Looking for the best deal on travel? Here are our tips for booking cheap flights anywhere in the world:
There are a number of aggregate searches available out there – our two favorites of the bunch are Kayak and Skyscanner. These two sites will search hundreds of others to find you the best flight based on your search criteria. Some travelers prefer the most direct journey while others have time restrictions or care more about price. These search interfaces will allow you to slice and dice the results any way you please. You can additionally use the flexible dates feature to determine the best/cheapest option within a range of dates. The explore feature on Kayak even allows you to check out options on a map to see if one location may be cheaper than another depending on your plans and flexibility.
So then that’s all you need to know right? Well, not exactly.
Use these aggregators carefully. Kayak was bought by Priceline in recent years and since then, it presents the same potential problem that Skyscanner does – they don’t just aggregate flights directly from the airlines, but also show options from third party services.
What are the potential problems with third party services?
This means you are subject to the rules and regulations set forth by the third party, not the airlines themselves. So be sure to check them before booking.
When you purchase tickets through these third parties, you are really paying that service and then they are buying the tickets on your behalf (the tickets are not booked immediately, but will typically be sent in an additional email with 24 hours from the third party).
The rules and regulations of the third party may result in different cancellation policies than what you are used to, different change policies/fees and sometimes absolute inflexibility – it all depends on who you book with. And once you book with a service, you can’t go directly to the airline as they were paid by the service and will send you back to the service for any further communications.
The other thing to consider with these third party services is that their customer service standards may also be different than what you have grown accustomed to. Check out their website and be sure they have a phone number where an actual human can be reached before booking. Many of these new pop-up services have no real customer service to speak of and expect you to submit an online form, often times leaving you in a pickle if you encounter any problems with the tickets.
My suggestion for avoiding this issue:
Only use the aggregators to source flights, but do not book through them if they plan to send you to a third party. When you get to the purchasing stage – the aggregator sites will show you a matrix of purchasing options (and at the very least where you are being redirected). If you cannot choose to buy directly through the airline at this point, simply write down the flight numbers and visit the airline’s official site to book directly through them.
Another potential problem…
These sites are not responsible for understanding your visa requirements, so be sure you can get in where you are going (including transit points). You can find requirements for US citizens here. You may assume that because you are only having a layover somewhere that a visa is not required. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.
Here are two scenarios I can give from personal experience:
Russia has a number of international airports, only a subset of them have a transfer area for international transit passengers without a visa. This means that if you happen to book a flight that has a layover in one of the airports without a transfer area (which is never clearly stated – you’d have to seek out the information through research), you will not be allowed on the flight without a Russian Visa (which can only be obtained with a formal invitation letter in advance).
Another situation you could get into is one where something goes wrong on your first plane and a delay causes you to miss your connection. If this happens and you are held up in a country that requires a visa, you must remain within the airport transit area while you wait for the next plane (with bad luck this could actually mean days). So just check on your stopovers – and be sure you feel comfortable with the route, taking into account all kinds of scenarios!
Price not good enough on the aggregators?
While the aggregators do an excellent job of finding combination flights, but they don’t have every provider and potential route indexed, so it may still be possible to find a cheaper flight with a little manual labor and elbow grease.
If you want to try this method here are my recommendations:
1. Understand your overall route and the biggest airports that fall in between your start and end points. You can then manually build a route that combines a few one way flights.
2. Look into the local carriers in the region (often times there are many). This list can be found here. Using this method I’ve found one ways to Asia from the US for $450 – flights from Korea to Japan for $39 – and flights from England to Spain for $19.
3. Play with the dates and even the time of day you are booking. Research has shown that the best time for booking cheap flights is mid-week, early morning. You would be shocked how much prices can fluctuate within a week. If you can be slightly flexible with your travel dates, you have higher odds of snagging a deal, as leaving a day earlier or later may make a difference.
One last word of advice:
Do note the fine print on your reservations – often times cheap flight prices can look too good to be true. There are nickel and dime carriers that will suck you in with a low advertised price and then make up the difference with luggage fees, seat selection fees, charges for water on the plane and so on. These additional charges will be stated as you book – just sometimes in very small print or not in the location you would expect. Keep an eye out as these can add up very quickly – and it often times means the mid-range price actually ends up being the best deal.
As we discover additional ways for booking cheap flights we will add to this post. Feel free to comment and suggest your own tips below!