. 6 travel tips to find the cheapest flight : Budget Travel Adventures

6 travel tips to find the cheapest flight

Orbitz cheap flightsDo you want to find the cheapest flight for your next trip or vacation? 

Of course you do!

Summer vacation, holiday travel, or weekend getaway.  All of us want to find the best travel deals on our next flight.

Some people research and book hotels and airline tickets separately.  Others prefer vacation packages through their favorite airline or travel sites like Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia, or Priceline.  When trying to find the cheapest flight, many airlines like Southwest, JetBlue, and America want you to book on their site.

Searching travel web sites is one of the best ways to find the cheapest flight.  People go online, search for a flight, and buy their airline ticket.

What if you didn’t get the best deal? Will airfare searches find the cheapest flight?

Why the best travel sites won’t find the cheapest flight

Many people pay too much for their flights and many people aren’t aware that they can get better deals.  Right now, there is no search technology to give them the cheapest flight.  Don’t believe it?

Let’s say you wanted to fly from Sacramento to Seville, Spain.  Flying from the west coast is expensive so you want to find a good deal.  So you do all of your research and think now is the best time to buy.  Your travel dates are November 29 to December 7 so you look on Expedia to try and find the best deal.

A flight on American Airlines from Sacramento to Seville costs $1046 (including taxes).

A search on Continental’s website shows you an airfare with taxes of $1037.  However the dates for this flight don’t fit your travel plans as you arrive home a day later.  A search on American’s website gives you an airfare of $1039 and you get back on 12/7.  American has the best deal so you grab it.

That’s not the cheapest airfare and no airfare search technology is going to find you an airfare as this – $983.  This flight saves you $55.  For a family of four, that is a savings of $220.

6 travel tips to find the cheapest flight

How did I get a flight $55 cheaper than the lowest quote online?  I broke up the flight into segments and purchased a flight on different airlines by searching for individual flights to my destination.

First, I found a flight from Sacramento to Barcelona on American Airlines for $939 (taxes included).  Then I found a flight on Ryan Air on 11/30 from Barcelona to Seville and 12/7 Seville to Barcelona for a total of $44.50.

So how do you find the cheapest flight without relying on online travel sites and their airfare search technology?

1.  Budget airlines - You can search budget airlines in regions or countries to help you find cheapest flight.  Budget airlines like Southwest and jetBlue, as well as smaller, regional airlines like Ryan Air, Go! Mokulele, and others offer discounted flights.

If you are flying from a big city to a smaller city, find a cheap flight to a nearby big city and then search the regional budget airlines for a cheap connection.  Recent airline mergers may hurt travelers and make budget airlines a better alternative.

Note that some budget airlines are located at smaller, alternative airports.  Flying into these airports saves you money on your flight but may mean longer travel time to your final destination.

Also some budget airlines may not allow checked bags, limit the number of bags, and may charge you for carry on bags.

Pack lightly, avoid peak day travel and airline baggage fees, and consider all your options when using budget airlines.

2.  Taxes and fees - Most people look at the total cost of their flight.  However, airline taxes and mandatory fees can make a huge difference in the cost of your flight.

A recent article in the Washington post states that airline passengers are overtaxed when it comes to flying.

The $1037 airfare from Sacramento to Seville, Spain was cheaper at $589 but taxes and fees were $448.  Meanwhile, the American Airlines flight from Sacramento to Seville was $930 but the taxes and fees were only $110.

Why the difference? 

Airport taxes vary based on which airports you land and flying into multiple airports can increase the amount of taxes and fees for your airline ticket.

Finding a direct flight will cost you less in taxes and fees.  Use a budget airline to fly to your next destination.  The taxes and fees on Ryan Air between Barcelona and Seville?  $3.22 round trip.

Passengers need to know how much taxes and fees affect the price of an airline ticket.  While airline prices now include taxes and fees, understanding how they work can help you find the cheapest flight.

3.  Use multiple websites - Online travel site may not give you the best deal.  Don’t just check Orbitz, Expedia, Bing Travel, Priceline, Kayak, and others.  Check the airlines and sign up for their airfare alerts and dealson sites like Farecompare and Airfare Watchdog.

Know which airlines fly to your destination.  Searching different websites and airlines and using airfare alerts can help you find the cheapest flight to your destination.

Check out this review of the popular online travel sites.

4.  Sign up for deals on airline and travel websites - Sign up for travel deal alerts on airlines for specific flights or dates.  Use Farecompare, Kayak, and Airfare Watchdog to set up alerts for destinations and trips on multiple airlines.

Be the first to know about airfare sales and get alerts on trips and destinations.  Don’t play roulette and hope to get lucky with your search for the cheapest flight on an online travel site.

5.  Break up your itinerary - Breaking your trip into segments allows you to search for flights on different airlines for multiple cities.

If you are flying from New York to Boise, Idaho, Frontiers may have an airfare sale from New York to Milwaukee but Southwest may have a deal from Milwaukee to Boise.   Separate airfares may save you money if you find deals that connect cities on the way to your destination.

Searching for flights by segment on different airlines allows you to find deals you can’t find on many online travel sites or airline website.  There are times online travel sites and airline websites will be cheaper – but not always.

6.  Use a travel agent - Travel agents can steal find the cheapest flight for you so let them do the work.  Online travel sites and doing your own research makes searching for flights easier.  However, travel agents may have deals and packages that you won’t find online.

Think outside of the box when searching for flights

Saving money on travel is important to a lot of people.  Finding the cheapest flight isn’t as easy as searching for a flight on an online travel site.

Despite the conveniences of modern technology, the airfare search engines aren’t perfect and are limited in their abilities to search across multiple airlines for certain itineraries.New travel sites are trying to work around these limitations and implement the type of airfare search technology that will find these deals.

Do your homework, research, and plan.  These travel tips can help you find the cheapest flight as you look beyond online travel sites and airlines.

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  1. Carla says:

    Well, I’ve done something similar to what you proposed: finding a flight from Houston to London on a big carrier, and then switching to a budget flight from London to Madrid. You know what that cost me? Not just 20 pounds for a budget flight, but 200 pounds extra for my two “overweight” suitcases that were free on the Madrid-Houston flight, but not on the London-Madrid flight.

    Additionally, I think that the author of this article was kindda shady and forgot to explain that when you fly on budget flight from, let’s say Barcelona to Seville as he or she cared to use as an example, you pay very little, yes. It’s true. BUT you A) Pay for each suitcase you check in B) Pay even more if each suitcase is over 20 kilos C)You have to go to a totally completely different airport to fly with budget airlines. The low cost airport in Barcelona is not even in Barcelona, it’s over an hour away by bus D) The cost of these buses that take you to the low cost airport are usually just as expensive as the price of the flight.

    So yes, budget airlines help you save money. But if you’re using to connect after a long flight, they’re a big fail.

    • Jeremy says:

      Carla, you are correct about the different airports. Yes, I need to include that in there – which I knew but did forget to include. It’s important to let people know that as well. That is something that is an issue in Europe and the US but more in Europe than the US. I will make a note of that in the article so people are aware of all the options.

      You are incorrect that not all budget airlines fly into secondary airports. For example, ClickAir is a budget airline in Spain which I actually used from BCN and not the alternative airport. You can also fly from there to Sevilla’s main airport without having to use alternative airports. While you make a good point about budget airlines and airports, alternative airports didn’t apply in the example above which is why I didn’t mention it. I know this because I actually took this example from my own personal experiences.

      However, this wasn’t meant to be shady or deceive people. It was just more information and disclosure that is needed. It was nice of you to provide this info which I will include but there was no intent to deceive anyone.

      As for the baggage piece, this was clearly stated in the following under budget airlines:

      “However, be warned – some of the budget airlines are truly budget. They don’t allow checked bags, limit the bags you can take, and/or will stop you from boarding altogether if you have too many bags. Pack lightly and be aware of peak day travel and baggage fees.”

  2. We once saved hundreds by simply booking our flight to Paris and our flight on to Tunisia separately – even though the flight we were considering buying routed us through Paris with a very long layover. We books the two flights separately and avoided the extra charge we would have had for staying in Paris for a couple of days on the way back, too!

    You’re right about travel agents. We’ve had it work for us, too! When we flew to India we saved a lot by booking with one. We’ve also had an airline’s website offer cheaper flights than Expedia, etc for the same flight.

    Thanks for the tips!

    • Jeremy says:

      One benefit to paying more is the convenience of getting somewhere quicker or having all of your flights booked together. It’s just a matter of what is more important – time or money. Within Europe, you can find a lot of great deals because of the competitive airline industry which we just don’t have here. It’s more of an open market there which keeps prices lower. For example, an Italian airline can fly in England. However, note that US based airlines are the only ones that can fly within the US. No airline can make domestic flights in the US without it being US based. Not that case with Europe. This may be the advantage to better airfare deals.

      As for a travel agent, I haven’t used one in a while but I definitely think they have value today despite the many opportunities we have on the internet.

  3. Grace says:

    Great tips Jeremy! Personally, I like using fly.com to look at the prices and then I go to the individual carrier’s websites to see if they have any special promos happening. Another great way to save is to use a credit card that will allow you to earn miles as you purchase. Just be careful about the fine print- look for one that does not have restrictions when you are about to redeem those miles!
    Grace recently posted..Achieving Clarity in Coroico- Vantage Point on Bolivia Part 2My Profile

    • Jeremy says:

      Grace, I hadn’t looked into fly.com so I will have to check that out. As for credit card, I use that for miles and it does help on the expiration. It would be awful to have all those miles and then lose them.

  4. Thanks for the tip, Jeremy! I think most people go with a search on one or two websites because it’s easier. Like you, I always look for the best deal :)
    Leslie (Downtown Traveler) recently posted..Stephen King’s scary clown inspires NYC street art photo of the weekMy Profile

    • Jeremy says:

      I agree Leslie. I will do the work to check out the deals. This is why planning is important for me. Not just so I have the details down but so I can explore all my options to make sure I get the best deal. This isn’t just for airfares but hotels, museums, and other sights or activities.

  5. Useful tips! Finding the best deals on flights really is an art haha Some of the budget airlines in Europe are crazy cheap like you say. For us EasyJet has been consistenly good.
    Jozef @ Where Now recently posted..Bolivian Bus BanterMy Profile

    • Jeremy says:

      Europe has some great budget airlines. We have them in the US as well but nowhere near as cheap. However, baggage is where many of the European budget airlines get you. Not as big of an issue here on baggage. That’s why it helps to look at all the costs of traveling and not just the flight.

  6. This is great Jeremy! I really push for “breaking up the itinerary” when I travel. Not only do you get better deals sometimes, you can also remain in the middle destination for a while!
    Migrationology recently posted..Addicted to Durian – I Found the Cure in Zanzibar!My Profile

    • Jeremy says:

      Mark, it definitely takes some work to do it this way and even some coordination. However, it can save you some money if you are willing to do the planning for it.

  7. Jeremy says:

    I flew from Ohio to Cairo and return from Amman Jordan to Ohio for $1200. The cheapest ticket I could find was $1500.

    Instead I booked an open jaw ticket found on Kayak for $1100 to Athens return from Amman, and a one way ticket from Athens to Cairo for $90 (saw later one for $45, blast!)

    Still, hub cities + budget carriers is the way to go for some places. My biggest use of those would be when you need an additional flight after crossing the ocean. Anytime you add another flight AFTER a long haul, the price goes up more when staying in the alliance.

    • Jeremy says:

      Open jaw is a great way to save money. Hub cities offer a number of budget airline opportunities. The thing with saving money is that it takes effort, research, and planning. A lot of people don’t want to do that – and that’s not just in travel. And in the way people advertise, they know that.

      Why do you think grocery stores have items on sale? They are willing to take a loss or no profit on certain items with the belief that you will buy other stuff once you get there because people prefer doing all their shopping in one place. It’s the same principle with airfares as well.

  8. Roy says:

    Thanks for the tips. I like to fly from a hub and then pick a way to my next destination. Budget airlines can work if you have a place to dump your stuff (and only do carry on). Or else, there are always buses and trains!
    Roy recently posted..Jungles Of PanamaMy Profile

  9. Myndi says:

    Great article! We used the same idea when we traveled to Europe with four kids in 2007. Flew over on American but flew from Paris to Berlin and Berlin to Rome on EasyJet. While the airline is no frills (think Southwest in the US), the flights were 34/person as compared with American who wanted 900 to fly from Paris to Berlin!! Yikes!! The airports were easy to get to and I found the staff to much friendlier than our American airline staff. They even asked me if they could warm up anything for my toddler!! The luggage comment is true, there baggage restrictions don’t allow for bags as heavy as American carriers. But, most seasoned travelers of Europe know that you pack light and versitle clothing when traveling internationally:)Additionally, I checked Kayak and other travel sites and was on the watch fare list on sites but ended up getting the cheapest flight on American Airlines’ own website. We flew from Arkansas to Paris and then Rome to Arkansas for a total roundtrip cost of 636/person!!

    • It’s a lot of work to research and find the flights. This is where travel agents can still be helpful. However, for those that want to research, you can save money. I think flights and prices will continue to evolve. Airlines are constantly changing. I agree with you about packing light – I always do that and that’s something very important in Europe. And yes, I signed up for a number of airfare watch lists as well. All good tips to find cheap flights.

      May not be easy to research but it may be worth the time if you can save money!

  10. Sanyelle says:

    Hi Jeremy,
    My husband and I are trying to plan our first trip overseas for next fall and this has been one of the most helpful blogs I’ve found for finding cheaper airline tickets. I’ve been overwhelmed with trying to find the best deals, and even heard advice that you shouldn’t bother looking anywhere other than Orbitz! My husband and I are on a pretty tight budget and any savings will help us. Thanks for sharing this!
    Sanyelle recently posted..Couchsurfing!My Profile

    • Sanyelle, I am glad this has been helpful. Every day the airline industry is changing. As much as technology has been our friend, things are changing so much that finding cheap flights today can take a lot of time. Prices have gone up a lot as well.

      While fees and prices are on the rise, hopefully a few of these tips will help people save. Where are you going on your big trip?

  11. Juliana says:

    These are some useful tips on booking cheaper flights. I especially like idea of scheduling your own legs of the flight.

    If you’re looking for more ideas, check out our tips to flying on a budget here. http://www.stowawaymag.com/2012/04/im-free-free-flying/

    • Booking your own legs separately is something I learned after flying in Europe. If I was flying from the US to a smaller city and booked from here, I would fly on a big airline that partnered with my airline from the US. While budget airlines in Europe can be expensive with the fees, they do offer some good airfares.

      Breaking up your itinerary may not always help you save but it’s worth exploring.

  12. Bruce says:

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  13. Big help mate. Great information on acquiring travel tips for the benefit of others travelers. Its not easy to find discounted and cheapest flights and through times it can be daunting.

  14. Kelvin says:

    Rather than booking a flight direct to your planned destination in Europe, you’ll often save money by getting yourself to London, then book cheap flights with low-cost carriers such as 123cheapflight or others to go further afield in Europe.

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