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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.
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.
4. Look for layovers
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.
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.
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).
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!
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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.
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! 🙂
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!
Glad I could give you more tips! Thanks for reading 🙂
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.
Fuel dumping is kept very undercover by those who do it! That sounds awesome, layovers can make way for some amazing trips 🙂
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
Definitely! Being flexible can bring about some really cheap tickets! Thanks for reading 🙂
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.
Error fares would be perfect for you then! There are some insanely cheap ones that I haven’t been able to take advantage of because of school 🙁
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!! 🙂
Thanks so much for reading! It’s a really interesting one to look into 🙂
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.
Thanks so much! I’d definitely recommend looking into that card, as well as other travel cards to see if one would work better for you 🙂
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 🙂
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!
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.
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!
Thank you so much for sharing this…Couldn’t have found the tips elsewhere.Thanks a lot
Thanks so much for stopping by and reading! 🙂
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.
I’m sure there are also plenty of options in the UK! Thanks for reading 🙂
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?
Haha glad we can share in that pain ? Definitely! They are still beneficial to us 🙂
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 🙂
That sounds awesome! Let us know if you have any tips for cheap ways to road trip/rent a car if you don’t drive your own car 🙂
Great tips you provided to help find cheap flights. I will definitely save the websites and try your tips on my next search for airline tickets. I pinned this for later use and thanks for sharing 🙂 #feetdotravel
We are definitely credit card point believers. My daughter and I are actually in Florida right now. We flew for free on points!
These are some great tips! Never had any luck with error fares. We do try and collect points. It occasionally allows us a free ticket.
There are so many websites out there for getting cheap flights, thanks for sharing the ones you found.
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.
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!!
These tips are perfect for a frequent traveler like you! Do let us know how these tips & tricks work out for you! 🙂