How to Save Money on Flights: A Travel Blogger’s Top Secrets for Finding Cheap Flights
In 2017, I flew from the United Kingdom to Morocco on British Airways for less than £40 GBP (around $56). I didn’t apply any of my Avios Points and I didn’t use any sketchy third-party websites. I booked directly on British Airways at the right time, thanks to my years of experience in the travel industry as a blogger and travel tech professional.
There are better, more affordable ways to fly if you know what you’re looking for. Let me show you how to maximize your savings on your next trip.
Happy reading — and happy traveling!
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1. Be Open to Everywhere
Being flexible in your destination choice and travel dates will save you more money than you can imagine. Certain parts of the world become more or less expensive throughout the year due to fluctuating supply and demand. This is partially a result of more and more travel providers turning to dynamic pricing; or, the process of tailoring prices based on real-time customer preferences and market demand.
Your best bet is to search for flights going ‘Everywhere’ on a travel aggregator website like Skyscanner, Momondo, or Google Flights. A travel aggregator is a service that searches for deals across multiple websites to give you the very best price. Just plug in your starting city and search for deals across multiple locations and sites.
On Skyscanner, you can actually search for the “Cheapest Month" for your times of departure and return (example below). You can also compare popular destinations that Skyscanner recommends as there are regular flights to pick from.
After you’ve chosen the cheapest time of the year to fly to your destination, you’ll see different country options. You’ll need to go into each country to evaluate if its major cities are of interest to you, how long it’ll take to get there, and if there are any hidden connections.
Remember, you’ll need to do your own cost-benefit analysis around what you’re willing to sacrifice for the absolute lowest price. Sometimes saving $100 by taking three connecting flights on the way to your final destination just isn’t worth it. You’ll basically spend half of your vacation just in transit!
2. Certain Routes are Cheaper Than Others
Airlines tend to play favorites. Specific destinations attract a certain type of traveler, so airlines compete heavily for that business based on their business model. For example, the Spanish island of Mallorca is near and dear to budget travelers from the United Kingdom and Germany, so flights tend to be cheaper and more frequent. Likewise, flights from New York to Cancun typically are easier to find at a low price because Americans favor the Yucatan Peninsula.
When you’re searching for affordable flights, change your departure and arrival airport slightly to see if it makes a substantial difference in price. For example, if you want to go to London and you live in New York, leaving from the right airport can save you almost $300 in fees!
Sometimes you’ll need to take a connecting flight in order to reap the rewards of a cheaper flight path. For example, I currently live in Munich, Germany. It is significantly cheaper to fly to visit my family in Los Angeles if I fly through London versus flying directly from Munich to Los Angeles (example below).
If you want to save even more money, you can unbundle the connecting flight and book through a budget carrier. For example, I could fly the budget airline EasyJet from Munich to London (don’t forget a return ticket) and then fly British Airways from London to Los Angeles round trip. This trick typically saves me around $200 to $300.
3. Plan Ahead for Seasonal Sales
There are three specific dates in the year that I typically purchase long-haul flights: Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and Black Friday. Travel companies spend months preparing marketing materials, influencer campaigns, and sales funnels in preparation for these dates because people are in a festive mood to spend. There’s no better way to get through winter than by planning a beach holiday, after all.
Here are a few tips in order to prepare for these massive sales:
- Subscribe to your favorite airline’s email list. This will ensure that you’re the first to know whenever there’s a sale, as seats may be limited — and many airlines send birthday vouchers to thank their customers for their business.
- Research which airlines have given the most generous deals recently. For example, Air New Zealand has consistently offered flights from Los Angeles to London (the U.K.) or Wellington (New Zealand) for under $250 on Black Friday for the last three years. It’s safe to assume that a similar discount will be announced this year, but there are likely to be limited seats and these offers often sell out in under an hour. Do your homework so you can strike when the iron’s hot!
Next, you should do some research on which airlines gave the most generous deals in recent history. For example, Air New Zealand has consistently offered flights from Los Angeles to London (UK) or Wellington (New Zealand) for under $250 on Black Friday for the last three years. Presumably, a similar discount will be announced, but there are limited seats and these offers often sell-out in under an hour. Do your homework so you can strike when the iron’s hot!
4. Flight Upgrades With Credit Card and Airline Points
Lowering the cost of flights by redeeming credit card or airline loyalty points is quite popular in the travel hacking space. With a quick Google search, you can find hundreds of articles written by travel bloggers that pore over credit card fine-print so you don’t have to. However, the whole process is really quite simple if you can remember the steps that we just discussed above.
When searching for discounted flights, remember to…
- Be open to everywhere. Your points might take you farther and for longer depending on your location.
- Be on the lookout for seasonal deals, which will make your points more valuable for a limited amount of time or when traveling to specific destinations.
Now let’s dive into the nitty-gritty.
When it comes to gathering as many points as possible in a short amount of time, focus on sign-up bonuses first and foremost. A travel rewards card sign-up bonus (typically called a “New Card Member Offer") is used to incentivize the consumer with additional points if they’re able to spend a given amount of money in a limited amount of time.
For example, American Express is offering 75,000 Membership Rewards Points after you spend $4,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.’ If you start using the card to pay for your everyday purchases like groceries, gas, utilities, and possibly even rent, then you’re more likely to hit the required threshold in order to claim the sign-up bonus without any extra effort. This sign-up bonus is often generous enough to lower or even completely erase the cost of a return flight.
Nevertheless, if you don’t have enough cash on-hand to pay off the credit card balance immediately, then you should think twice about opening a travel rewards credit card. Wait until you have enough money in your bank account, so you don’t waste the sign-up bonus opportunity or go into debt chasing points.
The key to using travel card hacking methods properly and responsibly is to use it for purchases that you would have made regardless of an incentive. This way, that money is already baked into your budget and you’re not overspending in the name of points.
5. Take to the Skies
Now that you understand the most important principles of saving money on flights, you’re ready to put your newfound knowledge into practice! Take your time and do your research. However, if you find an offer that catches your eye, don’t wait in the hopes of a marginally better deal to come around — jump on it! Dynamic pricing might bump you out of that incredible deal in the future. Happy flying!