As people start to make summer travel plans, the question I get asked over and over again is "How do I find deals on flights?" and my answer is always the same - with work. Cheap flights don't just show up magically in your email inbox at the very moment you start planning a trip (the Flight Fairy still hasn't stopped by my house), so it takes a good amount of organization and diligence to snag a great price. I personally hate paying more money than I absolutely have to on flights because I'd rather spend that cash on a fancy dinner or swanky hotel, so I'm always on the hunt for airline sales. Most of the time I end up saving at least a couple hundred dollars, if not more, and friends and family are shocked when I tell them the price. Here's the method to my madness, I hope it helps you save some money!
1. SEARCH FOR FLIGHTS USING A PRIVATE BROWSER
Airlines track your search history, meaning that every time you search for a specific flight, the airlines remember it and you are less likely to see a cheaper price. However, you can get around this by setting your internet browser to Private. Every browser is a little different, but in Safari you can choose from the Safari drop down at the top of your screen and choose "Private Browsing" or in Google Chrome click on the File drop down and choose "New Incognito Window." You can also clear your cookies before every search, which helps to clear your search history.
2. DON'T JUST RELY ON MAJOR BOOKING SITES TO SEARCH FOR FLIGHTS
I almost always book directly with the airline itself, unless I find a better deal on a booking site. Airlines will run special promotions and don't charge booking fees when booked directly, so you can often save money just by going to the airline's website. Don't get me wrong, I still use the booking sites to generally look for pricing - then navigate to the airline itself based on comparisons on Expedia and Kayak.
There are also many airlines that do not participate in major booking sites, such as Southwest, so you'll want to go directly to those sites as well to check for up to date pricing. If you are traveling abroad, you'll want to do a search for local airlines in that country/city. For example, when I was looking for flights between cities in Australia, I was able to find 2 local airlines - Tiger Air and JetStar, neither one that shows up on search engines. All I did was Google "Australia local and domestic airlines." If I had relied solely on booking sites, I would have paid $150pp for a flight from Sydney to Cairns on a major airline like Air New Zealand, but instead I paid $34pp on one of the local airlines. See what a little research can save you?
3. START TRACKING PRICES
You'll want to track the prices you find early on - usually 4-6 months ahead of time if you can. I put together a simple spreadsheet that shows the day I searched, what airline and the price, that way I have an idea when I find a cheap flight or not. Tuesdays and Thursdays are generally known as the days that the lowest prices are posted. I usually check on prices twice a week for 1-2 months; this gives me a great feel for the flight cost and I'll easily know when I find a great price. You can sign up for automatic flight tracking on sites like Kayak, Airfare Watchdog and Fare Compare and receive email alerts when prices change or make any changes. **When you find a great deal, book it immediately! There's always a chance that it could get lower, but that chance is usually slim. Don't gamble with flight prices, they usually only go up!
4. SIGN UP FOR EMAIL UPDATES FOR SPECIFIC AIRLINES AND TRAVEL SITES
If you have an idea for what airlines you'll want to fly, sign up for their email updates. For example, when I was looking into flying to New Zealand, I signed up for email updates on Air New Zealand so that if a great deal came up I would know about it. If you don't have a specific airline in mind, sign up for a few that you know go to your destination. I have a special email address that I use for these types of emails (not my main one) so that it's all in one spot and doesn't clog up my inbox. It would look something like "AimeeTravelEmails@gmail.com" (I just made this up, so don't try to email me at it!). I check it a couple times a week for deals, then when I'm done with my trip, I just unsubscribe from these updates. You can also follow specific travel bloggers and websites like Travelzoo on Twitter and Facebook so you can get up to the minute deals straight to your mobile phone.
5. BE FLEXIBLE - TRAVEL MID WEEK AND CHECK NEARBY AIRPORTS
Finally, get creative for where you fly in and out of and when. The cheapest days to fly on are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Kayak and many airline websites allow you to look at prices over a month period so you can find the cheapest days to travel. You also want to check various airports, if you have the flexibility to do so. Most major cities have more than one airport within an hour's drive and can sometimes mean savings of hundreds of dollars. For example, when I travel to New York, I usually fly into LaGuardia or even New Jersey because it's usually at $100+ cheaper than going into JFK. You'll have to weigh the cost of transportation and the value of your time, but this is an easy way to save extra cash.