The Ultimate Guide to Find Cheap Flights: 10 Easy Tips to Fly on a Budget

April 23, 2018 30 Comments

Five years ago, my roundtrip flight to Denmark in the middle of winter cost over $1,000.

Just a few weeks ago, I bought a roundtrip ticket to Denmark for only $400, AND it’s during tourist season!

I’m a huge fan of shopping as cheaply as possible (I regularly buy clothes from Walmart), and since flights are regularly one of my most expensive purchases, I always try to find the cheapest flights. Flights have decreased a lot in the past few years but I’ve also learned a lot of helpful tricks, so I put together a guide to find cheap flights with my top 10 tips! 🙂 

The Ultimate Guide to Find Cheap Flights: 10 Easy Tips to Fly on a Budget

Until muggles learn to apparate, flying is usually the best option for traveling long distances. I have driven from Philadelphia to Fort Myers, Florida (crazy long drive and not fun), and I drive from Philadelphia to North Carolina every few months because I’m cheap. But when I can’t drive, I fly.

Every time I plan a trip somewhere, I stalk the flight information sometimes for months before I buy a ticket because I want to get the best possible price. I’m sure you’ve heard advice like not buying flights on the weekends, not flying on Sundays or Friday nights, or using budget airlines. But here are a few more tips to find the cheapest flights that I’ve learned in the past year to help you find save lots of money! These aren’t a complete guarantee (especially for flights that are always expensive, like to Australia), but they can definitely help you shave off a few dollars.

Search for flights “incognito”

Incognito window

This is my number one tip to save money on flights because it’s so easy! If you’ve bought a flight recently, websites will remember that and will bump up prices, even after you’ve cleared your cache and history. This may not work if you only buy plane tickets once a year, but if you’re buying tickets every few months, it can make a big difference.

When I was planning my trip to Italy with my friends last year, one friend had recently bought a flight, so her computer was showing her the flights for Italy for hundreds of dollars more than we were seeing! Opening an “incognito” window (some browsers call them “private” windows) can save you hundreds of dollars right off the bat.

Copenhagen, Denmark

So excited to go back to Denmark!

Search for nearby airports

This may not work for you if you don’t live near many airports, but living in Philadelphia, I have tons of airports within a few hours of me. I may have to travel a little further, but to save hundreds of dollars, it’s worth it! For a flight to Florida, it was cheaper to fly out of Atlantic City AND park my car there for 5 days than flying out of Philadelphia or Trenton- the flight cost less than $100 in January! I’ve also flown into an airport 30 minutes away from Fort Myers, Florida because it saved me hundreds of dollars. For my flight to Denmark, it was HALF the price to fly out of Newark instead of Philadelphia. Even Washington, D.C. was a few hundred dollars cheaper. You can easily search nearby airports on Skyscanner by checking a couple of boxes, and you can search by airports in an entire country! 

Skyscanner nearby airports

If you live near a smaller airport, it might actually be cheaper than a larger airport. When I lived in North Carolina, I was an hour and a half from the Raleigh airport and at least two hours away from the Charlotte airport, but sometimes the tiny airport near me in Fayetteville had some cheaper flights than the bigger airports. So don’t count out the small airports with only one terminal!

For international flights, you can also try searching for airports further away. For my trip to Italy with three of my friends, they all live in North Carolina while I live in Philadelphia. But it was cheaper for them to fly to Philadelphia and do some sightseeing for a day and then fly to Italy rather than just flying from North Carolina to Italy. I don’t know why some airports are cheaper than others, but do some research on other airports before booking your flights!

Bassano del Grappa, Italy

Bassano del Grappa, Italy

Take advantage of layovers

If you’re not in a rush, flights with long layovers can be cheaper than direct flights. And if the layover is long enough, you can have time to explore the city you’re in! Some airlines to Europe will stop in Iceland, so if you haven’t been to Iceland yet (and I highly recommend going at some point!), you can usually arrange to have a layover for a day or even longer to do some sightseeing before going to your main destination.

Sign up for price alerts

Skyscanner price alert

I ALWAYS sign up for price alerts from Skyscanner. Instead of searching for your destination and comparing prices on the different days every day, Skyscanner does it for you! They’ll send you emails when the prices go up or down so you’ll know when the flights are the cheapest. I’ve been watching a flight go up and down a few dollars for a couple of months now, and as soon as it dropped almost $40 in just one day, I was able to buy it for the cheapest price!

A friend recently told me about the app Hopper, which I really like! It doesn’t show flights as cheap as Skyscanner so I still buy flights through Skyscanner, but Hopper is great with keeping you updated on the price trends and warning you when they predict flight prices will go (and stay) up.

Search by month instead of days

Skyscanner search by month

Do you have an idea of when you would like to travel, but you don’t have specific dates in mind? On Skyscanner (it’s seriously the best site!), you can search prices for a whole month so you can travel on the cheapest days! Or if you have a flexible schedule, you can search by the cheapest month in the year for a destination so you can really get the best deals.

Don’t have a plan

Skyscanner cheapest destinations

Last year I wanted to travel somewhere in the spring, but I didn’t have a specific destination in mind. I chose April and searched by the cheapest destination, and, surprisingly, Italy was at the top of the list and I found roundtrip tickets for only $350 to Venice! I was surprised that flying to Europe could be so cheap (and so much cheaper than flying to some places in the US!), so I bought my tickets and had the best time in Italy. You may be surprised how cheap some destinations are if you don’t have a specific place in mind!

Travel during off or shoulder season

I don’t like to travel during “tourist season” if I can help it because I don’t like crowds and I really don’t like the heat, and tickets and lodging can be much more expensive in the summer. But that doesn’t mean you have to visit somewhere in the middle of winter (though some places can be beautiful in the winter, especially with Christmas lights and markets, so don’t write off traveling in the winter!). “Shoulder” season for many places is the spring and fall, and it can be quite a bit cheaper than the summer.

Positano coast

Positano, Italy

The temperatures in Italy were perfect at the end of April and early May, and the crowds weren’t too big yet. Fall is also becoming a great time to travel because places are still pretty warm but not as crowded and expensive as the summer. If you are down for traveling in the winter, I saw flights to Venice in February for $250 and I know someone who went to Paris in the winter for about $200, so traveling in the colder months can save you hundreds of dollars on flights alone!

Buy a last minute flight

I’ve seen crazy cheap flights advertised at the last minute, so if you’re a spur-of-the-moment person, that might be a good option for you! I haven’t done this yet because I’m a big planner and I have a job and a dog to worry about, but it’s worth signing up for email blasts from Skyscanner or specific airlines to get alerts when last minute cheap flights are available.

Travel light with a budget airline

I try to travel with budget airlines like Frontier, Spirit, or WOW when I can because they really can be so much cheaper. But, be aware of hidden fees and issues with customer service. I had a bad experience with EasyJet in Italy with employees giving me conflicting information and trying to charge me for something they shouldn’t have, but other than that I haven’t had issues with budget airlines other than the occasional delay.

Fort Myers, Florida

Fort Myers, FL

Make sure you read all the information carefully because most of them charge you for luggage (and carry-on bags can be more expensive than checked bags) and they will charge you even more at the gate if you don’t pay ahead of time. And make sure you measure your bags- they WILL charge you if you try to get your suitcase passed as a free “personal item,” and airlines like WOW have different sizes allowed for personal items than other airlines. If you’re aware of all the extra fees and can pack light enough for everything to fit in a “personal item” bag, you shouldn’t have any issues and you could save lots of money!

Join discount programs or sign up for credit cards with travel rewards

Frontier Discount Den

If you fly often (especially with the same airline or to the same destination), you should look into signing up for airlines’ discount programs to get some great deals. If you don’t fly often, this might not work well since you pay a fee upfront. Frontier’s Discount Den is $50 for a year, and they’ll email you with extra deals on flights that you can’t get without being in their program. Spirit’s discount program will give you discounts on baggage fees (so you don’t have worry about always packing light!).

If you don’t fly very often but you still want to get some deals for your occasional trip, there are tons of credit cards that will give you deals and airline miles! If you’re interested, here are 18 of the best credit cards to use for airline deals.

Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

There are many more tips to find the cheapest flights, but these are some that I use regularly to travel as cheaply as possible! I hope this guide to find cheap flights helps you for your next trip! 🙂 And if you have any other tricks you use, I would love to hear them!

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30 Comments

  1. Reply

    Eric

    April 23, 2018

    I didn’t know about the incognito window. Great tip!

    • Reply

      Julia

      April 23, 2018

      Thanks! Hope it helps!

  2. Reply

    Carole Thomas

    April 24, 2018

    Great information, Julia. Thanks!

    • Reply

      Julia

      April 24, 2018

      Thanks! I hope it helps!

  3. Reply

    Tonya

    April 24, 2018

    These suggestions are great! Thank you for always sharing your traveling tips with us!

    • Reply

      Julia

      April 24, 2018

      I’m happy to help! 🙂

  4. Reply

    Ali

    April 25, 2018

    Great tips! Will definitely go incognito next time 😊

    • Reply

      Julia

      April 25, 2018

      I hope it helps!

  5. Reply

    Sarah

    April 25, 2018

    This was super helpful! I wish I could go on so many more spontaneous trips! 🙂

    • Reply

      Julia

      April 25, 2018

      Me too! I hope these help with any planned trips though!

  6. Reply

    Heidi Roland

    April 25, 2018

    Thanks for the tips! I will try out the incognito window!

    • Reply

      Julia

      April 25, 2018

      I hope it helps!

  7. Reply

    Colleen

    April 25, 2018

    Awesome tips – I am definitely going to try incognito and skyscanner!!!! <3

    • Reply

      Julia

      April 25, 2018

      Thanks! I hope it helps!

  8. Reply

    Em

    April 25, 2018

    Great tips, Julia! I’ve never booked a flight but it’s super helpful to know these things for when I do it in the future!

    Em

    • Reply

      Julia

      April 25, 2018

      I hope they help! 🙂

  9. Reply

    Maartje Hensen

    April 27, 2018

    Great tips! Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply

      Julia

      April 27, 2018

      Thanks! 🙂

  10. Reply

    Kelly Price

    April 27, 2018

    Wow, great stuff! I never knew that about searching Incognitio – so easy to do, yet never crossed my mind. I also never knew about things like Deal Den. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply

      Julia

      April 28, 2018

      Yeah I love how easy some of these steps are, finding cheap flights doesn’t have to be hard!

  11. Reply

    Sarah

    April 28, 2018

    The incognito window tip is a winner. My husband only ever searches for anything anytime anywhere in ignito. Another tip I have is to use local airline if they’re based in another country. Eg, we saved lots of money booking through Norwegian’s Norway website and translating and paying in NOK than if we had booked through the US website. Similarly, always pay in the local currency – don’t let the airline convert it for you!

    • Reply

      Julia

      April 28, 2018

      Oh that’s a good tip, thanks!!

  12. Reply

    Chrissy

    April 28, 2018

    Thanks for the tips there were some gems in there I didn’t know 🙂

    • Reply

      Julia

      April 28, 2018

      I hope they help!

  13. Reply

    Tyas

    May 18, 2018

    Wow, I didn’t know some of these tips for cheap flights! Thank you for sharing, Julia✨

    Tyas | wepsgallery.wordpress.com

    • Reply

      Julia

      May 18, 2018

      I hope they help! 🙂

  14. Reply

    Kumar Naidu

    May 22, 2018

    I liked the igneto part , a simple step that can save hell lot of money.

    • Reply

      Julia

      May 23, 2018

      It helps so much!

  15. Reply

    Ellie

    October 4, 2018

    Thank you for sharing these tips, flights are so expensive so tips for finding affordable ones are very useful!!x

    http://lifeofellabella.blogspot.com/2018/10/travel-my-goals-and-my-fears.html

    • Reply

      Julia

      October 4, 2018

      I hope they help! 🙂

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