Finding cheap flights can be such a tedious process. Right?
No doubt you’ve felt frustrated with flight search engines before. You quickly find yourself with a hundred browser tabs open and just wanting to pull your hairs out.
But searching for cheap flights doesn’t have to be that frustrating!
By using the right tools, you can find the best options quickly. And by using the best search methods and tricks, you can save yourself a lot of time and a lot of money.
Follow this guide and you’re sure to become a flight searching ninja!
Essential tips in this guide:
- Choosing the best search engine
- Finding cheap destinations to fly to
- Finding cheaper airports to fly into
- Finding the cheapest day to fly
- Finding the cheapest time of the year
- Planning the best multi-stop route
- Keeping your searches organized
Next level tips & tricks:
- When is the best time to book?
- How to get the best seats
- Travel Hack: Saving on one-way flights
- Travel Hack: Finding super cheap mistake fares
- Travel Hack: Adding a layover to your trip
- When to search for flights manually
Myth: you have to use incognito mode
First, let’s dispel a myth. No, it doesn’t matter if you use private browsing mode when looking for flights (on any reputable sites).
It’s possible some search engines may have used nasty tricks in the past, like increasing the price if they detected you were searching for a destination often. But most likely, these were only rumors based on naturally fluctuating prices. Browsing in private mode or deleting your cookies will not get you better prices.
If prices change, it’s because the airlines changed them.
Choosing the best search engine
It’s always worth checking a few different sites, but lately I have truly come to love Kiwi. They are like the Tesla of flight search engines. They’re kicking everyone’s butts right now.
Why I think Kiwi is best:
- It has the most advanced flight searching tools
- It combines results from multiple airlines (and not just airlines that already have a codeshare)
- It’s amazing for planning trips with multiple stops or flexible dates
Also, they handle bookings themselves. On Momondo and Skyscanner, you’re often forwarded to other sites with questionable customer service like Mytrip, Bravofly, or Gotogate.
I’m recommending Kiwi simply as it’s awesome and I love using it. I’ll be using Kiwi as an example for the rest of this article.
Important: sites like Kiwi, Momondo or Skyscanner are best used as research tools. Whenever possible, I still recommend booking the actual tickets directly with the airlines — for reasons I’ll explain a bit later.
Finding cheap places to fly
Do you want to fly somewhere cheap but you’re not sure where yet?
Well, you can get a rough idea of the prices.
Just try entering ‘anywhere‘ in a search box (this also works on Skyscanner or Momondo). Hit the search button and you’ll see a beautiful map with estimated prices.
You’ll get a map that looks kinda like this.
Finding cheaper airports to fly to
As you may already know, flexibility is key when it comes to finding cheap flights. The less attached you are to particular dates, airlines, or airports to fly into, the cheaper you can fly.
If you already know your origin and destination, you can increase your chances of finding a good deal by including nearby airports.
This used to be a tedious manual process. But with Kiwi, it’s easier.
There are two ways to do it:
1. Click on a destination you’ve already set
Right-click and select Expand to Radius
2. Draw a circle on the map
Right-click anywhere and select ‘Flight to here’.
In both cases, you’ll now get a catchment circle that you can expand or contract depending on how flexible you’re willing to be.
Why do this?
Well, the cheapest airport to fly is not always the most obvious one.
For example, if you’re flying to Malaysia, it might be much cheaper to fly into neighbouring Singapore instead of Malaysia’s capital of Kuala Lumpur. If you’re going to Albania, you’ll have better luck flying into Curfu in northern Greece than to Tirana, which has only a very small airport. And if you’re going to the Netherlands, it might be much cheaper to fly into Eindhoven and then taking a train than flying into Amsterdam.
Drawing a circle on the map is the quickest and best way of finding any alternative departure or arrival points.
Here’s an example of a radius search.
Finding the cheapest day to fly
If you already know roughly when you want to travel, then changing your departure and return by just a few days can give you huge savings.
Again, finding this out used to be a manual affair. You had to try loads of dates and keep a billion browser tabs open. But now it’s much easier.
There are two ways to do it:
1. View prices in the calendar
With a departure and destination airport already set, click the date field to see lowest prices for each day.
2. Make your search flexible
With your departure and destination airport selected, click Date Range and/or Time of Stay.
Kiwi will now search for the cheapest flights at any time within the limits given.
Finding the cheapest time of the year
Okay, so the above trick is nice for optimizing your departure and return dates when you already know roughly what time of year you’ll be going.
But what about viewing the bigger picture?
How could you know what time of the year is the cheapest to go?
After all, some destinations are highly seasonal, with flights becoming easily twice as expensive in certain months. A great example is the month of August all throughout Europe, when many people take their summer holiday and prices go through the roof. Going in the shoulder or off-season can save you a ton of money.
This is the only thing that Kiwi is not yet so good at telling you. I recommend jumping to Momondo briefly to find this out.
Momondo has a cool feature called Flight Insight, which lets you take a deep dive into the cost variables for a particular route.
In a nutshell, here’s how to use it.
- Search for your intended flight route using any calendar date. Then click ‘Flight insight for [origin city] to [destination city]’ in the top right corner. (This is not yet available for every route, but it is for many popular ones.)
- You will see a graph showing all the factors affecting price, including seasonality, time of booking, day of the week, and airport.
- Hit the Seasonality tab for a graph showing the cheapest and most expensive months of the year to travel this route.
Planning the best multi-stop route
Okay, hold onto your hat, as we’re about to enter power mode.
Are you planning a round-the-world trip?
Or planning to hop around a continent over a longer period?
Or are you a nomad spending a month here and there depending on price?
Then you will surely love the Nomad search feature on Kiwi.
This is a much more powerful search feature than a normal Multi-Stop search. It’s like making a wishlist of destinations and letting the search engine figure it all out.
With Nomad search simply enter the places you want to go, select roughly how long you want to stay there, and Kiwi will take care of the rest. It will figure out the ideal time, order, and flight paths to get you the cheapest possible total package.
It’s just beautiful. I… I think I have something in my eye.
One current limitation is that the maximum stay in each place is 31 days, which might not be ideal for certain round-the-world travellers or nomads who are taking it slow.
Nevertheless, it’s the most powerful multi-stop search tool I know of.
Keeping your searches organized
Have you been searching for a while and have you stopped seeing the forest for the trees?
While browser tabs and bookmarks can help you remember your previous flight searches, you can also use the features designed specifically for this.
Set up price alerts
This will help you stay on top of any price changes without having to constantly search again. Just click Create a Price Alert.
Star your search results!
Hit the star icon next to flight options with potential.
You’ll find them all under your Starred Trips. When you come back to this overview later, the Status column will show you if anything has changed for this route or its price!
One caution with Kiwi
As you might have noticed, I love Kiwi.
But there is one thing to keep in mind: it uses “virtual interlining”
Kiwi is unique in that it sometimes displays multi-stop flights with multiple carriers (that don’t already work together through a codeshare). Normally this would mean that if Flight A gets cancelled or delayed, you’re not entitled to a refund or rescheduling for unrelated Flight B.
For these situations, Kiwi offers its own guarantee.
This is a new way of doing things, so you might find some customer reviews complaining about it. Just make sure you understand what you’re booking!
If you see this:
Then the flights are a normal one-package kind of deal.
But if you see this:
Then it means Kiwi got creative and put together two single tickets that normally aren’t sold together.
For transfers protected by Kiwi, I recommend leaving plenty of time at the airport in case of any delays. If you don’t like this way of getting cheaper tickets, go with transfers protected by the carrier.
Booking directly with the airline
While sites like Kiwi, Skyscanner and Momondo are awesome tools, you don’t always necessarily need to book through them (nor the booking sites they send you to).
For the virtual interlining combinations on Kiwi, it definitely makes sense, but for other point-to-point flights, you may want to check with the respective airline directly.
Here’s why: not all of the customer service or options you get with an airline directly will always be passed on to you by the intermediary.
For example, I once had to cancel a flight I’d booked on Kiwi. The airline itself (Vietnam Airlines) offered free cancellations. But Kiwi did not offer that free cancellation, and could only refund a pitiful $5 of the total ticket price.
Another time, I booked a flight through an intermediary and they charged 3 times more for adding more luggage allowance than the airline itself!
That’s why you should always check if the airline offers the same deal on their own website.
Whenever possible, it’s usually best to go straight to the source, if the price is the same. Only use 3rd parties if they are much cheaper or if they offer other benefits, such as guaranteeing your connections on a multi-stop flight.
The best time to book
According to research published by both Skyscanner and Momondo, the optimal timeframe to buy tickets is usually 5 to 6 weeks ahead of departure.
This is just a rule of thumb. But my personal rule is this: the best time to book is when you find an amazing deal.
I don’t think it’s a good idea to just sit around waiting until it’s 1½ months until departure. The key to a good price is typically not to leave it waiting until the last minute. I have often kicked myself for not booking what was clearly a sweet deal, then seeing the prices go up a week or two later.
The WORST time to book is within 14 days of flying. Don’t leave it too late.
Grabbing the best seats
Ready to book?
There’s one more tip I have for you.
When you get to the seat selection, it’s worth checking the site Seatguru for up-to-date airline seat maps.
Seatguru can tell you which seats are best. For instance, some regular Economy seats might be next to exits where there is more leg room than usual. Some seats are close to the toilets, bulkheads, or galleys, or might be missing a window, and are better to avoid.
Booking one-way flights
If you’re planning a one-way trip, it can sometimes be cheaper to book a return.
Due to how the airline industry works, returns are sometimes cheaper than singles. In that case, you can just use the first segment and not use the return trip. It’s always worth having a quick look to see if there are any attractively priced return flights.
Keep in mind that flying on a one-way ticket can cause problems.
Airlines can get fussy about this. You might have to show your visa and proof of onward travel. This will reassure the airline that you’ll be allowed into the destination country. If you get denied entry at immigration, they’re liable for flying you back. So if you’re on a one-way ticket, they want to be sure this won’t be happening.
Planning a layover
A layover is a short stay in a transfer city on your way to your final destination.
I’ve grown to love layovers! This year I spent time in Singapore, Beijing, and in Istanbul (between 18 to 36 hours) on my way to other destinations, as I was passing through there anyway.
Layovers let you double your destinations on your holiday, and it’s possible to do without any added cost in airfare.
You can get a rough sense of where you could insert a layover by scrolling the results and seeing which cities are used for indirect flights.
You can also force your trips to go through specific stopover airports:
Planning a layover is a bit more complicated than planning a regular trip though. I can tell you a lot more about this in my dedicated guide to planning layovers.
What about mistake fares?
You may have already heard about the phenomenon of ‘mistake fares’. These are ridiculously cheap flights that were offered by mistake, or they’re just super cheap due to a flaw in airline reservation systems.
These fares do show up on sites like Kiwi or Momondo, but they are very hard to find. And they also often disappear within a day or two.
To catch them, it’s best to subscribe to a mailing list that will send you alerts about these mistake fares. My personal favorite is Scott’s Cheap Flights. You can read how to find mistake fares here.
These kinds of services have exploded in popularity though, so you have to be lucky to catch one of the deals!
There is also often some catch, like a very long layover, or having to go the long way round.
When to search flights manually
Not all airlines are listed on the usual search engines.
This is especially true for obscure destinations, or developing countries. I mean, London to Berlin — sure. But flights between Dushanbe and Tashkent? You might not find all the options with just a search.
(Guess which countries those are the capitals of?)
Sometimes it can still be a good idea to search manually. And in these cases, surprisingly, one of the best tools you have for this is Wikipedia! It can tell you very quickly which routes between airports actually exist.
I often like to type in the name of my origin airport on Wikipedia as you’ll often get a detailed table showing which airlines fly there and on which routes.
This method was very useful to me when flying on less obvious routes. For instance, I found flights this way to some obscure islands in the Philippines, with some small domestic carriers that search engines haven’t yet included.
Some links may be affiliate links, meaning I may earn commission from products or services I recommend. For more, see site policies.