Have you ever wanted to visit a far-off place, somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, pictured it all perfectly in your mind — you could almost feel the foreign smells in your nose and the chilly breeze on your skin… only to be appalled by the high priced airfare?
Well, it’s happened to me more than once.
Had I only known then, what I know now. Luckily, it’s not too late for you:
I’m going to show you five tricks and tips I learned throughout the years on my many trips, so that you too can soon book cheap flights to any destination (without having to sell your house…although, I guess that would be one option).
1. Be flexible
I am listing this one first because it can potentially save you the most money and is a requirement for almost all of the following tips.
Being flexible has saved me hundreds of Euros, sometimes just because I was willing to fly a day earlier or to another nearby airport.
Be flexible about your travel dates
Today, most flight booking engines offer the option to choose flexible flight dates.
Here you can select your preferred dates but let the engine show you any flights up to three days before and after in a matrix.
This way you can find the best date to fly — in this case you could save up to 87% just by choosing a flight three days earlier.
Make sure to always double, triple and quadruple check on other flight search engines before settling for the best price. My favorites are:
- Google Flights
Once you found a good route, check the airline’s own website as well. If there is no big price difference, always book on the airline’s official site. This way you can cancel or alter your flight much easier in hindsight.
Be flexible about your destination
If you can be even more flexible try KAYAK Explore. This is my single favorite flight booking tool on the entire web. It not only serves as an inspiration for your next destination but can find you serious gems — and it’s super easy to use.
With this tool you only set some constraints but leave the destination field blank. This way you can find cheap flights to places you might never have travelled to otherwise.
However, here is a word of warning: This tool can gravely strain your bank account if you are like me and just cannot resist a great offer to escape on a spontaneous weekend trip. KAYAK Explore is the reason why my dad went on an impulsive 11-day trip to Georgia (the country, not the state…) and I booked a surprise flight to Venice.
If you, too, are willing to be surprised about your next travel destination for a great price, follow these four simple steps:
- Enter your home airport (for extra flexibility select ‘Nearby airports’)
- Pick your price range
- Choose the desired maximum flight length
- Select your Dates
The Fourth step gives you ample scope to play around with. For the most flexible amongst you, choose ‘Anytime’ and ‘Any duration’ and see where it leads you.
Furthermore you have the options to filter by season, month, holidays and length of your stay.
Once everything is set to your requirements you can move around in the world map and click on any of the price tags until you find a destination that suites your interest (and your wallet). You can then see more detailed information about the chosen flight (the cheapest one available within your set time frame).
Tip: You can also use this tool the other way around: If you know where you want to go just type that destination into the ‘Home Airport’ Field and move the map to your actual starting point. You will now see the cheapest flights to any airports near your location — oftentimes it is cheaper to fly from a large airport (e.g. Paris, Frankfurt or London in Europe) and take another flight or train to get there.
2. Fly with hand luggage only
More and more low-cost airlines are built overnight: Ryanair, NIKI, WOW air are just a few of them, but they all have one thing in common — they can get you around for next to nothing if you do it the right way.
Let’s have a look at Ryanair:
Yes, that’s right. There is a huge difference in prices depending on what add-ons you book. So the next time you try to book cheap flights, consider whether you really need to:
- sit in that specific seat? (They are pretty much all the same, honestly)
- check in at the airport? (This can easily be done at home within minutes)
- have priority check-in? (You’ve got to wait until everyone’s on board anyway)
- bring that 20kg bag?
You don’t? That’s great! It means you can save valuable money by opting for the cheapest air fare.
Especially if you are just travelling for a couple of days you should seriously consider bringing only a hand luggage. Not only does this give you the opportunity to save on airfare, but also allows you to check-in faster, leave the airport quicker (no more waiting at the luggage belts), have everything right there with you and board the plane hassle-free.
Tip: Check about your airline’s luggage regulations before you book. While Ryanair is very accommodating and allows you an additional laptop bag or hand bag on board, other airlines like EasyJet are very strict about it.
Another Tip: Flying with hand luggage drastically improves your odds of being bumped off your flight. Read more here:
3. Volunteer to be bumped off your flight
This might sound like something you’d rather avoid, but can actually be a true goldmine. Airlines have made a thriving business out of overbooking their flights because there is always a certain percentage of people that won’t turn up for the flight. Sometimes though it happens that everyone shows up; in that case some passengers have to be bumped off the flight.
This is your chance to volunteer and be booked to a later flight. The reward you get for the inconvenience is usually a nice travel voucher ranging anywhere between 300 and 1000€, as well as meal vouchers, a free night at a hotel (if your new flight is on the next day) or lounge access.
Some savvy travellers have made quite a habit out of it – intentionally booking flights prone to overbooking and making fast money for their holiday funds this way.
If you want to try this out as well, read this comprehensive guide about how to increase your chances of being bumped off your flight from Johnny at JohnnyJet.com.
4. Sign up for Airline Rewards Programs
Almost all airlines offer Rewards Programs for their loyal customers. With these programs you will be credited a certain amount of miles every time you fly or make a transaction with one of the airline’s partners. You can then spend these miles towards another flight, travel vouchers or gifts.
Some loyalty programs even offer credit cards that earn you miles any time you use the card to make a purchase.
Depending on the program, conditions vary greatly. In general, you should look for the following features before you join a loyalty program:
- extensive air route network (including your home airport)
- numerous affiliates (other airlines, hotels, car rentals, online shops etc.)
- preferably a member of the Star Alliance or OneWorld
- miles credited per miles flown (not per money spent)
- option to transfer your miles to a friend and combine miles from other airline loyalty programs
- expiration-proof miles
- reasonable amount of miles needed to achieve a higher member status
- many benefits (companion fares, class upgrades, free flights, priority check-in, lounge access, free checked bags etc.)
- miles gifted when signing up
Some airlines with great loyalty programs are:
- American Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic Airways
- British Airways
5. Keep an eye out for Error Fares
What is an Error Fare?
An Error Fare is a sudden and unexpected low price for a flight, hotel or holiday package. They can occur due to an incorrectly entered price, technical difficulties, faulty currency conversions or wrongly calculated jet fuel taxes.
If you find one, you have to be quick to book before the provider notices its mistake or the offer is sold out. While Error Fare bookings always carry the risk of being canceled in retrospect by the provider it is always great to try. You might get lucky and fly for the cheapest (im)possible price.
Where do I find Error Fares?
There are plenty of sites that crawl the web to find Error Fares and post them on their websites. Many of them also offer to send you email or WhatsApp notifications, which I can highly recommend. This way you will be one of the first to know about a new Error Fare and can quickly book the offer.
Some websites I use are:
- Holiday Guru (available for UK, Germany, Austria, France, Spain, Denmark, Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland and Brazil)
- Travel Pirates (available for USA, UK, Germany, Austria, France, Spain, Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Poland and Sweden)
- Urlaubstracker (just German-speaking countries)
If you have found a great Error Fare but are not sure how to proceed: Holiday Guru published a great article on what (not) to do when booking an Error Fare.
And that’s all there is to it. You see, it’s no magic. Simply follow these 5 tips and you will soon be able to travel even more often — without spending more money. How great is that?
Have you found a cheap flight thanks to these tips? Share your experience below in the comments or write me on Twitter or Facebook.
You have another great method of booking cheap flights? Enlighten the community and share your secrets with us — it will be much appreciated!