I’m known in my circle of friends as the “travel guy”. While I’d much rather be known as the “fitness guy” or “guy who has a bunch of money so he doesn’t have to work and can just go around helping people”, for now I’m the travel guy I guess. One of the questions I get most often is “how do I find cheap flights?” The answer is pretty simple. Let me show you the three sites I use to find cheap flights.
Most of my travel involves an effort to fly as far as I can for as little money as possible in order to achieve Executive Platinum status with American Airlines (since I’m based in Dallas it makes more sense to have status with American than any other airline). The Flight Deal has played a huge role in not only my international travel but also pointing out domestic destinations that are available for very cheap. The front page of the site features all deals they find but they also have city-specific feeds so you can narrow it down to where you’re from (if they cover your city). They cover some of the biggest airline markets in the USA and their sister site Fare Deal Alert covers many of the rest. You may not be able to use every deal they write about but go ahead and subscribe to their free newsletter, follow them on Facebook, or add them to your RSS feed to make sure you don’t miss one of their awesome deals!
Google Flights is by far the easiest to use flight search tool around. A few years back Google purchased ITA Matrix, another incredibly useful flight search tool, although it has a bit of a learning curve. Google incorporated that technology into Google Flights. Flight prices update quickly and you can even type your originating airport and leave the destination airport blank and look at a map of all potential destinations! One of my favorite aspects of Google Flights is the ability to filter your search not only by airline or price but also by airline alliance, so if I’m searching for a roundtrip to Hong Kong, for example, and I want to make sure my flights are only on Oneworld flights (because I have Oneworld Emerald status and receive some nice benefits), I can do that on Google Flights much easier than with ITA Matrix. There’s an ever so slight learning curve with Google Flights but I’ve found it to be a slick, user-friendly interface. If you know your destination, it’s easy to pull up a calendar and see when nearby dates might be cheaper too. The best part is, once you find your flight, Google provides you a link either directly to the airline or to Orbitzlocitypedia/whatever other site they found the cheapest fare at.
Flyertalk is a great site if you have the time to learn some of the vocabulary. The Mileage Run Deals forum is where many people share fares they find, including the occasional mistake fare. You don’t need to be a member to peruse the forum, so it’s worth taking a peek every couple of days or so. Just a friendly reminder, many of these people are looking to do mileage runs, so they’ll use terms like “cpm” to denote how many elite-qualifying miles a given fare will earn. If you’re just looking for cheap fares, ignore the cpm part and look past all the people (like me) doing an absurdly long flight in one weekend.
Some guidelines to find cheap flights
Here’s the thing about cheap flights: you don’t know when they’ll pop up and you don’t know for how long they will last. Here are some guidelines about cheap flights:
- Nowadays there is not a better day of the week to buy flights.
- If your dates are inflexible and locked in there’s not really much you can do but wait and hope the flights drop in price.
- Buying a flight as soon as the schedule is released for is usually not the cheapest way to book a flight, airlines know people schedule things like cruises and family vacations a long time in advance and if someone absolutely has to be on a flight enough that they will book it 11 months in advance, they’ll usually pay more for that flight.
- All US airlines now have 24-hour refund policies (in most cases, check with the airlines during the booking process for their actual policies). When you find an awesome deal, book it and spend the rest of the day seeing if you can arrange time off work or ensure your partner can go. This way your price is locked in and you don’t miss the deal.