I am so excited to be publishing this! One of my blogging heroes, Nomadic Matt, has written a post for ME!!! Not only is Matt a blogging guru, he’s also a travel guru and has even written a couple of books about travelling (check out his bio at the end). I was thrilled when he agreed to write a post for me on one of his topics of expertise: travel hacking.
One of the biggest changes in the travel industry over the past decade has been the price of flights. Thanks to the spread of budget carriers like Ryanair, AirAsia, Norwegian, Spirit Airlines, and others, travel has never been more affordable.
And while COVID may have put travel on hold, airlines are going to be desperate for passengers when borders reopen. That means there are going to be a lot of cheap flights ready and waiting for you.
To help you make the most of your travel plans — and save money in the process — here are my top tips for finding cheap flights.
1. Start travel hacking
Travel hacking is the art of collecting points and miles via credit card purchases that you can then use for free flights and hotel stays — and you can’t beat free!
Whether you’re a budget solo traveler like me or a family of four, travel hacking is the best way to find cheap (or free) flights or hotel stays. And contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to do any extra spending either. Simply shift your existing expenses onto a travel credit card, and you’ll be on your way to earning those flights and hotel stays.
Since there are tons of travel credit cards out there these days, it can be hard to know which are the most useful. Here’s what I look for when comparing cards:
- No foreign exchange fees (so you can use your card abroad without extra fees)
- A large welcome bonus (at least 50,000 points)
- A low minimum spend (so you can easily earn the welcome offer)
- Bonus points for spending categories I use often (travel, groceries, restaurants)
- A low annual fee
- Airport perks (lounge access, priority boarding, free luggage check)
Most cards offer a welcome bonus when you sign up — but only if you spend a certain amount within the first three months (usually around USD 4,000). Make sure you can meet this minimum spending requirement before you apply, otherwise you’ll miss out (since these bonus are usually worth a free domestic flight).
If you don’t think you can meet the minimum spend, see if friends or family have any large expenses coming up. That way, you can put their expense on your card — thus earning you the bonus — and they can just pay you back.
To really maximize your earnings, use platforms like Evreward or Cash Back Monitor. Simply type in the merchant or product you want, and the site will compile a list of bonuses the various point programs are offering at that moment, so you can use the right online purchasing portal.
For example, say you want clothes from the Gap. Going to a Gap store will earn you one point per dollar spent. However, by using Evreward, you might discover that by purchasing online via the United shopping portal, you can earn three points per dollar spent. Suddenly, you get 300 points instead of 100 for your USD 100 shopping spree!
While the US has the best travel credit cards, there are plenty of resources out there for non-Americans too:
By travel hacking, not only will you start to earn free flights and hotel stays but you’ll also get perks like free lounge access, early boarding, free baggage checks, and more.
So, the minute you decide you want to head out on the road, sign up for a travel credit card. Every point will help!
2. Be flexible
When it comes to finding a cheap flight, the most important thing you can do is be flexible.
If you want to fly to Singapore on July 1 specifically, you’re going to have to pay whatever the going price is. You have no wiggle room when you need a specific destination on a specific date.
However, if you want to go to Singapore anytime in July or August, you’ve just opened up tons of possibilities for finding a cheap flight.
In addition to being flexible with your dates, consider being flexible with your destination too. Maybe a flight to Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur is substantially cheaper than a flight to Singapore. Maybe a trip to Europe offers better deals than a trip to South America.
Unless you’re going somewhere for a specific reason, always consider being flexible with your destination and dates. You’ll find way more opportunities to save money that way.
3. Sign up for newsletters and search for deals
I usually don’t sign up for newsletters, because I like to keep my inbox organized. However, most airlines have them, and they occasionally offer deals. Many airlines run sales over the holidays, but they also offer discounts at random. So stay informed by signing up for some newsletters. You might just snag a great deal!
If you don’t find a good deal after looking through newsletters and search engines (see below), check for cheap flights on these websites:
- Secret Flying (global)
- Scott’s Cheap Flights (US)
- Airfare Watchdog (US)
- Holiday Pirates (Europe)
- The Flight Deal (global)
They always have amazing deals, as long as you’re flexible. I’ve found some incredible bargains using these sites, so make sure to check them often.
4. Compare search engines
Not all search sites are equal. Many major ones don’t list budget carriers or obscure airlines. Others don’t list booking sites that aren’t in English. And others still only display prices retrieved directly from airlines. And so forth and so forth. In order to find the best deal, you need to search multiple websites.
My recommendation is to start with Skyscanner. It’s my go-to search engine for finding cheap flights. It searches carriers big and small and always digs up the best deals. Nine times out of ten, you’ll find the best fare here.
Here are two other sites I always compare with Skyscanner:
- Momondo – easy-to-use platform that’s almost as good as Skyscanner
- Google Flights – flexible platform, lets you search multiple dates and destinations via the calendar feature
Between these three sites, you’ll likely be able to find a great deal!
5. Book early — but not too early (or too late)
Airfare prices rise the closer you get to departure. That’s why last-minute flights always cost an arm and a leg. Airlines know you don’t have any other options, hence their obscene pricing.
However, I’ve found that there is generally a sweet spot between booking too early or too late.
Generally speaking (because this won’t always apply), the best prices are found 2-3 months before your trip. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule of course but more of a guide to help point you in the right direction.
Studies show that the average person spends upwards of 40 hours searching for and booking a flight. Knowing the best time to look will help you save both time and money.
6. Compare nearby airports/countries
While large airport hubs usually offer the best and cheapest flights, that’s not always the case. Compare other airports in and around your destination just to make sure you’re not missing an opportunity.
For example, if you’re flying to the UK, chances are you’ll be arriving in London. However, maybe Edinburgh has a specific deal going on that will save you money instead. As long as you’re flexible, you can take advantage of cheaper flights to nearby airports. So always take a look before you buy. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars over the years doing this.
By following the tips and tricks above, you’ll always be able to find cheap flights and hotel stays. Find the best travel credit card for your goals, bookmark the cheap flight sites listed above, sign up for some newsletters, and remember to be flexible.
There’s no single silver bullet, so you’ll need to mix and match the tips above to achieve the best results. Do that, and you’ll be able to save hundreds of dollars on flights and hotel stays — money you can then put to use making the most out of your trip.
Don’t waste your hard-earned cash overpaying for flights. Follow these tips, save money, and repeat.
Matt Kepnes runs the award-winning travel site nomadicmatt.com, which helps people travel the world on a budget. He’s the author of the NYT best-seller How to Travel the World on $50 a Day and the travel memoir Ten Years a Nomad. His writings and advice have been featured on CNN and the BBC and in the New York Times, The Guardian, Lifehacker, Budget Travel, Time, and countless other publications. You can follow him on Instagram at @nomadicmatt. When he’s not on the road, he lives in Austin.