Do you wonder how I get cheap airline tickets round trip from Northern California to Rome for $300 or to Bangkok for $400? Here are my methods, which aren’t secret and don’t involve credit cards points or anything else complicated. Also, I book directly on the airline’s website, not through a 3rd party. That way if there’s a problem I can deal directly with the airline.
Note that flights to Asia are often $100 less when departing from Los Angeles (LAX). And, they’re more regularly a lower price to Europe if departing from New York City or Washington DC.
How Far Ahead of Time Do I Book Flights?
Generally, I book a flight 2 to 6 months ahead of time. I enjoy trip planning and that takes time. Also, I have to schedule my time away with work, personal life, and all the normal things of someone who has a job and family.
Strategy for Finding Cheap International Flights
When searching for cheap airline tickets don’t have a particular destination in mind. Step one is: find out where cheap flights are going from your home airport (be sure to expand this to airports an hour or two away if it’s worth saving a few hundred dollars to you). Then decide if you would like to visit that place (or a neighboring county or region). The main thing is to make it across the ocean as cheaply as possible. You’ll see why by the time you finish reading.
Usually, you have 1 to 5 days to book a flight at the super low price before it disappears. This is because often these are mistake fares or error fares. Once the airline realizes their error they fix it and the flight price increases back to normal.
Also, keep your schedule as flexible as possible. I find that the cheapest flights tend to be on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Also, these super cheap flights are generally during the shoulder season or low season of a destination. You can still get cheaper than normal fares during high season, though. It’s just less common.
Once you look at the airline’s flight calendar with the prices, you can see options for exact travel dates.
Cheap Flight Sites
I regularly check TravelPirates.com, since I feel it’s the best website for cheap flights. I filter for deals departing from the international airports closest to me, even if it means traveling an hour by car. It’s totally worth it to save a few hundred dollars.
Once I’ve found a great deal I’ll double-check with Google Flights or Kayak.com to confirm there isn’t a better price. This step usually turns out to be a waste of time, but it makes me feel better that I’ve confirmed I’m getting the lowest airfare possible.
You can set price alerts on websites like Airfare Watchdog. However, this is only useful if you have already decided on your destination. My strategy is finding flights that are in my budget and then visiting that place. I’m not super picky about where to travel, because if I can find a good price for Bangkok or Barcelona I can either visit those places or cheaply access somewhere nearby. The main thing is to get your cheap flight over the ocean.
TravelPirates.com also has a phone app, but if I had it I’m sure I’d be buying way too many flights. Skyscanner is a good app for browsing, but I’ve never had success finding the ridiculously cheap flights using it. However, whenever I travel I seem to meet someone who swears by it for internal flights. So, I think this app is best for finding the shorter flights. Give it a try on your iPhone or Android and see what you think.
Are Paid Lists for Cheap Flights Worth It?
I had seen cheap flight email lists for a few years and figured they were a waste of time. My holdbacks were: Are the flights cheaper than what I can find on my own? Am I going to be spammed with a bunch of emails I don’t want?
What finally convinced me to join? A fellow travel blogger told me he was preparing for a long weekend in New Zealand flying from California since the roundtrip flight was only $400. What?!?! He told me, “The savings on one airfare more than paid for my list subscription.”
Sold! I signed up for the free list that day and tried it out for a few weeks before joining the paid list ($39 per year). It turned out that step 1 is to set your home region, so you only get emails that are relevant to you. This avoids all the irrelevant flights departing from cities far away.
Initially, I was on the free list and received emails mostly to destinations I didn’t find appealing, but once in a while, a good one cropped up. The destination was in the subject line, so I didn’t open most of the emails. Now that I’m paying I get what I feel are better destinations and better deals. I receive about 5 emails each week.
Scotts Cheap Flights List is Worth the Money
I selected Scott’s Cheap Flights since that’s what my friend used, but there are a few others out there. They also have a website, if you prefer not to receive emails.
Scott’s Cheap Flights free option doesn’t email the information out as fast (so less time to make a decision on booking the flight). Both the free and the paid options allow you to set your departure region. So, if you live in Texas, just set your home region accordingly and don’t get bombarded with irrelevant information about flights departing from California or New York. Departure points outside of the USA are also available.
If you join an email list, I suggest watching what comes through for a few weeks before buying any flights, unless some deal is exactly what you’ve been looking for. This is because popular destinations come through the list repeatedly at various prices. The prices can vary considerably, so watch and learn before buying. For example, London and Paris airfares come through quite regularly for $400 – $500 for me. So, I knew to jump on a $300 flight to Rome. However, flights to Rome, Athens, Africa, and Japan are less common.
Scott’s Cheap Flights: $39 per year. There are also short-term subscription periods and a free option.
Next Vacay: $25 per year. You get 1 month free to try it out. If you don’t like it after 6 months you can cancel. Read the fine print before paying to make sure that’s still current information.
How to Use Facebook for Cheap Flights
Facebook tracks us incessantly and you may find that disturbing or annoying. I certainly do! On the upside, if you click on travel-related things a few times, it’ll get to know what you want. And, this is where advertisements are really helpful– you will get colorful ads from airlines or websites spouting about their airfare deals. Click on a few of them occasionally. This lets Facebook know you want to continue receiving them. Also, sometimes these are really good fares. Last year I clicked through on an ad and got a great airfare to Barcelona.
You can also follow TravelPirates and similar websites via their Facebook pages.
From a major hub airport like Bangkok or Paris, you can easily fly a low-cost carrier to another country or island or city or take a bus or train to wherever you’d rather be. If you book far enough ahead of time (sometimes a week is enough) the cost is about $30-$50 each way. Low-cost airlines I’ve used:
- Indonesia: Lion Air
- Southeast Asia: Air Asia (they sometimes have good deals on their ‘books’ of tickets for 5 legs)
- Europe: train and bus
Tip: Get yourself across the ocean as cheaply as possible. That means if you want to visit Amsterdam, but the cheap flight is to Brussels, take it! Hop a train or cheap flight between cities and save money overall. Also, visit another town or city along the way, if you have time.
If you end up on a “no frills” airline for a long flight don’t pre-order food and water. You can buy your meal on the plane, but even better is stopping at a bakery or deli on the way to the airport and bringing your own snack or sandwich. Bring your own water bottle and be sure to fill it up in the airport after passing through security. For the flattest, lightest bottle I know of, try Platypus. I’ve used them for years and take mine everywhere.
Carry On Luggage Only
Depending on the airline you may have a free baggage allowance on your flight. However, if you’re on a discount airline, you generally pay for checked baggage (plus food and water, as mentioned above). And, if you want to fly low-cost regional airlines between islands or cities you will have smaller baggage allowances than for an international flight.
Review the checked-baggage fee as this can be $25-$75 per bag each way! I saw an airline that charges per leg, so if you fly Texas to London and then London to Paris you pay the baggage fee twice!! Also, sometimes you have to select your checked baggage option when buying your ticket, or the fee increases later and is astronomical at the airport.
Pro Tip: A Luggage Scale Saves Stress When Packing
Investing in a little travel scale for around $10 changed my life! Now I pack and prepare at home without worrying about getting caught ‘overweight’. I don’t check baggage on trips which range from 2-6 weeks. Click here to read how I travel carry on only for long trips.
When is the Best Time to Book a Cheap Flight?
Whenever you find it, of course! Haha!
Ok, seriously, with the lists and website a good flight deal can disappear at any time, but Scott’s Cheap Flights typically advises that the deal will last 1-2 days. Sometimes they last several days. It’s a risk to wait, but another deal will come along, so don’t despair if you miss one.
Although the time to book the cheapest flights ends quickly, the flights are usually for 2-6 months in the future.
Pro Tip: Check the Weather of Your Destination
Many deals are not for the high season at the destination. I learned the hard way that you should always check the weather of your destination before booking a flight. Just google “Amsterdam December weather” for example. It’s easy and quick, but don’t forget it.