Advertiser Disclosure
Advertiser Disclosure: The credit card and banking offers that appear on this site are from credit card companies and banks from which MoneyCrashers.com receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site, including, for example, the order in which they appear on category pages. MoneyCrashers.com does not include all banks, credit card companies or all available credit card offers, although best efforts are made to include a comprehensive list of offers regardless of compensation. Advertiser partners include American Express, Chase, U.S. Bank, and Barclaycard, among others.

How to Book the Cheapest Flight Possible (Get the Best Airline Prices)


FEATURED PROMOTION


Additional Resources

Flying is the best way to travel longer distances. It’s much faster than driving for trips longer than a few hundred miles. And if you’re going somewhere like Hawaii or Europe, good luck finding a bridge to take you there.

It’s no secret that plane tickets can be expensive. Fortunately, you have plenty of tricks at your disposal to save some money on your next flying vacation.

How to Book the Cheapest Flight Possible

Flying can be expensive, but if you know what you’re doing, you can score some great deals. Here are nineteen of the best ways to get the best airline prices.

1. Buy Tickets in Advance

A whirlwind vacation where you show up to the airport and buy tickets to the first city that catches your eye can be exciting, but last-minute booking is expensive. You’ll usually save money by buying tickets in advance.


Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations have an average return of 618%. For $79 (or just $1.52 per week), join more than 1 million members and don't miss their upcoming stock picks. 30 day money-back guarantee. Sign Up Now

The ideal time frame to book a flight is between one and four months in advance for domestic flights and about six months in advance for international flights.

For example, on a recent search, a one-way New York to Los Angeles flight cost $308 when booked one day ahead. When booked anywhere from three months to one month in advance, the price for the cheapest flight fell to just $67. 

Meanwhile, a one-way flight from New York to London cost $277 when booked a day in advance. The cost of the same itinerary fell below $200 when booked half a year ahead.

2. Be Flexible With Your Travel Dates

Most people know that there are times of the year when traveling is more expensive. This is usually due to demand. Everyone wants to go see family at Thanksgiving and the holidays. Popular school vacation periods and the summer season are prime times for family trips.

If you have the flexibility to travel during off times, such as January or early fall, tickets could be much cheaper than you expect.

3. Use Price Comparison Search Engines

There are lots of online services, such as Google Flights, that will help you compare flight options from multiple carriers. Just enter the city you want to visit and when you want to leave, and the engine gives you dozens of flights to choose from.

This makes it easy to compare flights from different carriers to find the cheapest option.

When using these services, keep in mind that some carriers block these comparison engines from showing their flights. Southwest is the biggest U.S. airline that does this. If you want to compare Southwest fares against other airlines’, you need to search on its website. 


Once you choose a flight, check the airline’s site directly to see if it quotes a lower price for that same ticket. Some of these comparison sites charge fees that don’t apply to direct bookings. And because these sites charge airlines fees to appear on them, many carriers add a premium to comparison site fares. That premium passes along to you. 

4. Book on Tuesday

Historically, people have recommended booking flights on Tuesdays because prices tend to be lowest. This has been less true in recent years. A 2017 study by CheapAir.com finds that there isn’t a significant difference in price based on the day of the week.


Still, sometimes, you can find deals on Tuesday. Using data collected between 2013 and 2017, Hopper.com (via Bloomberg) finds that booking on Tuesday at midnight saves you an average of $18 per ticket. While not a huge amount, this is still something, so if you’re a night owl you might as well take advantage.

5. Fly on Tuesday and Wednesday

People usually like to start their vacations early in the week and end them late in the week. That means that lots of people fly on the weekends. Many business travelers wind up flying on Monday or Friday, which leaves the middle of the week with lower demand than other days.

Tuesday and Wednesday are the two cheapest days to fly and tend to be less busy, meaning you can find more open flights.

There are exceptions to this rule. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, for example, is an expensive day to fly because it’s close to a major holiday. Some airports have unusual traffic patterns, so take a few minutes to check if one of the airports you’re using has a different pattern.

6. Depart Early and Return Late

Pricing for airfare is determined largely based on demand. Few people want to take a red-eye flight or have to show up at 4am to get through security in time to catch their plane. This means that you can often find the best flight prices for flights that leave very early in the morning or late at night.

If you don’t mind flying at odd hours or you have no trouble sleeping on a plane, fly early or late. You’ll pay less than you would at a more civilized hour. 

7. Consider Budget Airlines

Some airlines try to make flying feel like a luxury experience. Delta and other airlines have airport lounges, you can fly in first-class seats if you’re willing to pay the price, and you get access to amenities like in-flight food and entertainment.

Then there are the budget airlines, such as Spirit and Southwest. These companies focus very heavily on price. They’ll get you from point A to point B, but the experience isn’t always as smooth or pleasant.

But if you can deal with not having an assigned seat and understand the complicated fee structures for checked bags and other add-ons, budget airline tickets often cost a fraction of more upscale carriers’ fares. As long as you know what you’re getting into, this one simple change can save you a lot of money. 

8. Consider Alternative Airports

When you book a flight, you probably look at flights for the nearest big-city airport. However, many cities have multiple passenger airports. And even if there’s only one airport in your destination, you can usually find smaller airports nearby.

Considering smaller airports gives you more chances to reduce your ticket costs. For example, if you’re flying out of Boston, you’ll probably be looking at tickets from Boston Logan International Airport. A short drive or train ride takes you to Providence’s T.F. Green International Airport, giving you more flight options and a chance to save on air travel.

If you’re flying to a city with multiple passenger airports, such as New York City or Washington, D.C., search flights for all of them. If you’re willing to land a bit farther out of the city, you can save money.

Just keep in mind that you’ll need to cover the additional costs to get to your final destination. That means marginal airfare savings could end up costing you more overally. If you save $10 by using a more distant airport but have to spend $40 more on a taxi to your hotel, stick with the more expensive fare.

9. Consider Multistop Flights

Flying nonstop is the fastest and most pleasant way to get where you want to go. However, you pay a premium for the convenience and speed.

If you can afford to add some time to your travel, look into flights that include a connecting flight or two. Adding those stops could lower your total fare.

10. Book Connecting Flights Separately

Airline pricing is complicated. It’s driven by dynamic algorithms that update prices based on thousands of factors. That means that you can sometimes find a better price when you book two one-way flights rather than a single round-trip flight. 

On a recent search for flights between Boston and Orlando, the total cost of two one-way tickets came to $192. A round-trip flight on the same carrier at the same time ran $195. The savings is small, but you may find opportunities for larger savings on longer flights.

Keep in mind that there’s no guarantee that you’ll save money this way and that some airlines are improving their booking algorithms to eliminate these saving opportunities.

This is also true with connecting flights. If you find a flight option that goes from City A to City B with a stop in C in between, look at the prices for flights from A to C and C to B. You may find that the two one-way itineraries are cheaper.

11. Mix and Match Carriers

Sometimes, the best airfare deal involves more than one carrier. For example, if one airline has a great price for the first leg of your trip but a high price for the return leg, you might book a one-way ticket with that carrier and look to another airline for a better deal on the return leg.

Many booking websites consider multiple carriers by default. If yours doesn’t and doesn’t offer the option to do so, search for one-way flights between the cities on your itinerary.

12. Sign Up for a Cheap Flight Newsletter

One of the best ways to get cheap flights is to sign up for a cheap flight newsletter or notification service, such as Scott’s Cheap Flights or Dollar Flight Club.

Airlines sometimes discount fares by huge amounts for short periods of time. These discounts happen at random and can occur intentionally or by mistake. Cheap flight newsletters monitor these opportunities so you don’t have to and quickly alert you to them. Book quickly and you could save a lot — often upwards of 50% on the price of a regular fare.

The biggest drawback of cheap flight newsletters is that there’s no guarantee of cheap flights when or where you want to travel. For best results, be flexible with your travel dates and destinations.

13. Set Up Price Alerts

Lots of services that help book flights, like Google Flights and Expedia, let you set up price alerts that notify you when flight prices rise or fall. If you know when you plan to travel, use these alerts to find out when you should book for the lowest price.

If you’ve already booked your tickets, these services can still help. If prices fall, many airlines let you rebook the same flight at the lower rate, refunding the difference between what you paid and the current price.

14. Use Frequent Flyer Miles and Rewards Points

The best kind of cheap airfare is free airfare. If you have frequent flyer miles or credit card rewards points saved up, this is a distinct possibility.

Most airlines have a loyalty program that awards miles every time you fly. Sometimes, you can also earn miles in other ways. Once you earn enough miles, you can redeem them for free flight tickets. Even if you don’t have enough, you can often redeem for reduced-priced fares. 

Some airlines have other frequent flyer perks like free checked bags. Southwest even gives very frequent flyers a buy one, get one free deal for a year or more with its Companion Pass.

One of the best ways to earn a lot of miles is by signing up for an airline’s branded credit card. These cards give you miles for every dollar you spend, which means every purchase helps you get closer to a free vacation.

Even if you don’t have a rewards credit card that’s partnered with a specific airline, issuers like Chase and American Express let you redeem your points for reduced-price travel or transfer them to your preferred airline’s loyalty program.

15. Compare Individual vs. Group Ticket Prices

If you’re booking flights for more than one person, compare the price of a ticket when you book individually and as a group.

For example, you might find that booking individual tickets costs $100 per person while booking flights for a party of four shows a price of $440. As long as you don’t mind booking separate tickets, you can save money by booking individual trips.

16. Search in Incognito Mode

Airlines adjust the prices for their flights daily or even hourly. Sometimes, they will adjust the prices dynamically based on factors such as whether you’ve searched for 

For example, if you’ve searched for tickets to Miami for a New Year celebration every day for the past week, you might see that prices start to climb. The cookies in your web browser let the airline’s website know you’ve been looking for flights, so the site increases the price hoping you’ll book anyway.

If you use an incognito web browser, the airline websites and flight search sites won’t be able to track your searches, so you may find a lower price.

17. Look for “Hidden City” Flight Deals

Hidden city flying is a controversial practice that airlines frown upon. However, it can save you huge amounts of money.

Imagine you want to fly from Orlando to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. A ticket might cost about $400. The same airline also offers a route from Orlando to Syracuse, New York, for $350. That route has a short layover at JFK.

To complete a hidden city booking, you’d book the flight from Orlando to Syracuse, get off the plane when it arrives at JFK, and intentionally miss your connection.

These deals are hard to find on your own, but websites like Skiplagged.com exist to uncover them. However, airlines don’t like when customers do this and have banned people from their flights for abusing this tactic in the past. You might also find your ticket for the return flight is canceled because you missed part of your itinerary.

When using hidden city flights, you can’t check your bags because they’ll be sent along to your supposed final destination automatically. If you’re willing to give up this convenience and risk being stranded temporarily, hidden city booking can save you huge sums.

18. Look Up Prices in Other Currencies

One of the trickier ways to save some money on international travel is to book your flight using a different currency. Most Americans are used to using the dollar, but there’s nothing saying that you can’t book a flight to Europe in euros.

Some airlines will let you choose the version of the website you view when you first visit the site. You can simply choose a country other than the US to view prices in other currencies. In some cases, you’ll need to use a VPN service to convince the site that you’re booking from somewhere else to get the option to pay in another currency.

Depending on the conversion rate and any fees you pay to exchange currency, you can sometimes save money by booking your flights in a foreign currency. This is especially useful if you’re using an international airline.

19. Look for Special Discount Programs

One of the classic deal-finding strategies, looking for special discounts, is still applicable when it comes to booking flights. Some airlines have discount programs for groups like veterans, active-duty military, or students.

There are also airlines that offer discounts for specific situations, such as when you’re traveling due to a death in your family. Often, the so-called bereavement discount is 10%. You generally need to book over the phone to get the preferred pricing.

When booking a flight, do some research to find if there are any discount programs you’re eligible for to make sure you’re saving every dollar you can.


Final Word

Finding the best flight deals is a mix of art and science. Sometimes, you get lucky and get a great deal on a trip with no trouble at all. Other times, you need to use the strategies on this list to help you find the best deal.

Just don’t forget that flights are just one part of traveling. You need to book a hotel and transportation at your destination too. If you take the time to find deals on every aspect of your trip, it can save you a lot of money in the long run.

FEATURED PROMOTION

GME is so 2021. Fine art is forever. And its 5-year returns are a heck of a lot better than this week’s meme stock. Invest in something real. Invest with Masterworks.

Stay financially healthy with our weekly newsletter

TJ is a Boston-based writer who focuses on credit cards, credit, and bank accounts. When he's not writing about all things personal finance, he enjoys cooking, esports, soccer, hockey, and games of the video and board varieties.

FEATURED PROMOTION