When it comes to flying, it isn’t luck that saves people money. Finding cheap flights is a skill travel enthusiasts spend years fine-tuning.
From optimizing your route to reducing baggage costs, using a few of these travel hacks could save you hundreds on your next flight.
Don’t Rely on One Site or App
There are many flight finding websites and apps available, and they all have different pros and cons. Some don’t include every budget airline, for instance, or won’t offer extra-long layovers even if it would save you money. Others will let you know if the cost for a given flight is higher, lower, or about the same as usual, so you know whether it’s a good time to book.
You may have your own personal favorite, but don’t rely on it to always find the cheapest price. Research flights on a few different websites and apps to make sure you find the best options.
Use an Incognito Browser or VPN
A VPN can make it seem like you’re browsing from somewhere other than where you really are. This, in turn, can alter the ticket prices you’re offered. Before hitting the confirm button, change your VPN to a different country to see if you’re offered a better deal.
⚠️ Learn more about installing a VPN, including which VPNs are the best for traveling.
Flexibility is the key to finding cheap flights. The more specific you are with your dates and times, the less chance you have of finding a cheap deal. If you absolutely need to book a flight on the evening of November 27th, airlines can charge you whatever they want and you’ll just have to pay it.
When you have some flexibility, you can choose the flight with the best price and convenience for you. Many flight searching applications have built-in features that allow you to search across a range of dates.
On Skyscanner, you can enter a month and departure point to find the cheapest countries, cities, and dates. On Kayak, you can explore to find flight prices from your origin country to anywhere in the world for a specific date, month, or season.
It’s also worth checking out sites like Secret Flying before you start. It finds time-limited specials and error fares from around the web, and the savings can be huge if you’re in a position to jump on them.
Research Alternate Routes
Save yourself some money by researching all possible routes. You may need to go from A to B, but it could be much cheaper to go via C to get there.
Let’s say you want to get from Boston to Berlin. If you see that several of the flight options you’re looking at have a layover in Dublin, look at the prices from Boston to Dublin and then from Dublin to Berlin. If the timing works out, booking flights separately or combining flights with a train, bus, or ferry may get you the best deal.
Rome2Rio can help identify alternate routes that could save money, time, or both. The application pulls all potential routes and transfer cities so you can see where the airports, bus terminals, and ferry ports are. You might be trying to find the cheapest flight when a ferry or bus is a better option.
I recently wanted to get to Sarandë, Albania. I first researched flights to find out that the only airport in Albania is in the capital city, Tirana. The next step would be a 4+ hour drive or a half-day bus to get from Tirana to Sarandë.
With Rome2Rio, I found another option. I could fly into Corfu, Greece, and take a pleasant 1.5 hour ferry to Sarandë instead. Learning about the ferry made the journey cheaper, more enjoyable, and much easier.
Check If Baggage Is Included
It’s immensely frustrating to get to the airport only to discover you still need to pay for your bag. Extra baggage fees can really ramp up the cost of a flight, and they catch a lot of people off guard.
You may think you’ve found a great deal on a flight, right up until you find out there’s an extra $100 in baggage fees. It depends on the airline, but paying for extra baggage at the airport is often a lot more expensive than paying for it in advance.
In an effort to lower the perceived cost of a flight, more and more airlines don’t include baggage costs in their ticket prices. Even some economy long-haul journeys across the Atlantic don’t include a free checked bag.
Many budget airlines, especially in Europe, don’t include a cabin bag either. If you have anything more than a purse, you might need to purchase extra baggage allowance.
Before booking any flight, consider how much baggage you need, and whether it’s included in the fare. You may find that the cheapest advertised price is actually more expensive in the end once you pay for luggage.
Remember Bag Weight and Size Limits
Meeting the weight and size requirements for your baggage is just as important as being aware of baggage fees. It doesn’t matter that you’re allowed a free checked bag if you go over the weight or size limitations.
Depending on how busy the flight and strict the airline is, even one kilogram over your weight allowance can mean you need to pay an overweight fee or the cost of an extra bag.
As a general rule, the smaller the plane, the more strict they’ll be on weight limits, since balancing the plane is a greater concern. On some flights they will even put you on the scales as well, to ensure the weight thresholds for the plane aren’t exceeded.
Traveling with a portable luggage scale can help you manage luggage weight throughout your journey and on your way back home. Even if you start the journey under your weight limit, you may not finish it that way! Always weigh your bag after you’ve packed, so you don’t get an unfortunate surprise at the airport.
If you don’t have a luggage scale, a set of bathroom scales will do in a pinch. Weigh yourself, and then put on your backpack or pick up your suitcase and weigh yourself again. The difference is your luggage weight.
Consider Carry-On Only
Traveling with only a carry-on can save travelers a lot of time and money. Not only do checked bags come at an increased cost, especially on smaller flights, but traveling with only a cabin bag also speeds things up at the airport. Never worry about lost luggage, endless collection lines, or missing a connecting flight because your bag took forever to appear.
Before making the switch, though, consider carry-on size and weight restrictions, and the amount of liquids you travel with. Airlines have strict requirements on what you can bring on a flight, including the individual size of each liquid container and the total amount of liquid you can carry.
If you’re not picky about the toiletries you use, buy everything you need once you arrive at your destination. Twenty bucks spent on toiletries is a lot cheaper than the price of a checked bag.
If you can’t part with your favorite face cream, you can buy small, leak-proof travel bottles for your toiletries that are designed to meet carry-on flight requirements. These will also save space in your regular luggage whenever you don’t need to bring a full bottle of shampoo and conditioner with you.
Look for bottles with the capacity printed on them, so you don’t have to convince security staff they’re within the regulations
Set Flight Alerts
If you have time before you need to book your flight, set alerts so you can monitor fluctuating prices. Most of the major flight search sites let you set a price alert after you’ve searched for a flight.
Choosing this option will give you updates by email if the flight price changes. Some tools will also give you updates on how the flight is expected to change based on past trends, so you know the best time to buy.
What tricks do you use to save money on flights? Let us know in the comments.