How To Book Cheap Flights & Air Travel Deals

by Beth M. on 2012-01-2424

In my circle of friends, I am known as the budget traveler, a point of pride with me. I have a long list of cheap trips under my belt, and I love talking travel with whoever wants to listen, and not only to encourage them to travel often but to consider doing it cheaply. If someone wants to stay at the Ritz, I don’t discourage them, but most people think they can’t afford travel and don’t know how to find bargains, and therefore often decide to stay home. But you don’t need to be confined to your home, in my opinion. If you know how to find good deals, you can travel more often, stay longer at your destination, or actually take that distant trip you’ve been pining for.

Book Cheap Flights & Air Travel Deals Through Air Fare Comparison Sites

The first step in affordable travel is to find budget airfares. Prior to the internet, I would spend hours planning a trip, calling airline after airline, shopping for tickets for days, shifting around my travel schedule, and checking flights at different hours — all to find the cheapest flight. Luckily, I enjoyed this game and usually came up with some remarkably good prices.

Now you can do the same thing at lightning speed using aggregators, which come up with the cheapest flight with a just a few clicks on the computer. We’ve covered a number of them in our best travel sites article, but I’d like to share a few more air ticket comparison sites below, which are great for sniffing out great deals in air travel.

Hipmunk.com

Hipmunk.com: This service is one of the slickest flight trackers around. It’s very visual and has a really nice interface — fast, graphical and easy to use. I like how you can sort your flight details according to various factors such as by Agony (how much of a pain the flight is?), Price, Duration (length of travel time), Departure Time, Arrival Time and Airline. This is an example of an innovative site that has gone out of the box to deliver a great service.

Airfarewatchdog.com

Air Fare Watchdog: The site at airfarewatchdog.com helps you track reductions in air fares that are made by airlines on a regular basis. Daily changes to these flight rates occur daily, but are not actively advertised. If you decide to subscribe to this service, you’ll be alerted and notified of such air fare discounts and other offers that may be available.

FareCompare.com

FareCompare: This airline ticket comparison site provides you with tools to access real time data on air fares sourced from hundreds of airlines. You can subscribe and keep an eye on fares that are specific to your requirements, such as those originating from a specific airport or those for a particular type of seating. I used their Search & Compare tool for tickets, but got annoyed by all the popping windows — perhaps their alert system works better? Check them out at FareCompare.com.

Travelocity

Travelocity: This well known travel site has its own fare tracking tools and services, one of which is called FareWatcher Plus. It allows you to monitor ticket prices for up to 10 destinations. Through this tool, you’ll find out what kind of special offers, discounts and deals are available for your selected locales. As a Travelocity member, you’ll also be privy to additional free services such as their RSS Instant Fare Notification and Flight Alert Notification. Check out the Travelocity site here.

Bing.com/travel

Bing Travel: There used to be a site called Farecast.com that worked to give you predictions on airfare prices. Well, this technology and service has now been incorporated into Bing Travel. It’s different from other airfare comparison sites because it tries to stay a step ahead by offering you a forecast on expected ticket prices. That is, this tool analyzes fares to see if prices are rising or falling. You can search for flights through Bing Travel, but you’ll also benefit from the predictive tool (formerly Farecast), which aims to provide you recommendations on whether to go ahead vs wait on a particular ticket purchase. Here’s more on Bing Travel.

I’ve noted that most of the time, the different aggregators offer the same airlines, prices, and flight times, but that may not always be the case. Here are some rules of thumb when it comes to landing a cheap flight.

17 Helpful Tips To Secure A Cheap Flight

  1. Use airline credit cards that offer reward points towards your tickets. It’s one more way to bring down the cost of your airfare. I own a credit card that gives me points (one point for every dollar put on the card) toward one of the airlines I use, and I’ve also signed up for an American Express card that gives me points (again one point for every dollar charged) that I could use with any airline.
  2. Take advantage of frequent flyer programs. American Airlines, for instance, has an offer wherein if you use their airline before a certain date, they will triple your miles on every flight with them for the next year. I’ve also kept my eyes open for any other special promotions offered by these programs that would increase point levels.
  3. Don’t forget to enter your frequent flyer number whenever you buy tickets, if you’re participating in such a program.
  4. Keep track of when your points expire so you don’t lose them. When I went to Prague, it was in the middle of my third year of law school, and this was in February, so it was not the best time to travel. But my points were expiring the following June, and they had an open seat for a free ticket for a frequent flyer in February, so away I went. Sometimes, it’s all about the timing.
  5. Consider how you use your reward points. For example, I’ve decided to use my points only for overseas travel rather than domestic flights. I’ve also used points to upgrade my flights from coach to business or first class. This turns the points into something special, which inspires me to save even before I travel!
  6. The earlier you buy your ticket, the cheaper it will be. In particular, a study made by the Airlines Reporting Corporation (or ARC) reports that acquiring your tickets a month and a half (6 weeks) before your flight will yield you the best prices at 6% below the average ticket cost. The ARC polled travel agencies across the nation over the past several years and discovered that the best ticket prices were snagged 42 days before their designated flights. Be aware though, that these pricing patterns may change down the road based on promotions within the airline industry.
  7. Late bookings may occasionally work to your advantage. You can sign up with airlines for their last minute flight bargains and get some excellent deals that way too.
  8. Slower times of the week (mid-week, mid-day) tend to be cheaper than Monday mornings and Friday afternoons, which are prime time periods for business travel. A few reports state that the best time to buy a ticket is actually on a Tuesday at 3 PM EST, when deals may be most paramount (this claim seems inconclusive). The best days to fly? Wednesday, followed by both Tuesday and Saturday. During these days, you’ll find more seats available that may compel the airlines to lower their prices accordingly.
  9. The cheapest time to fly is very early in the morning (first flight of the day, red eye flights), followed by meal time hours (noon and dinner time).
  10. If you are flexible with your travel dates, or with using alternate nearby airports, you can usually get better fares.
  11. Slower times of the year (holidays, not summer) are cheaper times to fly.
  12. Flying off season (summer at a winter ski resort, for example) will cost less.
  13. Check airfares several times a day, with early morning the most likely time to grab a cheap fare. By later in the day, the deals may have dried up. So subscribing to services that provide you with helpful alerts may prove useful.
  14. Check out charter flights and vacation packages, as sometimes these are cheaper than the commercial flights.
  15. Check baggage fees and find out if this is something you can avoid. Some ways to do this? Select a carrier that allows for a free checked in bag, know what the carry on limits are, find a well designed carry on bag that allows for great use of limited space, and most of all, pack well and lightly!
  16. See if you can pay airline or airport fees online rather than at the ticket counter, as you may get a discount (on those fees) for doing so.
  17. Don’t pay for in flight movies; instead, bring a book or use your laptop to while away your time in the air!

What are your favorite tips for saving on air travel?

Created January 12, 2010. Updated January 24, 2012. Copyright © 2012 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

xenia January 13, 2010 at 2:53 am

Hey there!

I would like to include another site called Momondo.com, that searches along with expedia, another 700 hundred sites with information about cheap flights, hotels, car rentals, including green train trips on certain routes.

Neal Deutsch January 13, 2010 at 7:11 am

SVB as always giving great advice, I came to “discover” just recently that if you are awake early enough, between 1 am and 3 am you definitely are going to find really great prices. Just be aware of the fine print regarding cancellations and changes, so make sure before you book you are committed to travel on that date and time.

Craig January 13, 2010 at 9:31 am

I always look at kayak.com when looking for flights since it aggregates a lot of sites into one.

Evan January 13, 2010 at 10:15 am

The only thing I would add is that you should routinely clear your cookies since these sites know what when you looked and at what price so they jack up the price just a little bit to make you feel rushed.

Joel January 13, 2010 at 10:25 am

I’ve heard good things about Kayak, too. But Priceline has never steered me wrong for hotels. I stayed at the Algonquin Hotel in New York for a ridiculously low price.

I’m curious about Neal’s comment (#2), though: If you’re up at 1am, where should you go to get these deals? Do tell!

Silicon Valley Blogger January 13, 2010 at 10:44 am

Interesting feedback… particularly the one from Evan. I wouldn’t know how to verify whether a site has jacked up the price based on cookies or whether it’s just demand, but I did find this article about this alleged practice. Highly intriguing — this scheme on using cookies.

I’ve worked at many places as a systems and applications engineer and never heard of anything similar to this.

Mrs. Money January 13, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Awesome! I’m looking forward to traveling more in 2010, so I’ll have to bookmark this post too! Thanks!

Sam January 13, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Some great tips. I guess with most things, all it takes is a little bit of effort, planning ahead to get great deals.

Nathan Rodriguez January 14, 2010 at 8:35 am

I heard that they are giving discounts for those not wearing explosive pants.
:)

Matt January 14, 2010 at 8:46 am

Here’s a great tip for anyone booking with UK airline Easyjet – you can avoid their £12.50 admin fee per ticket by paying with a Pre-paid Mastercard (just changed from Visa Electron). You can actually get a one-way flight for 99p including taxes doing this, compared to paying £13.50 for the same ticket with a normal credit or debit card.

Also, don’t forget to pre-book parking if you’re planning to drive to the airport at a site like this — more money saved!

Len Penzo January 15, 2010 at 4:14 pm

If you are absolutely certain (and by absolutely, I mean 100% solidly sure) of the dates you are traveling, you can often save some significant money by booking a non-refundable ticket. If you cancel before the scheduled flight time, you MAY be able to use the ticket for a later flight on the same carrier. But my experience is the airlines seem to be getting a bit less flexible in this regard, so buyer beware.

Just remember, non-refundable tickets are a risk. Even when you know the dates are solid, life happens sometimes. Ask yourself are you prepared to accept the risk before pulling the trigger on a non-refundable ticket.

Best,

Len

mathewsteff January 18, 2010 at 6:10 am

These online bookings from the travel services are really helpful, as since the chances of waiting for long hours in the queue gets reduce and also you get some good discounts if you book tickets in bulk and thus the technology has really made us more advancements where in mobile booking for the online tickets are introduced now.

Lizzy Chase January 27, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Nice to see Farecast in that list. Although even if I do use a travel-aggregator site — I always perform due diligence and check the actual airline site to compare price and flight times. But bundles seem to be the way to go this season. I myself am spreading the word about JetBlue and Hertz. Offering daily prizes as well as $25 vouchers on car rentals.

Always looking for the next great travel reward!

Steven @ Booktix June 29, 2010 at 9:56 am

I love Kayak, although you end up with similar pricing at the end of day using Orbitz. Also Air Asia is great for regional travel in Asia on very short notice.

Baxy September 3, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Being flexible is the key to get chap air tickets to any destination as it has been observed that airlines generally reduce their air fares on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Bill September 19, 2010 at 10:57 am

@Matt… Am I misunderstanding your statement that you got a one-way flight for 99p? That can’t mean that’s all you paid for the flight.. that’s gotta be referring to a reduction in the admin fee, yes?

Traveller October 27, 2010 at 11:54 pm

I prefer Priceline.com over every other websites….it’s real cool — that bid kind of thing. I love it!

Cheap Sally February 24, 2011 at 5:37 pm

I use whatever site offers the best coupons. I usually find that Orbitz and Travelocity have the best promotion codes that can save me the most money. I never get anything out of Kayak.

J. Bradley January 25, 2012 at 6:13 am

This article is great! In Europe, there are a number of inexpensive airlines for traveling within the continent. I’ve also had success ‘naming my own price’ on Priceline.com.

Silicon Valley Blogger January 25, 2012 at 9:01 am

Thanks for sharing your favorite sites! I’ve actually covered “Name Your Price” here and also wrote up a longer list of travel sites here. There are quite a large number of sites in this space, I just realized, many of which are getting even more clever about giving you the best deals in air travel. That’s only good news for the consumer!

Jeff Crews January 27, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Have you ever tried “Name Your Own Price” on Priceline? I tried it once and got a flight for the next day pretty cheap. One thing is that flights in advance you do not really save on (probably because they have no reason to sell you a ticket for cheap because they will probably fill up the flight still).

Silicon Valley Blogger January 27, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for the vote on Priceline’s Name Your Own Price. Some people have complained about it while others love it, but maybe it’s also about expectations. If you are getting a cheap hotel or ticket, and are still expecting something first class, then you may end up being disappointed.

Skint in the City January 30, 2012 at 10:30 am

When looking for the best deals on flights I always use skyscanner.net, which scans the skies, and the airlines price lists, to bring you a round-up of the cheapest fares in seconds. I never book a flight without checking there first.

Silicon Valley Blogger February 12, 2012 at 7:27 pm

I wanted to add this really great idea as well — find out which airlines may provide you a refund if you discover that your ticket price has dropped. Check out Yapta.com to track price drops and to find out if you can be eligible for refunds.

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