I get asked A.L.L. T.H.E. T.I.M.E. how we afford to travel as much as we do AND with as many kids as we do. Some ask out of sheer curiosity, others seriously don’t know how we manage the kids but I think the majority of people are really saying how the heck do you afford it?
Travel isn’t cheap and while we certainly make it more of a priority than some families we also have a few tricks up our sleeves including how to book cheap airfare. Lucky for you I have put together a fantastic guide to help you SAVE BIG on your next airline booking.
How to Book Cheap Flights- My Top 10 Tips!
1. Clear Your Cookies/ Search History-
Companies are paying BIG BUCKS to follow your search patterns in hopes of being able to up their prices when they see that you want something (by continually searching for that item) this includes airlines. Open a new incognito browser or clear your cookies and search history to avoid this unnecessary fees.
2. Find the BEST Time to Travel to Your Destination
If you have a MUST SEE destination you will want to find the BEST possible time to travel there. This is typically in between their high and low seasons (also known as shoulder season) which offers you the best of both worlds.
It is easy to find the best time-frames by searching with Hopper.
You simply type in your destination and it gives you the averages for ticket prices.
You can also use the ITA Matrix Software to narrow down the best days in the month to travel. *The ITA Matrix is only a search engine and you will have to find the flight and book it through another site like Orbitz, Expedia etc…
3. Flexibility is Key
If you are serious about travel then you MUST learn to be flexible. If you don’t mind when or where you travel to I suggest checking in with some travel deal sites like: Johnny Jet, The Points Guy, The Flight Deal and TravelZoo.
If you have a budget in mind you can wait until there is an INCREDIBLE deal to somewhere that interests you and POUNCE on it!!
4. Check Multiple Search Engines
I always check at least 3 different search engines before purchasing airline tickets. They all have their own algorithms and they factor in data differently. By searching at least 3 you are bound to find the data that best suits your needs.
Here are the Search Engines I recommend:
My go to search engine is Google Flights. Its super user friendly and dependable. Plus, Kayak and Orbitz use their info to power their own sites. So, head to this source first.
To get the most out of Google Flights make sure to utilize their graph, map and calendar features.
Not sure exactly the best route. Search the entire region. You might find a flight into a different country and then a train to your final destination is the best way to go. (Download the Rome to Rio app to find the best alternate transportation routes like trains, metros, buses cabs etc…)
Oh, and the ability to search multi-city tickets can really get you the BEST bang for your buck. This feature allows you to fly into one city, stop for a few days to explore, then fly to another city for a few days before returning home). Being able to explore without backtracking for your return flight is crazy nice!
I covered these tactics in one of my Family Travel Chat LIVE on Facebook
I like Momondo just because of the way it is laid out. I think its the most aesthetically pleasing sites out there for researching flights. Their flight insight allows you to get a quick overview of the cheapest airline to fly your route, the seasonality, best days to depart etc…
It also has a ticket builder feature which allows you to choose the best arrival and departure to suit your needs.
CheapOAir is an industry favorite. They offer an app which allows mobile searching to be pain free which is great. You can also check their daily flight deals towards the bottom of the page if you are just looking for a great deal and don’t really have a destination in mind.
I like that you can set the perimeters to show you the best rates for X amount of days as well as type in the number of days you can be flexible within. This works wonders when you are booking something around a schedule like spring break for example.
Skyskanner is one of the best overall search engines because it includes budget airlines too. Not all search engines do.
This is very useful especially when flying international. Places like Europe usually involve traveling to multiple countries within one trip. It is cheapest to fly on a large carrier to and from Europe but within Europe itself you will want to fly on a budget airline like RyanAir. Some tickets can cost as low as $30 USD to hop over into a new country! You just need to watch the added fees with these types of carriers. Things like seat assignment, not printing your boarding pass and baggage fees can add up quick. But, if you do it right they can save you BIG bucks!
HipMunk is another site that lays everything out for you. I like that they offer tips to help you save and offer fare alerts so you can follow your flights and strike at the best deal.
I also like that you can search by “Agony” which is basically their thoughts on the best bang for your buck. Price + Travel Time + # of Stops.
The Flight Network has one of the BEST guarantees. You book through them, the price drops and you automatically get the difference back in a credit. That’s pretty awesome!
5. When to Book
CheapAir.com hosted a survey which analyzed over 560 million flight searches. They concluded that the optimal time to purchase plane tickets was on average 7 weeks in advance (for domestic flights).
For international flights, Cheap Air found your best bet to be 11-12 weeks prior to departure.
The absolute WORST time to book is within 14 days of flying. You can also be penalized by booking to far in advance (5+ months).
UPDATE: Kayak now (2017) has an awesome tool to help you figure out the BEST time to book a flight. Check out the When To Book Tool here.
6. Departure and Arrival Day Trends
Studies show the BEST days to fly out are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
In my own experience I find that departing on a Saturday and returning on a Monday for domestic flights is typically a lesser fare. And, for international departing on a Tuesday and returning on a Wednesday hits that magic spot.
7. Travel to Where the Deals Are
Different DMO’s (Destination Marketing Offices) work with airlines directly to lower rates coming in to their market. They do this as an attempt to lure in more tourism. Why not take advantage of it?
The BEST way to find these deals is to use one of the following search engines: Kayak, Google Flights or FareCompare to see a worldwide map for inspiration on where you could go along with costs to fly there.
8. Utilize Stopovers and Multi-City Tickets
Sometimes you have to outsmart the system. Let’s say you want to get to Paris but direct flights are incredibly high. If you use the map feature as explained above you might find that a direct flight into London and then take a train ride to Paris is MUCH cheaper.
If you use a multi-city ticket option (as available in Google Flights) you can fly into London, take the train to Paris and then fly out of Paris back home.
9. Check the Airlines Website & Be Friends
After browsing your options on search engines make sure to check with the airlines own website before booking. You should also become friends with them on social media (like Facebook & Twitter) and sign up for their eNewsletter to see if you can find any deeper deals or discounts that way.
10. Be Inconvenienced
The HARD truth is sometimes we forgo comfort to save money. This means flying red eyes, including multiple stops and or extended layovers. Sometimes its worth the extra money (especially when traveling with kids) to book direct but when you just can’t wing it a long travel day may be the only option.
BONUS- Frequent Flyer Miles
It is also important to know the airline alliances. The 3 major ones are: SkyTeam, STAR and OneWorld.
SkyTeam: Transports more than 400 million passengers every year to over 845 destinations. Members include: Air Europa, Air France, Alitalia, Aeroflot, Aeromexico, Continental Airlines, Czech Airlines, KLM, Delta Airlines, Korean Air + a few more. The alliance covers a large number of cities in every continent of the world.
STAR: This alliance transports over 455 million passengers every year to over 900 destinations. Members of this alliance include: Air Canada, Air China, Austrian Airlines, BMI, Lufthansa, South African Airways, Singapore Airlines, Swiss International airlines, Turkish Airlines, US Airways and United Airlines.
OneWorld: Reaches more than 600 destinations and transports about 320 million passengers every year. The members of OneWorld include: British Airways, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, LAN, Qantas, Japan Airlines, Malev and Royal Jordanian Airlines.
The reason you need to know about the alliance members is most will allow you to share air miles within their alliance making it easier for you to add up frequent flyer miles quickly. The alliances do block some sharing so you need to check out the details. OneWorld although the smaller of the big three is known to have better redemption for international and domestic first class awards. Read more here.
Want to know more about traveling on SouthWest? Trips With Tykes has an awesome guide right here.
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Do you know some tips I missed?
Leave them in the comments I love learning new tips!
For more of my BEST Travel Tips check out these articles: