Cheap Flights FTW: How to Find the Best Deals on Flights

I’ve started to receive requests from friends and fellow alumni. First thing ‘ve noticed is that I’d get a message stating “Hey! I’m trying to go to New Orleans on [given specific date] and I wanna go cheap!” Well first off, it doesn’t work that way….. read further and you’ll see why, LOL. Airlines have thousands of killer deals - from mistakenly published cheap fares to normal deals to slashed prices to compete with another airline. Cheap fares are out there and here’s how to find them:

1. Be Flexible with Your Travel Dates

Airline ticket prices vary depending on the day of the week, time of year, and upcoming holidays such as Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, or the Fourth of July. Overseas, August is a big month for traveling around Europe as many Europeans go on vacation then, so airline tickets tend to be higher.

It’s always cheaper to fly during the middle of the week than on a weekend, because most people travel on the weekends and airlines hike their prices then. Prices are also a bit cheaper if you fly after a major holiday. Early-morning or late-night flights are cheaper because fewer people want to travel then. Before you commit to your departure, make sure you check other dates so as to pick the cheapest day. If you are not flexible on the dates you want to fly, you will never be able to find a cheap flight. Even the difference of one day can mean hundreds of dollars in savings.

2. Be Flexible with Your Destinations

Instead of going to a place with an expensive flight, go where it is cheaper to get there. Kayak offers the “Explore” tool that allows you to put in your home airport and see what routes have the cheapest fares. Google Flights also has a similar (and better) feature. If you are flexible with where you want to go (i.e., anywhere but home), these are wonderful tools to start your planning with.

There’s always a deal to some destination around the world and if you’re flexible on where you want to go, you’ll be able to find a deal. Use these tools to figure out where they current deals are.

3. Fly with Budget Carriers

 Budget airlines now service many long-haul routes, making it possible to bounce around the world for little money. I'm speaking on budget carriers, such as, Spirit Airlines, Frontier, etc)

There are only a handful of budget airlines in the USA. In Europe, there are more, and competition has kept prices there low. Flying the budget airlines is a good alternative to flying “the majors” whenever possible. You get fewer perks, but you can save a bundle in ticket costs.

4. Try Alternative Routes

Not only does it help to be flexible with dates and destinations, but try being flexible with the route you take, too.  There are so many budget carriers around the world that taking advantage of a good deal to another city and then hopping on a budget flight to your destination is sometimes the best way to go.. Use the search sites such as SkyScanner , Google Flights and Matrix Airfare Search listed in the previous tip to see where the cheapest airports to fly into are. Hell, even research such as Travelocity and Groupon are as useful and have plenty of all-inclusive deals. 

By working various airlines and special offers, you can save a lot. This method is not for everyone, however. It is more work, as you have to figure out lots of different routes and check different airlines. But it will shave some money off your flight, giving you more to spend at your destination.

5. Remember: Not All Search Engines are Equal

Ok, I won't to confuse you guys here, but not all search engines are created equal. Whenever most Americans do a Web search for airline tickets, they use the website I mentioned above earlier (Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, etc). These sites either work with or are owned by the airline companies and don’t offer unbiased fares. You need to search as many flight search websites as you can in order to ensure you are leaving no stone unturned. Moreover, many sites don’t list budget carriers because those airlines don’t want to pay a booking commission.

It’s important to check a few sites before you book, as you’ll often see variations in prices, and you don’t want to miss a deal. The best search engines are the ones that have no affiliation with any airline and make their money via advertising, not bookings. But all websites have their weaknesses and do not include every airline.

At the end of the day, there is no perfect airline search engine. Even the best have their faults, but it's best to do as much research possible to get the best deal.

6. Take Advantage of Student Discounts

If you are a student (wink, wink, current Huston Tillotson students) there are plenty of discounts available to you! If you are a current student check out STA Travel  to find tickets. Also there are student codes out there as well. It's the internet. Use it! 

7. Sign Up for a Frequent Flier Program

Airline rewards programs are a great way to get free flights, free upgrades, and free companion tickets. No matter how often you fly, you should be signed up for the airline’s reward program. I stick to US-based airlines since they are involved in all the major alliances and you can earn miles on their partner flights.

There are a lot of other ways to earn miles if you aren’t jet-setting around the world all the time:

Shop at partner stores — All airlines have special offers for large consumer companies such as Amazon, Apple, Best Buy, and Target. Shopping at those preferred stores will earn you 2 – 4 miles per dollar spent, sometimes even up to 10 miles per dollar spent. If you spend $1,000 a month, you can earn up to 3,000 miles just by doing so through their websites. The products don’t cost extra. It’s a huge win! I do all my shopping through airline partners simply for the extra miles.

Watch for special offers — These bonuses don’t go into the high tens of thousands, but you can get something over a long period of time by doing virtually nothing. They do add up.

Be a crazy flyer — When airlines get into price wars or offer new routes, they often launch ridiculous double- or triple-mile offers.  Mileage runs are common among frequent travelers and, while not free, can be a useful method to gain a lot of miles on a cheap fare.

Put everything on the card — I pay nothing in cash. I put everything on my travel credit card — from Starbucks to phone bills. 

8. Join a Mailing List

No one likes to clutter up their inbox, but by signing up for mailing lists from airlines and search engines, you’ll be able to get updates about all the last-minute or special deals that are happening. Many times, the cheap flights are only available for 24 hours, and if you aren’t always checking the Web for them, you will miss out on many of the super-cheap deals that occur. 

Additional tips that I could offer are:

Know how much you want to pay for your flight - This is especially important for those who likes to plan group trips, like me. I've planned a group trip my senior year with my best friend and one of the dilemmas that we ran across is figuring out how much we were each willing to pay. Of course, you may go around as ask friend how much they are willing to spend, and of course they'll give you a ballpark figure. That is, up until its actually time to pay for the your flights and hotels, that people start coming up with excuses. My advice is to make a legitimate price list of costs and figured with an overall total. And be realistic. 

Book Early (Not too early) - Don't wait until the last second, as the fare will increase based on demand, and don't purchase too early.  The best booking window is 6 to 8 weeks before the flight and around 3 months before if your trip is at peak season.