Everyone deserves a little get away every now and then, but most of us spend more time in a chair in front of our computers trying to track down the most affordable flight than we do in an aisle seat cruising at 30,000 feet. It’s not your fault; airlines are always looking to make an extra dollar. In fact, IdeaWorks reports that U.S. airlines made $31.5 billion off ancillary fees in 2013 (that’s your baggage, extra foot room, WiFi and food — oh my!).
But fret not, we have some simple trips for how to find cheap flights so you can snap up the best deal and get on with more important things, like packing.
Whether you’re planning ahead for the trip of a lifetime or scoping out an impromptu break, remember not to sweat it if travel dates, airports or even destinations need to be adjusted for savings. Worst case scenario you spend an extra night in France and get to stroll down the Champs Elysee or see Great Uncle Sal in North Dakota for the first time in years. Flying into a nearby airport can mean getting to take a scenic bus or train ride. Remember, the journey is just as important as the destination.
NOT ALL SEARCH ENGINES ARE CREATED EQUAL
There are a gajillion search engines out there designed to help travelers find the right flight for the right price but some do their job a little better than others. Try SkyScanner, Cheap Flights or Hipmunk. All offer easy-to-use search platforms and can help you package hotels with flights. (Be careful not to enter your search too often. Flight prices will increase based on the saved searches in your browser.) SkyScanner, Cheap Flights and Hipmunk also offer flexible search options, so you can determine if it’s cheaper to fly a day or two before or after your planned departure date or even show you flights or an entire month.
SPLIT THE DISTANCE
Don’t be afraid to split your lengthy trip cross-country or across the Pond into two sections. If a direct flight is too pricey, then try booking two separate flights and seeing if the price is right — especially if your “direct” flight has a layover in one of the major U.S. hubs, like Chicago, New York (JFK or La Guardia), or Atlanta. You can even book one leg of the trip with one airline and the next with another. One rule of thumb to remember: Never book flights without giving yourself plenty of layover time You don’t want to be caught stuck on the tarmac knowing you’ll never make your connection.
EXPLORE WITH KAYAK
One of the best ways to book a cheap flight (especially when traveling to Europe) is to simply forget initial destination and get yourself there. Kayak Explore let’s you set the month you want to start seeing the world and shows you the cheapest flights from your departure city to airports all across Europe. Sure, you want to end up in Vienna, but if flying into Berlin shaves off big bucks, then you’ll have some dough to spend sight-seeing after you’ve paid for that cheap flight.
lf you’d rather stick to an airline that’s caught your fancy, start racking up points toward future flights, by becoming a frequent flyer with that airline. You might not always save money on flights, but soon you’ll have access to perks ranging from meal tickets to a free extra checked bag or access to the airlines premiere club. Anyway you save it, it’s money in your pocket. So stop slogging through unsuccessful searches. Just remember the smart steps to find cheap flights!