Forget what you thought you knew about finding cheap flights. Many of the commonly quoted hacks are actually outdated and irrelevant. Instead, the real tricks involve a bit of web savvy, some flexbility, and a trusty credit card that will take you places.

There are a ton of myths out there when it comes to finding cheap flights.

You’ve probably heard that the best time to book your flight is a Tuesday afternoon and to always shop for flights using a private internet browser.

Sound familiar? While some of these tricks may have been true almost a decade ago, times have certainly changed.

In this guide, we round up the current foolproof ways to actually find that cheaper airline ticket.

Be flexible with your travel dates

When it comes to cheap flights, everything boils down to flexibility.

The day of the week you book your flight doesn’t matter. (Airlines do not release cheap flights exclusively on Tuesdays at 3 PM)

But the day of the week you choose to fly does matter.

Case in point: Sundays are chock-full of business travelers who are returning home before the workweek, so these flights will almost always be more expensive.

But if you’re flexible with your dates, look at flights that depart on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. In general, these are usually the least popular days to fly, meaning you can find cheaper flights on these dates.

The best time to book your flight in 2022

Airlines will typically release their flights up to a year in advance.

So, when should you actually book that flight?

Timing is everything. Contrary to popular belief, the best time to book your flight is roughly three to eight weeks in advance.

Over the past couple of years, the uncertainties of the pandemic have made it difficult to predict long-term travel trends. Consequently, this booking window for finding cheap flights has shrunk.

We could see this change in the long run as the pandemic subsides. And it looks like we’re trending in that direction, as airline passenger numbers in 2022 have almost reached 2019 levels, according to IATA.

Choose the airport less traveled

If you’re traveling to or from a major city, you likely have multiple airports to choose from. Don’t forget to check routes to and from all of the possibilities.

For example, Washington D.C. residents can fly out of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), Dulles International Airport (IAD), or Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI).

While DCA is undoubtedly the most convenient, the further trek to the latter two airports may be worth it — especially if your flight is cheaper by hundreds of dollars.

Use the right website

Now that you know the basics of cheap flights, it’s time to put your knowledge to practice.

You’ll want to use the right flight search engine, allowing you to cross-compare flights and prices from multiple airlines.

Fortunately, there’s one website that reigns supreme over all others: Google Flights.

Source: Google Flights, screenshot by Stella Shon

Just as we use Google daily to answer, well, pretty much everything, Google Flights is excellent for finding the cheapest fares.

For example, I’ll try to find a cheap flight from New York City to Miami for Memorial Day weekend. At the time of writing, I’m looking about six weeks in advance, which aligns with the booking window we discussed earlier.

I’ll put in relative dates for now: Friday, May 27, to Tuesday, May 31. Google Flights will automatically pull flights from nearby airports in both cities.

Source: Google Flights, screenshot by Stella Shon

The cheapest flight is $214 roundtrip on Spirit Airlines, an ultra-low-cost carrier. For a full-service airline, I can expect to pay in the mid $300s.

Google Flights comes with a few tools to adjust your dates and length of trip, among other features to find a better price.

Use “Date grid” to sort flight prices in an adjustable calendar.

Source: Google Flights, screenshot by Stella Shon

If I choose to fly one day later, I can drop the price by almost $100 alone. Press “OK” to conduct
the new flight search.

Source: Google Flights, screenshot by Stella Shon

The other key feature is “Price Graph,” comparing fare trends displayed in a bar graph.

Source: Google Flights, screenshot by Stella Shon

You can see that the original dates I had selected are much more expensive. Just by adjusting my dates by one day, I can find cheaper fares — more than 50% off my initial search.

Source: Google Flights, screenshot by Stella Shon

If you’re not ready to book just yet, opt into the “Track Prices” feature to be notified of all price changes via email.

Source: Google Flights, screenshot by Stella Shon

One-way flights vs. roundtrip flights

Another way to save money on flights is to book one-way flights instead of roundtrip.

Sometimes, your flights purchased separately can be cheaper than the total roundtrip cost. Not only that, but you also get the flexibility of flying different airlines to save money. While booking a roundtrip flight locks you into flying one airline for both segments.

However, this trick typically only works with domestic flights, as one-way international flights can actually be more expensive than booking a roundtrip flight.

Booking through the airline vs. a third party (like Expedia or KAYAK)

Once you’re ready to book, Google Flights will prompt you to book directly through the airline or through a third-party site.

Be sure to always book your flight directly with the airline.

That’s because you’ll have more options to cancel or adjust the flight (if need be) after the purchase.

Changing or canceling a flight with a third-party website can get complicated.

For instance, if I book a flight with Delta Air Lines through Priceline, the airline cannot directly help me since I booked on a third-party website. I will have to call Priceline to resolve my issues, which adds an unnecessary extra step.

With so many variables surrounding trip planning, buying a ticket directly with the airline will help you avoid headaches with unreliable customer service from a third-party site.

Purchase a flight deal subscription

Did you know there are services out there that will provide you with flight deals out of your hometown airport?

They’re where you can find dream deals like a $300 ticket to Italy or a $200 ticket to Hawaii (roundtrip!).

Both Scott’s Cheap Flights and Thrifty Traveler Premium email their members with incredible flight deals every single day. Here’s the pricing breakdown:

  • Scott’s Cheap Flights offers two annual plans: Premium ($49) and Elite ($199). With Premium, you’ll be notified of all the international and domestic economy deals, while Elite will also provide you with business- and first-class deals. You can also sign up for free with the Limited plan to get a sampling of deals, or do a free 14-day trial with either the Premium or Elite plans.
  • Thrifty Traveler Premium costs $9.99 per month or $59.99 per year, and you’ll be notified of both domestic and international deals in any cabin. While there’s no free trial period, there’s a 100-day money-back guarantee.

Tuning into either subscription can help you find those insanely low flight deals to destinations far and wide, making it worth the investment.

Use credit card rewards to make your flights even cheaper

Another way to make any flight more affordable is through credit cards that offer travel rewards. Any time you make a purchase with your travel rewards credit card, no matter if it’s your Chipotle order or your Pilates class, you’ll be earning points toward your next trip.

When it’s time to purchase your flight, you may be able to pay for the whole ticket or part of it with your points and miles. Collecting and redeeming travel rewards points to your advantage can cover or significantly offset the cost of your airfare.

Which travel credit card should I apply for?

Travel credit cards fit into three buckets: bank-issued, airline, and hotel cards.

With a bank-issued card, you’ll earn credit card points within that issuer’s rewards program.

Examples include the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (which earns Chase Ultimate Rewards® points) and the Capital One® Venture X Rewards Credit Card (which earns Capital One miles).

You then have the flexibility to redeem your points for travel, cash back, or gift cards, among other compelling redemption options. Not only that, but some cards come with important traveler’s benefits to improve your overall experience, whether that’s airport lounge access or annual hotel credits.

With a co-branded airline card, you’ll earn airline miles within that carrier’s loyalty program.

Think the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card (which earns Delta SkyMiles®) or the United Explorer Card (which earns United MileagePlus® miles).

If you go this route, you’ll want to pick a card from an airline you fly most often so you can effortlessly redeem your miles. Depending on the card you apply for, you can also get some huge money-saving benefits, like a free checked bag or inflight discounts on food and drink.

With a co-branded hotel card, you’ll earn hotel points within that chain’s loyalty program.

Some popular options include the Marriott Bonvoy® Boundless Credit Card (which earns Marriott Bonvoy® points) or the World of Hyatt Credit Card (which earns World of Hyatt points).

If you’re loyal to one hotel brand anywhere you travel, the savings can really add up as you can earn points toward free nights — and potentially save hundreds of dollars.

Read more: Best travel rewards credit cards

Summary

Flights are one of the most expensive parts of the travel experience. Fortunately, there are many strategies to bring that cost down.

You can save hundreds of dollars on your next flight using the tips in this article. Be sure to bookmark this guide and share it with your friends and family so that you can all be better-informed travelers!

Featured image: MiniStocker/Shutterstock.com

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About the author

Total Articles: 4
Stella Shon is a travel and credit cards expert, but her speciality lies in breaking down complicated personal finance matters into simple, relatable content. Her credit card rewards have enabled her to travel to more than 20 countries across six continents. She recently graduated with a journalism graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill, and her work has appeared on The Points Guy and ValuePenguin.