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Cheap Flights & How to Find Them: Beginner’s Guide to Travel Hacking


Cheap Flights: A complete guide to getting started in travel hacking and finding the cheapest flights, on the way to becoming a budget-minded travel hacker.

Updated: 2017-03-11.
As the go-to guy for many of my coworkers, family, and friends for finding a low fare for the next business or pleasure trip, I figured I’d write a post on some ways to work the system to get the lowest fares possible. I am often on Kayak and ITA Matrix myself, looking for the most economical options for my next adventure abroad.

As my experience has improved, there are many tricks and suggestions that I have learned to guarantee that I am getting the best fare. Here is my advice, some ubiquitous and some unique, picked up and honed almost to a science, for finding the best fares, whether the flight is domestic or international, short haul or long haul, and first class or economy.

Cheap Flights Tip: Be Flexible With Dates

Unless you get lucky on the first try, you will almost undoubtedly find a more inexpensive fare if you rearrange the dates; and even if you are lucky on the first try, you would not know it until you continued and broadened your search. If you can be a bit flexible with your departure and/or return dates, you will probably find a cheaper flight option.

Another thing to consider is that many rates, especially promotional and economy rates have a stipulation where a Saturday or Sunday night is required to obtain that lowest price. Returning home on Friday or Saturday is sometimes the most expensive time of the week. Try middle of the week searches, especially Tuesdays, if you can allow for it. Also, many flight search engines have an option for flexible travel dates, most commonly the +/- 3 day option; activating this option lets the search engine search up to three days on either end of both your departure and return dates.

Basically, it searches a full week around each date. Some of the better search engines, like Kayak, give you more control, by allowing you to configure each date (departure and return) with either +/-1, +/-2, +/-3, or using the exact date that you specified to begin with; so, maybe you have flexibility on your departure date, but you must arrive home on a fixed date. These configurations let you do that.

If you are planning a trip for some time in the future perhaps a month or more from now, some advanced search engines let you search a whole month’s worth of dates. You specify what 5 week period you want to search, and then you give the number of dates that you want the length of your trip to be; you can say “5” for five nights, or to be more flexible, you can say something such as “3-7”, which instructs the search engine that you will consider trips of a length that is between three and seven days, no more than 7 days, and no less than 3 days.

If you are completely flexible, such as the trip is not because someone is dying, try to book tickets during off-peak or low seasons; holidays and summers can cost a fortune. Finally, be flexible with the travel times, if possible. Never search using parameters that limit times of the day, such as “early morning” or “early evening”. Much of the time, early morning and late night “red-eye” flights are the least expensive, as it is the least desirable for many travelers.

Next Page: Continued »

p.1: Dates | p.2: Airports & Routes | p.3: Airlines | p.4: Timing | p.5: Expand Your Search | p.6: Promos & Whatnot | p.7: More Things to Try

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Christian Eilers
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Christian Eilers
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