Flights can easily add up to being the greatest expense when traveling, so minimizing this cost can equal huge savings for your trip! My brother, Jack Hyer, has travelled to 28+ countries and has mastered ways of finding cheap flights that any broke student can afford. In this post, he shares some tips and tricks to finding the cheapest airfare for your summer adventure!
The cost of flying from North America to any other continent will likely be your greatest expense when traveling. If you are from Europe, it may not be as large, but still substantial when you venture to South America, Sub-Saharan Africa or South-East Asia. There are quite a few tricks I have learned in order to find cheap flights. The top ways to find a cheaper flight are: Knowing when to book, having flexible dates, where to search for flights, learning to “hub-hop,” and utilizing regional airlines.
When to book and what day to fly: Many assume that the earlier you book the cheaper the flight. This is only partly true. When you book a flight more than two months before departure you will get the “standard” rate. This is the cost of a flight before any discounts or markups have been applied. If you want the peace of mind in advance, go ahead and book. From here, the cost of a flight actually goes down for a few days. For international flights the cost drops about 6 weeks before departure, for domestic (or Europe-Europe flights) this will drop about 4 weeks before departure. After this dip the cost starts going up very quickly, right in time for airlines to overcharge last minute business travelers who are paying with the company card. The cost of a flight may drop once more just before the plane leaves to fill up the cabin, but this is a very risky way to purchase a ticket.
When looking for a flight, it is also important to plan what days of the week you are actually flying. Tuesday’s are historically the cheapest day to travel followed by Thursdays. In all my trips I leave and return on a Tuesday. I’m not sure why this is, but if you look at just about any international flight Tuesdays will be cheaper.
Flexibility: As a general rule of thumb, the more flexible you are with any aspect of your trip, the cheaper it will be. If you are willing to budge your flight days a few days before or after the day you are leaving you will likely find a lower fare. Many airfare search engines allow you to look at flights that are +/- 3 days. This expands your search and accelerates the time it takes to find your flight.
Flexibility also means being able to adjust your flight itinerary. If you are going to Paris from Seattle and can’t find an affordable flight, but are flexible to fly into different locations, look up flights from Seattle to Amsterdam, London or Zurich. All three cities are an overnight rail into the city plus you can add these cities to your trip.
Where to search for flights: There are dozens of online search engines, but I only use 3. By far, my favorite is google.com/flights. Google flights is unique because it will search flights to multiple locations from an airport near you. Rather than searching Seattle to London and then searching Seattle to Paris, you can just enter Seattle to Western Europe and see what the cost is to fly in any major city in Europe is for your dates. Just look here to check it out.
Second to google.com/flights is hipmunk.com. Hipmunk not only helps you search for flights, but can organize flights by airline, agony (number of connections/time), departure time and arrival time. It’s great if you are less flexible and want to leave at a certain time.
Lastly is kayak.com. Kayak works like many other engines, but I usually find the cheapest flight on Kayak.com. The one cool feature I like about it is that it will recommend whether you should buy now or wait for prices to drop by using a historical chart in the upper left corner and help you set up price alerts (see Flexibility).
How to Hub-Hop: Hub Hopping is booking multiple tickets and/or itineraries to get to a destination cheaper. This requires flying to the cheapest major airport somewhat close to your final destination and then booking a second flight from that “Hub” to where you are going. For example, let’s imagine you want to fly from Phoenix, Arizona to Dublin, Ireland. Your first instinct will be flights from Pheonix to Dublin, but you can find a far cheaper flight to London. Now look at flights from London to Dublin, I’m sure you can find some amazingly cheap flights for around $100. These combined tickets will likely be cheaper than flying directly to Dublin. Each continent has a few hub cities that will be far cheaper to fly to than other places. Here’s just a few depending on continent.
- Europe: London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam
- Asia-Oceania: Hong Kong, Tokyo
- South America: Mexico City, Panama City
- Africa: Cairo, Johannesburg
- Middle-East: Istanbul, Dubai
Utilizing Region Airlines: If you want to travel vast distances, say, see both Japan and Vietnam on the same trip, then you need to look up some regional airlines. This goes hand-in-hand with Hub-Hopping. Many Europeans visiting the U.S. probably haven’t heard of Allegiant airlines while many Americans have never heard of EasyJet or RyanAir. Regional airline flights rarely show up on large search engines online, so you may need to do some deeper research (sometimes google.com/flights shows them). Look up airlines that serve a specific region or country. My sister and I tried this out when we were in a rush to get to Beijing from Guilin (southern China). We ended up paying little more than $100 for a 800 mile trip.
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Written by Jack Hyer and Jeff Hyer