5 tips for scoring the cheapest flight deals

May 1 2019, 2:34 pm

In addition to bragging rights and a big payoff for some tedious work, there’s a certain thrill that comes with booking an ultra-cheap flight. A good deal means you can now justify booking off work, or splash out a little more during your holiday. Heck, you might even buy rounds at the tiki bar.

That said, truly impressive deals aren’t very easy to come by and finding them can feel like sifting for a needle in a haystack in a wheat field. What does it take to find those mythical fares?

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We’ve gathered strategies from experts who find ridiculous deals for a living. Put these 5 tips into action the next time you’re shopping for a flight and book like a pro.

1. Be flexible

If you’re truly hunting for the cheapest flight price, then it will have to be a priority over destination and dates. When most people go about booking airfare, they usually already have a destination and travel dates in mind. While there may be a few days of wiggle room on either end, that is not the type of flexibility that will afford you the best prices. To book flight deals worth bragging about, the best approach is to go at it backward. Target cheap flights without dates or locations restricting you. It takes a little foresight and effort to search well before any travel plans materialize, but we guarantee that if you take a look now, you’ll find a great deal to jump on, and your future self will thank you later.

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2. Book ahead

Last minute airfare deals don’t really exist. It seems to be a common misconception that flight fares drop at the very last minute so that airlines can fill seats. Flight experts argue that although this can happen sometimes it is, unfortunately, not a trend. Those who hold out until the last minute will not be magically rewarded with glitter, unicorns, and the cheapest possible fare. On the contrary, prices go up closer to departure. Why? Because of the laws of economics. We recommend booking in advance and, as mentioned, being flexible. Take a look at our article on how far in advance to book your flight to get the best deal for some data-driven timelines to go by.

3. Book first, think later

How many times have you researched flight prices, only to watch them rise each time you check back? Yeah, that’s a real thing. Take advantage of airline cancellation policies — trust your gut, jump on the deal, and mull over your actions during the 24 to 48 hour grace period. Is this adulting? Perhaps not. Is this a good way to avoid the price of a flight going up because you couldn’t pull the trigger? Heck yeah!!! Just be prepared to call customer service about your oopsie within the allotted time.

4. Be loyal to a good deal, not an airline

If your grandmother ever gave you dating advice like “collect and select,” what she didn’t tell you was that she was also talking about courting airlines. There are clear benefits to airline loyalty, from racking up miles to being treated as a frequent flyer. But if you truly value bargain flights above all else, then you should be open to any airline who offers you a competitive price — no guilt needed. Although we respect and promote the principle of giving your business to a company you respect, do it knowing that the approach can stop you from getting the hottest flight deal.

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5. Find a deal aggregator

There are people out there whose mission is to round up the best flight prices. These folks book far in advance, search all destinations and go hard after ultra-low mistake fares. What are we doing if we’re not taking advantage of their hard work?

Scott’s Cheap Flights compiles a newsletter with the best international flight deals, curated by travel expert Scott Keyes. What makes him a travel expert? Well, he managed to book a trip to 13 counties around the world for free. So yeah, we’d say he’s an expert. Subscribe, set your departure airport, and stand by for juicy alerts.

Canadian folks can also check out YVR Deals, YYC Deals, YUL Deals, and YYZ Deals who curate a similar newsletter for folks in their province.

Another option is The Flight Deal, who only publish fares that are six cents USD per mile or less. They specialize in mistake fares — deals so low it’s clearly a mistake waiting for you to take advantage. They also provide detailed instructions on how to find the flight on ITA Matrix (more on them below). Be sure to follow The Flight Deal on social media to be the among the first to spring on the mistake fares they single out.

ITA Matrix is an aesthetically underwhelming search engine (rather than aggregator) that MIT computer scientists developed, which explains why it looks so meh but works. ITA Matrix is now owned by Google and runs on the same software that powers Google Flights and KAYAK. 

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Got any secrets you’re willing to divulge for the greater good of all travellers? Give us a shout at [email protected]!