How to book the cheapest flight to anywhere

airplanes at an airport

Airfare can end up being the biggest expense of your trip. Finding the cheapest flight can make a huge difference in how much of your budget you’ll have left for other things like hotels, eating out and tours.

Here’s how you can find the cheapest flight to start your trip off right.

Cheap destinations

If you want to get a great deal on airfare, you’re going to need flexibility. Deciding where you want to go and entering your travel dates is likely the most expensive way to book. 

Try keeping your destination options open. Search for a beach vacation instead of entering Maui, Hawaii. You may score a flight to Miami, Cancun or the Caribbean at a fraction of the price you’d pay to Maui. 

Don’t forget to search neighboring airports that may be cheaper to travel to and from.

Search online, but do it privately

You’ll need to go into stealth mode to find and book the cheapest fares. Travel websites will drop a cookie onto your browser when you visit. Next time you go back to book the fare, the website will know you recently visited and will likely  show you a higher fare.

To view the cheapest airfare prices like it’s the first time every time, be sure to browse in private mode. Or clear your browsing data before returning to the travel site to book their best deal. Here’s how you can clear your browsing data:

Search online, but be careful where you do it

Many online sites claim they’ve got the cheapest flights. But which ones actually do? Start with the most popular websites and double-check the flights on the airline websites to confirm you’ve found the best deal. Here are five of the best search engines to find the cheapest flights:

Airfare Watchdog

Airfare Watchdog does not sell airfare – they show you the best prices.  They are consistent at finding low fares. Start with their homepage where they list Today’s Top Fares for the best deals. You’ll often find cheap online error fares you won’t find anywhere else.
You can also score great last-minute weekend getaway deals through The Weekender section. All deals are for a two or three‐night stay departing on a Thursday or Friday.

Google Flights

Google Flights is a metasearch engine or aggregator. Once you find a flight, the link will direct you to the travel website or airline to complete the purchase. It’s built on a platform developed for travel agents and can search for fare trends over time, track prices of certain routes and help you set up email notifications when prices drop.

The “search by map” function allows you to see fares to the major destinations on a map. It’s a great way to narrow down the cheapest destination in Europe in March, for example.

Kiwi

Kiwi is a flight search engine that helps you find the cheapest flight possible by combining different airlines and segments. 
If you like to visit several destinations in one trip, their multicity search is easy to use. Graphics on a map will show the flight price at various destinations. Click on your cities of choice, add dates and Kiwi will list your low airfare options for easy booking.

Skyscanner

Skyscanner is a travel aggregator – they don’t sell flights directly but show you a list of flights with a link to the website offering the deal that you click on to complete the purchase.

It’s the best website if you’re flexible. You can select “Everywhere” to find the cheapest destinations on your chosen dates. Or you can enter your destination and choose to search for neighboring airports as well. Search for specific dates or choose from a monthly calendar to see the lowest fares.

Travelocity

Travelocity is an online travel website that’s been around for 23 years. They offer a Price Match Guarantee if you find a lower price at another U.S. website for the same reservation (within 24 hours of booking). You’ll get a refund on the price difference and a $50 coupon to use on a future booking.

Travelocity will also let you cancel your flight for free within 24 hours of booking it for most airlines.

Timing is everything – the cheapest days to fly

Some days are cheaper to travel than others. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are usually the cheapest days, while Fridays and Sundays are the most expensive.

There are also expensive times of the year when travel demand is high. Flying to Europe in July and August is expensive. Avoid flying during Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holidays if you want to save on airfare.
Play around with your dates—departing one or two days earlier or later may save you hundreds of dollars. Google Flights and Skyscanner let you look at an entire month’s calendar to find the cheapest day to fly.

Don’t wait to book

If you find a cheap ticket, act fast. The fare you’re seeing may be an error fare that the airline has to honor. Once they discover the mistake, they’ll pull it off their website.

Airlines assign fare classes to plane seats. Each class has its own price, rules and a limited amount of seats. Once that class sells out, the price is gone. The fare you found could last a couple of days or just a few hours. Don’t take any chances and book right away.

Get free trips with your points

A travel rewards credit card lets you earn free travel by giving you points for every dollar you spend on gas, groceries and everyday expenses. Depending on whether or not you’re loyal to a certain hotel brand or airline, you can find a travel reward credit card that’s right for you.

Capital One Venture Rewards, Discover it Miles and Chase Sapphire Rewards credit cards make it simple to earn points that can be redeemed for plane tickets from a variety of airlines.

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp, Blue Delta SkyMiles American Express and Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus credit cards are some of the best travel reward credit cards when you want to rack up points for free plane tickets from a specific airline.

Budget airlines can be worth the lack of perks

Budget airlines could be well worth the savings if you travel prepared. You may not get catered meals, complimentary blankets or in-flight entertainment, but if you go with the right mindset, the savings are worth it. Especially on shorter flights.

Some of the most popular budget airlines include:

When booking with a budget airline, do some research first. Many charge fees for baggage, overhead bin space or printed boarding passes. If you travel light, know their fees and bring your own food and drink, flying on a budget airline could be worthwhile.

If you want it done right, do it yourself

Sometimes you’re better off booking your own flight connections instead of letting an airline do it for you. Most airlines will book a 1.5 to three-hour layover. But you may save money if you choose a longer time between flights. Is it worth it to save $200 to have a five to six hour layover? It may be – especially if you can leave the airport to explore the town you’re in or relax at the airport’s bar or coffee shop.

It may be cheaper to DIY your booking by combining a major airline flight with a local, low-cost budget airline for the connection. Just remember that most budget airlines don’t check your bags through to your final destination, so allow yourself enough time to get your bags and check them in with the other airline for the next flight.

Stay on top of airline sales and errors

Sign up for your favorite airline or online travel site email newsletter. You’ll be the first to hear about sales to snag the best fare.

Mistake and error fares happen, and when they do they don’t last long. If you’ve been looking for the cheapest flights for a certain destination and see a fare that’s unusually low, you’ve probably found an error fare.

Book this ticket right away – the airline will honor all booked error flights, even if it’s a loss to them. If you found the fare through a travel search engine, write down the flight details and try to book the fare directly through the airline to ensure they honor the fare.

Switch up your airline game – mix and match your tickets

Don’t be afraid to mix and match your tickets. Most travel sites like Kiwi and Skyscanner will allow you to do this. Arriving in one airport with one airline and departing from a different airport and different airline may be cheaper. It’s all perfectly legal and a great way to save money.

Bottom line

Finding the cheapest flight to anywhere is easier today than ever, thanks to the many online booking tools and the use of the right travel reward credit cards. The more flexible you are with your travel dates and destination, the more likely you’ll score the best flight deal.

If you’re worried that a fare you’ve found on a travel aggregator or search engine is too good to be true, check and see if you can book the fare through the airline’s website. If you can’t find it, contact the airline and ask them to match the fare if you book directly through them. In most cases, they’ll honor the price you found.