My husband and I are this strange hybrid between budget and luxury travelers. I’d say he leans more toward the budget spectrum because when he travels it’s always to go DO something. Like skiing, whitewater rafting, golfing, some activity like that. When I travel I just love exploring new places and seeing all the things. But typically we try and save money on expenses like airplane tickets, accommodation, transportation and then we will splurge on experiences and food. Definitely food. We are always on the lookout for good flight deals though. One thing that has helped us save a ton is Google Flights because it’s basically magic.
Google Flights is definitely the most effective when you have flexible travel dates. However, if you don’t have that option there are some other tools you can use to help. Lately we have purchased flights to San Antonio and Switzerland. For our San Antonio trip we both had to fly in on a set day, but we figured out that instead of flying back on Sunday the returning flight Monday morning would be cheapest. We saved about $100 on my ticket and $200 on Tyler’s. We looked at the Switzerland flights for a few weeks before we bought them. They fluctuated between $800 and $600 for the most part and then we found that they dipped to $464. We snatched those up real quick.
What surprised me is, there is no “secret” to this. They are all tools that are displayed in plain sight and as a recent convert to the Google Flights train, I’m surprised more people don’t know about this. I certainly didn’t. Anyways, this is how I typically go about searching for flights and the tricks that I use to find the cheapest options and flight deals.
Where will I go and when?
I usually start out by searching from all three of my home airports (Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro) to the location that I would like to go. Yes, you can search from ALL THREE at one time to find the cheapest flights. You can also input multiple airports for your destination and google has a handy map to figure out which airports are nearby if you aren’t familiar with the area.
If you have no idea where you want to go but do know when, then Skyscanner has an awesome “Everywhere” feature. You can input where you are flying from and choose “Everywhere” as where you are flying to and then once you select the dates it gives you the cheapest locations.
When I’m starting out I plug in random dates around the time when I want to travel. I usually choose a Wednesday to Sunday or Thursday to Monday in the beginning. Google Flights will give you a preview of how much a 4-day trip will cost when you open the date grid. Once you select your actual length of trip, it updates those preview prices to reflect that. So you will be able to look at the date grid and tell how much a flight will cost leaving each day for your length of trip. Once you select your dates, Google provides you with a list of flight options with the cheapest and best flights being at the top with the price listed in green. The “best” options being shortest with the least layovers.
Now it’s time to narrow down your search for the best flight deals.
Using the drop down box options right below the location and date selectors, narrow down your options based on your preferences. The ones I find myself using most are Times and Prices. Other than that, I don’t typically mess with these options. The times are important for me since I only have a certain amount of vacation days. I try to fly out the night before my first full day off work and then the afternoon of my last day of vacation.
There are three tools that Google offers that I use almost every single time I book a flight. These give you the best chance of finding great flight deals.
- Date Grid: Use this if you know the exact week or weeks that you want to travel. For example, if you’ve selected flying from Wednesday to Sunday then the grid will show you if there is a cheaper combo of days near those dates you’ve selected. It may be cheaper to fly out on Tuesday and return Sunday or return on Monday. The date grid shows you the price for each combination of flights and returns.
- Price Graph: Use this if you are more flexible with your dates. It shows you the cheapest flights for the length of trip that you’ve chosen. So if you’ve entered a trip that is five days long, then this bar graph is going to show you how the price of a five day trip fluctuates over a long period of time. You can look at the fluctuation over months.
- Nearby Airports: I mentioned this one already, but this is the tool that allows you to find any nearby airports and if it is cheaper to fly into them. There’s a nifty map that you can use to see exactly how far away each airport is from your original airport.
To get the best deals start looking EARLY.
Looking for flights is a process that you should start very early to get the best flight deals. Once you finish your search on Google Flights, I would still do a price check on Expedia. The last place I would check is the Hopper app. Enter the dates you found on Google Flights and it will tell you whether you should wait to buy or if you should go ahead and purchase the tickets. I don’t put my trust in one app though (you can tell that I double check everything) so I would do a quick Google search for average flight prices from ‘X’ to ‘Z’. The screenshot below comes from cheapflights.com. Once you see that average price plus the Hopper’s prediction on whether the flight price will go up or down you can decide if the deal is good enough to purchase.
If you are not quite ready to buy the flights, then Google Flights has an option to track the prices. Sign in to your Google account and then click the slider beside “track prices” (see the picture below). They will email you when the price changes for this flight whether it goes up or down. If you are not flexible with your dates, then this is the best option for you. Set up the flight tracking and check periodically on the Hopper to try and determine when the best deal will come around.
There are a couple other ways to find cheap flights.
Scott’s Cheap Flights finds deals for international flights from the US. There is a free version and an option for a paid subscription. If your dates are flexible and you are looking for vacation inspiration then definitely sign up for their newsletter. Another newsletter you can sign up for is Brad’s Cheap Deals. However, this one contains deals for all types of products and not just airfare. The good part about this one though is that it includes domestic flights and will tell you when an airline is having a sale. The last one I recently heard of was The Flight Deal. They compile great deals, but only from certain airports in the US. You can find the list in their Twitter bio. If you live around one of these airports, then this one may be beneficial for you.
Summary of Ways to Find Flight Deals
- BE FLEXIBLE. This is the absolute best way to find a deal.
- Start looking early. If your dates aren’t flexible then this is your only hope to find a good flight deal. Track the prices using Google Flights.
- Use Skyscanner to find the cheapest destinations.
- Google Flights is king. The date grid and price graph will help make sure you are getting the cheapest flight available when you search.
- Check if you can fly into/out of a different airport that is nearby for a cheaper price. Be careful about hidden expenses though. For example, if flying into another airport means you have to rent a car then that expense needs to be weighed against the savings.
- To determine if you need to go ahead and purchase use the Hopper app and you can also compare to a quick google search of “average plane ticket from X to Z.”
- Sign up to get flight deals emailed to you on Scott’s Cheap Flights, Brad’s Cheap Deals, or The Flight Deal.
- Now all you need to do is plan your trip. If you need any help with that look here.