Six Quick Steps to Nailing the Cheapest Flight

Six Quick Steps for Nailing the Cheapest Flight

If you’re like us, you don’t have hours to scour every possible points option and compare dozens of airfare searches over a few days.

With that in mind, we wrote this step-by-step guide to help you land the cheapest flight – fast.

Step 1 Get a baseline price

You won’t know what’s cheap until you have something to compare it from.We use Google Flights to compare prices. It’s ad-free, easy to use, and it allows you to compare a month’s worth of fares. All prices include taxes.

Travel hacker’s tip:  The more flexible you are with your dates and your airports, the better price you’ll find. Click in the date field below the departure or arrival airports in Google Flights to automatically search for airports near your desired city.

Step 2 Compare your baseline

Generally, the big flight search engines like TripAdvisor and Expedia return exactly the same results, and search exactly the same airlines, so searching more than one of these biggies is usually a waste of time.

Instead, we search one of the big flight search engines, and then do a search with an international search engine that tends to get different results. These are the alternative, international search engines we use:

  • Skyscanner. Our favorite. Reliable for low prices, they search through many different aggregators to find the best fare. Skyscanner has a great feature that will let you search for the cheapest flights from your destination city to anywhere in the world, including Europe. Click here to search Skyscanner.
  • A newcomer that we’re continuing to evaluate. It lets you search the cheapest flight by any date you choose, including  monthly, a specific day, or all time. Click here to search
  • Vayama. Not the best search interface, but occasionally turns up a cheaper airfare than Google Flights or Skyscanner.
  • Hipmunk. They do a great display that compares flight length and layovers visually, without annoying ads. Hipmunk can display a one month calendar of fares, and often come up with different results than ITA Matrix. You can also sign up for email fare watch alerts.

Travel hacker’s tip:  Set up fare alerts if you don’t need to buy your airfare today. Click here to set up a fare alert.

Step 3 Look for budget airlines

Most flight search engines don’t include budget airlines like Allegiant or Jet Blue, and this omission can cost you a fortune. To get the best airfare, you’ll need to find the budget airlines that fly your route.

Here’s how. Few people know this, but Wikipedia has a good list of low cost airlines. If you’re in Europe, the Low Cost Airline Guide lets you search for budget airlines by departure and arrival cities. Click on the green route lines to see what discount airlines serve your route in this map of low cost airline routes (thanks to Nora of the Professional Hobo).

Travel hacker’s tip:  If you’re coming up blank using the lists of low cost carriers, old school it – go to your departure airport’s web page, and find all of the airlines that fly from the airport. Now, search the budget airlines that serve your airport.

Step 4 Look up hidden fees

These days, hidden fees can add a significant amount to a base airfare cost. Some airlines now charge for checked bags, carry on bags and any meals. RyanAir will ding you 60 Euros (you read that right – 60!) to print your boarding pass at the gate if you don’t print it at home. You can find baggage costs for almost every airline out there at

Make sure you know the cost from the airport to your destination. Low cost carriers like RyanAir often fly in and out of commuter airports because the costs are cheaper for them. The problem is, getting a taxi to a more remote airport can often cost a pretty penny.

Step 5 Check the airline directly

Once you’ve got some good airfares through the search engines, check the airline’s home page to verify the price, and check the airline’s deals page to see if you can get a discount. Some airlines have deals that won’t show up automatically when you search for a fare. Instead, their deals page provides a code you need to type in. While you’re at it, quickly check RetailMeNot or other coupon sites to see if there are any deals for your airline.

Travel hacker’s tip:  If you’re good with currency conversions, check the airline’s foreign website, e.g. instead of Air to see if flights are cheaper using a different currency.

Travel hacker’s tip:  If you’re not in a hurry to book, sign up with the airline’s promotions email newsletter. Some airlines (Alaska Air comes to mind) offer great deals through their newsletters.

Step 6 Ready to book? Here are a few last minute tips

Sign up for the airline’s mileage program. Programs are almost universally free to join, and miles are often transferable to other programs.

Click here to search Skyscanner.

Click here to search

Before you buy your flight, clear your browser’s cache, or switch browsers. We have it on good authority that some airlines and search engines will jack the price up if they know you’re returning to their site, based on your search history.

Travel hacker’s tip:  If you’re wondering if standby fares will save you money, sorry – you’re in the wrong decade. Cheap standby fares went the way of the dodo with the arrival of the Internet and last minute online booking. Standby tickets are mostly used these days if you already have a ticket, but you want to board a different flight on the same day.

Do you have any tips for saving on fights? Let us know!

Like this article? Check out more ways to save:

18 Responses

  1. Fives OnTheFly

    Awesome advice! We have no plans to take to the air any time soon, but we will be very well prepared when we do thanks to you 🙂 We really appreciate the great tips!

  2. Eugene

    Always clear your cookies before rechecking flight prices so you get the freshest stuff and not the price they gave you a week ago.

  3. Stephen S.

    Great list of tips! I agree smaller sites are better. I always find way better deals on Kayak. Never heard of ITA Matrix before. Checking it out now 🙂 thanks

  4. Bethaney

    Excellent tips!!!!! Checking the. Co.Uk vs the. Com of an airlines website saved me hundreds of dollars earlier in the year. I love the budget airlines map as well.

  5. Cat of Sunshine and Siestas

    I find that patience and having two computers going at one time helps me! I went to China from Madrid for cheaper than it was to go from Madrid to Vienna just by sheer willpower! Great tips, M!

  6. Beth Whitman

    I do most of these things already but I haven’t used skyscanner yet. Will definitely do for my Berlin and Bangkok tickets this year.

  7. Jenny Smith

    Great advice, especially about clearing your cache etc – we’ll definitely be putting these tips to good use for our next flight, thanks!

  8. Lauren@GreenGlobalTravel

    I wouldn’t of thought of paying with a different currency. That might be cheaper depending upon where you’re traveling and the currency rate. Thanks for all the great tips on air fare.

  9. Ourjourneytothesea

    Great tips!! Hidden fees are especially the worst. Tiger Airways for domestic flights in Australia are terrible for that kind of thing, so their flights appear the cheapest at first.

  10. Faith

    Great advice. I recently found out about Skyscanner and it defintely saved me money. Thanks for sharing all these tips.

  11. John

    I LOVE… I discovered this site about 7 years ago, and will usually search here first for airfare. The site is very robust – it lets you expand the search for nearby airports (for either end)… if your travel dates are flexible, you can search for best price for a trip of, say, 8-12 days, starting on a particular date, and the resulting calendar will show you best prices and for how many days. This site does not sell airfare, but the info provided is consistent with the rates on the carrier’s site.

    Also, I generally book all travel as one way… for instance, I am flying LA to Kansas City in April… best fare to KC was on American, best fare for return was on Frontier. Long gone are the days when one-way travel was as expensive as round-trip.

    Hipmunk is also great for hotels… I used it a couple years ago when preparing to attend a conference in Phoenix. The “conference” rate at the sponsor hotel was $200 per night, I booked through Hipmunk for $140 per night. Hipmunk also returns result for AirBNB, which was useful for a visit to Chicago last year.

  12. Roisin

    I find Skyscanner very good.
    My suggestion is to look at mid week days and to avoid weekend travel . Also time of day is a major factor to be taken into consideration and does reduce cost.

  13. Gary

    I do my research on Kayak. After I see a price on that site, I go directly to the airline’s site to do some price comparisons.

    If I see an airline that I have not heard about on kayak, I will read reviews before purchasing. On my next trip to Thailand, I am flying out on an airline that I have never heard of before. Keeping my fingers crossed that it has great service.


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