Cheap flights can be hard to come by, but they’re like the holy grail of travel. If you plan on flying anywhere, you should have plenty of money-saving techniques in your repertoire to compare plane tickets and find cheap flights. You could be losing hundreds of bucks otherwise.
I’ve put together 10 example problems where I walk you through how I go about searching for these cheap flights. If you’re looking for quick tips and tricks to find cheap flights, then check out the related content at the bottom of this post. This isn’t a post of quick tips. It’s a masterclass.
I designed this post to teach you to think like someone who hunts for the best deal.
Affiliate Links Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click on the link and make a purchase, I will receive a percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. Affiliate sales help me offset the costs associated with running this blog. All affiliate links lead towards a product or service I have personally used.
Before We Begin: Some Considerations
1. Why Bother?
Spend any amount of time online in the frequent flyer community and you’ll find an abundance of tips, tricks, and comprehensive how-to’s on how to save money on your plane tickets. Sometimes these involve complicated maneuvers, such as foregoing a single plane ticket from Sydney to New York and instead taking the bus to Melbourne, booking a one-way to Hawaii, spending four days there, then flying to Toronto by way of Mexico City, crossing the border to Buffalo and then taking a regional airline to Philadelphia the following Tuesday so you can catch the 3:45 am Amtrak to New York, all in the name of saving $20 on airfare.
(Did you get dizzy from reading that? I did.)
For someone who just wants to get their family of five from Pittsburgh to San Diego for a President’s Day getaway, it feels like this is the kind of complicated nonsense you have to go through to not break the bank.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The point of this guide is to help you find the balance between the obsessive, penny-saving persona that wants to spend 17+ hours looking at flights to save $30 and the panicky neurotic that just wants to get this part of the travel process over and done with.This post will help you think like someone who can find #cheapflights. Click To Tweet
I’m both of those people. I’ve spent entire days looking for cheap flights only to save $12. I’ve rushed to book itineraries with 40 minutes for a terminal change that could turn a holiday into a lonely nightmare spent at Dallas/Fort Worth.
But I’ve also helped friends catch $70 round-trip fares to Mexico City for a long weekend, booked tickets to Europe for less than $300, snagged cross-country round-trip Thanksgiving flights for under $350, and gotten $80 on round-trip flights to San Francisco with Southwest Airlines “refunded”.
My uncle recently told me he paid $500 to fly from Washington D.C. to Vegas.Listen, kids. Nobody should have to pay $500 to fly domestic in the US. #cheapflights Click To Tweet
But before we get into the good stuff, there’s something you should know before you start looking for cheap flights.
That is: how much do you want to pay? What do you think is a fair price?
2. Know How Much You Want to Pay
Obviously, we’d all love to fly anywhere, at any time, receive excellent service, and have perfectly reasonable itineraries, all for free. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work like this.
Here are some rough guidelines for flying from the contiguous US (all numbers round-trip):
- Coast to coast in the US: $350
- Hawaii: $400
- Europe: $500
- Mexico: $300
- South America: $600
- Asia: $600
- Africa: $800
- Australia: $800
There are some caveats to these numbers. It’s usually cheaper to fly in/out of a destination with a lot of traffic—if you live in Mobile, AL and you’re flying to Seattle, you’ll have better luck flying out of a busier airport, like New Orleans. Likewise, when I went to Eugene, OR to see the 2017 Solar Eclipse, it was cheaper for me to fly to Portland, OR and take the Amtrak down than it was to fly directly to Eugene.
There’s often (but not always) a trade-off between the quality of service you receive. Booking cheap flights on budget airlines might be great for your wallet, but some of these airlines will not help you out.
3. Is Searching for Cheap Flights a Good Use of Your Time?
Without getting too much into the finers points of personal finance: it depends, but usually yes. Here’s why.
For example, when I worked as a software engineer in San Diego I was making an even $75,000/year, which is roughly $36/hour. You could say spending an hour of my time to earn (or save) $36 or more was a good use of my time. Why? Becuase my time was valued at $36/hour.
If you don’t know how much your time is worth, you can approximate with this a simple formula: take your annual projected (because we’re ambitious, folks) income and divide it by 2,000. If you plan on making $100,000 this year, then $100,000 / 2,000 is $50/hour.
How do you know if this was a good use of your time? If an hour spent poking around for cheap flights saves you $50, then you’re in the green.
James Clear can help you out better than I can if you want to think about this some more.
4. Know When It’s Worth Paying More
The best price is the price you are willing to pay. If you think that paying $400 is good enough to get you to Minneapolis in time for your niece’s wedding, go ahead and book that ticket. Sometimes it’s not worth waiting to book cheap flights if you value the peace of mind you get from booking now.
This is especially true if you’ve been procrastinating (a big no-no when it comes to getting plane tickets) or something urgent comes up and you need to be somewhere next week. If you’re busy and you don’t care about saving a few bucks now—that’s a valid reason too.
Sometimes it’s cheaper to get that 6:00 am flight out of Baltimore-Washington International. But, if it’s likely you’ll oversleep because you live in Alexandria and it takes an hour to get to BWI, I’d go with a more expensive option our of Dulles or DCA.
I’d rather pay the extra $120 to minimize the chances of something going wrong while traveling.
Likewise, if my fare predictors are warning me that prices will soon increase but I’ve not yet finalized my itinerary, it might make sense to book all of my tickets as one-ways instead of a single round-trip ticket. That way I don’t have to pay a hefty change fee or miss my entire itinerary if I miss my departing flight. Flexibility, to me, is worth paying a little extra for.
5. Is It Cheaper in the Long Run to Always Buy the Cheapest Flights?
Fun fact: although my full-time income is in blogging, website development, and SEO consultations, I actually have formal education in computer science, which is the study of algorithms. (No, website development is not computer science.) Computer scientists—especially AI researchers—are always in search of the most optimal, long-term (i.e., scalable) way of doing something.
In any introductory algorithms or AI course, you’ll come across heuristics, which are guidelines, rules of thumb, or mental shortcuts. (Our brain uses them all the time—I recommend reading Thinking Fast and Slow if this interests you.) One of these heuristics is called a greedy heuristic. An algorithm is greedy if it’s always trying to maximize its short-term results. (In case you didn’t know, an algorithm is a set of directions that will always produce the same result; the directions on a recipe are an algorithm.)
(This video is not over your head. Promise.)
Purely greedy algorithms aren’t the de facto standard for anything because they tend not to be the most optimal long-term solution. (This is computer scientist speak for “they kind of suck”.) Greedy algorithms work by picking the best short-term option but they underperform in the long run. Sometimes using more resources (time, money, processing power) up front is the optimal long-term move. This is comparable to how the ability to delay gratification leads is an indicator of professional success. It’s also the reason why the concept of buying in bulk is counterintuitive.
Let’s apply this concept to airfare—this brings us to airline loyalty programs. Let’s look at Alaska Airlines.
Airline mileage/loyalty programs work like this: the more loyal you are to an airline, the cheaper it gets for you in the long run. If you fly Alaska (or Alaska’s partners) enough to become an Alaska MVP, then you can earn miles at a faster rate, which means you have more miles to redeem, so you end up flying for less, which means more cheap flights. If you can join Alaska MVP Gold you get your ticket change fees waived, which not only helps you save money but also grants you more flexibility in your travel plans.
The trade-off is that sometimes flying loyal isn’t the cheapest option. Sometimes it’s not the cheapest by a couple hundred bucks.
If you’re greedy and always book the lowest fare, you’ll be missing out on hundreds of dollars in future savings that you could have earned if you stayed loyal to a particular airline (or airline alliance).
This is a post about how to find cheap flights. Keep in mind that the cheapest flights might not align with your mileage plan goals. If you fly a lot, carefully consider whether or not its worth always booking cheap flights, or whether you should book the more expensive fare with the airline you’re trying to gain status with.
(Compliment this with Nomadic Matt’s post on why always booking the cheapest flight isn’t the cheapest in the long run.)
How to Find Cheap Flights
Most people go straight to the airline’s website when they look for flights. Don’t do this. Why? Because it’s inefficient. You’ll end up going to every airline website that you know of, making the same search seventeen times, having just as many (or more) browser tabs open…it’s a nightmare. Instead, use a dedicated flight search engine.
What is a Flight Search Engine?
A flight search engine (or fare finder) is anything that lets you search and compare flights across airlines. There is no shortage of them:
Flight search engines let you search multiple dates, set fare alerts, search from multiple airports, and offer you tips for ways you can lower your fare. They’re your best tool when looking for cheap flights, and I suggest you get familiar with them.
There no real “best fare finder”. Some search engines are better than others at finding certain routes—the ITA Matrix shines when you’re looking for super specific routes. Kiwi excels at finding weird but incredibly cheap flights and itineraries. Skyscanner’s low fare calendar is a shining point. Adioso’s user interface is amazing because it lets you search in natural language. Air Wander, as we’ll see in this post, is a search engine specifically for finding stopovers.
I tend to use Google Flights and Momondo as my bread and butter fare finders. This post will focus on finding cheap flights with those two.
Example 1: A Simple Itinerary For One
Most of the time you’ll be looking for a flight just for you. Let’s use that as our simplest case and learn about these different search engines.
Google Flights: The First Place I Go
Did you know Google has its own flight search engine? (Not surprising, is it?) You can go to flights.google.com or google.com/flights to get started. This was the beta layout when this guide was made, so if your screen doesn’t look like this you’ll need to go to their beta layout:
If you have location services enabled on your browser, Google will suggest some popular destinations from your closest airport and suggest sample dates for you to fly.
Clicking on the Where To box creates a nice pop-out, with some destinations and lowest prices. Not bad. Let’s try a search from San Diego to San Francisco for their example dates. You see that you can tell Google if you want a one-way ticket or if you’re going to have a multi-city itinerary, but I usually keep my ambitions low at the start of my search and look for a simple round-trip ticket.
Not bad. Google gives me what it thinks are the best flights, and it highlights the lowest prices—the elusive cheap flights!—in green. In the upper-right corner, I see that I can filter my search results by the number of stops I’m comfortable with, the amount of money I want to pay, what time of the day I want to fly, which airlines I do or don’t want to fly, and, under the More option, how long I want my itinerary to be and whether or not I want to book all parts of my itinerary with the same airline. This lets me compare plane tickets with high levels of customizability.
I see that without doing anything else, changing my flight dates can save me $71. Google suggests alternative arrival airports that might be cheaper than the airport I originally specified. With Google Flights’s fare predictor, I can set up notifications to learn when Google thinks the price for my itinerary is going to increase.
If I scroll down the page, I can see all of the longer (or more expensive) flights. There are flights for Southwest Airlines, but no prices are given.
Since it looks like I can save some money by changing my flight dates, let’s do that.
My original itinerary would have my fly from San Diego on December 17 and return on the 21st. By bumping my entire itinerary back one day—flying on the 16th and returning the 20th—I can save $71. If I’m only going up for the weekend, I still see that flying out Friday and returning Tuesday is cheaper than my original itinerary. If I wanted to stay for only three days instead of four, I could change that here, too.
But maybe I don’t really care about flying out this particular weekend, but I do know that four days sounds about right. I can go to the Price Graph and see if anything in the future is cheaper.
It doesn’t look like there’s anything cheaper for this itinerary. But there are several options that cost the same.
Let’s say that I’m actually going to visit some friends who live in the Bay Area, but none of them actually live in San Francisco. It might be better to fly to another airport.
Here, Google lists the ten closest airports, and I can select or deselect which ones I want to go through. This is a really handy tool when you’re in the beginning stages of planning your trip.
Let’s see how this affected our search results.
It looks like our best (and cheapest) flights are still the same, but do you see how the text in the Airports option has changed? Now Google is suggesting that I check out other destinations to depart from.
All of their suggestions, except for Tijuana, are at least a two-hour drive from San Diego (curse you, LA traffic) and none of the price drops make it worthwhile for me (flying out of Long Beach would save me $19, but I’d spend more than that getting to/from that airport, so it’s not worth it).
If it was a difference in, say, $200+, I’d jump at the Long Beach airfare. But the cost of getting there and back (and where would I park my car?) make it hard to justify. If you’re lucky enough to live near several airports (Washington DC, New York City, LA, the Bay Area, Chicago) you might find this useful. For example, when flying internationally I always check the fares from both San Diego and Tijuana.
Finally, if I go to the Tips, Google is telling me that it thinks I’ll pay more if I don’t book now. Keep in mind that this is just Google’s guess based on their data from previous years—Google doesn’t actually know if the airlines are going to increase their prices.
Unfortunately, our best prices are from United. Personally, I hate flying United, so I want to exclude them from my search. I can do that by, in the upper-right corner, going to Airlines and unchecking the United box.
Now, if I go through and uncheck all of those additional airports and go to the price graph, I see that I can match that price by flying on Virgin America/Alaska Airlines if I pick different flight dates.
You see how Google Flights quickly lets you find the cheapest dates to fly to a particular destination. Isn’t that better than if you just went to the Delta Airlines website?
Momondo: The Second Place I Go
Now that I’ve looked at a fare on Google Flights, I go to Momondo*. Unlike Google Flights, Momondo also has an app you can download to your phone, but I prefer looking on their website. Once there, you’ll find this lovely scene:
It’s immediately clear that Momondo remembers the last search I made with them (to Lisbon). In fact, if I scroll down their homepage, I see that Momondo wants to help me pick out a place to stay, suggests other places in Portugal for me to visit, has some articles for travel inspiration, shows me what destinations (cities and countries) are trending, and, at the bottom tells me a little about themselves and gives me the option to change what country-specific website I use.
Let’s input our previous cheap flight from Google Flights—San Diego to San Francisco from Jan 4 to Jan 8. Beneath the flight search fields, I can tell Momondo that I want to compare their search against Priceline, Expedia, and Alaska Airlines, so I select all of those.
A new window pops up with Momondo’s results, and my original window turns to their comparisons.
It looks like most of this blew up (Priceline sucks, and something in my browser is blocking Alaska…oops), but Expedia found exactly the same $117 flight that Google Flights did. Let’s see how Momondo did.
Momondo found a flight on Virgin for only $100! At the top of the screen they have some estimated prices for different dates—when I searched these, the price didn’t drop below $100 for this particular route.
Let’s take a closer look at all the information Momondo is giving us.
I see that they’ve searching 1,348 different itineraries for me (that was nice of them). I also see that they’ve given me three ways to sort their results: cheapest, quickest, and best.
Looking at each flight, I can see the carrier, the times, the duration, the number of stops, the origin/destination, and the cabin (economy/first class/etc). On the right, I also see a smiley face with a 10 beneath it. This is Momondo’s rating of the flight.
At the bottom of the result, I see the different sites I can book on. On Faregeek I can book for $114, but on Omega Flight Store I can get my flight for only $100.
Yes, you can pay different amounts for the same flight depending on where you book it. Crazy, right?
You can’t book directly through Google Flights, so they recommend booking with the airline directly. There are some advantages to doing this—it’s easier if you have to cancel/change your itinerary—but sometimes the savings (or convenience, if it’s a complex route) of booking through a third-party website outweigh those benefits.
Clicking on the green “Go to Site” button takes me to Omega Flight Store, which is the cheapest option. Once I’m there, I see my flight at the bottom:
Let’s compare this to the Alaska Airlines website itself.
It looks like the cheapest prices we can get for this route on the Alaska Airlines website are $59 each way, or $118 total. Momondo is the clear winner here.Searching for #flights on Momondo saved @flaneurfiles 15%. Click To Tweet
A $100 round-trip ticket anywhere in the US is crazy cheap, especially on a quality airline like Alaska or Virgin America. If I was confident I wanted those dates, I’d quickly look on Southwest and, if they’re not any better, I’d book the flight immediately.
The Bottom Line
I like to start my searches with Google Flights because it lets you quickly narrow down your options and learn about the prices and route. Once I find an itinerary that looks good, I search on Momondo. When looking for cheap flights, I recommend this approach: start searching and tweaking with Google Flights and then, once you’ve picked out an itinerary you like, search it on Momondo. Momondo will find cheap flights if they’re to be had.
[Support Flâneur Files and search cheap flights on Momondo.*]
Example 2: An International Multi-City Itinerary
The exercise we did above with Google Flights and Momondo is fantastic when you’re just interested in a simple itinerary, but what if your itinerary is a bit more complex? What if, for example, you’re traveling to Dubai, but you want to stop over in Hong Kong on your way back to Los Angeles? You have a couple of options.
The first thing you can do is return to Google Flights and use their “Multi-city” option. Here, I’m going to try flying from Los Angeles to Dubai on Monday, April 9, 2017. A week later, I’ll fly to Hong Kong. A week after that, back to Los Angeles. Let’s plug this into Google Flights and see what we get.
Okay, this seems a little expensive. Let’s check out the cheapest flight there, on Aeroflot.
Google then wants me to select my flight from Dubai to Hong Kong. Notice that these are separate tickets—this means I can’t book my whole itinerary together, which means that I’ll have to go to each airline and book individually.
It also means that if I have to change a portion of my itinerary—my flight was delayed, I changed my mind, I came down with the flu, etc.—I’m responsible for changing all the flights separately.
This is what my final itinerary looks like, and, to be honest, it’s kind of a nightmare. Stopping in India for five and a half hours feels unnecessary, plus on the final leg of the journey I’ll have to fly from Hong Kong to Beijing, then to Seattle, and then down to Los Angeles, none of which seem reasonable, especially because I know there are direct flights between Hong Kong and San Francisco. They probably have them direct to LAX, too.
Let’s check Momondo.
This itinerary looks much better but it’s nearly four times the cost. Momondo rates this itinerary as a measly 5.3—it feels criminal to throw a smiley face on this search result. Trying to follow Momondo’s suggestions didn’t result in any changes for me, so it looks like this is a wash.
Here’s where it pays to get a little creative in your search for cheap flights. What if, instead of flying Los Angeles –> Dubai, Dubai –> Hong Kong, and then Hong Kong –> Los Angeles, we flew Los Angeles –> Dubai and then Dubai –> Los Angeles with a stopover in Hong Kong?
Rather: what if we flew to two destinations and simply passed through the third?
Yes, stopping by Hong Kong on our way back from Dubai is the same as flying to Hong Kong. That’s the point.
Unfortunately, here we run into a few problems. I could look for a flight with a layover in Hong Kong, but a layover is less than 24 hours.
What we need is a stopover, and neither Google Flights nor Momondo searches for stopovers.
That said, we can use a dedicated stopover search engine.
Use Air Wander to Search for Stopovers
First, let’s set a goal. We’re trying to beat the Google Flights “best flight” price of $1,165 and long, pointless layovers. Let’s go to Air Wander and give it a shot.
Air Wander’s interface is beautiful, isn’t it? Let’s click the “Select departure” button on the bottom, which should move your cursor to where mine is in the above screenshot. Let’s put LAX in Departure and Return, with Dubai as our Destination.
Now for the fun part—let’s add in a stopover. We want to stopover in Hong Kong on our way back from Dubai, so let’s add that in.
If you’re flexible about your stopover—you just want to go somewhere, Air Wander helps with that too. It even suggests stopovers that will decrease the price of the ticket, which I think is fabulous.
Stop in Helsinki for only $47 extra? I’ve always wanted to go to Finland…
You see how this can get dangerous.
Hong Kong is cut off in this screenshot—it’s the picture with the red bottom. You can use the compass in the upper right corner to determine in which direction from your departure city you’d like to search for stopovers. Notice that your stopover has to be between your destinations—you can’t do this search as LAX ←→ Hong Kong with a stopover in Dubai.
Let’s calculate the flight prices.
This is definitely better, but it looks like getting to Dubai is going to be a pain. 57 hours to fly from LAX! Crazy. Expanding this option actually shows that we’ll have to route through Beijing, Hong Kong, and Manila. Guys, we can totally do better.
Let’s see what the flight is composed of. When I go to book (by clicking the red Select button), I get this table, which was initially kind of confusing.
Do you see what they did here? In order to get me that stopover in Hong Kong, they’re suggesting I get two round-trip tickets; Los Angeles to Hong Kong and back forms the outer shell of my entire trip. Then, while I’m in Hong Kong, I can take my little detour to Dubai.
This is definitely an effective way of getting me to my stopover. It’s also a case of when booking four flights is cheaper than booking three.
It looks like that crazy Dubai flight is broken by the long layover in Hong Kong. Getting from LAX to Hong Kong is long, but looks reasonable for crossing the Pacific with a layover. The only flight that looks nightmarish here is that flight from Hong Kong to Dubai, which is nearly 28 hours. Let’s try to do better.
Here, I went back to Momondo and searched for a better itinerary. Make sure to give yourself plenty of connecting time at the airport—in this case, I said I only wanted to search flights that left after 5 pm on 04/10. This gives me 5.5 hours to connect in the Hong Kong international terminal.
Momondo and Google Flights recommend flying Emirates for $168 more, pushing our total to just over $1,000. This is still much better than our first search. I think paying $168 is worth shaving nearly 20 hours of travel time (remember our exercise on how we value our time). Unfortunately, we’ll have to book these flights separately. Be sure to correctly enter the dates and times!Sometimes it's cheaper to include a stopover than a separate destination. #cheapflights Click To Tweet
Half an hour of digging around produced much better results than Google Flights or Momondo. If we kept going, using tools like Hopper to tell us the best time to purchase our tickets, or if we searched other nearby airports (maybe it’s cheaper to fly out of/into Long Beach or Santa Ana than LA), or if we were more flexible with our dates, I’m sure we could drive the price down even further.
Lessons from this Example
There are two big takeaways from this example.
- When searching for cheap flights on a complex itinerary, consider stopovers.
- Play to the strengths of your different search engines.
With a little searching, you’ll be uncovering all of the best cheap flights around the world.
Example 3: Spring Break Tickets for the Squad
Let’s say you and the squad are getting out of Boulder, CO and going to Cancún for Spring Break this year. You decide to fly out of Denver since Boulder doesn’t have an airport.
Since your senior thesis is due the Tuesday after spring break, you’re okay with not spending the whole nine days partying because you kind of want to graduate.
I definitely didn’t do that either. You go to Google Flights and look for flights for your responsible spring break. (I’m funny, I know.)
Spirit has tickets for $393 a pop. (Spirit loves spring break almost as much as you do.) Since you’re bringing the whole squad, you search for five tickets instead of one.
And then Volaris, a Mexican budget airline, rears their ugly head. What gives? What happened to the Spirit fare?
This isn’t an issue with Google Flights, exactly. Instead, it has to do with how search queries for multiple tickets are processed. Let’s look for four tickets instead of five.
Here we have four tickets identical to that original first ticket. ($1,572 ÷ 4 = $393). But if we search for a fifth ticket the cumulative price skyrockets to over $3,000.
That’s $600 a ticket! Did the fifth ticket cost $1,500? That’s not likely—this is Spirit Airlines.
What’s more likely is that Spirit only has four tickets available at the $393 price point and that the next cheapest iprice point is $600 a pop. (Airlines will often sell the first N tickets for $X, then the next N for $X+20, and so on, hence the different prices.) Instead of adding that more expensive ticket to the four cheaper tickets and reporting that combination, Spirit reports back five tickets at the $600 price point.
Why is it More Expensive to Search for Multiple Flights?
You have to understand what you’re asking the computer when you search for five tickets.
Let’s assume you’re at the farmer’s market. You go to Spirit Farms and ask if they have five apples. But Spirit Farms only has four apples left; however, they have 20 limes.
Spirit Farms is not going to offer you four apples and a lime.
Spirit Farms is also not going to offer you four apples.
They’re just going to say, sorry, but we don’t have five apples.
Why? Because you wanted five apples.
Humans understand that maybe four would suffice, but the computer? It just follows its algorithm. (Why this kind of logic wasn’t programmed into the algorithm is a separate conversation, but it likely has to do with processing resources and the fact that airlines want to make a profit.)
Airlines probably report back their results like this:
- A: 4 Tickets Available
- B: 20 Tickets Available
When you query Google Flights, you’re asking for N tickets. Google then asks Spirit (and all the other carriers) for N tickets. Spirit reports back to Google with either N tickets of A or N tickets of B. Apples and oranges.
Spirit can’t give Google five tickets of A because there are only four tickets. You told Google to ask Spirit for five tickets.
However, Spirit can give Google five tickets of B because there are 20 available tickets. That’s what Google reports back to you.
If A costs $393 and B costs $600, the price you’re given is $3,000.
Hence the higher cost.
Google might (eventually?) change their algorithm to get around this reporting problem, but the airlines probably wouldn’t like it.
This kind of price surge applies to any time you’re searching for a group. If you wanted to book five tickets, I’d book the first four at the cheaper price point and then get the fifth at the higher cost.
The resulting $2,172 ($1,572 + $600) is a lot less than $3,020.When searching for airfare for multiple people, always look for individual tickets so you can be sure you're not overpaying. #cheapflights Click To Tweet
Takeaway: Searching for Multiple Tickets Can Cost You
The lesson here is that airlines will show you the least expensive ticket that meets your search parameters. If you’re searching for 5 tickets and the airline has 4 cheap tickets lefts, you’ll never see them. In your quest for cheap flights, you should always search for individual tickets to ensure you aren’t being misled and grossly overpaying.
Example 4: Taking Mom to Seville for Her Birthday
Disclaimer for Mom: Gotta be at a wedding that weekend. Maybe next year, sorry.
Fortunately, Mom’s birthday is in May, which is the perfect time to go to Spain: kids are still in school and nobody has evacuated the internal cities (Seville, Madrid, Zaragoza). Best of all, our chances of getting some cheap flights are good because it’s not the high season.
Flying out of Gainesville, which is the closest airport, doesn’t look pretty. Let’s get some of Google’s nearby airport suggestions.
Flying out of Orlando saves Mom a good $325, but if she goes a bit further south to Fort Lauderdale she can save nearly $900 off of her original offering from Gainesville.
That’s a no-brainer.
Want Cheap Flights? Get Creative With Your Destinations
Google says there are further optimizations to be had—fly to Málaga, which is a not insignificant 92 miles from Spain (For reference, Los Angeles is about 100 miles from San Diego), and save $103. That’s tempting, and there’s no harm in taking the suggestion for now.
Remember, we use Google Flights primarily to gather information so we can make smarter choices.
$525 is a pretty fair round-trip price to Europe—way better than the $1,509 we started out with—but I’m wondering if we can do a little better.
At this point, after all, we’re experts at finding cheap flights.
Using the Google Flights Map
Fortunately, Google Flights has a Maps feature which we can use to scout the prices of flights from our chosen departure airports to anywhere on the map. This is useful if you’re open to flying to alternative airports that are more than 100 miles away (which is the max that Google will suggest) or if you’re looking any an alternative destination.
It looks like Madrid is cheaper than Seville, but Lisbon is cheaper than Madrid (and closer to Seville). We now have a logistical concern: if we flew to Liston or Madrid, how would we get to and from Seville? The same holds true if we landed in Málaga: how would we get to and from Seville?
We can look at all the available transportation options with an app like Rome2Rio.
First, launch the Rome2Rio app and put in your origin and destination. Then click Search.
It looks like the best options would be to take a bus, to rideshare (with BlaBlaCar), or to fly. Since we’re in the business of looking at flights (and since I don’t want to subject Mom to a bus route that I don’t know), let’s tackle that option first.
Searching on Momondo gives us the following result:
This would save us a few bucks, but I think it would be worth more just to fly to Seville.
Let’s look at our other option, Madrid.
[Support Flâneur Files and search cheap flights on Momondo.*]
Bam. Shorter flight and less than half the price of flying out of Lisbon. Our itinerary is now:
- Fly American Airlines/British Airways from Fort Lauderdale to Madrid
- Fly Iberia from Madrid to Seville
- Enjoy Seville
- Fly Iberia from Seville to Madrid
- Fly American Airlines/British Airways from Madrid to Fort Lauderdale
All for $551! This looks a lot like a normal flight route. The caveat here is that we change airlines. However, giving yourself plenty of time to get through customs and back through security (I recommend at least three hours; more if you’re worried about flight delays) means changing airlines isn’t an issue.
Now, should we book immediately? Probably not. We’ll take a look at tools that can help us with that decision later in this post.
The lesson here is that you should be open to flying to nearby destinations. Flight search engines are pretty good at suggesting ways to save money to find cheap flights, but they’re not very creative.
Example 5: Last-Minute New Year’s Eve Trip to Somewhere
Sometimes you don’t really care where you’re going. Sometimes you just want to take a trip. Last year, in December 2016, a friend and I were planning on being in Mexico City, and another friend called me two weeks before New Year’s Eve and asked if she could come. Sure, I said, but good luck finding any cheap flights.
This year I’m staying in San Diego for the new year, but if I wanted to fly somewhere—anywhere—here’s how I’d go about doing it.
Search Cheap Flights to Anywhere with Momondo and Google Flights
If you’ve been following along on your own device, you might have noticed that the creators of Momondo and Google Flights have designed for the case where you don’t really know where you want to go.
Momondo is shameless. “Take me anywhere.” They’re asking for it. Let’s indulge them—I love a good indulgence.
$395 for a one-way NYE ticket for New Zealand. $399 to Japan. I’m in love.
[Support Flâneur Files and search cheap flights on Momondo.*]
But Google puts up a good fight.
Google can win my heart with such a show of brute force because they have all this processing power. Here’s a searchable map of all the commercial airports in the world, with prices to the popular destinations already precomputed. They’re serving up a platter of cheap flights.
Momondo is romantic and tries to win me over with rainbow-filtered images of gorgeous cities in the sunset, but this map from Google is just sexy.
Google also lets me filter destinations by interest.
Here, I’m going to filter by “culture”, because that’s the closest proxy for “cute guys and bars per capita” I can find.
The result is a matrix of Google’s best picks.
Let’s say I see the fare to New York City and I decide that’s it, sold, I’m going to New York and watching the ball drop. Can I lower the price at all?
Momondo, of course, finds me $15 of savings. But I’m wondering if I can drive it lower? Can I go below $515 round trip for the holiday, booked only a few weeks in advance?
The answer is: probably not, but you can try. Here’s how.
How to Find Last-Minute Cheap Flights
1. Follow Airlines on Social Media.
Airlines will often try to fill up empty seats by heavily discounting fares. (Airlines will also try to upcharge last-minute business travelers, so this could backfire.)
That said, airlines often advertise deals on social media. Here’s a screenshot from a retweet Alaska Airlines gave someone who alerted Twitter about deals:
As you can see, this is for award flights, but maybe something will pop up for the little people. Maybe.
2. Search Twitter with Hashtags
Did you know you can search multiple hashtags and accounts on Twitter? For example, if I was interested in seeing if anyone had tweeted about cheap flights from San Diego to NYC, I could search #SAN #NYC #airfare (or #SanDiego, since #SAN, despite being the San Diego airport code, often shows San Juan, San Francisco, San Jose, etc.).
— airfarewatchdog (@airfarewatchdog) November 29, 2017
If I was only interested in JetBlue flights, I could search #NYC #SanDiego @JetBlue, and only tweets with all three of those would appear.
If you aren’t sure who to follow, search #cheapflights, #flights, or #airfare.
3. Sign Up for Airline Email Lists
Email lists are often the first places where a sale is announced. Why? Because airlines want to reward you for being loyal. It’s also easy marketing. (While you’re at it, consider signing up for the Flâneur Files email list, wink wink).
4. Check Out a Dedicated Cheap Flights Searcher
Again, Twitter is so great for this because it’s updated in real time. While accounts like Airfarewatchdog use hashtags to make their tweets easily searchable, others, like TravelPirates.com, don’t, so you’ll need to either check their website directly or visit them on Twitter and scroll a bit.
— TravelPirates.com (@TravelPiratesUS) December 9, 2017
Others, like The Flight Deal, will tag with #airfare but not the cities, so they probably won’t show up in your Twitter searches either.
— The Flight Deal (@TheFlightDeal) December 6, 2017
5. Use a Fare Predictor
We’ll go over these in Example 7, but for now: you can use apps like Hopper to track and get reports on airfare fluctuations, including whether or not Hopper thinks the fare will increase or decrease. Fare predictors, more than any other tool, help you find cheap flights.
Like I said, is it likely that you’ll find a last-minute better deal? No.
But is it worth it if you do? Totally.
A Note on Bereavement Fares
Delta Airlines and Alaska Airlines are the only US-based airlines that offer bereavement fares. These are discounted plane tickets that you can purchase because you’re flying due to a funeral in the immediate family.
Alaska’s bereavement fare is a bit of an open secret; I couldn’t find anything on their website about it, so I asked them.
Hi there Jake! Yes, we do offer Bereavement fares. However, this can only be booked over the phone with a Reservation agent to price it for you. Please contact our team at 800-252-7522 to assist. -Suli
— Alaska Airlines (@AlaskaAir) December 12, 2017
More airlines used to offer these and I think they’re incredibly important—a family member dying sucks, and that does not need to be compounded by the extra financial strain of an expensive plane ticket. Do not abuse these. They are not a path to cheap flights unless there is a funeral in your immediate family.
You can read more about bereavement fares on Smarter Travel.
Example 6: Saving Money on Southwest Airlines by Changing Your Flight
Question: If you pay money for something, and then some of it gets “refunded” to store credit, did you save money?
Or rather, if I buy a flight, and then the price lowers, can I get my money back?
Turns out you can do with this Southwest Airlines, as they have no change fees. (You can also try this with Alaska Airlines, but be wary of change fees that begin 60 days before departure. As such, I haven’t tested this with them yet.) I learned this when I booked some last-minute flights from San Diego to San Francisco and paid a bit more than I would have liked for them (about $200).
I wanted to see if there was any way I could salvage my remaining dignity
(jk I never had any) and earn back a few of those bucks. And, because I booked with Southwest, there totally is.
Full disclosure: The Points Guy originally introduced me to this trick. Since I don’t have any active flights with Southwest, nor do I foresee myself booking with them in the near future, you can head to The Points Guy and get the goodies straight from the horse’s mouth.
When booking with Southwest, you can be a bit more flexible. When you see a low fare, book now. Then, if you find cheap flights later, you can change your original reservation for free. If you rebook the same flight, you’ll be refunded the difference as Southwest credit.
Example 7: Predicting Price Fluctuations to Buy Cheap Flights
Flight prices, much like gas prices, are not set in stone. They fluctuate depending on dozens of factors, including how popular the airline perceives that route to be, the price of gas, and how far away the travel dates are. CheapAir did a post where they show how the price of a flight from New York City to Miami changed 135 times. They also concluded that the best time to find cheap flights is, on average, 49 days (exactly seven weeks) before departure.
But that’s their conclusion on average. What if you want to be a bit more sure?
Using an Airfare Predictor to Buy When Cheapest
An airfare predictor is a piece of software that uses data to determine the optimal time to buy a plane ticket. There are a couple of airfare predictors that will help you buy cheap flights:
- Hopper is an app for both iOS and Android that lets you watch flights and alerts you when they think the fare will change. Unfortunately, they don’t always have the best rates, so I recommend using them to learn when to buy, and then search on Momondo or another search engine for a better deal.
- Google Flights will email you whenever your fare changes.
- Momondo*‘s Fare Alert will email you no more than two times per week. You can also configure push notifications from their mobile app.
Using Hopper to Predict Price Fluctuations
Open Hopper app on your phone, pick a destination and some dates—Austin, TX in May sounds nice—and it’ll tell you if it thinks today is a good day to buy this ticket.
In this case, Hopper wants me to wait for potential savings up to $82—that means I could get this itinerary for a measly $94 round-trip (why have I never flown to Austin before?). I can click on “Watch This Trip” and then click on the “Watch” button on the bottom nav. It’ll show me a list of all the flights I’m asking it to monitor for me.
When the price changes, or when Hopper hasn’t told me anything in a while, it’ll send me a push notification telling me the news, if any.
When it comes time to book, you can book through the Hopper app. The advantage of this, even if the fare is a little higher, is that Hopper guarantees a 24-hour cancellation refund for nearly all of their bookings. You won’t get this kind of protection if you search on Momondo and book the cheapest fare through Kiwi.
Hopper was a total game changer when it was first released. It simplifies the process of finding cheap flights by automating the constant checking that you used to have to perform to see if the prices have dropped. We could put every single flight from this post in Hopper and potentially save hundreds of bucks.
I love Hopper.
Using Google Flight’s Fare Alert
We can also tell Google Flights to send us an email when the flight prices change. Here’s how.
First, let’s put in those dates from the Hopper example.
(If you’re noticing the price differential, it’s like I said: sometimes Hopper really fails on this front.)
Just above the best flights, do you see where it says to Track prices? Let’s toggle that.
I can then click on the little greyed out View all (1) and Google will show me all of the flights I’m tracking.
Now Google will send me an email every time the lowest price for that itinerary (with my chosen parameters, if I had chosen to set any) changes.
Using Momondo’s Fare Tracker to get Alerts for Cheap Flights
Go to Momondo* and put in the itinerary you want. For this example, that’s San Diego to Austin, leaving on Tuesday, May 8, 2018, and returning on Tuesday, May 15, 2018.
Now, do you see that orange Fare Alert button in the upper right-hand corner? Let’s click on that.
Okay, the bell turned white. But what does that mean?
It helps to do this next part on your phone’s Momondo app.
From the home screen, click the Profile in the upper left-hand corner.
(P.S.: If anyone can tell me (in the comments) how to upload a photo to Momondo, that would be great. Thanks.)
First, you’ll want to click on Fare Alerts just to make sure you actually saved the fare to your alerts.
Cool, it’s there. Now go back to your profile and click on your name. It’ll take you to an Edit profile screen. Scroll down to where it says FARE ALERT NOTIFICATION.
Set that to Push notification only, or Push and email notifications. You want push notifications.
The Importance of Real-Time Notifications for Cheap Flights
Push notifications from Hopper and Momondo could alert you to a mistake fare that could be corrected. They could also alert you to the existence of a low fare that might get bought up. (Remember how we saw that airline tickets can be priced differently?)
Unfortunately, Google Flights doesn’t have a mobile client (i.e., there isn’t a Google Flights app for your cell phone), so they can’t send you any push notifications. They can, however, send you an email. I find that getting a push notification for every email I receive is impractical, but maybe it works for you.
Now you’ll get a notification every time your search engine searches that itinerary (I don’t know if they have cron (automated) jobs that do this every couple of days or if they update when someone else searches that itinerary) and it notices that the fare has changed. From there, you can decide whether or not to book.
It helps to have Hopper and Momondo on the same itinerary because they’ll alert you at different times. This means you have more chances to get a fare that the other might have missed.
When you do receive a fare alert from Momondo, please consider supporting Flâneur Files and making your airfare purchase through our affiliate link*.
Example 8: Hacking Airfare by Crossing the Border
You can save hundreds of dollars just by crossing the border (for free). The grass might not be greener on the other side, but the flights are cheaper, which is basically the same thing.
I actually did this when I flew to Colombia to visit a friend in June 2017. I went from San Diego to Tijuana, but you could also travel between Buffalo and Toronto. (Although it’s getting safer, at the time of this writing I wouldn’t recommend doing the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez route.) If you’re in Europe, you can easily cross the border on the high-speed trains.
If you’re in Africa, South America, or Asia…this tip might not be for you, if only because there are so few cities on the border. (Paraguay’s Asunción is one of them, but there’s nothing on the Argentinian border; likewise, Togo’s capital Lomé rather awkwardly straddles the border with Ghana, but there’s nothing on the Ghana side. In Asia, the only exceptions to this that I see are Johor-Singapore and Shenzhen-Hong Kong.)
Let’s use San Diego/Tijuana as an example.
Flying from Southern California to Guanajuato, Mexico
I recently flew to Guanajuato from San Diego using this technique. Here’s a snapshot of my receipt from AeroMéxico:
This flight to Del Bajío (which serves both León and Guanajuato, airport code BJX) cost slightly less than $150. (That’s “Importe Total” in the screenshot.) The catch is that I didn’t fly from San Diego—I flew from Tijuana, which is 18 miles south of San Diego and which conveniently sits on the US-Mexico border.
(I booked in Mexican pesos using my Chase Sapphire Reserve Card, which I recommend if you want to get into the travel hacking game, to avoid getting a worse exchange rate—you can book in a foreign currency for any card that charges no international transaction fees.)
As always, my first stop when looking for cheap flights is the magical Google Flights:
A one-way from San Diego to Del Bajío (let’s say you were going to San Miguel de Allende) will set you back $409 and 7 hours of travel time, plus however long it takes to get through the TSA. (The lines in San Diego, in my experience, never take more than 30 minutes.) That might be fine, but you can save $222 and simply cross the border into Tijuana.Crossing the border from San Diego to Tijuana to fly in Mexico can save you hundreds in airfare. #flights Click To Tweet
But what about the time it takes to cross the border? What about getting to the border? Does this really save you money? Let’s run some numbers.
Assuming you’re able to get to downtown San Diego, you can take the trolley from the American Plaza station to the Tijuana border in San Ysidro. From there, you have two options:
- Cross the land border to Tijuana and get to the airport
- Cross directly into the airport using the Cross-Border Express (CBX)
Crossing the border the traditional way is free, but you can’t control for the immigration line, and then you have to fight all these people for a cab that will get you to the actual airport. (You will also need pesos unless you don’t mind using your phone to call an Uber.)
Crossing at the CBX, though, costs more money. There also isn’t any public transit to the crossing point itself; the best you can do is hop off the Blue Line at the second-to-last stop and catch a bus that will take you about 5-6 blocks of the crossing point. You could drive, but parking is a whopping $20/day. (This is why I don’t have high hopes for public transit to make it easy to get there anytime soon.) Additionally, tickets for the CBX need to be bought in advance—they’re available for $16 one-way or $30 round-trip.
The advantage of the Cross-Border Express is that you cross the border directly into the Tijuana airport.
It’s literally a bridge into the airport. That yellow line is the international border. Going to Tijuana is weird like this because the entire city feels smooshed against the border.
Assuming you take the US-based route, that’s $5.00 for round-trip trolley fare, about $25 for a round-trip Lyft/Uber to/from the trolley station/CBX, and $30 round trip to cross the border at the CBX—that’s about $60 just to fly out of Tijuana.
But even with those additional costs, you’re still saving $162. If you value your time at $36/hour, then you’d need to work 4.5 hours to replace that money. (This is not accounting for taxes.)
You could also take the cheaper route—cross at the normal San Ysidro land crossing (the end of the Blue Line takes you right to the crossing—just follow the signs and the crowd of people and you won’t get lost), spend a few hours at a brewery (or the beach) in Tijuana, and go to the airport like you normally would.
Let’s follow Google’s suggestion to also search for cheap flights from Tijuana.
Google then suggests changing my flight dates. Since I’m not determined to leave on a particular day, I follow this suggestion.
These are my new results. Notice how VivaAeroBus just destroys InterJet and Aeromexico (both generally great airlines) in terms of pricing. The above screenshot was taken Dec 7, 2017—the advertised flight is on Dec 10, 2017, just 3 days later.
Crossing the border, combined with a small date change, saved us $279. It also let us fly nonstop.
Flying from Minneapolis to Guanajuato
The above trick is great for people who already live near the border, but what about the rest of us? If you’re living in the middle of the country, can you still use this hack?
Let’s say I invited a friend who lives in Minneapolis to go to Guanajuato with me for the weekend. I, living in San Diego, see cheap tickets from Tijuana for only $128 round trip, so I’m jumping on those.
But the best my friend can get is easily 4 times that price.
My friend, now an expert in finding cheap flights, has a goal: beat $536. The first thing my friend can do is check how much it would be to get to San Diego and hop on the same flights that I’m going to be taking.
This itinerary works. He’ll be arriving in San Diego Thursday morning and we don’t leave for Tijuana until the evening—that’s plenty of time to cross an international border (unless he forgets his passport). The $257 Sun Country Airlines fare + $128 in flights to/from Guanajuato + $60 in getting to the CBX – $12 because we’ll be sharing Uber/Lyft comes out to $433. That’s savings of $103.
That’s pretty good. If my friend had never been out of the country or didn’t feel comfortable navigating in Mexico by himself, this is what I’d recommend.
But this might not be the best option. We’ll revisit this scenario in a bit.
Flying from Mexico to the United States
We’ve seen how cheap flights to Mexico can be found by crossing the border into Mexico. Is the reverse also true? Can we find cheap flights in the United States by crossing the border into the United States?
Let’s say that you’re in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city, and you want to head to, I don’t know, Bonnaroo. It’s a music festival in Manchester, Tennessee, and you decide that you’re going to fly into Nashville and then find a bus or something to get you to Manchester. A direct search on Google Flights gives you no luck.
You decide that $691 is way too much to pay (especially with the exchange rate being what it is). So you look at flying to Tijuana, crossing into San Diego, and then flying to Nashville.
$91 is pretty cheap. Now let’s look at the domestic flight in the United States.
United wants to fly you to Orlando first, and then to Nashville, for $444. This is cheaper than what you were paying, but it’s still not worth it. We can do better.
Momondo, forever the voice of reason, found an itinerary for these flights that, combined with your $91 flights from Guadalajara, only sets you back $504. Since it’s currently December and you’re not flying until June, you don’t need to buy now. You can set a fare alert to monitor the prices and buy your cheap flights when the time is right.
Flying from San Diego to Bogotá
Here’s another question for you. If I wanted to go to Bogotá, Colombia to visit a friend, should I fly out of San Diego or Tijuana?
Maybe I should go up to LA since flying Los Angeles to and from Bogotá is probably a more common route than Bogotá to and from San Diego or Tijuana.
Or maybe I should fly to Mexico City from Tijuana and then fly Mexico City to Bogotá.
The question I’m really asking is: when flying to South America, is it cheaper to leave from Mexico or the United States? Where are the cheap flights to be had?
Let’s try a flight from San Diego to Bogotá for a few days.
I could fly on JetBlue for an even $500 round trip, which actually isn’t bad. Let’s see what Momondo finds.
Wow, only $355! But look at where they’re departing from—Tijuana. Momondo went ahead and searched from Tijuana without my telling them to. The result is $145 in savings.
Let’s try from Los Angeles.
This is actually cheaper, and Momondo’s happiness rating for the flight is about the same. However, the cost of getting to Los Angeles is about double the cost of getting to Tijuana, unless I drive—driving in LA, ew—and the time it takes to get there (and where would I park?) means I’d personally rather fly from Tijuana. (I also find that the things I would spend money on—mostly food—are cheaper in Mexico than the United States.) However, in a case like this, it all comes down to preference.
Check out this guide on crossing the CBX by The Thrifty Travelista.
Example 9: Making the Most of Regional and Budget Airlines
Budget airlines strip out all the frills of traditional airlines by adopting a pay-for-each-service structure. You know how you have to pay to check bags on American Airlines? Imagine if you had to pay for a carry-on, or for drinks on board, or to print out your ticket at the gate. If you’re not careful, the hidden fees in budget airlines can end up making the experience more expensive than if you flew a traditional airline.
The only reason to fly a budget airline, unless you can’t avoid it because of logistics, is the cheap flights.
An Incomplete, Alphabetized List of 120+ Low-Cost, Regional, and Budget Airlines by Country
Since this is your ultimate guide to find cheap flights, I’ve compiled this (almost) master list of low-cost, regional, and budget airlines you should consult. (You can thank me by sharing this post or leaving a comment.)
Budget airlines have a talent for not showing up in flight search engines (Southwest is the famous example, although I have seen them in Momondo), so review this list when you think flying a budget or regional airline is a good idea for your situation.
- Alaska Airlines/Virgin America are in the process of completing a merger that will make them even more competitive with the US big three (American, Delta, and United). Alaska Airlines is actually based in Seattle, but they’re especially beloved on the West Coast and are beginning to expand towards cross-country flights. (There’s a cheap red-eye from San Diego to Baltimore/Washington International that I like.) And yes, they do have plenty of flights in Alaska.
- Allegiant Airlines is based in Las Vegas, NV.
- Frontier: Frontier is Denver, CO-based. I’ll be flying them for the first time when I return to San Diego for the new year, so stay tuned. They rival Southwest and Alaska in terms of cheapness—the cheapest Southwest flight I’ve seen is from $37 out of Las Vegas, and the cheapest Alaska flight I’ve seen is $42 out of somewhere; this morning (09 Dec 2017) I got an email from Frontier advertising $39 fares.
- Hawaiian Airlines, the 8th-largest airline in the US, is most well-known for getting you to/from/around the Hawaiian islands.
- JetBlue is NYC-based but has expanded to become the 6th-largest carrier in the US. They’re most active on the East Coast.
- Southern Airways Express is a Pittsburgh-based regional airline that services mid-sized Pennsylvania towns, Baltimore, and some destinations in the American South. I wish I knew about them when I had to fly between Baltimore and Pittsburgh to get to/from my alma mater.
- Southwest Airlines, as the largest low-cost carrier in the US, needs no introduction.
- Spirit: Spirit Airlines’s reputation is almost mythical. I’ve heard of magical $49 fares from Washington D.C. to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for Spring Break. I’ve also heard stories about cockroaches. Neither of these is likely true.
- Sun Country is headquartered in Minneapolis/St. Paul—I flew them to MSP to visit a few friends. They’re lovely.
- Air Canada Rouge (“Rouge” as in the French word for “red”) is a subsidiary of Air Canada, with hubs in the country’s largest cities: Toronto, Montréal, and Vancouver.
- Flair Airlines are based in Kelowna, British Colombia.
- Sunwing Airlines mostly wants to get you from Canada to sunnier places—Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central/South America. They have hubs in Toronto and Montréal.
- WestJet is the second-largest Canadian carrier (behind Air Canada). They offer flights all over North America—I have a friend who found a WestJet fare to Cancún so cheap that he went from Pittsburgh to Toronto just to get it.
- Volaris: I really, really hate flying Volaris. But they do have nice colors.
- VivaAerobus: The seats are way more uncomfortable than Volaris and they offer fewer routes, but I like dealing with them as a company more than Volaris.
- Interjet: Interjet is my favorite Mexican budget airline, but they’re often more expensive than Volaris and VivaAerobus.
- Flybondi is based in Buenos Aires and offers domestic service around Argentina, most notably to Cordoba and Iguazu.
- Azul is based in São Paulo and aims to provide service to Brazil’s underserved markets, with hubs in Belo Horizonte, Recife, and São Paulo. They were founded by the same guy who founded the American low-cost airline JetBlue.
- Gol is the largest low-cost airline in South America, and they compete internationally with Colombia’s Avianca, Chila’s LATAM, and rival domestic carrier Azul. They are based in São Paulo.
- JetSmart is a US-backed low-cost airline in Chile. They are controlled by the same group as Frontier, Volaris, and Wizz Air.
- Sky Airline is the second-largest airline in Chile, after LATAM. They are based in Santiago and fly to Brazil, Argentina, Peru, and Uruguay.
- EasyFly is based in Bogotá but is intent on providing service to smaller cities in Colombia that aren’t serviced by larger airlines.
- VivaColombia is Colombia’s first true low-cost carrier. They fly to a large host of domestic destinations as well as Panama City (the one in Panama, not Florida), Lima, Quito, and Miami. They are based in Medellín.
- Wingo is a subsidiary of Copa. They are based in Bogotá, fly to all major Colombian destinations (Barranquilla, Cartagena, Cali, Medellín) and several nearby Caribbean and Latin American cities (San José, Punta Cana, Mexico City, Havana, Quito, and Caracas).
- Viva Air Peru is a newcomer—it was established in May 2017 by the same group that founded several other airlines on this list (VivaColombia, Ryanair, Allegiant air, VivaAerobus, and Tigerair). They currently only fly to major destinations in Peru, including Lima and Cuzco.
- Niki is a low-cost Vienna-based airline. They focus on leisure destinations in Spain, Portugal, and North Africa.
- Eurowings Europe is the Austria subsidiary of the Lufthansa Group—German-based Eurowings is their sister company. They fly throughout Europe, including to Palma de Mallorca.
- Smart Wings is a low-cost carrier based in Prague.
- French Blue is a Paris-based budget airline. They begin service connecting Paris and San Francisco on in May 2018.
- Transavia France is a French low-cost carrier that operates both out of Paris and Amsterdam. They are a subsidiary of the Dutch Transavia.
- Eurowings is a subsidiary of Lufthansa and is based in Düsseldorf. They do a combination of domestic flights and long-haul flights and have bases in Berlin, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, and Vienna.
- Wizz Air, based in Budapest, is the largest airline in Hungary and serves several destinations, including as far as Israel and the UAE. They also have a substantial network of routes in Poland.
- Wow Air is a Reykjavik-based airline that wants to give you free stopovers in Iceland to break up the flight across the pond. They focus on transatlantic flights.
- Ryanair is the most famous low-cost European airline. They’re based in Dublin and in 2016 they were the largest European airline by passengers flown and carrier more international passengers than any other airline.
- Blue Panorama is Italy’s premier low-cost carrier, based in both Rome and Milan. They offer short-haul flights under the name Blu-express.
- Air Baltic is a state-own low-cost carrier based in Riga. They also have large operations in Tallinn (Estonia) and Vilnius (Lithuania).
- FlyOne is a Chișinău-based airline that flies to several destinations in Russia, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, the UK, Ireland, and Turkey.
- Transavia is an Amsterdam-based airline that flies to destinations around the EU, near Asia, Morocco, South Africa, and Gambia. They maintain Transavia France as their subsidiary, while they themselves are owned by KLM.
- Norwegian Air International is especially well known for their transatlantic flights. A writer at The Points Guy gives a nice review of flying from New York to London on Norwegian. They have subsidiaries which share the same name and corporate branding in Ireland, the UK, and Argentina.
- Blue Air is headquartered in Bucharest. They fly throughout Europe and to several destinations in Mediterranean Asia.
- Pobeda is a Moscow-based subsidiary of Aeroflot. They focus on flights between Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Sochi, Anapa, and Yekaterinburg.
- Iberia Express is a Madrid-based subsidiary of Iberia.
- Level Express is a Barcelona-based budget airline, scheduled to also begin service from Paris in late Summer 2018.
- Volotea is a low-cost, largely domestic airline based in Asturias, which is the small province on Spain’s northern coast between Basque country and Galicia that you never knew existed.
- Vueling is another Barcelona-based low-cost carrier, with a secondary hub in Rome. They are the largest airline in Spain.
- Onur Air is an Istanbul-based domestic low-cost carrier in Turkey.
- Pegasus Airlines is also based in Istanbul. They fly to several international destinations through Europe, including Rome and Stockholm.
- Easy Jet is based in the UK but they also have related companies in Vienna (Easy Jet Europe) and Zürich (Easy Jet Switzerland). They’re a pan-European low-cost carrier.
- Flybe offers several domestic and long-haul routes from Birmingham, Manchester, Dublin, Paris, and Amsterdam.
- Jet2 is based in Leeds and flies to several smaller destinations in the UK, Spain, and Ireland, including Belfast, Alicante, Glasgow, Newcastle, and Edinburgh.
- 9 Air (九元航空) is a Guangzhou-based airline that flies to 22 destinations in China, including Ürümqi, Nanjing, Changsha, and Xi’an. They are a subsidiary of Juneyao Airlines.
- Colorful Guizhou Airlines (多彩贵州航空) is a low-cost regional airline that operates in China’s Guizhou region. Its hub is in Guiyang.
- China United Airlines (中国联合航空公司) is a Beijing-based low-cost airline that is owned by China Eastern Airlines, not to be confused with the Taiwanese company called China Airlines. (It’s too much, I know.) They fly to a variety of destinations in China.
- Jiangxi Air (江西航空) is a regional airline based in Jiangxi. They only fly to nearby domestic locations.
- Ruili Airlines flies to 23 destinations in central and northern China.
- Spring Airlines (春秋航空股份有限公司) is a large low-budget airline that flies to over 40 domestic cities in China (including both Shanghai airports) as well as major cities in Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, and Thailand. They also operate a Japanese-based subsidiary, Spring Airlines Japan.
- Ürümqi Air (乌鲁木齐航空) services major Chinese destinations in Western China.
- West Air (西部航空责任公司) is a Chongqing-based airline that offers flights to destinations throughout China as well as Singapore, Osaka, and Sapporo.
- HK Express flies to major destinations in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and to Saipan. Curiously, they only fly to Kunming and Ningbo in China, which are respectively cities of 6.6 and 7.6 million that you’ve never heard of.
- Air India Express is headquartered in Kochi. They fly to about 30 domestic and international destinations, including the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
- AirAsia India, an affiliate of the OG Malaysian AirAsia, is based in Bengaluru. They currently fly to 17 domestic destinations in India.
- GoAir is a Mumbai-based low-cost airline and the fifth-largest in India. They do not yet operate any international flights but fly to 20+ domestic cities and have hubs in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, and Kolkata (Calcutta).
- IndiGo is the largest airline in India. They maintain hubs in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Jaipur, and Hyderabad. They fly to over 40 domestic destinations in India. International destinations include Doha, Singapore, Muscat, Bangkok, Kathmandu, and Sharjah.
- SpiceJet is based in Gurgaon, which is only 20 miles from New Delhi, and with hubs in Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Kolkata, SpiceJet is India’s third-largest airline. They fly to 35+ destinations in India and 6 international destinations, including Colombo.
- Citilink is a Jakarta-based airline with additional hubs in Surabaya and Batam. They fly to destinations through the Indonesian archipelago and internationally to Jeddah and Dili. Citilink is owned by Garuda Indonesia.
- Lion Air is Indonesia’s largest private airline and the second-largest low-cost carrier in Asia, after AirAsia. They fly to about 80 destinations in Indonesia, as well as to Singapore, Malaysia, the Phillippines, and Saudi Arabia.
- Indonesia AirAsia is based in Tangerang and is an affiliate company of AirAsia. They fly to major cities in Indonesia as well as to Kolkata, Perth, Darwin, Macau, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Singapore, and Bangkok.
- Indonesia AirAsia X is the long-haul partner of Indonesia Air Asia.
- Wings Air is a regional airline that operates short-haul flights. They are a subsidiary of Lion Air and are banned from flying in European airspace due to substandard safety practices. (This is airline-speak for DON’T FLY THEM.)
- AirAsia Japan is the tiny, Japanese incarnation of Malaysian low-cost airline AirAsia. They fly between Nagoya and Sapporo.
- Jetstar Japan is a major Janapese low-cost airline. They are a major player in the domestic Japanese low-cost airline market, flying to major Japanese destinations as well as Taipei, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Manila. They are a subsidiary of Qantas Airlines and a sister company of Jetstar Pacific, Jetstar Asia Airways, and Jetstar (in New Zealand).
- Peach operates hubs in Osaka, Okinawa, and Tokyo. They fly to major destinations in Japan, we well as Hong Kong, Taipei, Kaohsiung, Seoul, Busan, Bangkok, and Shanghai.
- Skymark Airlines exclusively offers domestic flights within Japan. Their hub is in Tokyo.
- Solaseed Air mainly operates between destinations on Kyushu (Japan’s southern big island) and Tokyo.
- Spring Airlines Japan is the Japanese subsidiary of Chinese-own Spring Airlines. Their hub is in Tokyo and they fly domestic to Hiroshima, Osaka, Saga, Sapporo, Tokyo and to four cities in China: Chongqing, Harbin, Tianjin, and Wuhan.
- Vanilla Air is a low-cost Tokyo-based airline that flies domestic to Amami, Hakodate, Okinawa, Osaka, Sapporo, and Tokyo. Their international destinations include Taipei, Hong Kong, Cebu, Kaohsiung, and Ho Chi Minh City. Vanilla Air is part of the Value Alliance.
- Air Manas operates out of Bishkek and flies to Istanbul, Moscow, Delhi, Ürümqi, and one domestic city—Osh.
- AirAsia is the Kuala Lumpur-based low-cost airline that owns affiliate operations in the Philippines, Thailand, India, and Indonesia. It is Asia’s largest Malaysia. AirAsia focuses on short routers while their sister airline, AirAsia X, focuses on long-haul routes. They are consistently named the world’s best low-cost carrier; they also managed to do this while operating with the world’s lowest cost per seat. (I.e., the cheapest cheap flights in the world are in AirAsia.)
- AirAsia X is AirAsia’s long-haul sister company.
- Blueair is the Karachi-based low-cost Pakistani airline that flies to domestic destinations in Pakistan and international cities in Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.
- Cebgo is a Manila-based low-cost carrier that services 27 destinations in the Philippines. They have a secondary hub in Cebu and are owned by Cebu Pacific.
- Cebu Pacific is the largest airline in the Philippines, with hubs in Manila, Cebu, Zamboanga City, Cagayan do Oro/Iligan, Kalibo, Iloilo, Davao City, and central Luzon. Cebu Pacific is part of the Value Alliance.
- Philippines AirAsia is the Filipino affiliate of the Malaysian low-cost airline AirAsia. They have domestic hubs in Cebu, Clark, Davao City, Kalibo, Manila, and Puerto Princesa. Internationally, they fly to Taipei, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, Macau, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, Denpasar, Seoul, Busan, Hongkong, Shanghai Hangzhou, and Guangzhou.
- Jetstar Asia Airways is a subsidiary of Australian airline Qantas and sister company of Jetstar Japan, Jetstar Pacific, and Jetstar (New Zealand). They fly from Singapore to 12 cities in Asia and Australia.
- Scoot is owned by Singapore Airlines. They focus on low-cost long-haul flights from Singapore to China and India. They are part of the Value Alliance.
- Air Busan is a low-cost carrier in South Korea that flies to Seoul, Busan, Jeju, and Cheongju. They also to international destinations that most low-budget carriers don’t, including Guam, Vientiane, Ulaanbaatar. Their hub is in Busan and they are a subsidiary of Asiana Airlines.
- Air Seoul is also a subsidiary of Asiana Airlines, but their hub is in Seoul. They don’t fly anywhere else in Seoul; rather, they focus on international flights to various cities in Japan, as well as to Guam, Hong Kong, Siem Reap, and Macau.
- Eastar Jet is a Seoul-based airline that flies to major destinations in China, Japan, and Vietnam, as well as Taipei, Siem Reap, Bangkok, and Kota Kinabalu. They are part of the U-FLY alliance.
- Jeju Air, part of the value Alliance, hubs in both Jeju and Seoul and flies to several destinations in China, Japan, Vietnam, and South Korea. They also fly to Taipei, Kaohsiung, Guam, Manila, Ulaanbaatar, Saipan, and Vladivostok.
- Jin Air is headquartered in Seoul. They are notable for flying to Honolulu and Cairns.
- T’way Air is a Seoul-based airline that services major destinations in China, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, and South Korea. They also fly to Guam, Cebu, Saipan, Bangkok, and Vientiane.
- Tigerair Taiwan flies to major destinations in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, as well as Bangkok, Macau, Wuxi, and Zhangjiajie. They are owned by China Airlines, which is actually a Taiwanese company.
- Nok Air is a low-cost airline that mostly operates domestic flights in Thailand. They hub in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Nok Air is part of the Value Alliance.
- NokScoot, another member of the Value Alliance, is a joint venture between Nok Air and the Singaporean airline Scoot. They exclusively offer international flights out of Bangkok to several destinations in China—Dalian, Nanjing, Qingdao, Shenyang, Tianjin, and Xi’an—as well as to Tokyo and Taipei.
- Thai AirAsia is the product of a joint venture between the Malaysian low-cost airline AirAsia and private Thai investors. It mostly operates domestic flights within Thailand and hubs in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Krabi, Rayong/Pattaya, and Hat Yai.
- Thai AirAsia X is the long-haul partner of Thai AirAsia. They focus on international long-haul flights out of Bangkok Tokyo, Osaka, Shanghai, Shenyang, and Seoul.
- Thai Lion Air is an associate of the Indonesian Lion Air airline, operating several domestic and international flights out of its hub in Bangkok.
- Thai VietJet Air is the associate of Vietnamese airline VietJet Air. They operate domestic flights to Chiang Mai and Phuket, as well as international flights to Hualien, Hai Phong, Hanoi, Can Tho, Ho Chi Minh City, and seasonal service to Gaya, all from their hub in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport.
- Jetstar Pacific is a Ho Chi Minh City-based airline that flies throughout Vietnam and to Taipei, Macau, Osaka, Hong Kong, Chiang Mai, and Bangkok. They are owned by Vietnam Airlines.
- VietJet Air is a Hanoi-based low-cost carrier that flies to 23 cities in Vietnam and 10 international cities, including major cities in Taiwan, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Siem Reap, Singapore, Busan, and Yangon.
- Buta Airways is the new Baku-based airline that commenced operations in September 2017. They fly to Tehran, Sofia, Tbilisi, Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Istanbul, Ankara, and Kiev.
- Up (not to be confused with the movie of the same name) is a Tel Aviv-based low-cost carrier that actually doesn’t fly anywhere in Israel; instead, they focus on flights between Tel Aviv and Europe. They currently fly to Prague, Berlin, Budapest, Larnaca (Cyprus), and Kiev.
- Air Arabia Jordan, like the Israelian Up, doesn’t fly anywhere domestic. Instead, the Amman-based airline focuses on other destinations in the Middle East, including Sharm El Sheikh (a major holiday resort and tourist center in Egypt, on the Sinai Peninsula by the Red Sea), Tbilisi, Erbil (in Iraqi Kurdistan), Kuwait, Istanbul, and several destinations in Saudi Arabia.
- SalamAir is headquartered in Muscat and operates flights to some domestic cities and large international hubs (Doha, Karachi, Medina, Jeddah, and Dubai).
- Flyadeal, owned by Saudia, is a Jeddah-based low-cost carrier. They are extremely new, having been founded in late September 2017, and fly to several domestic destinations in Saudi Arabia.
- Flynas, formerly Nas Air, is headquartered in Riyadh. They fly to several destinations throughout the Middle East, Asia, Europe, and Africa; they also cater to religious tourists in Saudi Arabia.
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
- Air Arabia is a Sharjah-based airline that flies to several international cities in the Indian subcontinent, Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. They have secondary hubs in Ras Al-Khaimah’s well as Casablanca and Alexandria.
- Flydubai is a state-owned airline that serves several international destinations in the Middle East Africa, Asia, and Europe from Dubai.
- Air Arabia Egypt is based in Alexandria and flies Doha, Kuwait City, Amman, Damman, Jeddah, and Riyadh.
- Air Cairo is (obviously) a Cairo-based airline that flies to several Middle Eastern destinations, including Qatar, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. They are owned by Air Egypt.
- Fly 540 is a Nairobi-based airline that flies throughout Kenya and to international destinations Zanzibar and Juba. They plan to expand to focus on all of East Africa.
- Jambojet is a Nairobi-based subsidiary of Kenya Airways that flies all over Africa, including to Uganda, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Tanzania, Rwanda, and South Sudan.
- Air Arabia Maroc, a joint venture between Air Arabian and private Moroccan investors, is a Casablanca-based airline and flies to several destinations in Europe, including Brussels, Marseilles, and London.
- Fastjet Mozambique is the low-cost Mozambique branch of British/South African company Fastjet. It is based in Maputo.
- FlySafair is a subsidiary of Safair. It has hubs in Cape Town and Johannesburg and flies to major domestic locations in South Africa.
- Kulula is another domestic-only no-frills airline in South Africa.
- Mango, with a name that is possibly a play on words, flies to all major destinations in South Africa as well as one international city—Zanzibar.
- Fastjet Tanzania is the Dar es Salaam-based subsidiary of the British/South African airline Fastjet. They fly to several African destinations, including Harare, Lilongwe, Entebbe, Nairobi, and Johannesburg.
- Fastjet Zimbabwe is the Harare-based subsidiary of the British/South African airline Fastjet. They fly to Victoria Falls and Johannesburg.
- Jetstar is a Melbourne-based airline owned by Qantas, which is Australia’s largest airline.
- Tigerair Australia is based in Melbourne and maintains hubs in Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane. They are owned by Virgin Australia.
Considerations for Flying Budget Airlines
Due to their model of cutting costs associated with service and by imposing fees for everything other than airfare, flying a budget airline can be a(n expensive) recipe for a headache if you’re unwilling to accept their fee structure. Whenever I’m considering booking cheap flights on a budget airline, I always consider the following:
- Luggage: This is a biggie. Luggage fees are often more than traditional carriers (the exception is, of course, Southwest). Even if you only fly with carry-on luggage, some airlines (Volaris) will charge you for that, too. I’ve yet to see an airline that will charge you for luggage that will fit under the seat in front of you, although beware that this luggage (a “personal item”) will still be subject to weight restrictions.
- Comfort: The seats are much less comfortable than on traditional airlines. Some, like VivaAerobus, I think we specifically designed to be uncomfortable. (Either that or they we just badly designed.) Additionally, you’ll have to pay for refreshment on board. You can survive being hungry for a two-hour domestic flight, but flying for several hours across the Atlantic or Asia? Pack some snacks.
- Time: Some budget airlines have fantastic service, but others are notorious for long, indefinite delays. If you’re thinking about booking a domestic airline and giving yourself a small window for a layover before changing airlines, I’d reconsider.
- Change Fees: Most budget airlines charge hefty change fees—in most cases, you’d be better off pretending like you never bought that ticket. In the US we have a law that states that airlines must refund fares within 24-hours of the purchase if the buyer requests so, but other countries don’t always have that stipulation, so check before you buy.
- Missed Flights: Some budget airlines might let you fly standby (VivaAerobus did this for me when I missed a flight out of Mexico City), most of the time they’ll make you book another ticket. If you think you’re going to miss a flight (you have a 7 am flight on a Sunday and you plan on drinking Saturday night), don’t book the ticket.
Are Budget Airlines Safe?
If budget airlines weren’t safe, they wouldn’t be in business. Some budget airlines, like AirAsia, consistently top safety rankings. The recent Malaysian Airlines tragedy has caused many budget airlines to step up their safety procedures and upgrade their fleets. Sometimes this results in frustrating service—I was recently indefinitely delayed in Morelia because Volaris identified an issue with their aircraft and we had to wait for a new one to arrive.
Airline safety varies depending on the company and country. Some countries prohibit airlines that don’t meet certain safety standards from flying in their airspace. For example, the standard of safety is higher in the EU than it is in Indonesia.
The bottom line here is: yes, budget airlines are safe, but the level of safety precautions taken varies. Always research an unfamiliar airline before booking a flight.
Case #1: Minneapolis to Guanajuato: Revisited
My friend from Minneapolis could have approached getting to Guanajuato differently. Imagine that instead of flying to/from San Diego and crossing into Mexico on foot, he found a cheap flight on a major carrier to Mexico City, and then took a regional or budget airline to Guanajuato.
More generally: when flying to another country, sometimes it’s cheaper to fly to the largest airport in the country on an international carrier and then fly to your real destination on a regional or budget airline.
That’s already cheaper than the $257 he would have paid to fly to San Diego, although the price is negligible. Once he’s in Mexico, he could find a cheap flight from Mexico City to Del Bajío.
That last AeroMéxico flight would give him plenty of connecting time to get through customs and through airport security, and he’d be able to arrive in Guanajuato the same day as me. $239 + $190 = $429, which is actually $4 cheaper than flying to San Diego and crossing the border and $107 cheaper than the direct route that Google Flights originally suggested. This is the easier option.
From here, I would search all of these flights on Momondo and use Hopper to get predictions on whether or not the prices for either itinerary would rise or fall before making a decision.
There are some other tricks my friend could use to potentially drive this price down even further. Subscribe to the Flâneur Files email list and I’ll send you a PDF with those tips (and other tips on finding more cheap flights).
Case #2: Is It Cheaper to Fly or Take the Train?
Sometimes the best way to get cheap flights is by not flying at all. Many countries have awesome railways that make it easy, quick, and cheap to get across the country (or cross the border, if you’re Western Europe). This is especially common for small countries—you could take the train from San Francisco to Chicago, but it’ll take a couple of days. (This is the kind of thing you do for the experience, not the savings.)
A comparable question: is it cheaper to fly or take the bus? In my experience, busing is too slow. Trains—at least the ones with sleeping and observation cars—can be enjoyable.
Amtrak is the major train network in the United States, so we’ll be comparing flights against their train tickets. Let’s try to go from Morgantown, West Virginia, to Washington DC. Heres what Momondo gives us:
There’s Southern Airways Express with a beautiful (if too early) nonstop to Baltimore/Washington International, and for only $73. What does Amtrak try to give us?
Here’s the itinerary I requested from them:
And it doesn’t seem like they operate service for that route:
The alternative they suggest, although it takes much longer and leaves at an earlier time, if comparable in price:
But really, no thanks to this one. Score one for cheap flights on regional airlines.
It looks like there’s no direct train from Morgantown to Washington DC. But what if we gave the trains a fighting chance? How about flying into Portland, OR and taking the train down to Eugene, OR (Let’s say you’re a University of Oregon student)?
$151 is a bit much, but for a last-minute fare it could be a lot worse. Alaska is the region’s premier regional airline, so Momondo correctly identified that.
And the train?
It takes longer, but $28? No contest, kids.
Notice how this is on the Amtrak Cascades—the ticket is so cheap because the Amtrak Cascades is a larger route and you’re just kind of joyriding on it. If this was a dedicated route like the Alaska Airlines flight you can bet you’d be paying more.
The takeaway here is that when you’ll be flying a short distance along an established train route, it’s worth checking the train in addition to budget airlines.
I was recently in Taiwan visiting an old roommate. I flew into Taipei, but we took the high-speed rail down to Kaohsiung. It took about two hours and cost about $50. I had never considered flying, especially since the train was so cheap! How much would it cost to hop on the next one-way flight from Taipei/Taoyuan to Kaohsiung?
Well, if any good itineraries exist, Google certainly doesn’t know about them. Airlines in Taiwan seem to be structured such that you should be on the train unless you’re flying somewhere the train doesn’t go.
Like I said, flight search engines often aren’t familiar with budget airlines so it’s possible Google didn’t look at Tigerair Taiwan. Let’s give them a look.
Nope. In this case, either there are no flights available or there simply isn’t a route between the two cities on this airline.
Either way, taking the train to get around Taiwan is much easier than flying.
Example 10: Flying Open-Jaw to Save Money on Longer Itineraries
Let’s say I wanted to go to Europe for a couple of months in the spring. I know that I would be paying more for a return ticket because the return ticket would be nearly six months out from my purchase. On international fares, it’s generally best to purchase tickets two to three months in advance. CheapAir studied over 351 million fares and found that the cheapest fares to Europe can be had about 99 days before departure.
For Africa and the Middle East, that number jumps to a whopping 119 days before departure. That’s four months!
If you’re trying to go somewhere for the standard 90 days allotted by a tourist visa, you’d end up overpaying for a round-trip ticket because your flight dates are so far apart. This is a bit of a conundrum.
If you book 99 days before leaving, then you’re booking your return ticket 189 days before.
If you book your return 99 days before leaving, then you’re only booking your departing ticket 9 days before leaving.
The middle solution—booking 49 days, or seven weeks, before departure might be the best for round-trip fares. But when your flights are so far apart, why can’t you just book two one-way tickets?
Why Fly Open-Jaw?
The previous 14,000 or so words have all been about finding cheap flights. But, as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, flexibility is more important for me than saving a few bucks. I’ll forgo the cheap flights (and potential change fees and sunk costs) for the benefit of some flexibility.Flying open-jaw is the practice of booking a one-way ticket to your destination without immediate plans for a return ticket. #flights Click To Tweet
If I got to Europe for a few months, I won’t buy a return ticket because I might not know exactly when, or through what route, I’m going to return. There are a couple of reasons to fly open-jaw:
- Save money by waiting for airfare to drop
- Create flexibility in your itinerary to return as soon or as late as you want
- Buy more time to do research or to try to work in a stopover.
- Return tickets are extraneous if you don’t intend on returning to your original destination anytime soon
It’s entirely possible that I arrive in—let’s say Lisbon—hate it, and decide to run off to Paris or Amsterdam.Why should I have to return to Lisbon to fly back to the US?
Let’s assume you’re in New York City and you want to spend some time in Stockholm. The price calendar on Google Flights shows no price variance in dates, so you decide on the following 3-month itinerary:
You can get some awesome cheap flights on Norwegian—almost anyone could save up for $354 round trip—but you see that the one-way fare to Stockholm is slightly less than half that.
And the return fare:
The extra $14 comes from the return flight. Why would you book that return flight now? Who says you’re returning to New York on that exact date, and not a day earlier or a day later? Who says you’re going straight back to New York, anyway—why not look into a free stopover in Iceland? (Budget carrier Wow Air also does free stopovers in Iceland, buddy not included.)
Want More Tips on Finding Cheap Flights?
If you made it through the whole thing in one go, well done! You’re now pretty good at finding cheap flights, and I want to hear those success stories from when you do!
If you’re still not too sure about how to get cheap flights, or if you want to learn more, you’re in luck. I’ve compiled a list of other bloggers who have some valuable things to say on the topic:
- Nomadic Matt, one of the gurus on the topic of finding cheap flights, has a simple step-by-step guide called 5 Steps to Booking a Cheap Flight Online.
- Owl Over the World‘s post will teach you how to find cheap flights.
- yTravel Blog knows how to find cheap flights to anywhere in the world.
- You can also see Miss Abroad‘s best tips for finding cheap flights.
- The Points Guy has some power tips for using Google Flights to find cheap flights.
- Nomadic Chica did what I couldn’t, which is teach you how to find cheap flights without losing your mind.
- Chris Guillebeau (another guru on the subject) want you to learn how to find cheap flights on short notice.
- Hippie in Heels, who I’m convinced knows some form of black magic, shows you how to jet around Europe for $355.
- Audrey from That Backpacker gives some lightning-round tips on snagging those affordable fares.
You can also subscribe to the Flâneur Files mailing list and I’ll send you a short PDF of 5 more quick tips for finding cheap flights that I didn’t mention in this post.
Since this is a masterclass, you have a bit of homework:
- Share your best tips for finding cheap flights in the comments below OR
- Go find a cheap fare and tell me in the comments or on social media (@flaneurfiles).
- Extra credit if you share this post with a friend.
Affiliate Links Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click on the link and make a purchase, I will receive a percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. Affiliate sales help me offset the costs associated with running this blog. All affiliate links lead towards a product or service I have personally used. Affiliate links are marked with an asterisk (*).
Pin This Post on Pinterest
Also published on Medium.