I am always looking for the best deal on flights and ways to finagle the system to find the cheapest airfare. Sometimes the ticket price is just too high for me no matter how I slice it. Like when I waited until last minute to book flights to Nashville for the total solar eclipse. $750 for a round trip ticket from Austin to Nashville? I’ll catch the next eclipse, thank you. (Which happens to be in 2024 and directly over Austin, so not too bad of a deal.)
But barring extenuating circumstances, here are 5 tricks that I’ve used successfully in the past to get substantial discounts on flights. They’re listed in order of simplest to more complicated.
1. Adjust the Days that You Fly
Maybe it’s not such a big secret but it’s definitely worth reiterating: it costs more to fly on some days of the week than others. You’ll usually find higher prices the closer you get to book-ending the weekend. Fridays and Mondays are prime travel days for both leisure travelers, getting away for a long weekend, and business travelers, leaving for a work trip or coming home after a week away.
The closer you get to traveling mid-week, the lower the prices are. According to Airfarewatchdog, Tuesday and Wednesday tend to be the least expensive. I’ve found that Saturdays can be good for both departing and returning flights. It’s not an exact science and you don’t need to know in advance for sure what day you are going to fly. The trick is – if your dates are at all flexible – that you make sure to actually check different days of the week for departing and returning because the combinations can produce different results in pricing. It used to be tedious to try every iteration but things have gotten much easier now that most sites – airlines and aggregators alike – will now show you pricing for a few days before and a few days after the ones you used in your search. Be sure to compare them. The savings could be significant.
2. Browse in Incognito Mode & Clear Your Cookies
Airlines use dynamic pricing models that track demand for certain flights, meaning that each search you make could increase your price. There are two ways to avoid this: clear your cookies or do your search in “incognito” mode.
Cookies are bits of information that store details about your web browsing on your computer. This is what helps airlines understand what kind of demand is happening for a specific flight. This Business Insider article has step by step instructions on how to clear cookies in Chrome and Firefox.
The other way to hide your searches is to use the incognito browser function. In this mode, all cookies are automatically deleted when the browser window is closed. To access incognito mode in Chrome, press Ctrl+Shift+N (on PC) or Command+Shift+N (on mac). To get to there using Firefox, click on the Firefox Menu at the top right of the browser (the symbol with 3 grey lines) and then click “new private window.”
Whether or not this actually works is equivocal. My opinion is that even if it might help, there’s no harm in trying.
3. Take Advantage of Bundle Deals
Expedia.com has an option that allows you to bundle your hotel and flight (and car, if you need it). The idea is that it should be a better deal to combine your trip but when I’ve sourced each item separately, there’s not always a big price difference. Sometimes there is, and if you find something like this, go for it!
But what if you don’t want or need a hotel for your trip? On the Expedia page, below the input for your travel dates, there is a checkbox that says “I only need a hotel for part of my stay.” Sometimes adding even just one day of a hotel stay will gain you Expedia’s bulk pricing on airfare. That pricing can be substantially lower than the cost for an individual consumer.
Recently, I booked flights to Paris for Brian and myself. Tickets were hovering around $1,450 each which was more than I wanted to pay. So I tried this bundle pricing trick and added one night of hotel to the trip. What happened? Our entire trip was priced at $1,500. That is, according to my search: two round trip tickets and one night of hotel in Paris, for $750 per person. If I had booked only airline tickets, that cost alone for the two of us would have been $2,900. That is a HUGE savings! We booked an Airbnb for the rest of the trip. It just wouldn’t be worth it to visit Paris if we couldn’t bring home our delicious market finds to cook. 🙂
You may be wondering if we had to sacrifice quality of flights to get this deal – very early departure, extra long layover, etc. Surprisingly, we did not. Also, the hotel is a boutique, four star affair in the 8th arrondissement with great reviews, so no compromise there either. This trick may not always work but if you hit that mark even some of the time, you could save beaucoup bucks.
4. Choose a Different Airport
Major airports have more traffic coming in and out and will likely have cheaper ticket prices than smaller, regional ones. Even if you are already planning to use a major airport, it’s a good idea to check prices at others in the area. However, leaving from an airport that is further away prolongs your time spent en route so you’ll want to weigh the money saved against the added travel time.
When I am looking for flights, I check prices on those departing from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, which is the airport closest to me, but I also check flights out of San Antonio International Airport, about an hour away. I have family in San Antonio, so if the savings is big enough, I’ll bite the bullet and spend a night with them in order to get where I’m going for less. 🙂 This year I was planning a sisters’ trip to Cozumel, Mexico and flights out of Austin were $600 while a comparable flight from San Antonio was just $480!
If you can’t get a direct ticket to where you’re going, chances are the layover will be at a major airport. If you adjust your flight so that it ends at that airport, you can then book ground transportation to take you the rest of the way and save some money. You could also book an inexpensive flight on a regional airline (such as RyanAir or Easyjet in Europe) after you’ve ridden the long haul flight using a major carrier. Personally, I love taking the train. You can see a lot more scenery out the window of a train than out the window of a plane.
A little bit of sleuth work can turn up additional advantages. While researching travel to Paris, I saw that Austin recently added a direct flight to Frankfurt, Germany through Condor Airlines. Turns out, those new flights were pretty inexpensive. We could fly to Frankfurt and take a five hour train to Paris for less than it cost to fly to Paris with a layover in Houston. However, this was one of those instances where the shorter travel time was worth more to us than the savings.
5. Change Carriers Mid-Route
This last idea requires more effort in both planning and execution. Remember all that talk about major airports being less expensive? If you can’t get where you’re going by combining air and ground transport, it is possible to make up your own multi-leg flight itinerary. It takes online digging and a lot of search iterations but can yield a nice discount if you persevere. I’ll keep with the Paris theme and explain how I was able to cobble together a better deal than what I was finding on an aggregator site:
- First, I googled to find all of the airports in the US that have nonstop service to Paris.
- Next, I narrowed results to major airports on the East coast only. I wanted to get as close to Europe as possible for what would be the second leg of the trip.
- Then, I priced direct tickets from these airports to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
- Lastly, I priced my own one way flights from Austin to these airports, taking care to watch for the timing of flights and make sure that the layover schedule would give me plenty of room to land and make it to the “connecting” flight. The sum of those two ticket prices then became the price of my custom combo ticket from Austin to Paris.
The sweet spot was at Boston Logan International Airport. I could fly from Austin to Boston and then from Boston to Charles de Gaulle for $200 less than any of the routes Expedia gave me. Then I got really creative, using my Southwest Airlines points to book from Austin to Boston, so I spent only the amount for a flight from Boston to Paris out of my own pocket.
The biggest problem with putting together your own ticket is that there is no recourse if you miss your connection. Since you’re effectively booking yourself on two completely separate itineraries, if one flight causes you to miss the other, there’s really nothing an airline will do to help you. It can be a substantial risk to take with your vacation and not for the faint of heart. Personally, it’s a risk I will take if the savings add up. The hard part is convincing Brian to go along with it. 😀
If you are putting your own itinerary together for an international trip, be sure to allow for extra time between flights upon your return home, as going through customs and immigration can be a lengthy process.