Everybody wants the lowest possible price on airfare. To me lower airfare translates into more trips per year. Over years of searching and researching airfare prices I share some of my favorite tips to getting the cheapest airfare.
Tip #1: Use the Best Search Sites
Pull the curtain back and welcome yourself to the inner workings of the machine. This is the technology that powers the searches of many well-known airlines and travel search sites. Customers include American Airlines, Kayak, Delta, Hipmunk and Orbitz to name a few.
The ITA Matrix is by far one of the best tools for finding low priced airfare. They offer a very powerful search but it is not designed to be user friendly.
To get the most out of this tool it is worth your time to spend a few minutes learning how to use the Matrix. The folks over at Upgraded Points have a great guide to get you started.
Skyscanner is the best site for the flexible traveler. Not sure where you want to go? Dreaming of traveling but don’t have a specific destination in mind? Do you have a flexible schedule? Skyscanner is the site for you.
The most appealing feature of this site is the “Everywhere” search option. It allows you to search all possible destinations in the world and rank them by price. This is great for the flexible traveler who wants to go everywhere but doesn’t know where to start.
Skyscanner offers flexibility on your departure date as well. You can broaden your results by choosing an entire month or you can rank the entire year by cheapest month. Maybe you didn’t know you wanted to go to Norway in April for $350 round trip, now you do.
This is Google’s secret flight search. You won’t find this page by searching. You have to type the URL into your search engine (or click above).
Explore is a simple yet powerful tool that lets you search specific or broad destinations such as “Central America”. Results are displayed on a bar graph ranging across several months.
Tip #2 Expand Your Search
A recent article by consumer advocate Consumer Reports found a wide-range of prices for identical flights. Results vary widely depending on the date searched and the site used. Since it is impossible to know what factors are at play here the best strategy is to expand your search.
Use Multiple Search Sites
In addition to the top 3 sites above you will want to expand your search to include the major metasearch sites such as Orbitz, Hotwire, Hipmunk, CheapOair, Priceline, and Kayak.
Search on Different Days
Prices fluctuate depending on the day of the week you are searching. Change your search between weekdays and weekends.
Go to the Source
Airlines may offer different prices than they advertise on metasearch sites. Airlines sometimes hold back cheap tickets and not every airline is available on every metasearch site. Always check the airline website before purchasing.
Use Flight Alerts
Set up an automatic price tracker to get an email notification when the price of your ticket changes. This is a great passive way to ensure you are getting the best price.
Tip #3 Consider your browsing history and cookies.
Airlines track your browser history through cookies. How this translates into cheaper or more expensive airfare is uncertain. Does the airline lower your fare to entice you to purchase through them or increase it because they know you are interested? The best strategy here is to try searching with cookies on and then clearing them from your browser and trying again.
Switch Search Engines
Airfare can vary depending on which search engine you are using. Searches have shown different prices at the exact same time on different search engines. Change it up. The top browsers include Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari and Firefox.
Tip #4 Be Flexible
Having flexibility in your travel plans is the best way to get the cheapest airfare. Use flexible search sites like Skyscanner or Google Explore to select flexible departure and return dates. Most metasearch sites offer a “flexible dates” search option as well.
Tip #5 Keep Shopping After you Purchase
The Transportation Department allows full refunds without penalty within 24 hours if your flight is at least 7 days out. Using this little known rule airlines by law must issue you a complete refund if you are purchasing a ticket in the United States. They also allow for you to hold a quoted airfare reservation for up to 24 hours without payment.
Tip #6 Subscribe to Newsletters
There is a limit to how many emails you want flooding into your inbox. Although they can become cumbersome Newsletters are a great way to let others do the work of searching flights for you. They are also a great way to track flight trends, stay ahead of the curve, and get alerts to extraordinary flight deals (Such as Aeromexico offering $208 round trip tickets to South America).