Researching flights and finding the best deals doesn’t have to be a difficult process. While it may seem overwhelming at first, there are tools and best practices you can utilize on your next flight search that can save you time and money.
Researching flights to find the best deal may not be the most exciting part of your trip, but it’s necessary. Here are some tips to help you search and book the best flight for your needs.
How to Search for Flights
When you want a great deal on a flight, it’s smart to start with a metasearch engine, like Kayak or Google Flights. That’s because these sites search the airline’s website and online travel agencies at once so you can quickly find the best price.
Using OTAs vs. Airline Websites
Online travel agencies may save you money in a few ways. First, they can combine two one-way flights on separate airlines on one single itinerary, which is something you won’t be able to do when booking directly through the airline’s website. They can also monitor price trends for your flight, and you even have the ability to set up an alert if the price drops.
Another way to save money by booking through an online travel agency is to use the in-house loyalty program.
Alternatively, travelers who value simplicity may prefer booking flights through the airline’s website. That way, if there’s a problem, there’s no third party that could complicate customer service issues.
Comparing Flight Options and Prices
There are a few factors to consider when comparing flight prices, keeping in mind the lowest-priced ticket may not always be the best option.
Cost of Checked Bags and Seat Selection
When searching for good deals on flights, don’t forget to account for things like checked bags and seat selection. These extras can add up quickly, making an affordable plane ticket not so cheap after all.
If you have elite status with an airline or an airline’s co-branded credit card, you’ll likely be eligible for perks like free checked bags and free or discounted seat selection, so it may be cheaper in the long run to pay a higher base fare on that airline knowing you’ll save on those extras.
Booking Refundable vs. Nonrefundable Tickets
Next, you’ll need to consider booking a refundable versus a nonrefundable fare. “While nonrefundable tickets tend to be cheaper, the flexibility of a refundable fare can be worth the extra cost if your travel plans are prone to change,” says Alex Miller, founder and CEO of Upgraded Points.
However, if your plans are set, and you don’t mind the possibility of having to pay a change fee, the more restrictive ticket could make sense.
Selecting Basic Economy With Caution
Usually, the lowest-priced tickets you see are basic economy fares, which may not include things like seat selection or even carry-on bags. They also often earn fewer frequent flier miles than a regular economy ticket. In addition, passengers with basic economy tickets board the plane last, increasing the chance the overhead bin space is full, which can be a headache. While a basic economy ticket can save you money, the added costs and potential stress could negate the ticket’s savings.
Monitoring Flight Times
Often, the lowest-priced flights are at odd times of the day, either very early in the morning or the last flight out at night. This can come into play when considering price because it may be more expensive to get to your hotel or destination at certain times of day. Public transportation may not run as often or at all late at night or early in the morning, which could mean paying for a taxi, Uber, or Lyft.
The cheapest flights could also have long layovers that add unnecessary travel time. Consider the money you may spend at the airport during the layover as well as the value of your time before booking a cheap flight with a less-than-desirable itinerary.
Tips for Booking Flights and Saving Money
These flight booking tips will save you money on your next trip.
Consider a travel rewards credit card.
Having the right travel rewards credit card can save you money on your next flight. Some offer flight discounts, while others help you save on baggage and other fees.
Meanwhile, many airline credit cards, including the United Explorer and Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express, come with free checked baggage.
Use points and miles.
Booking a flight with airline miles or credit card points is a great way to keep your out-of-pocket costs low. While you may think you need to be a frequent flier to earn enough miles for a flight, that’s not the case. You can earn plenty of points by using a travel rewards credit card for everyday purchases.
Using points and miles can be especially rewarding on those dream vacations. Miller adds, “For high-priced, long-haul flights, using miles can lead to hundreds or even thousands in savings compared to paying outright.”
Saving money on flights is easier when your travel plans are flexible.
If your travel dates are flexible and you don’t have your heart set on a specific location, you can go when and where the sales are instead of trying to find deals for a specific destination and time.
Google Flights has a fantastic way to help you find the most inexpensive destinations from your home airport. Just search “Anywhere” in the destination field rather than inputting a specific place. Your search results will be displayed on a map with flight prices so you can easily see which destinations offer the best deals.
Adjusting your travel days can also lead to significant savings. Many websites offer a flexible date search, allowing you to quickly see the days with the cheapest flights.
Set up flight deal alerts.
Some websites send flight deal alerts to help you choose the best time to purchase your ticket for the best bargain. The Hopper mobile app uses historical data to predict the dates with the cheapest flights. You can set up an alert or refer to the color-coded calendar when searching for a flight. Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) monitors deals from your chosen airport and sends you free alerts when there are great deals available to book. Skyscanner and Airfarewatchdog are two other websites that can help you find cheap flights by setting up flight deal alerts.