I’m a budget traveler through and through. Crashing at backpacker hostels, eating from the local market, public transportation, and so on and so forth. I try to preach this lifestyle to let fellow travelers know that travel doesn’t need to be expensive. They usually retaliate with “bUt hOw mUcH dOeS it CosT to fLy tHeRe?”
Which is fair. But also not. If you know a few tips and tricks, then flying doesn’t have to be expensive. My last flight was a one-way from Kansas City, Missouri to Quito, Ecuador. It cost me $268. That’s an international flight in between two non-major international travel hubs. I find flights regularly from Chicago to London for under $200. I flew roundtrip from Spain to South Africa for $600, a deal so cheap that I had no problem skipping my return flight to travel Africa for a few more months.
Everyone assumes flights cost thousands and thousands of dollars. But they really don’t have to. How? Here’s what I do to get my flights for as cheap as possible.
Use Alternative Booking Sites Like FlightHub
Unless you have an airline that you absolutely only fly with, there is no reason to search for flights directly on an airline’s website. Flight aggregators are the way to go, as they compile a lot of available flights and allow you to compare prices, ratings, times, and so on. Most of the time, the money you would save or earn through a loyalty or rewards program can be blown away by the savings through discovering a cheaper airline.
I’ve had many friends ask me what airline I fly with or ask me about specific ones. My answer is all of them. I’m not picky when I choose an airline and most of them, especially major international airlines, offer very similar services. United, American, Qatar, Etihad, LATAM, SAS, ANA, Lufthansa, I’ve flown them all and I couldn’t tell you any significant difference between my experiences.
So, which flight aggregator should you use? There are a couple that everyone knows about but one of the best that I’ve encountered is FlightHub. It is simple, easy to use, and gets the job done with no unnecessary frills or fancies. It is one of the most reliable websites for browsing and booking flights.
Fly From The Largest International Airport
One of the most frustrating things about booking flights is not living in a city like New York or Los Angeles. They seem to get all the flight deals, hey? Although I travel full time these days, my family lives in a small town in Missouri. The decently-sized Kansas City Airport is two hours away. Chicago is 8 hours away. So if I ever need to fly back for whatever reason, it is both a hassle and expensive to do so. Same goes for when I decide to take off again.
Oftentimes, I would take a $29 bus to Chicago to save me anywhere from $300-500 on flights. I could also take a $100 flight from KC to Chicago to save $300-500 or more. Basically, if you have a bit of time to spare, it is well worth the money you save to go a bit further out of your way to get as cheap of a flight as possible. It sucks having to make the extra effort but if you can’t help it, it is worth it anyway.
Fly To The Largest International Airport
Just like it’s cheaper to fly from a major airport, it is important to fly to a major international hub as well. You can fly from New York City or Los Angeles but if you’re going to fly to some obscure Italian village in Tuscany that no one’s ever heard of, you’ll still be shelling out a fortune.
Let’s use Peru as an example since I’m already here. You want to go see Machu Picchu. The nearest major travel hub to Machu Picchu is Cusco. However, if you want to fly directly to Cusco, it’s going to run you hundreds of dollars more than if you were to fly into Lima, Peru’s capital and largest city. From Lima, you can take a bus to Cusco for as low as $25, saving you hundreds of dollars in flights. If you want to save time and fly instead of take a bus, you can fly to Lima and then look into flights from Lima to Cusco. It cost me about $90 when I last flew from Lima to Cusco.
Another example would be Patagonia, where I’m hoping to go to next. If I were to fly directly into Patagonia, it would run me about $600, and I’m already on the continent. If I took a bus down to Santiago from Peru, I could fly to Patagonia on a local airline for as low as $21 USD.
Fly Early In The Week
One of the craziest things about flights that people find so baffling is how a flight can be $600 one day and then $200 the next day. It is one of the most frustrating things but if you have the flexibility, this could work in your favor. Think about it this way. Most 9-to-5ers have time to vacation or take quick trips only on the weekends.
That makes Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays a very advantageous day for most airlines. They will jack up their prices on the weekend and then lower them back down to normal during the week to increase demand. For those of us who have a bit more flexibility, that basically means Fridays are more like NoFlydays and Mondays are more like Fundays. I’m sorry, that was awful. But cheap flights aren’t.
I was able to fly to Ecuador earlier this year for $268. I flew on a Tuesday in late July, and my flight involved a transfer through Miami. You can imagine flying to a nightlife hotspot like Miami in the middle of summer would be significantly more expensive on the weekend.
Avoid Flying on Major Holidays
This is a bit of a no-brainer considering how high demand for flights is during the holidays. Everyone is either flying home to visit family or go on a much-needed vacation. Sometimes, it is unavoidable to fly during the holiday season. However, playing around with the dates can make a huge difference when it comes to flight prices. Flying a week before Christmas compared to two days before will save you heaps of money.
Post-holiday travel can also be really cheap. On quieter months of the year like late January and September, you can find some extremely cheap flights. Take advantage of these when you can. Sometimes, it pays off to stray away from the norm and travel when most people aren’t.
Look Into Local Airlines
There are a lot of airlines that won’t show up online unless you dig a little bit deeper. You have probably heard of most of the major international airlines. However, most countries have their own national airlines that fly cheaply within the country for super cheap.
Using local airlines to fly within a country is usually much cheaper than using major airlines to fly directly to a smaller destination. Thailand, for example, will have many flights across the country for as low as $20 through airlines like AirAsia and Thai Lion Air. Flying directly to Phuket instead of Bangkok can cost hundreds of dollars more than flying into Bangkok and then immediately hopping onto a local transfer flight. If you are willing to sacrifice a little bit of convenience, then you can save a lot of money this way.
Early Morning Flights Tend To Be Cheaper
I know, I know. Getting up early is the absolute worst… unless you are flying somewhere. Then you know what they say: the early bird gets the worm. Flights earlier in the morning tend to be significantly cheaper than the same flights later in the day. If you can bring yourself to rise and shine bright and early, then you’ve got a good chance at saving a lot of money on a flight.
Book At Least Two Weeks in Advance
I’m not a planner when it comes to travel. Booking things in advance is definitely what I’m worst at. But unlike showing up at a hostel unannounced or booking a tour the morning of, plane tickets are a bit more serious. As much as I would love if things worked this way, you can’t just wake up one morning and decide to fly somewhere and expect to pay the same price as someone who booked months in advance.
However, there is a trick to booking flights in advance. Some people like to book months and months in advance, thinking that it would get them a better price or a better deal. However, I’ve noticed that flight prices usually peak around 1-2 months before the departure date and then take a dip again about 2-3 weeks before the departure date. I can’t claim to be a flight analysis expert but I’m guessing at this point, they decide that filling seats is more important than charging as much money as possible per seat.
I tend to book my flights around 3 weeks in advance. For me, it is the ideal time that gives me just the right amount of flexibility as well as the prices in the range that I’m looking for. For international flights, you might want to book even earlier than 3 weeks in advance, especially during peak seasons so you can ensure that you get a ticket for the flight you want. For domestic flights, I usually don’t worry about booking them until a little over two weeks out. Definitely keep an eye on the prices and when you find one you’re happy with, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger.
To Sum It Up…
A bit of flexibility goes a long way when it comes to saving money on flights.
Using all of this advice, let’s look up an example flight on FlightHub.
Departure date: 2 weeks from now. On a Monday. From major international airport to major international airport. A roundtrip flight from Toronto, Canada to Lima, Peru will cost you $529. Before I figured out these patterns to get cheap flights, I would have been happy with finding a roundtrip flight of this distance for even $1,000. My first time I flew to South America, I paid $1,400 for a roundtrip flight. I’m kicking myself at how much money I could have saved if only I knew this sooner.
It is becoming cheaper than ever to fly internationally and fulfill your wanderlust. Follow these tips and you’ll be living your dreams in no time.