing a cheap regional flight onto the island.
- Once you've chosen your route, always check nearby dates using the Google Flights price-calendar tool. Moving your travel dates by a few days might mean a better route or a much cheaper flight.
Keeping plans open will also come in handy when choosing what extras you’ll need.
3. Don’t let extras cost you… extra
Airlines use all the tricks in the book to make their fights look the best value. That's why you should know precisely what you need before you go searching, or you could end up overpaying for your ticket.
Extras or add-ons could include:
Checked bags - If you're taking them, make sure the airlines that charge extra don't end up more expensive than paying for a ticket class that includes a checked bag.
Budget airlines are the biggest culprits - they're notorious for having high checked bag fees and charging extra for carryons.
Seat selection - There are two kinds of people: those who are okay with any seat and those who have military-style strategies to find the best seat. If you fall in the latter camp, be prepared to pay extra for that perfect seat. However, some airlines still offer free booking at check-in if you're feeling lucky.
Insurance & Flexible Policy - With travel en route to getting its groove back, many airlines that offered free changes during the pandemic are returning to their 'old flexibility policy'. Read: no flexibility at all. It might be worth the extra cost to get a ticket that allows changes/refunds if your plans change later.
Pro tip: The best way to compare flights is to include the extras you want to the ticket price before comparing.
Here are some other tips for cutting costs on flight extras:
- Split checked bags with a buddy
- Choose seats in the first row for more legroom
- Bring your own snacks
- Pack sleeping aids like masks and earbuds
- Carry a portable charger
- Pack as light as possible in your carry on and heavy in your personal bag.
Packing light ensures that you don't get hit with any unexpected fees or delays at the airport. Plus, it's always easier to maneuver through the airport and onto the plane when you have less to carry.
On the other hand, your personal bag (like a backpack or purse) usually doesn't have any weight restrictions. This means you can load it up with all the heavy items you need, like your laptop, camera, books, and other essentials.
4. Pack more value into your holiday with a multi-city trip.
You can often fly back from a different airport or add a stop to flights for the same price as a regular return flight. You're already planning a trip to Thailand, so why not add time in Istanbul into the mix?
When done correctly, bundling two or more cities (aka multi-city trips) can save you some major dinero.
There are a few ways to make multi-city flight work without spending a fortune:
- The extended layover
- Multi-city hopper
- Open-jaw/Round the world with a local connector
It can be tricky to find these sometimes, so check out our full guide to booking each type in our multi-destination article.
5. Try using the hidden fare ticketing (carefully!)
A hidden ticket is a flight hack where you purchase a ticket with a stop before the final destination, and instead of going through the entire trip - you leave early at the stop and don't board the final flight.
This works quite well because direct routes are more popular than multiple stops. Therefore airlines price direct flights much higher according to the demand and multi-stop flights lower even though you'd be flying more miles.
Skippedlagged.com is a great website for finding hidden-city and multi-city flights. But be mindful of the caveats, such as limitations on when you can check a bag. We have a full Hidden-City Ticketing guide here.
6. Save more dineros by switching currencies.
Sometimes the foreign exchange rate works in your favor when looking for cheap flights to anywhere. Local airlines usually price fares in their currency and may be cheaper if you pay in it too. For example, Mexico's VivaAerobus may charge their tickets in pesos, saving you a couple of bucks if you're dealing with dollars/euros/pounds.
Flight search engines let you choose the country and currency you'd like to see when searching. It's worth checking the prices in the currency of your destination.
This trick works especially well in Europe where many countries share a currency but online travel agencies and agents differ in price. Keep in mind that their customer service might only be available in a language you don't speak, although most will also speak English, at least.
7. You can almost fly for free with credit card rewards.
There's nothing quite like buying a flight ticket for $0 - and the best way to do that is through travel hacking with credit cards.
If you're starting out, you can choose between an airline rewards card that's associated with a particular airline or alliance, or you can opt for a general travel rewards card that gets you miles/points for several airlines.
The trick is to use your card as you would with cash, pay for everyday items, and pay off the balance each month to avoid interest.
There are some caveats to watch out for when using this method. For example, opening a new credit card account could potentially shorten your credit history, and applying for multiple credit cards at once to score those signing up bonuses could drop your FICO score.
There you have it, folks - our guide to finding the cheapest flights like a pro. We've covered everything from timing your bookings just right to taking advantage of rewards programs and flexible travel dates. But remember, finding the best deals requires a little bit of patience, research, and flexibility.
It may take a bit of extra effort, but the rewards of scoring a cheap plane ticket at a great deal are well worth it. So the next time you're planning a trip, keep these tips in mind, and you'll be a cheap flight finding pro in no time.