12 Tips for Scoring the Best Flight Deals

Passenger Airliner flying in the clouds
Passenger Airliner flying in the clouds

When it comes to travel, it’s usually the “getting there” part that causes the most stress. There are so many travel sites and flight options out there, and everyone wants to find the best deal. While there are no guaranteed ways to get the best flight deal, these 12 tips give you the best chance of getting the best price the next time you’re searching for airfare:

1. Book 6-8 Weeks Ahead of Time

According to a study conducted by CheapAir.com, the ideal booking window is 6-8 weeks before you want to fly — unless it’s peak tourist season. In that case, you’ll want to book about three months in advance.

2. Be Flexible With Your Travel Dates

Flying on weekends or around holidays is almost always going to increase the price of a ticket. If the flight you want on a specific day is selling fast, that also could drive up the ticket price. If you can be flexible with your travel dates, try searching for flights three days on either side of your ideal travel date. Sometimes you can find cheaper seats by flying just a day earlier or a day later.

3. Fly on Tuesday or Wednesday

Speaking of being flexible, it’s more or less universally agreed upon by airline experts that flying on Tuesday or Wednesday will net you the best prices. Flying on Friday, on the other hand, will usually cost you more.

4. Travel in the Off-Season

If you can be flexible enough to travel in the off-season or shoulder season (i.e., in between high season and off-season for a destination), your whole trip will likely be cheaper. For example, flying to the coast for a beach holiday will almost always be more expensive in the summer, when kids are out of school, as opposed to early spring or in the fall.

5. Take the Flights Nobody Else Wants

If you don’t have to be at your destination at a certain time, try searching for flights with no time parameters set. Sometimes red-eyes (overnight flights) or really early morning flights will be less expensive than flights during the late morning or afternoon.

6. Use the Right Flight Search Engine

Do you use Expedia or Orbitz? You shouldn’t. According to budget travel expert Nomadic Matt, sites like these work with the airlines and don’t show you the best fares. Many also don’t show flight listings for budget airlines like Southwest and JetBlue, meaning you’re definitely not seeing the most affordable flights. Use sites like Kayak, Hipmunk, Momondo, Skyscanner or Google Flights to get more unbiased flight prices — and don’t be afraid to check more than one site to compare prices.

7. Do Your Flight Search in an Incognito Window

Whenever you’re searching for flights — and especially if you aren’t planning to book immediately — be sure to clear your browser’s cookies first, or do your searches in an incognito window (a “secret” browser window where cookies reflecting your online activity can’t be collected). This ensures that the booking sites you’re checking can’t track the flights you’re searching for and potentially show you higher prices if they see you’re checking the same route frequently.

8. Set Fare Alerts

Many flight search sites allow you to set fare alerts for a specific route. So, for example, if you want to book a ticket from Chicago to San Francisco, you can have the website send you an email when prices for that route drop. Sites that offer this include Kayak, Skyscanner, Hipmunk and Airfarewatchdog.

9. Use Kayak’s Price Trends Feature

Another useful feature offered by Kayak is the price trends feature. For most domestic flight searches, Kayak will advise you whether to “Buy” or “Wait” based on price trends from the past seven days. It will also show you a confidence percentage (i.e. how confident Kayak is that the price will rise/fall within the next week).

10. Consider an Open-Jaw Ticket or 2 One-Ways

An “open-jaw” ticket means flying in to one airport and out of another. For example, say you want to fly in to San Francisco but out of Los Angeles. That would be an open-jaw, or a “multi-city” ticket on most booking websites. You can also search for two one-way tickets. Sometimes, depending on your destination(s), these tickets can be a little less expensive than booking round-trip.

11. Try Flightfox

If you’re booking a more complicated flight route, or perhaps cross-country flights for the whole family, consider giving Flightfox a try. Flightfox is a marketplace where flight experts compete to find the cheapest flights for you. You do pay for this service, but if you’re going to be spending a lot of money on airfare anyway, it’s worth it to have experts competing to find you the best deals. Plus, it means less hours stressing in front of the computer for you.

12. Get Deals in Your Inbox

Are you open to being slightly more impulsive with your travel plans? Then consider signing up for travel deals newsletters from sites like The Flight Deal and Travel Zoo. Travel Zoo mainly gathers deals on vacations, while The Flight Deal focuses mostly on airfare. These sites gather all the best deals each week (and sometimes each day) and email you the best ones. If you see a great deal in one of these newsletters, you can pretty much book it on the spot, sometimes saving hundreds of dollars.

Armed with these tips, you should now be more prepared to book that next vacation with confidence, knowing you’ll be getting the best flight deals possible.