Historically a way of saving on airfare was to book last minute. The internet changed all this and real “last minute” offers seem to be gone as unsold supply can usually still be bundled and sold online. Nevertheless there are still other ways to save on flights.
Compare Prices Online
Our favorite two sites to find a cheap airfare are kayak.com and google.com/flights. Kayak is consolidating rates from many different sources (individual airlines as well as other travel websites). Kayak offers other useful features like “price trend”, “price alerts” and “flexible date” search. Google Flights is blazing fast, offers a great overview of the cheapest price for ever day of the month and suggests other cheaper alternatives from airports close by.
Check Airline Websites Directly
Even though consolidation and booking websites like Kayak, Google Flights or Expedia make it easy to compare many different flights they don't always give you a complete picture. Some airlines (like the low cost airline Southwest.com) don't allow other websites to show their prices. So you might be missing out on great flight deals. Sometimes they just don't show all available options or the airline offers a special promotion on their website only.
Watch out for Booking Fees
Since the margins for airfare are so low some booking sites try to get away with tagging on additional fees at the end of the booking process. Make sure you look carefully. I usually stay away from CheapOAir.com as they seem to add their own hidden “booking fees”.
Credit Card Rewards/Cash Back
Try to use a credit card that gives you rewards or cash back for your purchases. If you fly often or usually travel with the same airline it might pay off to get a credit card from the airline. These cards often feature benefits like double miles on travel related purchases.
Use Cash Back Sites
Cash Back sites work similar to a cash back program your credit card might offer but they are independent. This means you can double dip on your cash back earnings. Sites like MrRebates.com or Ebates offer cash back from anywhere between 1% - 35% for purchases at over 1000 stores (including many sites like Expedia, Hotwire, Travelocity and Hawaiian Airlines. On Expedia for example you'll get 3% cash back on hotels or $2 on plane tickets. The best thing is that it is absolutely free to sign up for these sites and you even get a sign-up bonus. After you signed up all you need to do is to click on your desired store through the cash back site and you'll get money back on your purchase. If you aren't convinced yet, find out more about cash back programs.
Accumulate Expedia or Travelocity Rewards
Websites like Expedia and Travelocity offer their own rewards program. You are collecting points for all your travel purchases including airline tickets. These points can be used to get discounted or free hotel rooms or get you other member benefits (e. g. free room upgrades). Since these sites usually don't charge any booking fees you might as well book your travel through them and collect the rewards. If you are using a different site for your travel bookings check if they offer a similar rewards program.
Plan in advance
The days of last minute bargains to score a cheap flight ticket seem to be gone. It usually pays off to plan in advance and buy your tickets early at least 6 weeks in advance.
The cheapest days to fly are usually during the week (Tuesday and Wednesday). For popular destination (e. g. Europe) you should also consider travelling in the shoulder season. Besides getting a better price you might even enjoy your trip more if it’s less crowded
Compare Baggage and Inflight Service Fees
Free checked bags on domestic flights are mostly gone and many people got used to travelling light. Unfortunately this is a trend that seems to be continuing on international flights as well. Don't automatically expect international flights to offer free checked bags. As a matter of fact the only airline that still offers a free checked bag on their flights from the USA to Mexico is Southwest. The one way checked bag fee of $20-$30 can increase your overall ticket price significantly. If you know that you'll need to check a bag it is often cheaper to pay for your checked bag when you purchase your ticket. Prices at the airport tend to be even higher. Some airlines also charge for food on international flights. Make sure you are aware of it to bring some food onboard if you don't want to shell out money on the plane.
Carry-on weight restrictions vary by airline. Check before you book your ticket as it is becoming more common to weight your carry-on luggage at the gate. Some airlines like Frontier Airlines take it even a step further and charge for carry-on. Make sure to check out airline fees at http://www.kayak.com/airline-fees or better go directly to the website of the airline to make sure you have the latest information.
Look into Round Trip Tickets even for one way flights
Even if you only need a one way flight you should always check for round trip tickets. Most of the time one way tickets are the same price or even more expensive than a roundtrip ticket. Even if you buy a roundtrip ticket you can just skip the return flight.
Buy Hotel and Airfare packages
Nowadays leftover inventory is very often bundled up as hotel and air package at a great price. This might work out in your favor to get a better deal.
Get back to the same Airport
Having the same airport for your return fight that was your original departure airport usually yields the best price.
Sign-Up for Frequent Flyer programs
Make it a habit to always sign-up for the frequent flyer program of the airline. It might not safe you money immediately but at least you can get points for future travel. Some rewards programs allow you to collect points/miles for dining, hotel stays or other things so you might be able to get a free plane ticket sooner than you might think.
Use Airfare Predictions
Take advantage of the airfare predictions different sites provide. It might give you a better idea whether you should purchase the ticket immediately or if you should wait since the prices might go down. Hopper offers a nice mobile app and Kayak provides the information directly on their website.
Hidden City Flights
A hidden-city flight is a flight where you get off at the layover rather than the final destination. For example, a flight from New York to San Francisco might be $300, but a similar flight from New York to Seattle with a layover in San Francisco might be $200. Most websites and travel agents aren't showing these flights since the airlines don't like it or even penalize customer (if they find out). Skiplagged made it possible to easily find these fares. This obviously only works if you don't have any checked bags. There are a few other things you need to know when you book these flights.
Add a Free Stop in Another City
Especially on long international flights you often end up with a stop-over in a different country or city along the way. It doesn't cost much more if anything to stop for a few days in this city to explore it. On most websites you can simply book this through the Multi Destination flight option. You will get your luggage at the stop-over airport and can check it again when you leave to your final destination.
Priceline and Expedia sometimes offer discounted flights without giving you the exact flight information prior to booking. On Priceline they are called "Express Deals". They provide you some basic information about the flight beforehand (e. g. leaves between 4pm and 12am, 0-1 stop). You might get the cheapest ticket this way but you also you might end up with a inconvenient flight. Although we like this feature for hotels and rental cars we prefer to know ahead of time how long or short a layover might be or how late we might arrive in a foreign country.
If you feel spontaneous and just want to get away scoring a good deal fly.com makes it easy to find the best fares to popular destinations from the airport of your choice. The "Explore Map" feature from Google Flights provides even more by letting you set you travel dates and travel preferences (beach, culture, adventure travel) to get an interactive map showing prices.
We hope these tips have been useful. If they worked for you or if you know of any other tips please comment or send us a message!