One of the most frequent questions people ask me is, “How do you manage to find such affordable flights?” My response is that I follow the flight deals. A flight deal is airfare that is significantly lower than the average price for the same route.
Some flight deals I have managed to snag in the past year were $245RT to Abu Dhabi, $252RT to Barranquilla, Colombia, and $396RT to Reykjavik, Iceland. Airfare and lodging are typically the most expensive costs for any trip. Saving on air fare is a great way to leave more wiggle room in your budget for other expenses that aren’t so flexible.
There are several apps/websites that I find invaluable when scouring for flight deals. I’ve ranked them in order of user friendliness. Once you become more comfortable booking flights the sites are interchangeable and you can pick a favorite. If you’d like to get flight deals from various sites delivered directly to your Facebook timeline you can like the official Surviving on a Shoestring page here.
- The Flight Deal (http://www.theflightdeal.com/)
This site is how I first learned about flight deals. They post deals to their website, Facebook page, Twitter account, and via email newsletter. I recommend following them on all social media.
A key lesson to learn when booking flight deals is to book as soon as possible. In the travel community there is a saying, “Book first and ask questions later.” The worst thing you can do when attempting to book a great flight is hesitate or call the airline to confirm. Many international carriers have an obligation to honor error fares; however, if you alert them to the error fare they will remove it.
Because these flight prices are so low the number of people booking them is high. There are a limited amount of seats on an airplane, so these deals don’t last forever. I’ve seen some deals end in less than 30 minutes!
The Flight Deal allows you to view deals based upon your departure city. At the end of the year they publish data that shows the number of deals per airport. In case you were wondering, NYC airports (JFK, LGA, EWR) top out the list almost every year =)
- Google Flights (https://www.google.com/flights/)
This site is great for finding flight deals if you’re not too firm on your travel dates. Anyone familiar with Google’s search engine should not have much difficulty using this site. Fares that Google considers a good deal appear in green. Simply enter your desired departure airport(s) and arrival airport, dates, then search away. Google’s explore option also allows you to view a map of the world and flight prices globally based on the dates or month selected.
A huge benefit of using this site is that it allows you to sort flights based upon your preferences (number of stops, price, duration, time, etc…). It also shows you if you will save money by moving your departure or arrival date. Once you select your flight(s) you are given the option to book via an online travel agent or directly through the airline.
One other great feature on Google Flights is the ability to save your flights and track the price. Google will then populate a graph comparing the prices from the date and time that you save the flight to the current date when you next check. Once the price drops to one that you’re willing to pay, you can book.
- Hopper (http://www.hopper.com/) *App available for Android and Ios
Hopper is hands down my favorite price tracking app. If you have plans to take a trip on specific dates the app will alert you when the price is low. Hopper has collected data that allows them to predict what the lowest price for a route will be. They will also let you know the best time to purchase a ticket via push notification to your phone. I highly recommend this app to anyone who wants to passively track a flight price.
It is the ultimate set it and forget it strategy for tracking prices. Flights booked through the app are stored so you can view any details quickly. Hopper also shows you the cheapest months to buy tickets to certain destinations, via a color coded calendar.
- SkyScanner (http://www.skyscanner.com/) *App available for Android and Ios
SkyScanner is another great site/app for beginners. It has many of the same features as Google Flights. The site allows you to search for flights on specific dates or for an entire month. If you are unsure of where exactly you’d like to fly to, you can enter “everywhere” in the “To” box and SkyScanner will show you a list of flight prices from low to high.
Another feature on the site is the ability to set flight alerts. After performing a search for flights select “Get Price Alerts” and SkyScanner will email you any price changes.
- Matrix Airfare Search
When viewing a deal on The Flight Deal a majority of the time you will be advised to search for valid dates on ITA Software Matrix Airfare Search. This site is run by Google and is a more advanced version of Google Flights. There is a definite learning curve with the Matrix, since it was not created for consumers. However, if you can master it, searching for flights on other sites will seem like a breeze.
The Flight Deal has written a very useful beginner’s guide to using the Matrix here: http://www.theflightdeal.com/2013/02/14/beginners-guide-on-how-to-use-matrix-by-ita-software/ .
The advantage of using this site as opposed to the others mentioned is the exceptional speed.
Both sites below are similar to The Flight Deal. The only major difference is that both tend to feature more deals in Europe and Asia. Secret Flying also allows you to pick a departure region from anywhere in the world.