It can be overwhelming when planning travel, but no more so than when booking flights.
We’ve all experienced the monotonous, repeated searching that comes when trying to book the cheapest flight possible. You may be like me and love the grind, but there comes a time when I hit a wall and pray to the airline Gods to just let me find what I’m looking for.
I’ve rounded up all my best tips that will save you time, frustration and most importantly money when booking you next flight. These are my best cheap flight hacks, including some tips on how to search for cheap flights anywhere.
Here are my best tips on how to find cheap flights!
1. Keep your cache clear and use ‘Incognito Mode’
Okay, I am a believer that if you search for flights incognito really does save you money. This conclusion was made after doing hours (seriously) of research for an article I was quoted in for the South China Morning Post and through booking my most recent flights to Africa.
During my process booking through an OTA (Online Travel Agency, like those that Skyscanner and Expedia link to) to find a great priced fare from Asia to Africa (via the Middle East) I found that each time I searched the price went up. Thinking it was just that the flights were full I didn’t think too much of it.
Being a savvy
I chose to book direct with the airline (for $70AUD) more for two reasons:
- I think it’s cheeky that these OTA’s and aggregators do this to customers, many who don’t know.
- The OTA wanted to charge me, a passenger buying a business class ticket, to choose my seating and for a meal which would come standard on the airline I was flying.
Please don’t fall for their tricks and be a saavy traveller when booking your next trip.
2. Be flexible
When people book flights typically they decide on the destination first before checking what prices are available.
Instead, if booking cheap flights is your priority you will need to flip that approach. Check what prices are available via your favourite online travel agency, like Skyscanner, Momondo, or Google Flights to various destinations around the world. Decide which of those destinations appeal to you. Then, select the dates you like that have the cheapest airfares available.
If you have a pretty tight window in which you can travel consider some of these other tips to try and get the best deal.
Once you are in Asia or Europe, finding a cheap budget flight to get you to your final dream destination is easy!
3. Follow Flight Deal Websites
This is my ultimate tip for how to save money on flights. I have only seriously begun to follow flight deal websites for the past three months and I’ve already saved just over $14,000 on 3 Business Class flights. Whaaaat?!!
Gulf Air: Bahrain to London – AU$3,842
Air Canada: London to Toronto – AU$9,858
Total = AU$15,025
The price I paid = £544,80 (plus £76.27 fee to ensure my ticket was flexible.)
Total saving = AU$14,025.15
I am kicking myself though because my friend Josh got his flights for even cheaper by booking a few days before me and on a German website!
As I live in Australia, I mainly look to Secret Flying. They showcase global deals. The others tend to focus on their home country (if US-based, they tend to focus on NYC or LA most heavily. Something I’ve never understood because some of the best deals I’ve found have originated in the Midwest.)
- Secret Flying (Global)
- Jack’s Flight Club (UK)
- Jack’s Flight Club (Europe)
- Dollar Flight Club (US)
- The Points Guy (US)
- The Points Guy (UK)
Personally, I’m still not sold if Dollar Flight Club or Jacks Flight Club offers great value for money (as they publish only a limited number of free offers to non-members) when many of these other sites will have the deal they listed.
4. Check the ITA Flight Matrix
The benefit of searching on the Matrix, as opposed to Google Flights or another OTA like Skyscanner and Expedia, is the ability to conduct more complicated searches. Searching for open-jaw flights and multi-city itineraries are a breeze with this tool.
There are two important things to know when using the ITA Flight Matrix:
- The ITA Flight Matrix will show many but not all airlines, such as US carriers Southwest and Allegiant Air.
- While you can’t book through the ITA Flight Matrix website, it will give you a good idea of which airline/s are offering the best deals. You can then purchase the flights yourself, go to a travel agent to finalise your booking or use bookwithmatrix.com to find where you can get the deals online.
If you want to learn more about using the ITA Matrix for booking cheap flights I highly recommend you read Johnny Jet’s article on it here which will also give you more tips for booking cheap flights.
5. Consider flying out of different airports (or even different countries!)
No matter where you live in the world, you may be living just a short flight or train ride away from an airline offering super cheap deals.
Sometimes those lesser-known airports which are just a short train or car ride away from your dream holiday destination can offer you significant savings and are one of the most overlooked ways how to find cheap flights.
For example, on a recent trip to Amsterdam, KLM wanted me to pay €300+ to fly from Brussels Airport to Amsterdam Schiphol when the train in the basement of the Airport would take me direct to Schiphol for less than €30.
With the array of low-cost carriers (LLCs) across Europe, there may be some great deals to cities just a short train, bus or drive away from your holiday destination.
Looking at Brussels again, I got a great deal flying from Tel Aviv (TLV) to Brussels South Charleroi Airport (CRL), via Sofia (SOF) on Israir and Ryanair. Just don’t do what I did and realise you were flying to an obscure airport when you are already on the flight!
How to get cheap flights in Australia:
If you are in Australia, consider utilising other airports. While most travellers look to Sydney or Melbourne, Brisbane can be an affordable alternative.
The countries third-largest airport has a growing network of international flights, particularly to Asia. While you probably won’t be flying on an A380, there is a good chance you may be flying a B737-8 on Qantas routes to Hong Kong and LAX or a B787 on EVA Airways flights to Taiwan.
Flights to Brisbane from Australian capital cities are reasonably affordable, and if you can’t get a flight direct to Brisbane Airport, you can fly to Coolangatta, also known as the Gold Coast Airport. From there take Bus 777 to Broadbeach South Station and then take the AirTrain from the Gold Coast to Brisbane Airport for $35 one-way. (You save over $5 if you book online!)
On the other end of the scale, Darwin and Cairns often operate season flights with select airlines, including Chinese, South Korean and Chinese carriers.
Adelaide Airport has a growing network of international flights, including the recently added fifth freedom flight (more on what they are below) on the Adelaide – Bali route on Malaysian low-cost carrier Malindo Air.
Melbourne operates two airports: Melbourne Tullamarine – the main hub – but also Melbourne Avalon, conveniently located right next to the Great Ocean Road, for those wanting cheap flights around Australia with regular Domestic flights with Jetstar or cheap flights from Australia internationally with AirAsia twice a day.
6. Let budget airlines be your friend
While we all like to fly down the pointy end of the plane, it turns out that those holding an Economy ticket will also find their way to their final destination!
Budget airlines offer significantly cheaper tickets than their full-service counterparts, and that comes with some compromises, but if saving money is your end goal then this is how to do it.
A few important tips to consider before booking with a budget airline:
- Always read the fine print.
- Double-check the airport location (I’ve ended up closer to France than Belgium by accident when I made this very silly mistake).
- Book and pay for your luggage allowance before flying, if required. They will charge you extra if you pay for it at the airport. Oh, and be sure to follow the strict weight and size limits set by the airlines.
- Print your boarding pass before you arrive at the airport. Some airlines will charge you at check-in to print your boarding pass.
- Remember: the reason your seat is so cheap is that there are no-frills attached. You will need to buy or bring your own food, drinks, and comfort items. There’s also unlikely to be entertainment.
Below is a list of just some of the budget airlines around the world. Those with two asterisks next to them (**) are new airlines coming soon. Those in italic are my personal favourites!
Consider these budget carriers:
Australia & Oceania
– AirBaltic (Latvia)
– easyJet (UK)
– Eurowings (Germany)
– FlyBe (UK)
– French Bee (France)
– Jet2.com (UK)
– Lauda (Austria)
– Level (Spain)
– Norwegian (Norway)
– Onur Air (Turkey)
– Pegasus Airlines (Turkey)
– Pobeda (Russia)
– Ryanair (Ireland)
– Transavia (Netherlands)
– Volotea (Spain)
– Vueling (Spain)
– Wizz Air (Hungary)
– AirCanada Rouge (Canada)
– Allegiant Air (US)
– Air Transat (Canada)
– Canada Jetlines (Canada) **
– Flair Airlines (Canada)
– Frontier Airlines (US)
– Intrejet (Mexico)
– JetBlue (US)
– Southwest Airlines (US)
– Spirit Airlines (US)
– Sun Country Airlines (US)
– Sunwing Airlines (Canada)
– Swoop (Canada)
– VivaAerobús (Mexico)
– Volaris (Mexico)
– Azul Brazilian Airlines (Brazil)
– EasySky (Honduras)
– Flybondi (Argentina)
– Flycana (Dominican Republic)
– Gol Transportes Aéreos (Brazil)
– Sky Airline (Chile)
– Venezolana (Venezuela)
– Viva Air (Colombia)
– Volaris Costa Rica (Cost Rica)
– Wingo (Colombia)
– AirAsia (Malaysia)
– AirBlue (Pakistan)
– AirIndia Express (India)
– Cebu Pacific (Philippines)
– CitiLink (Indonesia)
– IndiGo (India)
– HK Express (Hong Kong)
– Jeju Air (S.Korea)
– Jetstar Asia (Singapore)
– Jin Air (S.Korea)
– Lanmei Airlines (Cambodia)
– Lion Air (Indonesia)
– Lucky Air (China)
– Nok Air (Thailand)
– NokScoot (Thailand)
– Peach (Japan)
– Scoot (Singapore)
– SpiceJet (India)
– Spring Airlines (China)
– Tigerair Taiwan (Taiwan)
– Vanilla Air (Japan)
– VietJet Air (Vietnam)
– West Air (China)
– Wings Air (Indonesia)
– ZIPAIR Tokyo (Japan) **
– 9 Air (China)
– Air Arabia (UAE)
– flydubai (UAE)
– Air Manas (Kyrgyzstan)
– Buta Airways (Azerbaijan)
– FlyArystan (Kazakhstan)
– Air Cairo (Egypt)
– Fly540 (Kenya)
– Fastjet (South African owned)
– FlySafair (South Africa)
– Jambojet (Kenya)
– kulula.com (South Africa)
– Mango (South Africa)
7. Pack carry-on only to take advantage of the best budget flights
If you want to take advantage of the cheapest seats possible, this is the way to do it.
It’s truly amazing how easy it is to pack carry-on only, even for week-long trips. And let’s face it, if you are like me, you’ll probably recycle the same outfit three times by adding a new necklace, scarf or different pair of pants. We won’t tell anyone your little secret!
8. Use Multi-Stop Tickets
Did you know some of the cheapest flights can be found by simply adding a stopover?
Two cities that I regularly find great deals departing from are Colombo, Sri Lanka (CMB) and Jakarta, Indonesia (CGK).
Another factor which helps with the flight cost is that both of these countries exchange rates are often lower than my own (I usually pay in Australian Dollars or US Dollars). Be sure to compare prices because by booking your ticket through the OTA’s local website and paying in a different currency is one of the best travel hacks I can give you.
One thing to know is that for what you save in money with multi-stop tickets, you usually lose in time, whether it’s because of the detour to the hub airport of the airline you are flying versus a direct flight.
When booking be sure to investigate whether your airline has a stopover program. Some countries – like Singapore, Iceland, Dubai, and Bahrain – offer a select number of days stopover in their home country. For some of these, this includes free or reduced accommodation, vouchers, and some other benefits. It’s the perfect way to get a taste of a country you’d like to visit in the future!
9. Use the ‘Everywhere’ destination on Skyscanner
I have a love-hate relationship with Skyscanner but one feature I do love is their ‘Everywhere’ destination tool and is a great tricks to get cheap flights. Using this you can search the world to find the cheapest trips from your home airport (or perhaps one nearby!).
Most recently I found some great Business Class sale flights on Oman Air from Jakarta, Indonesia to London, UK via Muscat, Oman. All in all the flights would have saved me well over AU$6,000 one-way and cost me less than AU$800 return! Unfortunately, I made the rookie error of ‘thinking about it’ instead of booking and by the time I came back they were sold out. Drat!
Another tip to consider when using Skyscanner is by setting the destination as the country you want to travel to. For
It is important to consider the cost of repositioning yourself for the flight though. For example, it were to fly out of Jakarta instead of Melbourne (the city I live in), I would need to factor in the cost for a seat from Melbourne – Jakarta in order to reposition myself for the flight. Sometimes you’ll find that awesome deal you found isn’t so awesome when the repositioning flight is a few hundred dollars!