How to find a cheap airfare | return to travel tips page

If you are serious about finding a cheap airfare for any given trip, you might try the info below. It's all about exploring the alternatives! There's no magic to it, although there is sometimes luck when you find a great sale and actually get seats. Here's what I do:

  1. DO NOT buy anything until you're satisfied you have all the info that can be had, maybe 1-2 hours research with a fast Internet connection
  2. Buy as far in advance as you can. With fuel prices fluctuating, airfares haven't gone anywhere but up recently. The only time to violate this advice is when you can go any time, a luxury that's not available for most of us. To get three weeks away from work, the minimum plan to amortize my trip to Europe over, I plan nine months in advance and can only go between the end of school and the beginning of the end of fiscal year madness. So I have to plan rigidly. But otherwise, you can wait for a sale and make a spur of the moment decision. Can't wait until my kid is out of school and we can go in the off-season. Boy, will we get bargains!
  3. Check Kayak, Orbitz, Expedia and Cheaptickets at minimum. Kayak is a consolidator (shows fares from all major travel search engines), although I have found that sometimes they miss fares. Each of the latter three negotiate some deals of their own with the airlines, which is why I check all three plus Kayak. None of them show all the airlines by themselves, which is why you check them all. There are others, but I rarely find anything different.
  4. Check Hotwire and Priceline, if you're willing to deal with their restrictions (usually they won't tell you the best fares until you give them a cc number and agree to buy). I don't use them myself, except once for a hotel room and car in New York. Their regular fares are nothing special, only the bargain fares are worth anything and they're the ones they won't show you until you're ready to buy.
  5. Check for student fares if you're traveling with a student, using the search words "student airfares" in Google or any other major search engine. StudentUniverse is one, there are others. We haven't really used them. But other members of the party can get a cheap fare as long as they have a student accompanying them.
  6. For international destinations including around the world tickets, check Bootsnall. Also has great destination information and blogs. Haven't found that they have such great domestic fares.
  7. If you're going somewhere in the US that they fly near, check out Southwest Airlines. They aren't listed on any of the travel sites except their own, and they often have really cheap fares with flexible constraints to close airports. If they fly within 100 miles, they may be cheaper, and it may offset the cost of a car or alternative transportation - not to mention the headache of flying into a huge airport like Kennedy.
  8. If you are looking at an airline you haven't flown before, check them out on This site rates airlines by passenger opinions, and has helped me make decisions about who and when to fly. For example, if you don't care if your flight is late often but value the comfort it offers due to expanded legroom on all flights, by all means fly the airline that has rated low with others who are more in a hurry than you are.
  9. If you have a long layover and aren't allergic to the idea of sleeping in an airport (I always bring two of my sarongs for a bottom and top sheet, an inflatable pillow and my ipod for white noise), then rate your airports on No, I'm not kidding - and it has really helped me make flight decisions. It also tells you what the airports have to entertain you while you're there, and surprisingly, there's quite a range, from spas to exceptional shopping, as well as talking about restaurants in the airports.

Let's plan a hypothetical trip: Las Vegas to Rome

  1. Using the above sources, look for the best fare between your destination points, allowing as many stops are you are prepared to deal with.
  2. Now, look for sales on other destinations in Europe (London and Paris are popular sale destinations), and then use Air Berlin, EasyJet, RyanAir, HLX, FlyBe out of England or any of the other low cost European airlines to make a connection for yourself.
  3. Using a sale fare and a simple low-cost connection, you may save yourself $300-$500 per ticket on your flights, and the connection probably will cost between $19 - $60. Be aware that many times these low cost airlines use the secondary airports such as Beauvais in Paris rather the CDG, or Ciampino in Rome rather than Fiumacino, but don't let that deter you. There is always a way to get between the airports - just allow yourself plenty of time.

    Worst case, you may find a delightful stopover that you wouldn't otherwise have found. Or, you could go crazy like me and add three stops (Vienna, Paris, Copenhagen) to your next trip because the flights were only $32 each!

Let's plan a hypothetical trip to the Big Apple from Las Vegas:

  1. Using the above sources, look for the best fare between your destination points (Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark), allowing as many stops are you are prepared to deal with.
  2. Now, think about flying to Philadelphia on Southwest instead! It's only two hours by car, train or bus between the cities, and you may save several hundred dollars per person. It was only $125 for the week for our car on hotwire, so the $400 (min) we saved on the tickets paid for that and more, even with parking in New York and we had lots more mobility.