8 Proven Tricks to Finding Cheap Flights

8 Proven Tricks to Finding Cheap Flights 8 Proven Tricks to Finding Cheap Flights 8 Proven Tricks to Finding Cheap Flights

A cheap flight is often the deciding factor for whether you can take a trip. As a college student living on a budget, I have spent hours upon hours every week searching for different ways to find flights cheap enough to justify a spontaneous adventure. These tips and tricks often involve time and dedication, but the trips you will be able to take make the effort well worth it in the end. Here are 8 proven tricks to finding cheap flights that I use on a regular basis to fund my travels.

1. Use the right websites

The first rule to finding cheap flights is to do your research on various websites. My favourite websites to use are skyscanner.com, studentuniverse.com (exclusive to students), jetcost.com, and momondo.com. You’ve probably heard me rave about a few of these before, and that’s because they are the cheapest websites I have found to date. The main thing to note is that of these websites, there isn’t a singular one that is always the cheapest. It’s important to check various sites for each flight because depending on the circumstances of your flight, each site has the potential to give you the best prices.

2. Be flexible with your time

It can be difficult to be flexible with your time while employed full time, but there are certain ways to get around it. Because I am currently working full time at my internship in Berlin, I have found myself, on multiple occasions, flying back to Berlin at 7 AM and going directly to work. Of course, this usually requires waking up at ungodly hours to catch my flight, but I’ve saved a lot of money this way. For longer flights, it’s a good idea to choose flights late at night. These are usually less desirable flights for the majority of people, but for those on a budget, an overnight flight means a free accommodation. This rule also applies to other forms of transportation – bus, train, boat, etc.

READ MORE: 24 Hours in Berlin

3. Choose nearby airports

Many discount carriers such as Ryanair only fly to smaller airports slightly outside of major cities, but the cost of traveling from the smaller airport to the major city will still be less than paying for a flight to a major airport. There may also be cities located a few hours’ drive away from your final destination that are cheaper to fly into. In this case, it would most likely be cheaper to fly to the alternate destination, and then to buy a separate ticket for a train or bus to your intended location. This rule applies to both the airport you fly out of and the airport you fly into.

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4. Look for layovers

Layovers aren’t always bad. A longer layover can mean a free trip to a new city. For example, I had a 13-hour layover in Dublin on my way to Germany, which gave me the opportunity to explore Dublin for the day and was essentially the equivalent of a free ticket to Dublin. Another way to use layovers to your advantage is to find a flight with a layover in your destination country. For example, I had to fly from Toronto to Munich last summer for my summer job, but tickets were around $900. I then searched for flights from Toronto to Oslo and found that they were hundreds of dollars cheaper. I ended up choosing a flight from Toronto to Oslo with a layover in Amsterdam and got off in Amsterdam because Amsterdam is closer to Munich than Oslo is. I was then able to find a separate flight from Amsterdam to Munich for around $50. Overall, I ended up saving around $400 dollars by playing around with my flight destinations and layovers.

READ MORE: A Weekend in Oslo for Budget Travellers 

5. Points

Many credit card companies offer travel-specific credit cards for travel junkies like ourselves. One of my favourites is the Capital One Venture Card. This card allows you to earn 2 points for every dollar spent, with no restrictions on which purchases are allowed to count toward points. These points can then be used for virtually anything travel-related. This includes not only flights (can be used for any airline), but also hotels, taxis, and more. Typically, a $100 flight would require 10,000 points (~$500). This is essentially free money, so there’s no reason not to sign up for a travel credit card. If you were to make a large purchase on your credit card (e.g. car), you would have enough points for a few free flights.

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6. Error fares

‘Error fares’ refer to wrong flight prices (typically much less than the average ticket price) that airlines post by accident and usually don’t realize for 24-48 hours after posting. For example, an airline might post a $1000 flight for $100 and not realize their mistake immediately. When you purchase an error fare, the airline must honor your ticket and the price that you purchased it at. There are a few different websites that catch these fares and post them online, such as theflightdeal.com and airfarewatchdog.com. However, since you never know when an error fare will be posted and they typically disappear in a matter of 24-48 hours, this strategy would only be useful for those with flexible schedules and no set destination in mind.

7. Cookies

Cookies are an often overlooked but important aspect to finding cheap flights. If you follow all of the previous steps, you will probably end up searching for the same flight many times on the same computer. If you have ever done this and found that prices mysteriously rose in the 20 minutes you spent searching, this is because of something called differential pricing. Airline websites and other flight search websites will take note when you repeatedly search for the same flight destination and will take advantage of your need to go to that destination by increasing the price of the ticket. To prevent this from happening, you can either make all of your searches on google incognito (press Command + Shift + N on Mac), or you can use a VPN to mask your computer’s IP address (we use ExpressVPN).

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8. Fuel Dumping

Fuel dumping is a much more complex method for finding a cheap flight. In short, it is a way of adding an extra, random flight into your existing itinerary to confuse the system behind your flight booking. Airlines often charge obscene amounts for fuel (also known as the YQ surcharge) which typically ends up costing more than the base fare itself. You can view the cost breakdown of a flight using ITA Matrix (https://matrix.itasoftware.com/). The idea behind fuel dumping is that by finding a random, separate flight somewhere else in the world that is cheaper than the fuel surcharge, you can use this flight to confuse the system into eliminating the fuel surcharge altogether. The tricky part is figuring out which cities will work for your third flight, but you can typically figure that out by simply conducting a little more research online into it. Overall, it is an incredibly secretive process that those who are familiar with it guard closely, mainly because exposing more information about it would lead airlines to find the flights with bugs and fix them.

These are the 8 proven tricks to finding cheap flights that I’ve learned through my endless research on flying cheap. Let us know your tips and tricks to finding cheap flights in the comments below!

8 Proven Tricks to Finding Cheap Flights

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Junior at the University of Michigan School of Information with an insatiable desire to travel. I blog about budget travel for students, my spontaneous adventures, and occasionally an outburst about global politics as it relates to travel.

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33 thoughts on “8 Proven Tricks to Finding Cheap Flights

  1. I haven’t been able to be flexible with travel dates or location, but know there are great fares for date and location flexibility. One day! I also love Skyscanner. I hadn’t heard much about ‘error fares’ – I’ll need to look into that more.

    1. Flexibility is the hardest thing for me as a student, so I completely understand where you’re coming from! Error fares are great but also not as helpful if your schedule isn’t extremely flexible – definitely give them a try though! 🙂

  2. I love the idea of using Google incognito to search for flights! I am definitely going to try that next time. Also, I had never heard of jetcost before so I will also be looking that up. Thanks for the tips!

  3. What a great post! I had never heard of fuel dumping before – although it sounds like a rather complicated process! I have heard of those error flights before but have never had the flexibility to consider looking at them too closely, but I really should keep an eye out on those websites you mentioned. I always browse sites like Skyscanner in a private/secret browser. Layovers are also fantastic – that’s how we spent a day in Seoul on our way back from Japan.

  4. Being flexible definitely sounds a bit difficult but there’s no harm in trying. I like the point where you have written about error fares. I will henceforth definitely look into it. Also the point where you write about cleaning up of the cookies sounds logical and I am going to do it now. Thanks

  5. I’m free most of the time so I’m lucky that I can be flexible, there are some incredible flight deals to be found when you can fly when everybody is working. You are right, you must check flights on all sites as they offer varied results, going incognito can help too. I’ll check out theflightdeal.com and airfarewatchdog.com, I’m interested in these error fares everyone talks about.

  6. Wow! Interesting tips! The fuel dumping is a new one to me and I’m going to check that out. Thanks, will share this because everyone loves a great fare!! 🙂

  7. Awesome post about cheap flight tickets. Never heard of the Capital One Venture Card but I will definitely look into it. Love the error fairs too, although I have never tried it. The fuel dumping is really smart, another one to remember for my next booking.

  8. I have to book my flight to Peru in the next few weeks. I normally look on skyscanner but which check out momondo too. The last time I looked the fares were so expensive but got to be it booked soon as I am starting a job there in September. I have no idea what fuel dumping is, never heard of that before and as I don’t work anymore I can’t get another credit card!! I will certainly be looking at your other tips though 🙂

    1. Check out some cheaper options that fly into other countries in South America and then look into a ticket from that country to Peru – has worked for me in the past!

  9. These are all valuable tips. I like the idea of travelling late at night. It will save me some money and maybe fewer passengers too which means less stress for me. I have not tried to have longer layovers because I am the kind of traveller who just wants to get to the destination as soon as possible. However, you made a really good point when you were able to travel from Amsterdam to Munich for $50.

    1. Exactly! It will also save you the money for that night’s accommodation 🙂 I totally understand that – I used to hate layovers too and still do hate shorter ones where I’m stuck in the airport. Long layovers abroad can be really rewarding though!

  10. You’re right if you can be flexible you can get some amazing air fares, this is how me and Phil have managed to get some long haul flights to Asia a couple of times at great prices. Nice ideas, I need to look into a credit card in the UK that does the same as yours.

  11. Brilliant tips and these are some of the reasons why I have been able to travel so cheap over the last few years. Being flexible is an absolute must if you want to get the best rates and, like you, there have been many a day when I found myself getting up at 4 am, flying back to London and heading straight to work. Error fares can be great too but quite often they are labelled as such but are actually a clever marketing ploy – hey, who are we to complain right?

  12. These are great tips that we will take into account when we fly. We mostly road trip with our dog, but we are interested in taking more flights in the future. Awesome, informative post 🙂

  13. I didn’t hear about fuel dumping before, I’ll have to look into it. I can recommend another trick: open jaw flights. I really wanted to go to Chile but the flights were so expensive, over £1200. I managed to save over £500 by booking a flight from London to Peru and the return from Chile to London, on the same ticket. I bought another separate flights from Peru to Chile and ended up so much cheaper.

  14. I love these ideas!! Thank you so much for sharing. Traveling is one of my favorite things to do – I have gone on 10+ trips this year and always feel guilty for paying a high amount for a destination that is not that far. I will definitely check these websites out!!

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