24 Airfare Hacks for Finding the Best Fares and Cheap Flight Deals in 2019
It seems like every year there’s new budget travel tips on how to find the cheapest flights for your next getaway… the best day to find the lowest airfare… the best booking sites for finding cheap flight deals... which flight search engines to use… credit card point hacks.
The lists go on—and they are useful. The scattered articles and resources just become so overwhelming that you soon bite the bullet and book what you can get. Because time is money too, right?
Now you’re in luck. I’ve done the research and organization for you, and compiled an epic list of airfare best practices, affordable flight tips, and budget travel advice to help you get great flight deals this year. Whether mind-blowing first timer travel tips for newbies, or an “ah ha!” refresher to seasoned travelers, there’s something for everyone.
How to Find the Cheapest Places to Fly To
Figuring out the least expensive places to fly to is relative, based on where you live and the frequency of flights from that location. Regardless of your home base, however, there are still ways to pinpoint low cost flights to travel around the world.
1. Find Today’s Best Fares
I’ve mentioned this tip before and will continue to because it is one of my favorites! Using Fly.com’s list of “Today’s Best Fares”, you can view the best flight deals from around the world over the last 48 hours, flying from the city of your choice.
This list reflects deals over the following 90 days, and provides a fare calendar, to get a better idea of which dates are cheapest to fly. I almost always choose my next vacation destination from this list.
Note: I don’t use the website to book my flight—just for an idea of which airlines are offering the best prices, and to use as a price benchmark.
2. Search flight prices to anywhere & spot hidden deals
Fly.com isn’t the only website to provide a comprehensive overview of vacation ideas based on price. Google Flights and Airfare Watchdog provide an attractive list of recommended trips from your city, paired with pricing and suggested travel dates (among other websites).
Google Flights also offers a destination search feature that pinpoints flight prices on a digital map, based on either specific or flexible dates. If you are open to searching for a vacation to anywhere, you’ll surely score a great flight deal this way.
Note: Skyscanner and other third-party search engines also offer this free explore feature. Just search “Everywhere” in the destination field.
3. Fly to & From Nearby Airports for Low Cost Airfare
Alternative airports are often key in spotting flight deals—you’ll find it is where many budget carriers fly to. But sometimes it isn’t where you’re going that breaks the bank, it’s where you’re flying from. If you find the flight search from your home airport isn’t yielding anything in your budget, consider flying from nearby airports instead.
I’ve traveled hours by bus just to fly from an airport with cheaper fares. And when I search flights, I go as far as a four-hour radius just to consider all my options.
You Should Know: Be sure to add the cost of the extra transportation to your budget too! Sometimes the journey simply isn’t worth the lower flight price.
Know When to Book Flights & When to Fly for the Best Prices
Often, the best way to find flight deals within your budget is to focus on timing. Both the time you book and the dates you choose to travel can affect the ultimate price of flights.
4. Know the best time to book flights & Be Flexible
Timing is everything, and it is not just about the cheapest day to purchase your ticket. Pay attention to seasonality, tourism trends, and local events when booking your trip.
HOW FAR OUT SHOULD I BOOK MY FLIGHT?
While 60-90 days is still a sweet spot for booking, you’ll find many travel and airfare experts refute the idea that one day is better than another to purchase flights. Sometimes a flight eight months out is the same price as the exact flight three months out. Sometimes a last minute flight is 50% less that its average pricing. You can never know for sure!
WHAT DAYS & DATES SHOULD I FLY?
While Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are still great days for flying, the actual date will vary. If you already know your destination but dates don’t matter, use Google Flights, Fly.com, or Skyscanner to search fares over a period of three months. You might find a one-day difference can save hundreds.
Airfare search engines offer this price calendar feature when we select “flexible dates”, but once I note which airlines have the best prices and dates, I still go to the airline website to book. Nearly every carrier’s website has a flexible dates / fare finder feature now (ie. JetBlue Fare Finder) so you can confirm pricing and book directly.
Cheap Airfare Tip: Instead of wondering when to book your vacation, choose your vacation dates based on low traffic flying days, shoulder to mid-season tourism, and a low-key local event schedule for the best flight prices. Flexibility is key!
5. Search airfare historical prices
If you are having trouble analyzing tourism seasonality and its effect on flight prices, you should definitely start searching historical price trends to spot cheap flight deals. Though it takes a bit of extra research, reviewing AIRFARE TRENDS can give you a better idea of when to book the cheapest flights for your trip.
Again, I recommend considering what events will occur during the timeframe in question to get a well-rounded understanding of when to book your flight for the best deal. What was cheap in April for the last four years, won’t be as cheap if say, [insert huge celebrity] is going to be in town.
6. Set search engine Price Alerts So You Don’t Miss a Good Deal
I understand flexible travel dates don’t work for everyone. So if you haven’t cornered your budget by booking last minute, and have a non-negotiable destination and set of dates, you’ll benefit from setting price alerts for your trip.
AirfareWatchdog and Kayak offer airfare pricing alerts based on your flight search, and the Hopper app predicts flight prices and provides alerts from your mobile device.
7. Quick! Jump on Error Fares for Price Glitches & Deals
If you are in dire need of a cheap flight and love a little thrill in your life, these unique fares will hold your interest. What used to be a big traveler secret is now pretty much public for those who search for it.
GLITCH DEALS and ERROR FARES are erroneous flight prices (aka Price Glitches) and can happen at the simplest keystroke — or lack thereof, like forgetting to add a zero and suddenly a $600 flight is $60. These price glitches often last a few hours before the airline discovers the error… or someone snitches!
Error Fare Tip #1: Whether the airline chooses to honor the error fare is up to them. Sometimes they will and next thing you know everyone and their mother is in Dubai. Other times they won’t, and you’ll hear about everyone’s lost dream vacation for months.
Error Fare Tip #2: It is essential to stay quiet (don’t call the airline and ask if your ticket went through, and don’t book your hotel yet). Wait a few weeks for the charge to process. By then, hopefully, the airline will accept their fate and honor the fare… or reject it and refund your money.
So when do you book error fares? Immediately! Learn where to find glitch fares in the next section.
Know Where to Find the Best Flight Deals
Okay, so now you know more detail about price glitches and deals — but where do you find them? Forum threads, Twitter, and Facebook groups seem to be the most popular sources.
Fare Deal Alert and The Flight Deal’s Twitter page offers quick deal notifications, and the FlyerTalk mileage run forum is a continuous thread of flight deals. But there are even more places to find cheap flights:
8. Subscribe to Epic Newsletters for Cheap Flights Near You
If you are willing to get organized and act fast when you see the deal of your dreams, then newsletters and travel groups are for you.
Many travelers praise Scott’s Cheap Flights for its expertly curated flight deals. There is a premium version and a free version of this newsletter, with the paid version offering more immediate alerts. Secret Flying and The Flight Deal facebook pages, as well as travel Facebook groups, are also clutch in revealing deals and error fares.
You Should Know: By the time flight deals and error fares circulate the web, they’re already gone. If you are passionate about being first to the punch, mobile alerts and email newsletters will save the day.
9. Take a Chance & Book a Cheap Flight Blind
Would you ever book a flight “blind”? Back in the day, Priceline had a “Name Your Price” feature that allowed consumers to bid on flights within set parameters. I remember my friend used to bid the most outrageous prices in hopes of the platform accepting her offer. The catch? If accepted, you had little control over the type of flight booked (only the ultimate destination).
Though that program doesn’t exist anymore, there are other ones like it. Priceline Express Deals, for instance, have become hot in the travel market and I have even used Express Deals for hotels four times with much success.
Priceline Express Deals for flights provide up to 50% savings on airfare by offering deeply discounted pricing in exchange for not revealing the airline, departure and arrival time, and exact number of stops until after you book — and the Express Deals airfare is non-refundable. If you are wondering how to get cheap flights last minute, this may be a great option for you.
Express Deals Reveal Tip: Just like their hotels, it can be quite easy to reveal Express Deal listings before booking — you just have to pay attention to the details.
10. Snag Flight Deals on Discount Websites
Consumer discount sites are understandably a scary option when it comes to booking flights — we often ask, are the great deals too good to be true? Between badly rated tour operators, non-refundable fares, and absurd single-occupancy surcharges, sites like Groupon don’t get the credit they deserve when it comes to providing endless travel deals!
If you are on the hunt for flight deals, don’t discount Groupon Getaways and Travel Zoo's ability to provide vacation packages and flight deals that meet your budget. As long as you manage your expectations, read the fine print, and read reviews diligently, you’ll be in for a treat.
11. Don’t Forget About the Small Airlines
When I search my favorite websites (like Fly.com, Google Flights, and Skyscanner) and still can’t find anything within my budget, I check out Kiwi.com’s fare finder.
The website features smaller airlines that are often missed by larger search engines (yes, even Skyscanner misses some!) and saved my butt when I became stranded day-of due to an airline bankruptcy.
Remember That Travel Mishap? Read all about how I used the Kiwi website to finally get back to NYC from London (by way of Spain and Portugal, but still) for about half the price of every other flight deal available!
Expert Travel Tip: If you are set on a destination, visit their airport’s website to see which small carriers fly there, and then head to each airline website to see if they are offering any flight deals.
12. Stay open minded when searching for cheap flights
The truth is, no one search engine, airline, or set of dates offer guaranteed best flight prices. Don’t get comfortable with a favorite site; they all have their strengths and weakness. When you keep an open mind and cover all your bases, you’ll have a higher chance of scoring the deal of your dreams.
Here are some sites and apps to consider during your search:
13. Miss Your flight on Purpose with a Hidden City Fare
Skiplagged’s unique search engine revolutionized hidden city fares and made cheap flight deals more accessible for everyone. They find flights with layovers that stop in the destination you are trying to get to.
Travelers book these multi-leg flights, bring carry-on luggage only, and arrive at their destination via layover — never to board the second leg of the trip.
Example: If you were looking for a great deal from NYC to Spain, Skiplagged might find a route to London (with a layover in Spain) for a fraction of the cost. Just don’t board the second plane to London and you’ve now scored a cheaper way to get to Spain.
Is HIDDEN CITY FARE HACKING legal? Yes. This flight hack was so epic (and saved consumers hundreds of dollars) that United Airlines and Orbitz sued them! The case was dismissed.
Is it ethical? Debatable. But it’s a rough life trying to find affordable flights — and airlines reducing our leg room, snacks, and baggage privileges makes it hard to feel bad about it.
Search Smart When Hunting Down Flight Deals
Even if you are on the best website for cheap flights, there is still work to do to ensure you find even lower airfare than advertised. Here are some of my favorite ways to search smart before booking my flight.
14. Compare Round Trip & One-way flight Prices with Hacker Fares
Years ago, I took a trip to Nantucket and realized that when I purchased a peak season one-way ticket (vs. round trip), flights were as low as $40 from NYC. That was huge! I’d always assumed one-way flights were super expensive.
The more I researched prices over the years, the more I noticed that sometimes RT flights are not the best deal. Especially because search engines seek the same airline for both ways (ie. if you select a great Delta price for your outgoing flight, the search engine will only show you Delta return flights, even if United has a cheaper return deal.) The way I navigate this pricing dilemma is by finding a “hacker fare”.
What is a Hacker Fare? Hacker fares are identified by matching one way flights from different carriers to get the lowest round trip price. It is hard to find search engines that will do this automatically, though Kayak is one of the most popular ones to offer this service. You can also do it manually by searching each way individually.
15. Try Multi-city Flight Booking to Save on Flights
If you have the vacation time to travel, why not visit a few more places and score a cheap flight deal? Just like one-way flights, booking multi-city trips is a great way to save money on airfare and extend your vacation.
I’ve tried multi-flight booking and have spent less money taking longer vacations and visiting more destinations. Think about how Iceland travel got so popular: Iceland Air basically dedicated their advertising dollars to a trick that can be used in many places around the world — multi-flight itinerary priced as a long layover (also known as a stopover flight). Stopovers are key to saving money on a longer trip!
Here is a real example of a cheap flight I booked in 2017: I needed to go to NOLA from NYC, and it was going to cost $267 RT. Instead, I researched the cheapest destinations to fly to from NYC (Chicago flights happened to be dirt cheap) and then researched how much NOLA flights from Chicago would cost. I ended up saving $75, spending a week in NOLA, and getting an extra weekend trip to Chicago!
This clever layover trick really does work… after I told my community, one immediately tried it for himself and doubled his vacation destinations for $10 less than he would’ve originally spent on just one trip.
16. Search flight deals solo
This cheap flight suggestion is one of those recommendations that makes you say, “Of Course!” while simultaneously making you wonder why you hadn’t thought of that sooner.
Cheap Airfare Tip: Did you know that every time you search flights for more than one person, you might be locking yourself into a higher seat price?
Search engines are going to assume that if you are seeking seats for two people, you’ll want the same seat class and fare type. But airlines sell their seats in tiers, and once one tier’s price range meets its quota, it moves on to the next.
If you search flight deals for more than one person, the search results will provide a seat fare that can cover everyone. Alternatively, if you search fares for just one person, you’ll be able to find the true lowest seat price, and book from there!
17. Turn on Incognito When Searching Flight Deals
Maybe it is a myth… maybe not… but when you are looking for great flight deals, you’ll be willing to test all the tricks.
Many people (including me) report to have found flight prices fluctuate the longer we search for deals online — and it is hardly ever in our favor.
To avoid this, open a private or incognito window on your Internet browser to prevent search engines from tracking your search activity. This way, you’ll feel confident the prices aren’t being hiked based on your Internet activity.
How to Save Money on Flights Even When You Spend
Someone once said, “You have to spend money to make money” — and that applies to travel perks too! If you truly want to start mastering the flight shopping world, you’ll have to start spending smart and strategically.
18. Consider Flying on an Airfare Payment Plan
Who would’ve thought there’d be layaway plans for flights!? While I am not a huge fan of payment plans (you might prefer to get your finances in check first) there are instances when someone needs to travel for an important reason and cannot collect the funds in time. Each situation is different!
Depending on the fee structure, “layaway deals” might even be a more financially sound option in comparison to high interest rates on your credit card. This is where an airfare payment plan can help!
I came across a company called Airfordable, and though I haven’t used them personally, they seem to meet the needs of travelers who need to pay for their trip in installments.
What’s the catch? Even though it may ease your pockets now, in the long run you’ll find the “flight deal” to be more expensive because you have to pay a service fee. Additionally, you’ll still need to pay off the flight before your trip, so this is a good option for flights planned in advance (as opposed to last minute).
Consider your financial circumstance: are the payment plan fees lower than your credit card interest rate? How much will you ultimately pay for the flight?
By budget planning, you can analyze your options and make a strategic decision that’ll work for you.
19. Use Your Circumstance to Your Advantage
We all have circumstances that make our flying experience unique. Use it to your advantage to save money on flights while you can! If you’re a college student with minimal income, for instance, take advantage of student discounts and booking search engines like STA Travel, Student Universe, and Generation Fly. Student discounts are often equivalent to “youth” discounts (ages 16-25).
There are also military, AAA, and senior citizen discounts to consider too! For professionals looking to travel more while working a full-time job, consider using your job’s travel resources for corporate savings (if they allow it). Alternatively, you can add your vacation to any business travel to get the flight covered altogether — I did that all the time; my boss taught me!
20. Use Airline rewards & Credits to pay less on flights
In order to save money on travel, rewards should be part of your booking strategy. Take note of each account’s reward and points balance to determine the best way to trade cash payments for reward redemption. This financial tip requires longer term planning so you can accumulate enough points to maximize payment options for your next flight.
AIRLINE REWARDS can be used toward covering your flight price. I’ve flown one-way and round trip to Quebec, Miami, and Colombia for as little as $5 USD (to cover tax) just by using reward miles and points.
Note: some airlines call their reward system “points” while others call it “miles” .
No matter which airline you fly with, you should open a free airline rewards account with each. Flying with a specific carrier will be most beneficial in helping to collect reward mileage quickly, but if you are like me and often just seeking the best flight price regardless of airline, you’ll need an account with each one.
Bonus Tip: Take your rewards strategy a step further and combine your points with family to maximize savings! I use JetBlue’s point pooling system with Alex to sum up all of our points.
You Should Know: Pay attention to your rewards balance: some will expire if unused, or if you haven’t flown with the airline in a while.
CREDITS & GIFT CARDS are another useful way to save money on flights. Whenever someone asks you what you want for your birthday or the holidays, ask for an airline gift card! (In fact I just gave away an $100 airline gift card on my travel Instagram.) Many airline gift cards don’t expire, nor do they have blackout dates, so you'll have time to shop great flight deals and get them paid for.
Then there are airline credits… Have you ever received a credit after a crappy flight experience? Credits are a lot more common than you think, and don’t always require a catastrophic travel day to qualify for one. Just give the airline a call or a Tweet if you are ever unsatisfied with an experience!
Credits are money in your airline “bank” account (which is another reason why you should get a free account with each airline!) You can apply credits in conjunction with your payment when booking your flight to get a cheaper flight deal.
21. Maximize Credit Card Points for More Rewards Benefits
CREDIT CARD POINTS are super beneficial when it comes to saving money for flights. Not everyone has the ability to open a credit card, but if you do, there are many to choose from. If you have a favorite airline that you fly with often, an airline credit card with frequent flier miles will maximize your payment benefits.
If you like spending on a little bit of everything, a credit card with a flexible points system might work better. Review your spending habits and find a card that gives double and triple the points for your category of spending.
I use Chase Sapphire Reserve most often (previously had Chase Sapphire Preferred) so ultimate rewards points can accumulate and cover flights. My Chase Sapphire card gives 3 points per dollar anytime I spend money on travel related expenses. My Bank of America rewards card gives 3% cash back on spending in flexible categories (you get to choose the spending category each billing period). And there are plenty of other attractive cards to consider for their reward benefits.
Determine which cards give the most for your dollar based on what you spend and you’ll find your credit card points accumulate faster. Don’t forget, credit cards may give bonus points for signing up and referring others too, which can also be used toward paying for flights.
You Should Know: Many times, in order to get the best value for your credit card reward point redemption, you have to book your flight within their travel portal. Sometimes, though, their travel portal doesn’t offer the best prices so there may be a tradeoff to consider. Alternatively, partner reward transfers can hold heavier weight than portal bookings, in some cases. Cash back, on the other hand, usually gives the least value.
21. Shop Smart & Earn Free Flights
Now that you know airline rewards accounts and credit card points are your friend when it comes to cheap flights, make everything you do (and spend money on) earn rewards!
First, all of your shopping should be done through the airline’s PARTNER SHOPPING PORTALS. You can earn airline points and miles for every dollar spent even BEFORE earning points from paying with a rewards credit card.
Example #1: if you have a JetBlue rewards account and buy from Groupon, you just enter your TrueBlue number to activate, enter "jetblue" when checking out, and earn TrueBlue points for every dollar spent (just be sure to read the fine print!)
Example #2: Delta has an Airbnb link of its own that earns you award mileage per dollar spent — you just have to enter your log-in info before being redirected to the Airbnb page. Double dip and use your rewards credit card to pay for the purchase and you’ll rack up credit card points and mileage.
How to find your airline shopping portal: Usually they are easy to find from the airline website, but if you have trouble, just Google search the airline name + "shopping" and Google will take you to the appropriate website.
22. Transfer Hotel Points to Airline Rewards
If you don’t care to accumulate hotel points (maybe you prefer unique boutique hotels but had to book a large chain hotel for one trip), you’ll find that some hotels are partnered with airlines and will transfer the hotel points you earn from your stay to the partner airline of your choice (as applicable).
I previously experienced this with Hilton and Delta after activating a 5x points promo deal. Though I doubt point transfers were the best way to maximize my rewards, it may be just what someone needs to garner enough points/miles to cover their next flight.
23. Book Direct & Avoid the Costly Drama
Though I love using third party websites to search great flight deals, I find airlines are more willing to assist when things go awry if you book directly with them.
Sometimes stuff happens… and if you don’t have travel insurance, it can get EXPENSIVE. What’s the point of finding great deals if you end up paying for mishaps? The least you could do is try to book direct to get as much help as possible or select a booking site that provides some sort of trip protection (when I booked with Kiwi, for instance, they protected my transfers since the legs were with different carriers).
That doesn’t mean any of the aforementioned tips go to waste, though. These days, most airlines are willing to price match if you show them the deal you found.
When I got stranded in Costa Rica back in 2014 due to weather, the one thing that saved me was the fact that I booked directly with JetBlue. Not only did I get about $900 in flight credits (my flight was only about $200), I was allowed to change my flight a second time when I realized how much I was enjoying my time “stranded” — all at no cost to me!
24. Find Promo Codes for Cheap Flights Automatically
Always search Promo Codes for flight deals when shopping around! Before you take that final leap and press “Confirm” to book your flight, don’t forget to take one last leap of faith. I use the Honey app (referral link) to search promo codes across the web every time I shop.
Whether for flights or regular lifestyle purchases, Honey has done an amazing job of testing tens and hundreds of promo codes to make sure I get the best deal. It is as easy as adding the button to your browser.
PHEW… Who made it to the end of this article?
It was a long article, but I needed to give you a master list of tips because the cheap flight deal hunt is REAL. If one of these tips can’t help you find a cheaper flight, I suggest you get a bit more flexible with your requirements or save a little bit more money for your trip. Sometimes, that is the solution — whether we like it or not!
If any of these tips worked for you, let me know!