6 Simple Tips for Landing a Budget-Friendly Flight

I don’t claim to be a guru on this topic. Regardless, we almost always find cheap tickets when it counts.

For the experienced traveler, I doubt you will find anything new here. These tips are fairly common sense. I wrote this article to elaborate on the first tip in my post about budget-friendly family travel. When it comes to budget travel, half the battle is getting the cheapest flights possible since they are a significant proportion of your total trip’s cost.

I’ve tried some of the sneakier tips for getting around airlines’ convoluted pricing schemes. Searching on certain days; searching on the other country’s version of the airline’s website, searching in an incognito tab. But I can’t say I ever gained an upper hand that way.

So here it is: my simple, no-frills approach to landing the cheapest tickets.

Table of Contents

1. Flexibility = Savings

Flexibility is money saved. If you have one destination and a particular set of dates in mind, be prepared to pay dearly for a flight that meets your exact parameters. On the other hand, if you approach your destination opportunistically, you can score surprisingly cheap tickets, even to some pretty far-flung places.

If possible, try keeping an open mind and let the prices determine your direction and timing.

2. Use One or More Flight Aggregators

I always start searching for flights on SkyScanner. I turn to Google Flights next. If I’m still wanting more, I try Kiwi. For a detailed and ranked list of flight aggregators, check out this excellent resource.

Just looking to go anywhere? Then use the map feature and see where the deals are. On the other hand, if you’ve already chosen your destination, such as a country in Europe, simply find the cheapest ticket anywhere in Europe. It’s often cheaper to cover the home stretch with a low cost regional flight, a train or a bus than to book a direct flight. (You will likely need to book the regional flights and other modes of transportation separately).

If your dates are flexible, even just a little, you can use the price calendar to optimize your price. Don’t mind flying on Tuesday rather than Saturday? That could save you hundreds of dollars.

Make sure to check more than one site, especially if you don’t find a great deal right away. Prices and options can differ significantly on different platforms!

CAUTION: Beware of the list prices on these sites. Some of them are a complete lie (due to some booking sites that these aggregators search advertising false prices). Others don’t include mandatory charges. If you’re checking bags (which you should try not to) those charges can bite you, especially on budget airlines. I only use the results from these sites to get a sense of my options and which days and destinations seem cheaper than others. Just beware the the final price may not be the same low price that inspired you to click the link.

Hmmm… what’s looking cheap today?
Just for an example, I searched for Chicago to Mexico City for the entire month of February. Now I can see which days are cheaper to fly.

3. For Budget Airlines, Search the Carrier’s Website Before Booking

While I tend to start with Skyscanner to see what my options are, I make sure to do the search over in the regional airlines’ websites. That’s because the list prices are often meaningless. One time I used Google flights to narrow down to a certain day of the week that was cheapest, but not ideal, only to find on the carrier’s website that every scheduled flight for the week was the exact same base price.

Why are the prices not always accurate? Because of unbundling. They sell everything separately, even to the point of charging extra to print your ticket at check-in (unnecessary if you have a smart phone). So the price could be ten different amounts depending on what options you choose.

Feel free to turn down most things. The flexible cancellation add-on I typically assess case by case, but most of the time I waive. Don’t worry about forgoing the ability to choose your seats. Despite the scary disclaimer that they might separate all your family members, it’s as much in their interest as it is in yours to seat you with your four-year-old child. They won’t split you up.

Not paying in advance for baggage beyond the personal item, however, is a big gamble. Sometimes you can get away with it, but other times they do check.

Budget airlines are the way to go when flying regionally.
Here we are on New Years Day boarding a flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia (southern tip of the continent) for less than $200 per person. Our subsequent flight from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt — Southern to Central Chile — cost $440 total for 5 tickets, rivaling the price of inter-city bus tickets.

4. Don’t Book Too Early or Too Late

Most people know not to book last minute. But you can also book too early. Don’t think that booking five months in advance is better than two months in advance.

I don’t usually bother to book more than six months ahead. Though I did read somewhere that when they first list flights, they release them very cheap, after which the price jumps. But snagging one of those would take more knowledge, planning and forethought than I can typically count on.

The sweet spot seems to be about one to two months out, give or take. That said, a deal is a deal no matter when you find it, so it pays to start tracking prices early.

5. Use Price Tracking

All the flight aggregators have a tracking feature that send alerts when the prices change. Some (I know for sure Google flights does this) even tell you if the current price is expected to go down further.

If you hate getting tons of alert emails, which I certainly do, there is another way to stay on top of the prices. Perform the search on SkyScanner, Google Flights or wherever, copy the URL, then go to your browser settings and make it your startup page. Then every time you open your browser (which let’s face it, is probably multiple times a day) you get your update.

6. If it Looks Like a Killer Deal, Take It (And Don’t Look Back)

I’ve been burned too many times. Here is the scenario: the first search lands incredibly cheap tickets, and then I say wow, that’s wonderful and budget for that price without actually buying them. I assume those prices are average and they will hold steady, or maybe even go down. Often, this backfires and subsequent searches never land the same deal.

So my new rule of thumb is: if it looks like a good deal, then it is a good deal. It doesn’t pay to wait. Snap them up if you’re in a position to do so.

Yes, the price could go lower. But that’s the gamble. If that possibility bothers you, once you buy, make sure to turn off the price alerts.

  • Matt

    Matt is a software consultant by day and a wide ranging hobbyist at night. He enjoys baking, art, music and lives for travel experiences. But what gets him out of bed in the morning is fresh roasted coffee.


Matt is a software consultant by day and a wide ranging hobbyist at night. He enjoys baking, art, music and lives for travel experiences. But what gets him out of bed in the morning is fresh roasted coffee.

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