Throughout the pandemic, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to start going more far-flung.
Trying to find a killer deal on a flight can feel like an endless search with too many options. Every day there seems to be a new app or website claiming to have the best offers, but how do you really know if you’re getting the best one? That’s why I’ve developed systems to easily find the best-value deal, based on the timing before my travel. Do I need to book the flight immediately, or do I have time to research? Depending on the answer to that question, I employ these tools and hacks.
I Need to Book a Flight, Like, Yesterday
Whenever I need to book a flight right away, I go through the same three steps. The problem with airfare deals is that you can’t just search for a great deal on a single website. Well, you can, but you won’t find the best deal, because airfare prices change minute by minute. The old advice was to search for airfare on Tuesday or Wednesday nights, but that no longer applies now that airlines have become so competitive with each other.
Step 1: Scan Google Flights
With Google Flights, I can search by destination and the approximate dates I’m traveling, then figure out the best-priced airline-and-day combination to score a deal. Google Flights works with the majority of airlines, and it will give you a good lay of the land, helping you figure out the cheapest travel days.
Step 2: Use Momondo and Skyscanner
Once I have the information from Google Flights, I head over to Momondo and Skyscanner to search for the best price. These sites compile prices of flights from hundreds of companies, meaning you’ll likely see lower prices and more flight options than you did on Google Flights for the date you searched. You can refine your search to find out prices for economy plus, business class, and first class.
Step 3: Double-Check the Airline’s Website
After checking Momondo and Skyscanner, I go to the actual airline website and search the same flight to see how prices compare. Sometimes the airline website will have a better deal, and sometimes it won’t. There isn’t an exact science to it, so it’s essential to go through these three steps each time.
One thing to note: often the deals you find on airline-deal websites represent the lowest-price option. What that means is you have to pay extra for baggage (if that’s an option), and you can’t reserve a seat ahead of time. You’ll want to pay attention to these details if they’re important to you and change your search to include a fare with bags and a seat of your choice.
Step 4 (Bonus): Use Credit-Card Rewards
If you have any credit-card or rewards points, you’ll want to check out those sites, too, and see if you can use miles to help fund airfare. Using your credit-card points is a great way to save money, because most rewards programs will let you transfer your points to an airline or purchase the flight through their website for a discounted price. For instance, I’m a big fan of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card because if I book a flight through its rewards center, I get a 25 percent bonus reduction on the price.
I’ve Got Some Breathing Room
I have a laundry list of all the places I want to visit, so I’m always on the lookout for future deals.
Scott’s Cheap Flights sends me a ton of great travel deals. This is a membership site that charges $39 per year and, in return, sends e-mail with incredible flight and travel deals that you won’t find anywhere else. Scott’s finds peak-season deals, mistake-fare deals, and other recent deals every day. You can plug in the airport nearest to you, and the site will deliver deals that are most relevant. I took a trip to Europe last year on a mistake-fare e-mail deal and saved over $500.
Another great resource is Airfarewatchdog. On this site, you can set airfare alerts to let you know when a flight deal is available. Airfarewatchdog also features loads of airfare deals as they come available, and it shops the best deals for you. The site is ideal if you’re not set on a particular day that you want to travel and are looking for bargain when it comes along.
Lastly, Twitter is a great place to score airfare deals. I follow all the airlines I travel with, and often the airlines will post a special deal or code for its followers to use. Even if the deal is only 5 to 10 percent off the regular booking price, it’s still money you’re saving.