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Don't forsake incredible travel experiences because of rising ticket costs. Just book flights intelligently. (Photo: Fuse/Thinkstock)

What Are the Cheapest Ways to Fly?

I'm nervous about rising ticket prices and added fees. Can I still travel regularly without breaking the bank?

Cheap travel plane tickets cheap flights OutsideOnline
Greg Melville

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Unless you work for an airline, cheap tickets can be hard to come by. But don’t lose hope—you can book a great vacation without breaking the bank.

Search by Leg

When you’re booking flights on an online travel aggregator, search for each leg separately. Sometimes you can get better deals on one-way fares than by looking for the lowest-priced round-trip ticket. 

Book Fully Refundable

Sounds counterintuitive, but if you know your travel plans far in advance, book the cheapest fully refundable flight you can find. Then, keep shopping for bargains up until the last possible moment. When a better deal comes along, you can jettison your refundable ticket.

Sign Up for Alerts

The best way to know when a travel deal is available is when the airlines notify you directly of their latest getaway deals. You might consider creating a separate email address to sign up for travel alerts from all of the major airlines. Check it a couple of times a week to see where the deals are—and if one includes your favorite destination.

Get Some Credit

Adding another credit card to your wallet isn’t an ideal situation, but airline-offered cards pay you back with some sweet deals. Just for enrolling, you often automatically receive 25,000 to 40,000 frequent-flier miles, which is already enough for a free domestic round-trip ticket. With most airline credit cards, you also accrue one or two miles for every $1 you spend with it—and there are other bonuses. The Gold Delta Sky Miles American Express, for example, gives you an additional 30,000 miles if you spend $1,000 in the first thee months. The US Airways Premier World MasterCard gives you two free companion tickets per year when you buy one ticket. And the United MileagePlus Explorer Card lets you check your first bag for free and gives you priority boarding and miles that don't expire.

Depart on a Wednesday

On average, Wednesday is the cheapest day to fly, according to many airline experts, such as FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney. Wednesdays and Tuesdays are also the best days to find cheap fares—with the best deals often found in the morning.

Use Those 24 Hours

If you absolutely must book a flight as soon as possible, know that U.S. airlines are required to allow you to cancel your reservation and refund your money—even if it’s a nonrefundable fare—during the first 24 hours after you book it. If the price drops the next day, cancel the reservation. If it doesn’t, hold onto it. If you plan to use this strategy, make sure you book directly through the airline, because it can be a hassle to cancel through a third party, regardless of the law.

Got a Student ID?

Some student-travel organizations still get bulk access to budget plane tickets. The most notable of these brokers is STA Travel.

Use an Agent

Yes, even in the age of Internet pricing, travel agents can still sometimes find you better, unpublished deals.