Here's an awesome collection of information about booking cheap flights. Why pay more? Do some research. Stay over Saturday night. Be flexible. Clear your cookies. Compare and shop and save.
- Do your research
- Clear your cookies
- Check fare-comparison sites
- Keep track of the fare to see if it drops
- Use a travel-bidding site
- Fly with a courier service
- General Tips
- Nobody wants to overpay for a flight. If you're a mere mortal, you probably don't have the luxury of pulling up to an airline ticket counter at the last minute—like the contestants in The Amazing Race—and purchasing an expensive last minute fare. Here, we're going to give you advice on how to get to where you want to go, in the cheapest way possible.
Step 1: Do your research
- Before you go looking for a good price, it helps to know what a good price is. Five minutes of research will give you the lay of the airfare land.
- Check to see if there are peak travel months for your destination.
- For example, if you are traveling from the United States to Sydney, Australia or Wellington, New Zealand, ticket prices are much more expensive from December to March (summer in Australia and New Zealand) than in July and August. Airfare to Reykjavik from the US, on the other hand, is significantly lower in December than in June.
- Good resources for this information include Frommer's and Lonely Planet's "When To Go" section for your destination.
- Check to see if there are deals being offered for your destination.
- The best site for this is Airfare Watchdog. The staff goes through every airline's deals and compiles them several times per week.
- Websites such as Smarter Travel's Deals at a Glance and TravelZoo's Airfare section can also tell you what deals are available from your departure point to your destination.
- Farecast predicts based on historical data both whether current airfares are a good deal and whether airfares for a destination are rising, falling, or staying the same. They claim to be almost 75% accurate, although a Seattle Times test established an accuracy rate closer to 61%.
Step 2: Clear your cookies
- Airline sites can be sneaky; they use small files of information called "cookies" normally used to store your user ID and preferences in order to figure out what airfares you've been researching. Clearing the cookies for those sites will erase your electronic trail. You may want to do this several times during this process.
- However, it will also erase whatever log-in you have stored on your computer for all websites, so make sure you remember your user names and passwords!
How to clear your cookies in Firefox for the Mac
- Version 2.0 and higher:
- Go to the Firefox menu, and select "Preferences"
- Click the "Privacy" tab.
- Under "Private Data", click "Clear Now"
- Check only the "Cookies" box.
- Click "Clear Private Data Now"
How to clear your cookies in Firefox for Windows
- Version 2.0 and higher:
- Go to the Tools menu and select "Options".
- Click "Privacy".
- Select "Clear Now".
- Check only the "Cookies" box.
- Click "Clear Private Data Now"
- Click "OK".
How to clear your cookies in Internet Explorer
- Version 7.0 and higher:
- Go to the Tools menu to "Internet Options".
- Click on the "General" tab.
- In the Browsing History section click "Delete".
- Click "Delete Cookies".
- Click "Yes".
- Click "Close".
- Click "OK".
How to clear your cookies in other browsers and versions
- Please see Mahalo's How to Delete Web Browser Cookies.
Step 3: Check fare-comparison sites
- Once upon a time, travelers would look to big bookers like Orbitz and Expedia to find the cheapest airfare listed, and then go to the individual airline's website to get that fare even more cheaply. They also had to go to specific low-cost airline websites, like Southwest, JetBlue in the US, and EasyJet and RyanAir overseas. Now fare-comparison sites allow you to check all these sites at once to get the best airfare. One click on your preferred trip brings you to the travel-booking page.
- Go to Kayak, SideStep, or Yahoo! Farechase.
- Type in your departure airport and destination airport.
- You can increase your chances of getting a cheap airfare by checking the "Show Nearby Airports" boxes under the "From" and "To" fields.
- Enter your departure and return dates.
- Use the pull-down menus to select the time you want to travel. If you select "Anytime", you will increase your chances of getting a better price.
- Select the number of travelers.
- Click "Search".
- Some information will immediately appear. It will take a minute or two for all the results to fill in. The bar at the top of the page will inform you how close the website is to having all results.
- Use the controls in the left-hand bar to refine your search results.
- If you see a great deal, click on "Select" (in Kayak or SideStep) or "Go!" (in Yahoo! FareChase).
- Kayak will immediately send you to the appropriate website to book your flight.
- In SideStep, click "Select Flight". You will be sent to the appropriate website to book your flight.
- In Yahoo! FareChase, click "Go!". You will be sent to the appropriate website to book your flight.
Step 4: Keep track of the fare to see if it drops
- Several airlines and booking services have a "best fares" guarantee; if the fare drops by midnight on the same ticket (itinerary and class), you can get the difference refunded. See below for links to these guarantees.
- Familiarize yourself with the best fare guarantee (if it exists) for your airline or booking service.
- Check back on the airline website until midnight to see if the fare drops.
- Input your information into Yapta, which will track fare shifts for you.
- If the fare drops, follow the instructions provided by the airline or booking service.
- American Airlines: Get American's Lowest Fares At AA.com Fare difference refund plus $50 promotion code toward a future ticket
- Continental Airlines: Low Fare Guarantee $100 Electronic Travel Certificate
- United Airlines: Low Fare Guarantee Fare difference refund plus $50 travel certificate
- Northwest Airlines: Best Fare Guarantee Fare difference refund plus $50 voucher toward future flight
- Frontier Airlines: Low Fare Guarantee 2,500 frequent flyer miles
- Travelocity: Low Price Guarantee Fare difference refund plus $50 credit toward future purchase
- Expedia: The Expedia Best Price Guarantee Fare difference refund plus $50 travel coupon
Step 5: Use a travel-bidding site
- If you are flexible about your travel times and airlines, you can bid for a plane ticket on Priceline. Remember, they can book you to travel at any time in a 24-hour period, so this is only recommended for longer trips - and, according to people who frequently bid on travel, it is much more difficult to get a great deal on these sites than it used to be.
- Go to the sites Bidding For Travel or Better Bidding.
- On Bidding For Travel, scroll down to the Airline Tickets section, and look for the forum appropriate to your trip. On Better Bidding, go under "Other Deals" to the "Airfare" forum.
- Review the posts in the forum to get an idea of the winning bids for trips similar to yours. This will give you the information you need to make an informed bid, as well as an idea of the kinds of flights you might be booked onto.
- Go to Priceline.
- Click on "Save More - Name Your Own Price".
- In the pop-up window that appears, type in your departure and destination airport and dates. Click "Next."
- Select the airports you wish to fly into and out of. Note the nearby airports - you'll need this information if you re-bid.
- Type the price you want to pay in the "Name Your Own Price" window. Remember, this is the price you will pay before fees.
- Type the passenger info into the Passenger and Ticket Information section.
- Click "Next".
- Review the cost of the ticket after fees. You may find it's significantly different!
- If you are still interested, initial the Important Information section, and fill out your payment information.
- Click "Buy My Tickets Now".
If your bid is rejected
- If your bid is rejected, close your browser, re-open it, and re-access Priceline.
- Type in an alternate nearby airport for either your departure or destination airport. Click "Next".
- In this window, check the airports you actually want to fly into and out of.
- Increase your bid by about $25. Click "Next".
- Repeat as necessary until either it gets too expensive or your bid is accepted.
Step 6: Travel light and fly with a courier service
- Many corporations need to get documents or items to an overseas destination quickly. The best way for them is to use an air courier service; the courier carries the documents or checks the items as their checked baggage, and in return the courier service pays part of the courier's ticket price. Items in checked baggage clear customs much faster than those sent by a shipping company. Don't do this if you like to bring lots of clothes with you; it's strictly carry-on only for your personal gear. You must have a valid passport and be able to fly (in the US) out of New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, DC, or Miami. Destinations are also somewhat limited, and you can't bring a friend or partner.
- There are two different ways to find your flight.
- Register with a courier service. The fee is usually around $50. The International Association of Air Travel Couriers is well-known and very respectable. Frommer's recommends the Air Courier Association and Courier Travel.
- You can save even more money if you do your own legwork and contact the courier services directly. Jupiter Air, for example, flies to Asia.
- The more flexible you are, the cheaper you will travel. There are often flights that need couriers only a few days before departure; the cost of these flights are lowered as the date nears. You may need to change your date of travel by a couple of days to get these fares.
- Check the courier service's website to see what flights are available. If you see a great deal, book it immediately; prices change frequently.
- When you book your flight, the courier service will require a deposit, often of several hundred dollars. This is to ensure you appear for your departure and return flights and will be refunded after your return.
- The courier company will send you your itinerary and instructions on where to go and what to do.
- Dress business casual for the flight and bring only carry-on luggage.
- Courier companies generally have a pre-existing relationship with the airline; they will check the freight for you. You will carry the paperwork and meet a courier company representative at your point of departure and arrival.
- The more flexible you are about when you travel, the more likely you are to find a cheap fare.
- Alternate airports in your departure or destination area may have cheaper fares. Broaden your search.
- Spectacular deals don't last. If you see a fantastic flight deal, book it immediately.
- Sign up for email alerts for deals on airline websites. Also try Airfare Watchdog's email alerts; they compile all the specials from your selected airport.
- Buying separate tickets for each leg of the trip can save you money. However, if one flight is delayed, you may have little recourse if you miss your next flight.
- If you will also need a hotel at your destination, booking a package vacation can save you money on both.
Resources for How to Book a Cheap Flight
Cheap Flight and Cheap Travel Search Engines
- Mobissimo: Airfare Search Engine
- Kayak.com: Searches 140+ travel sites at once
- Airfarewatchdog.com: Lists low airfares on all airlines
- Travelzoo: Airfares
- SideStep: Traveler's Search Engine
- Yahoo! Travel: FareChase
- Orbitz: Travel Search
- Expedia: Travel Search
- Travelocity: Travel Search
- Cheaptickets.com: Travel Search
- Trabber.com: Europe-based Airfare Search
- Cfares: Wholesale Airfare Search Engine
- Smarter Travel: Deals at a Glance
Travel Bidding Resources
- Priceline: Name Your Own Price
- BiddingForTravel.com: Priceline Advice
- BetterBidding: Priceline Advice
- International Association of Air Travel Couriers: FAQ
- AirCourier.org: Courier Flights
- Couriertravel.org: Courier Flight Search Engine
General Travel Sites
Articles on How to Book a Cheap Flight
- ProBargainHunter.com: How to buy cheap airline tickets (January 8, 2007)
- PlaneTickets.com: How To Buy Cheap Plane Tickets - Practical Rules to Remember
- CNNMoney.com: How to score a cheap airline ticket (October 27, 2006)
- AOL Travel: Cheap Plane Tickets - Why You're Not Finding Them
- AOL Travel: Airline Insider's Guide to Cheap Airfares
- SoYouWanna.com: SoYouWanna Find a Cheap Plane Ticket?
- The New York Times: How to Fly As a Courier (February 17, 2002)
- Upgrade: Travel Better: Track airfare before and AFTER you buy? (May 16, 2007)
- FareCompare: Same Day Cheapest Airline Ticket Refunds - Hype or Hope?
- The Independent Traveler: A Peek at Peak Travel
- GigaOM: Fare-Finder Shootout: Mobissimo Wins (December 21, 2007)
- The Seattle Times: How accurate is Farecast's forecast of airline fares? (November 13, 2006)
- Dumb Little Man: How to Score Free Airline Vouchers by Reserving Overbooked Flights (March 5, 2008)
- Airport Explorer: Best Sites for Cheap Flights: Tips for Finding the Lowest Airfare
- Howcast: How to Find Cheap Airfare