Back in the day, you just called your travel agent and that’s how you booked your trip. The internet wasn’t a thing. Now, you have 3 million different options to book travel and that leads a lot of people not knowing where to turn. Do I book direct with the airline or do I use one of the numerous travel sites out there? What time of day do I book or what day is best? Should I wait to the last minute or should I book early?
All these questions lead many people to pay more for their flights that they really need to and this is how airlines make money on you.
Having worked in the corporate office of a global company, I saw the booking process on a daily basis as they were shipping people around to every corner of the planet. In this experience I picked up a few secrets that the airlines are not going to ever tell you.
Here are my secrets that I have learned along the way.
Use Travel Apps
There are a number of great travel apps out there that focus in on helping you find the lowet fare and alert you when they have found something for you.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner compares millions of flights to find you the cheapest deal, fast.
- AirFare Watchdog – A dedicated team of airfare experts searching for airfares for people like you. Includes Budget Airlines.
- Momondo – Compare flights for free. Momondo has won numerous awards as best flight comparison site.
- Cheapoair – Since 2005, CheapOair has helped budget-savvy travelers explore the globe at a discount.
- JetRadar – Jetradar is one of the largest online search engines for flights all over the world. Includes budget airlines.
- TripAdvisor – This is a great overall travel site and does allow you to compare flights too.
- Google Flights – Not always the best price, but worth checking.
None of these apps are perfect, but I would pick a few of them that you like and check a few of them when researching your next flight. I have to say if I would start with one, I would select Skyscanner to start with.
Search Google in Incognito
You may not realize this, but travel companies and the airlines have become pretty sophisticated in how they target you as a customer and ultimately get you to buy. If you have been shopping around and have settled in on a particular site that you plan to make the purchase from, then right before booking your flight open a new session of Google Chrome in Incognito.
Why? Well you may not realize this, but many sites have been tracking your movement through their site this whole time with cookies and other methods. When you open a new session in Google Incognito, you essentially come into their site as if they have never seen you before.
If they are running a sophisticated tracking scenario on you, you might circumvent that and be offered a different price as if you were a new visitor to their site. This one doesn’t always work, but I have seen it work with my own eyes so give it a try.
Delete Your Cookies
Another way to make sure that the web sites are not tracking you is to delete your cookies all together. Cookies are great for remembering who you are and that is not really what you want when you are browsing for the cheapest price.
If a web site detects that you keep coming back to a certain flight and price, they may determine that you have a higher probability of buying that flight so they raise the price on you.
If time permits, the best way to save money and get a cheap flight is to plan ahead. The prices on flights change every day and sometimes every hour. If you keep checking back coupled with the above 2 secrets, you will likely settle in when the price is at it’s lowest.
This will also give you the most options and flexibility on where you are going to sit and when you are able to depart. I personally don’t care for 5 AM flights or late night flights, so planning ahead will give you the most options and you can take your time settling in on the best price.
Keep in mind that corporate offices of airlines work the normally 8 – 5 PM so that’s when they make decisions as to what the pricing is going to be based on demand. So the best times to check their web sites are first thing in the morning and after 6 PM.
Keep in mind that if you are going to buy on a weekend, the the best time to buy is on Friday’s generally. Working families, who are the majority of people, work all week and then start thinking about leisure on the weekend. Airlines know this, so they begin their offers on Friday and continue through the weekend. The reason why Friday is a better day than Sunday is that they sell through their inventory by Sunday night and the price could be higher.
So one of the apps above called Airfare Warchdog above has a part of it’s service that watches for these error fares. What is it? With millions of seats under inventory at any given time, keeping track of the pricing around all those flights can be daunting for these airlines. Having worked in retail myself, I completely understand why this would be the case. It takes orchestration between programmers, computers, people and an act of God to get pricing right for every single promotion and seat. Secret Flying is another site that you will want to check out as well for cheap flights.
At the end of the day, people make mistakes and you need to be there when opportunity knocks. Skyscanner can help you out here as well.
Book a Budget Airline
We recently flew on Spirit Airlines and for the most part it wasn’t a bad flight. We got from Cleveland to Florida round trip with no layovers for 2 people for just over $350, luggage included… Well luggage one way included..
Let me explain my budget friendly ways my friends. We were visiting my parents in Florida for a long weekend. They fly south for the winter, so we decided to fly down there to surprise my mom for her birthday. Since my parents generally come back to Ohio the first part of April, I figured they could bring our luggage back since it’s not that far off. This essentially saved us the baggage fee one way.
No there are pros and cons with budget airlines. The pro is that they are cheaper for sure, but here are the things that you may not know:
- Budget Airlines Don’t Get The Same Priority – This means that your flight may be delayed more often than the more expensive airlines because they hold less influence over the airports that they fly in and out of.
- You will be charged for everything – This includes luggage, food, and seat selection. I really mean seat selection! We booked our flight on Spirit well in advance and thought well since we booked together, we would sit together. Nope! We paid $15 per ticket to make sure we sat together, or otherwise they had you scattered through out.
- Airplanes are more generic – Be prepared for less luxury in the interiors of the planes.
- Less leg room – Be prepared to sit in seats that have less room than the more expensive counterparts. It’s not always the case, but be prepared for this.
At the end of the day, they will get you from point A to B safely. Despite popular opinion, Budget airlines are no less safe than any other airplane.
Here is a list of budget airlines in the major countries where you can find cheap flights:
Check Departures From Neighboring Airports
We have 2 major airports within 20 minutes from our home, however I constantly forget to check the other airports because it’s the smaller one of the two. None the less, the airplane is going to get you to the same spot. In addition, because the airport is smaller, getting in and out of the airport is a breeze. There just is not as many people that go through it, so there is a slight advantage in reality.
Given the complete different sets of flights and lesser demand in customers, the second airport is a lot of times cheaper in price.
Join The Airline Or Travel Company Mailing List
If you travel often, I highly recommend that you join the mailing lists of both the airline web sites directly and some of the other airlines apps I mentioned above. This will allow you to be notified of promotions and other exclusive offers as soon as they become available.
If you are worried about getting too much email, you could always create a filter that moves the emails to a separate folder to where you can review them at your convenience.
Once you have done your research, it doesn’t hurt to check in with your traditional travel agent and see if they can find you a better rate. I would even present them with the rate you have already and see if they can do better.
This isn’t always guaranteed, but sometimes travel agents have access to unpublished rates that you may never find on your own. This is becoming less of a theme, but worth checking especially for more expensive international flights where even a small percentage could add up to hundreds of dollars.
Bundle Air, Hotel & Car Rental
If you need a cheap flight, then check out also combining your hotel and car rental for a bundled rate. Going with a bundle on some of the sites like Expedia, could yield you several hundreds of dollars in savings.
It may not always be the case, but if you have to book those anyways, why not see if it saves you some money.
Fly On Cheaper Days Of The Week
When you are flying, consider that Sundays, Mondays and Fridays are generally the more expensive days to travel because that’s when people generally fly for business purposes. The airlines know this and they by default make the flights more expensive.
If you can be flexible with your dates, avoiding these days will ensure you are getting a cheaper flight.
Try Hidden City Ticketing
This one is pretty genius, but comes with some risks. More times than not, your flight will include a layover in some major city somewhere. Direct flights are becoming more and more difficult to find and generally they are more expensive at times to begin with. Hidden city ticketing is where you find a flight going somewhere that has a lay over in the city that you ultimately want to go to.
So let’s say you want to go to Atlanta, but the ticket to Atlanta is $400 on the day that you want to leave for a direct flight. Well Atlanta just happens to be a airport where a lot of people land for layovers. Whereas maybe that flight to Orlando is only $200, but you have a lay over in Atlanta. Well that’s awfully convenient isn’t it? That’s where you wanted to go anyways. Ha ha!
There is even a site called Skiplagged who got sued by United Airlines by surfacing all these secret hidden city tickets that you can take advantage of. Thankfully for you they got sued, spun up a gofundme campaign to hire a legal team and they got the case thrown out. Check out the USA Today article on the topic.
Don’t Fly Direct
I must admit I have a habit of trying to find the cheapest direct flight option, but a lot of times finding a 1 or 2 stop flight will save you a ton of money. If your primary goal is to find a cheap flight, flying indirect might be the way to go.
If you don’t mind the layover, perhaps your could look at flights that have long layovers where you could spend a few hours in the city exploring.
Use Points To Get Cheap Flights
If you travel on any airlines, you will want to make sure you are logging your points. You may even want to double check the airlines that you have been on in the past because you may have some points sitting around that you forgot about. We did this recently with a hotel chain that we had stayed with a few times. We checked the web site and noticed we had enough points for a free room. Hooray for us!
Points may be a way to not only get a cheper flight, it could be a free flight if you log enough points over time.
Pick Off-Peak Hours To Fly
If you are not opposed to waking up super early or taking a red-eye, these flights are certainly less desirable and with any supply and demand economics, the flight will likely be less expensive. Higher demand = Price goes up. Less of a demand = Price goes down. I learned that one in my economics class in college! Generally you will want to look for flights between 5 AM – 7 AM or flights that are flying out after 8:00 PM.
Off Season Travel
This goes for the entire travel industry. Again, back to my supply and demand economics class from above (ha ha!), when less people are demanding to travel somewhere the prices will likely drop. Consider taking a trip to an area of the world that is currently in their off season.
Prices fluctuate dramatically depending on what season your in. Flights, Hotels, Car Rentals, Cruises, Resorts, etc. all have off seasons. We went on a cruise in May one year and we asked the guy on the island if this was a lot of people for them and he said no. Of course I was asking because there were thousands of people streaming off of the ship. Well you see, despite the thousands of people coming off the ship this was their “Off Season”. He said in their high season, there would have been 9 ships each dropping thousands of people in port. Ha ha!
Don’t Check Your Baggage
Like I was saying earlier, a lot of airlines are charging you for checked luggage these days, especially the budget airlines. $25 a bag each way seems to be the average rate these days. If you can squeeze what you need in a carry on, then you avoid this fee all together. For a family of 5, this could mean saying $250 for a round trip flight.
If you plan to do this, be sure to check the requirements for your flight regarding your carry on allowance. Some airlines can be pretty strict about it.
Don’t pay for Seat Selection
If you are taking one of the major airlines, I generally don’t pay for seat selection because generally within 24 hours prior to the flight the airline will let you login to their site and change your seats. That’s what I do every time.
Now, remember I mentioned Spirit airlines from above? They wouldn’t allow you to do that at all unless you paid them $15 per seat one way! So not all airlines will allow this without a fee, but a lot of them still will so check.
Get a Travel Credit Card
Yet another way to gather points for a cheap flight or a free flight. There are numerous credit offers out there that you can score a ton of points on just for signing up for their credit card. It may be enough to get a free flight right out of the gate. If you have a significant other, you could sign them up for one too and get double the points!
Last Minute Deals
Again, supply and demand remember? 😉 If you happen to fall upon a flight that despite all the airlines attempts, the flight is not near full. The airlines in their attempt to even make the flight profitable will start to lower the price in attempt to get some butts in the seats. This is where your cheap flight comes into play.
If you have specific plans, this could be risky business where you find yourself without any flight when you need to leave. But let’s say that you want to go to Vegas at some point and you can leave on a moments notice, then this might be the way to go for you!
What travel hacks have you done to get yourself a cheap flight? Share some ideas in the comments below!