This might just be one of the best travel posts in the way of advice and insight that I will ever post. So ladies and gents, pay attention.
Searching for flights can be overwhelming. If you’re like most of us, you want to get a good deal end of story. There are few people in this world who are complacent enough to take any old flight no matter the cost. For most of us that just sounds silly. But where do you even start? Here I am going to outline for you the best way (in order) of how to go about researching your trip to find the best flight(s).
Now, don’t get scurred. There will be a lot of different websites utilized when researching, and sometimes it can seem overwhelming. But if you follow these steps you will be almost guaranteed to get the best flight possible.
The very first thing I do is check out the monthly weather averages of the place I am wanting to visit. Let’s use Krakow, Poland as an example. I’ve used Holiday Weather to find that temperatures are most pleasing in June, July, and August. From this I can infer that these are the ‘tourist months’. So automatically airfare prices will increase by 25 – 50% during these months. Therefore I know that choosing to visit in April/May or September will likely still give me decent weather for a good price.
Start your search on Hopper to narrow down some dates.
Tip: If you were searching this flight in the fall of last year, plan your dates for April/May. If you were searching for this flight this year in January/February, probably plan for September (unless the data tells otherwise). For international flights, we know the ideal window to nab your ticket is approximately between 319 and 151 days in advance. So consider that when choosing the appropriate month before or after the tourist months. Some people want to wait longer and take the risk, while others would rather purchase 319 days out.
In my experience, I’ve seen a trend of prices peaking about five months out and dropping again in the 3 to 4 months range from your planned departure. So basically if you’re not going to buy your ticket six months or more in advance, hold out past month five. I have always found the best deals either six months or more out and 3-4 months before. I am not quite sure why this is. Maybe there is large trend of people who purchase tickets five months out, so airlines capitalize on that. Regardless, let’s move on to Hopper.
Hopper markets itself as an app. Since that’s the case, they’ve made it quite tricky to navigate their all but four page desktop website. When you go to Hopper it appears as just one page. Instead try going to www.Hopper.com/reports. Type in your starting city and your destination city and click view report.
From here, you will get an estimate of the cheapest time to go. Use your best judgement and WaBAM, now you have your dates picked out!
*Note that below the ‘cheapest time to go’ chart, you’ll find the best days of the week to fly out and return on. Also something to consider when you chose your dates.
Are you at information overload yet? If you didn’t have anxiety about your travel choices before, get ready…
Next step is to check out Google Flights to see if you can’t get your flight any cheaper, with a little tactic I like to call ‘destination digging’. This happens when your flight is a liiiittle more expensive than what you want to pay, which is ALWAYS, right? First click on the map you see of the United States towards the bottom. Put in your starting city and your dates of travel, and leave the destination blank. It should look like this:
Tip: If Hopper said it was cheapest to fly out on a Saturday, then remember to pick your date based on the time difference. I picked that I would arrive in Krakow on April 11th, which gives me two days of travel to account for the time difference, and also has me leaving on a Saturday which is the cheapest day to fly out (hypothetically speaking).
Now, your goal with Google Flights is to check out the map and to look for any alternate route to your destination. For example, instead of purchasing a ticket from PHX -> KRK, it might be cheaper to purchase a ticket from PHX -> JFK -> and then JFK -> KRK. Inevitably somewhere from PHX to KRK you’ll have a layover at one of the international hubs. If you can control which based on price, then you should do so! That’s exactly what Google Flights will help you with.
Try fiddling around with Chicago, Toronto, Atlanta, New York, and Boston. These are generally the cheapest airports to fly in to in proximity to Europe. You should also check for international flights that are cheaper than your destination. For example, if I move the map over to Europe near Krakow I will notice that London and Copenhagen both appear cheaper to fly in to. And like I mentioned before, it is likely you will have a layover in some European city, so you should take advantage of this (layovers in the U.S. and internationally will vary depending on your departure city).
Now that you’ve made a list of some alternative domestic and foreign cities to fly in to, you’re ready to put them to the test! For this I use a few different search engines including Momondo and Skyscanner. Be careful using Momondo because they use a lot of smaller websites which aren’t always credible. However they have quite arguably the very best search engine. If you’re a student, Momondo will give you Student Universe fairs which are substantially cheaper, yay! STA Travel is another company that also gives great discounts to students and those under 25. Skyscanner has a lovely user interface that is intuitive to navigate with competitive pricing.
Generally speaking, United Airlines consistently has the lowest prices of any major airline I’ve seen. So it might be worth going directly to United to search as well. This is completely my opinion and United is not sponsoring this post. Plus I’m not that cool.
So what happens if you’re still not convinced on the price? Then you’ll want to take your search a step further and scour the smaller discount airlines for even cheaper prices.
Start with this list of discount airlines here. The one most of us are familiar with is Ryanair, as they’ve had quite a bit of press in the US. I personally like going to ‘Plan a Trip’ and then selecting ‘Route Map’ to start with. Then I chose my destination. The cities that fly to Krakow will be shown in bold letters, which lets you know where you can fly out from as routes are limited. For instance, you can fly from Dublin to Krakow on Ryanair for about 40 euros! That means all I’d need to do is find a decent flight from Phoenix to Dublin on Skyscanner. Historically speaking the odds are in my favor.
And it’s as simple as that to potentially saving hundreds of dollars on airfare.
Tip: At first you might make the mistake of assuming that a one way ticket should be exactly half the cost of a round trip. Makes sense right? However they are usually about 3/4 the cost of a round trip and sometimes are actually MORE expensive, in which case you may just want to go with a round trip ticket through United. This happens because with a one way ticket the airline can’t guarantee your business on a return flight (i.e. there is no guarantee you’ll fly with them on the way back), so they jack up the prices on a one way ticket. Lovely huh?
Airlines love making money off us, so hopefully these steps to finding the perfect flight will help you to win at traveling! Please be aware that in my example I am located on the west coast and trying to get to Eastern Europe. Searches may vary greatly in other cases, but the principles will still be the same.
Have any secret tips to getting good flights? Leave a comment below!