How to get the Best Deal on Flights

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As we are getting ready for our next adventure, I thought it would be a good time to talk about flights.  The one question we hear over and over is, “How do you fly for so cheap”?  Flights are the last thing anyone wants to spend money on for vacation.  All they do is get you to your destination where you’d rather be spending your money.

  1. Flexibility.  The biggest way to save on flights is if you are flexible on the dates you need to fly.  There is always some deals to be had no matter what, but if you are flexible, you can save hundreds or more.  Flying during school times is always a benefit and flights on Tuesdays and Wednesdays are usually the cheapest.  Most airlines will show you an entire month at a glance to see when the best times are to fly, and some airlines even have special saver months or weeks where you can get a flight for a fraction of the normal price.
  2. Mix Airlines.  Nowhere is there a rule that you have to use the same airline to depart and return.  Very often, one airline has a great deal to get you to your destination but raises the price to come home.  Take the time to look at other airlines, or even nearby airports to find a better return trip.
  3. Extras.  A lot of airlines try to get you in the door with a low price, but charge fees for extras, like checking a bag, or even a carry on.  Make sure you know all of the fees upfront before booking that trip.  If you have to check a bag, you also want to do it during the purchase process and not wait until you get to the airport.  Prices are much cheaper if you pay for a checked bag upfront.  As always, Southwest still has no baggage fees, but their ticket prices usually reflect the bags upfront.  Spirit won’t even let you have a carry-on without a fee, but most airlines will.
  4. Travel Agents – Just kidding, never use a travel agent.  They don’t care about getting you the best deal.  They’ll help you book whatever gives them the best commission.  This may be the easy way out, but will always cost you a lot more.
  5. Rewards – There are always rewards to be had for flying.  Make sure whoever you fly with that you sign up for their rewards program and get credit for your flight.  Using credit card miles or even the airline’s credit cards can reap major rewards as well.  About one in 3 of our flights that we take is free from rewards, either through a credit card or frequent flyer miles.  Maximizing those miles can be very lucrative.  We’ll go into these tricks in another article as the features of each airline and credit card different greatly.

When we start looking for a flight there are a few resources that we start with.

  1. Kayak Explore – When you don’t really know where you want to go, but are curious to see where the best deals are, this is the site for you.  You can enter in your home airport and it shows you, on a Google Map, all the airports you can fly to and general prices, based on the time of year or month that you choose.
  2. Scott’s Cheap Flights – This isn’t really a site to search for flights, but a mailing list that you can sign up for.  They have a free mailing, but don’t expect to get much good info out of that.  For $40/year you can have flight deals sent to your email address on a daily basis.  Scott’s Cheap Flights mostly only deals with international flights, so if you’re looking for something within the county, this won’t help you (with the exception of Hawaii).
  3. Google Flights – Leave it up to Google to make searching for flights easier.  This is the fastest site to check across most airlines.  Google Flights gives you direct links to the airline’s sites for booking, so there isn’t a middle-man fee.  Keep in mind that Southwest isn’t represented here, as you’ll always need to check them independently.
  4. Momondo – Funny name, but great flight searching capabilities.  Scott’s Cheap Flights has a feature they call “Flight Hacker”, which will mix airlines for your flights.  This can save you a lot of money by giving you the best deal for each leg of your trip.  They link directly to the airlines, so there isn’t a middleman again.
  5. Airfarewatchdog – Another great site to show deals on flights as well as set up your preferred locations in order to receive emails when new deals are available.  This is similar to Scott’s Cheap Flights, but for domestic flights instead of international.

So, when is the best time to book a flight?  There are sites out there that’ll tell you a certain hour of the week is the best time, which may be true in general, but each airline has very complex algorithms they’ve put in place to modify flight prices throughout the week in order to get all of their seats booked for the highest price possible.  As a general rule of thumb, the middle of the week (tues/wed) is the best time to book flights.  If you’re looking early enough, you can watch the price of the flights daily for a week or so and see how they compare.  Or if a really great deal pops up, sometimes you just need to book it right away.  Most of the airlines now give you 24 hours to cancel a flight for a full refund, but check the fine print ahead of time.

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