After traveling to over 50 countries, we’ve learned a thing or two about finding cheap flights. In fact, searching for cheap flight deals online is one of my guilty pleasures. Sometimes when I’m bored, I literally look for cheap flights to Europe. For our expert tips on finding cheap flights to Europe and on finding cheap flights last minute that can save you hundreds to thousands of dollars, make sure you read this post to the end. With airfares soaring to astronomical levels recently, the information in this post is more important than ever.
1. Fly During Low Season
Pay attention because this simple piece of advice can save you hundreds of dollars. Almost every destination in the world has a high and a low travel season. For the vast majority of places along the same latitude line as the U.S., that high season takes place in the summer. For many tropical beach destinations, like Cozumel, there are two high seasons, as people go both for summer vacation and for a winter escape. If you’re going to somewhere in the southern hemisphere, like Rio de Janeiro, the same logic applies except it is flipped, as the seasons are in opposite months on the other side of the equator (meaning December is the peak of summer and July is the peak of winter). If you’re looking to save money, both on flights and on expenses while you’re at your destination, head there during the low season.
Here’s an example. For a round trip flight from New York to Paris, the cheapest flight I found during a random week in July was $424. Firstly, that is extremely cheap for a July flight to Paris – I think you can thank the pandemic destroying the airline industry for that one. Still, that price is significantly higher than the low season price. On a random week in November, I found a flight for $256 on the same flight route.
This just goes to show that some flexibility in your dates can save you hundreds of dollars.
Here are the exact flights that I just mentioned:
While the savings in this case were only $168, that number can jump significantly if you head to a less-connected destination. Let’s look at Nashville, Tennessee to Melbourne, Australia. The high season for Melbourne has already passed for the year, so I looked up a flight at the end of this month to get as close as possible to the high season price, and the cheapest option I found was $4,687 round-trip. Now, to be completely transparent, this is definitely inflated because of how soon that date is to now. We’ll talk more about that later, but the point is that the prices can be really high, and I would say anything over $3,000 would be a decent price for this route during high season.
However, if you opt to go during low season, which for Melbourne is probably during their wintertime, the price drops all the way to $1,947. That is a savings of at least $1,000 and potentially more, all from being more strategic about the month that you travel.
Here are those Australia flights:
Now, not everyone has complete flexibility with dates. Some peoples’ work schedules are busier at certain parts of the year, and some people have kids in school and can only travel during their winter and summer breaks. If your dates are restricted, you can still use this piece of advice! While summer is high season for most places in the northern hemisphere, it is the low season on the other side of the equator. In low season, you can sometimes book a flight all the way to Argentina (10+ hours from New York) for cheaper than a flight to Europe (8+ hours). If you’re able to make a winter getaway happen, that might be your better chance to go to Europe or the Caribbean. On that note, I highly recommend Rome in December!
2. Consider Flying To and From Major Hub Airports
For this tip, I think a bit of context is necessary. While all airports run flights all day long, some airports are just simply massive and extremely busy. However, with their size and scale often come lower flight prices. It’s simple economics. Small and medium sized airports run less flights per day, which means the supply is lower. Lower supply, all else equal, means higher prices. When you fly out of a massive hub airport (think New York’s JFK or Los Angeles’ LAX) there are so many flights that the ticket prices are cheaper. So, if you’re willing to travel a bit further to get to your nearest hub airport, you could save hundreds of dollars. While it might cost you a bit of money and time to get to that hub airport, it can save you even more money and time with cheaper prices and more direct flights.
Let’s use San Diego as an example. San Diego has a medium-sized international airport and you can certainly get anywhere you need to go from there. However, LAX is only a two-hour drive away. While getting to the San Diego airport is very easy if you live in San Diego, the flights will be substantially more expensive than they would be from Los Angeles, simply because of the supply concept I explained earlier. On a flight to Mexico City from San Diego in August of this year, your cheapest option would be $470 with a stop in Phoenix each way. All in all, not a horrible price, but definitely not great. On those same dates but leaving from Los Angeles instead, you’d be looking at $216 round trip AND the flight is direct.
So by traveling an extra hour and a half to get to LAX you actually save 3 hours of layover time and $254, which is a 55% discount!
There are often buses that run from towns and cities within a several hour radius from the major airports, too, and finding one of these can save you even more money on parking. Check out this link for a list of the busiest airports in the US. Just like I mention in my Las Vegas Travel Guide, the higher the airport is on the list, the lower the prices you can expect!
3. Plan Your Trip Around Your Flight, Not the Other Way Around
Planning ahead is very important, and most people already do it. However, I want to demonstrate just how important it is specifically to buy your flight tickets ahead of time. When you’re planning a trip, as soon as you have your dates solidified you should buy your flights immediately. Flights are always step-one for me, especially because the flight schedule can dictate the itinerary once we land in our destination.
For example, a couple of weeks ago we flew from Los Cabos to Tijuana. Instead of creating an itinerary for Tijuana, I went online to buy our flights first. This wound up being super beneficial, because I learned that the only reasonably priced flight on this route and date was leaving at 10:30PM and landing after midnight. If I had made plans and reservations for things to do in Tijuana for that day, we would’ve been forced to pay over a hundred dollars more just to arrive in time for those plans. Instead, I bought the late-night flight and only planned things to do in Tijuana starting the next day.
For this reason, I buy our flights before I book anything else (but I still do research on everything else first to make sure that these dates work). In almost every situation, planning ahead will save you significant amounts of money. Last-minute travel may sound exhilarating, but your bank account won’t be happy with you. On one of our trips to Europe, we flew from New York to Munich for $120 one-way. I booked that flight two months in advance. If I had booked it 6+ months in advance, I bet it would have been under $100. For fun, I checked what the price of the same flight was two weeks before takeoff, and it was over $250. The flight prices definitely operate on a very steeply increasing curve, meaning that the flight prices rise a lot more each day closer to takeoff than they do several months out.
Booking our flight 6 months early might have saved me $20 dollars more than booking it two months early, but booking it only two weeks early would have cost me over double what I paid. For this, I advise booking your flights as early as possible to lock in the best price, but do your best to have them booked absolutely no later than 2 months before your departure date. Sometimes you can get lucky with last minute deals, but I really wouldn’t bank on it.
4. Use Incognito Mode or Private Browsing when searching for flights
This tip is such an easy step you can take to beat the airlines at their own game when you’re looking for affordable airfare. When you’re online searching for flights, whether you’re searching directly on the airline’s website or on a flight search tool like Hopper or Kayak, the website will try to use your cookies to raise the flight prices. If you’re looking to fly from New York to Paris, for example, and Delta.com notices that you’ve searched this route five times in the past several weeks, they’re going to target you by raising the prices. Since you’ve searched it so many times, it’s obvious that you really want to go. Since your willingness to pay is higher, they will raise the ticket price and squeeze every penny out of you that they can.
They do this by keeping your cookies. If you use private browsing, the website can’t store your cookies, and they will have no idea that you are dead set on flying to Paris. In my own experience, I’ve seen flight prices jump hundreds of dollars when I wasn’t using incognito mode. On a similar note, many third-party websites, like Kayak.com, will offer to let you make an account and they’ll “send you price updates” on the flight route that you’re tracking. I’d advise you don’t do this for the exact same reason I suggest private browsing; as soon as you let them know who you are and what you want, there’s a chance that your flight price can skyrocket. They have you cornered!
5. Utilize Flight Search Engine Tools
A lot of people already do this one, but I’m frequently surprised to hear from people that they tend to search for their flights directly on airlines’ websites. Unless you have a specific reason to limit yourself to one particular airline, you should always use a flight search engine. My preferred option is Kayak, but there are countless options online. Some other top choices are the Hopper app, Skyscanner, and Google Flights.
By using a flight search engine, you’re guaranteeing that every possible flight option shows up on your flight search. They also have filters that you can use to customize your travel preferences, like only searching for direct flights. You can also sort the flight results by price, travel time, or the best overall flight as a combination of both of those metrics. If you use one of these, I’d advise checking the “search nearby airports” checkbox, as this will also include flight options that are within around 50 miles of your indicated airport. So, if you type in that you want to fly from Baltimore to Miami but there is a cheaper option going from Washington DC to Fort Lauderdale, you’ll see it.
This often comes in handy for two reasons. Firstly, there could be a random flight leaving from a medium sized airport that just so happens to be a steal. While this is rare, it happens. The airport near my parents house is small, so I always chose to fly into a bigger airport an hour and a half away. However, on our upcoming flight home from Brazil, I actually saw that somehow flying into that tiny airport was cheaper than flying into the big hub airport. It was a total steal.
The other reason to check that little box is because budget airlines often fly more frequently out of airports that are close to the hub rather than the hub itself. A great example of this is Fort Lauderdale, which is only 45 minutes from Miami but services most of the budget airline flights to Miami. By checking that box, you’ll be able to see the $30 Spirit Airlines flight to Fort Lauderdale alongside the $150 flight to Miami. While budget airlines aren’t always the best option, they often can be – but more on that next.
6. Pack Lightly and Take Advantage of Budget Airlines
This piece of advice is near and dear to my heart, because I am a budget airline fiend. It all started when I studied in Italy for a semester and discovered Ryanair and Wizz Air. These two airlines operate flights all over Europe and the ticket prices leave your jaw dropping all the way to the floor.
Because of these airlines, I was able to visit 17 countries in my four and a half months in Italy. I am thoroughly in love with budget airfare, and you really should be too. I want to take a couple minutes to explain away some misconceptions about budget airlines, because I think a lot of people are actually afraid of them, and while I understand that the prices may seem too good to be true, there is not a single thing to worry about. If you want more information on flying with budget airlines, be sure to check out my budget airline guide.
The planes are the same planes that the major airlines use. On a budget airline, you’ll be either on a Boeing 737 or an Airbus 320 for short to medium haul flights, and those are the same exact planes you’d be on if you flew Delta, American, or even Emirates which is one of the nicest airlines in the world. Also, the pilots aren’t shmucks that flunked out of flight school and couldn’t get a job with a major airline. In fact, I was talking to a flight attendant from Frontier Airlines a few months ago who told me that most of the pilots for these airlines are actually pilots that chose to leave their jobs with major airlines to move to budget airlines because of better pay, benefits, and work-life balance. When you fly on a budget airline, you’re not sacrificing safety in the slightest bit.
However, there are a couple of sacrifices that help to bring that ticket price down, and for this reason budget airlines aren’t for everyone and every flight route. Firstly, the ticket price you pay includes nothing but a personal item for under the seat in front of you, and it does not include the selection of that seat. So, if you want to sit next to your special someone or your kids, you’ll cough up about $5 per person to pick your seats. If you want a carry-on bag, that might run you another $5-15. A checked bag might be as high as $50. On top of that, the seats are less padded than the major airlines and you’ll also be sacrificing the little TV at your seat and the free food and drink service.
These tradeoffs are worth it for some flights and not for others. If you’re getting on a flight that is 4 hours or less, do you really need a meal and a movie? Those tradeoffs are small for the hundred dollars you can save on the flight. The one lingering tradeoff is the extra costs for baggage, but if you can squeeze your things into a carry-on sized bag (which is entirely possible, and I do it every time), you’ll only be out $20 round trip. If you’re getting on a long-haul flight to Europe or further, you might want to consider an airline with more complete service. As I said, its all up to the route and how many sacrifices you can tolerate, but for weekend getaways or week-long trips on a route that is under 4 hours, you really can’t beat these airlines. We’ve even flown 5 hours on a Mexican budget airline and had an entirely positive experience.
7. Join Frequent Flyer Programs and Look into Airline Credit Cards
This is one of the coolest tips I have for you, but I want to open it up with a warning. Credit cards are not for everyone, and depending on your credit situation, opening up a new line of credit can harm your credit score. However, if you’re in a good position with your credit or are looking to open one of your first credit cards, this tip can be HUGE for you.
Firstly, a note of frequent flyer programs. All in all, they’re great. If you don’t fly all the time, it may take you a while to earn enough reward miles to book a flight, but who cares? They’re free! If you find that you fly on Delta airlines a lot, sign up for Delta Skymiles and earn Skymiles every time you fly with them. Even if it takes years, you’ll eventually have enough miles for a free flight, so why not do it? They are completely free and require nothing more than some basic personal information to sign up. We are members of the frequent flyer programs of American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Airlines, as those are the three airlines we tend to use the most. Many budget airlines, including Spirit and Frontier, also have frequent flyer programs. Next time you need to fly, make sure to sign up for their frequent flyer program before you buy your tickets so that the miles get credited to your account.
Most of these frequent flyer programs also offer a credit card, and this is where the flight savings get fun. Many of these cards offer incredible signup incentives, including up to 70,000 rewards miles if you spend a certain amount of money in the first few months. If you have a big bill or expense coming up that you’re able to pay with a credit card, it’s the perfect time to open one of these! We opened one to buy our flights to Bangladesh for a wedding and earned 60,000 miles as a result. How much is 60,000 miles you might ask? Depending on the airline, that could be enough for a round trip ticket from the United States to Australia, which normally costs close to $2,000. So, by signing up for this card and spending the specified amount, you get a (nearly) free trip to Australia! The only catch is that you need to pay the taxes on the flight purchase, which are around 10-15% of the total cost.
Using our Delta Skymiles and our Lufthansa Miles & More rewards, we purchased tickets from Mexico City to Panama City, then to Rio de Janeiro, then to Sao Paulo, then all the way home to Philadelphia for *drumroll* $120 per person. $120!! The ticket price of this flight itinerary was well over $2,000 per person, and these flights are a total of 21 hours in the sky. In total it cost us about 80,000 Delta Skymiles between the two of us and 70,000 miles from the Lufthansa Miles & More program. We paid nothing to get these miles – just our normal bills and purchases. Signing up for these cards is truly an incredible opportunity if you are in the correct credit situation and have enough expenses coming up. Check out this blog post to see a list of the best travel credit cards and their current promotions. Also, I wrote another post about why your next credit card should be affiliated with an airline that you should read, too.
I hope you learned some new tips and tricks from reading this post. By following the steps that I outlined above, you can save hundreds to thousands of dollars on flight prices. Now that you know how to find really cheap flights, hopefully you take the next step and head to one of your dream destinations soon. If you have any more questions regarding finding cheap flights, please leave a comment below and I’d love to answer them.