5 min read
May 4, 2022
As travel begins to get easier and ramp back up I wanted to share my sort of system I use to find cheap flights. I wanted to share my system because I think it's pretty easy to set up and people could find value from it. Finding cheaper flights equates to your money goes farther and hopefully means you can go on more trips. In my friend group I am typically the guy always trying to drum up interest in some cheap flight I found and I want others to be that for their friend groups!
Before we get into the nitty gritty I do want to preface that there are a few core principles to get us in the mindset of finding cheap flights. Of course we all want to fly nonstop to our destination in first class, but that always isn't feasible if we are wanting to save money. A bit of flexibility goes a long way in the cheap flight hunt.
Tuesday - Thursday and Saturdays seem to be typically the cheaper days to fly. Non holiday weeks (or months) are also typically cheaper to fly than busier times. If you can move your trip to a non holiday weekend or fly on a Wednesday afternoon this can be a huge source of savings.
If your ultimate goal is to get to Paris or London that's great and there are deals to be had! But because they are busy business and tourism routes it can often times be easier to fly cheaply elsewhere in Europe (like Lisbon, Madrid, etc.) and then figure out a way to your destination with a cheaper inter Europe/Asia/Wherever flight. Not the most convenient but I like to look at it as getting 2 cities in a trip for less than the price of one when you do it right.
Bigger airports tend to have better deals just because of the sheer number of flights and airlines flying out of them. I typically try to fly out of Minneapolis, but the best deals are typically out of Chicago as they have twice the airlines and flights that we do up here. If the deal is good enough, i'll find a way to get to Chicago for a great deal (like $350 tickets to Japan)
Layovers can be a hassle and add complexity to your trip, especially in the era of covid. Airlines know this and often will charge less for flights that require a layover. If the difference is only $50-100 maybe it's not worth it, but often stopping somewhere can save big bucks.
In the US we can cancel any flight for a full refund within 24 hours of booking. Even if you aren't sure you fully want the flight, if it is a mistake fare or seems too good to be true book it and make a more coherent decision later. My biggest miss from not booking fast enough was missing business class flights for $675 on Cathay Vietnam - US.
If you're twenty-plus, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel - as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them - wherever you go.
- Anthony Bourdain
Alright now that we have that all settled, let's jump into the how and the actual steps I take to find cheap flights.
Google flights is by far the most flexible and fast way of searching a ton of routes at once. Their calendar feature is also pretty nice to get a quick idea of what days might be cheaper. You can also search multiple departure and destination airports at once, which is by far one of the best ways to quickly find deals. For example you can enter something like this:
origin: MSP, ORD, MKE, MSN, MDW
destination: LHR, LIS, MAD, BCN, AMS
And that would search every single combination between the origin and destination airports to find the best price. A great way to quickly test a ton of destinations.
While I spend a lot of time just kind of browsing and searching for flights I think I want to take I also want deals coming to me. To do this I use a mix of free and paid tools to automatically send me cheap flight deals or I check places where they are aggregated.
IFTTT is a service that allows you to set up automations with no code for things on the internet. I use the RSS to email automation to have IFTTT automatically send me deals when cheap flight blogs post deals from the airports I want to fly from. This sounds complex, but the UI is really easy essentially all you have to do is:
I may do a larger tutorial on this but that's essentially the setup I use.
Fare drop is a product made from two Youtubers Kara & Nate that I have watched. It's essentially like Scotts Cheap Flights but much more targeted in my opinion. You can set your departure airports and how much you'd be willing to spend to travel to other regions around the world. They also have separate filters for both economy & business just in case a really good deal were to pop up.
I would say lately this is where I have gotten some great alerts for cheap deals other than doing my own searches on Google Flights. Definitely worth checking out.
Flyertalk is the original forum for aviation geeks. It also happens to be a place where mistake fares and good deals are often posted. I will check here periodicallly to see if there are some good deals or something I missed. Over the years it has gotten a little worse in quality but you can often still find deals.
Am I missing any good tips or tricks? Would love to hear what other people do to find cheap flights for themselves!