In the 21st century, traveling the world is easier and cheaper than ever before. Discount airlines, credit card points and unlimited resources make international travel accessible to even the most cash-strapped individual.
Don’t believe what everyone tells you about travel being expensive and only a “luxury” few can afford. If I can plan week-long, international trips for $900, you can too! Using the following tips, you’ll be able to find cheap flights to anywhere in the world. If you still can’t afford a trip, you just rethink where you want to go! I can’t always afford flights all the way to Asia from Florida, but if I want to get away and experience a new culture, I look for flights to closer destinations with inherently cheaper flights.
1. Be Flexible
The number one rule of finding cheap flights is flexibility (okay, maybe luck, too). If you’re flexible with your dates, where you want to go and the airport you fly out of, you’re in fantastic shape to get a phenomenal deal!
When searching for flights, whether round trip or one way, look at prices out of other nearby airports that may require a drive to get to. Sometimes airports an hour’s drive apart have $200+ differences in price to the same destination. Airport flexibility goes the same for your destination airport—look at prices into airports other than the most popular in your destination. It may end up being only a bus ride away from where you want to go. Just keep in mind, you need to factor in costs of transportation to the airport and car parking fees (if you’ll be leaving a car there for the duration of your trip).
For example: Sarasota and Tampa airports are closest to where I live, but if I really want to get the best deal on an international flight, I’ll look at flights out of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. If a flight is $100+ cheaper from one of these airports, I’ll weigh the cost of driving and planning the departure.
On my most recent trip to Europe, the cheapest flight I found was a direct, round-trip flight out of MIA on Aer Lingus. I had a friend living in Miami that let me leave my car there, so to me it was worth the drive to save the money and I got to spend time with my friend as an added bonus. One a different occasion, I found a $140 direct, one-way flight to Paris out of MIA on Norwegian Air. A friend and I rented a car to drive down there for ~$80, saving money on parking and giving us flexibility on the airport we booked out return flights into.
In addition, consider flying out of a different major airport in your country if the total cost to reach your destination is cheaper than flying there from an airport near your home.
For example: Often times flights to other continents are cheapest out of major airports nearest to that continent—like JFK to Europe or LAX to Asia. If you can find an extremely cheap flight out of a major airport AND the cost of flights to get you to and from that airport come out to less than flying to your ultimate destination from your home airports, book dem tickets.
Date flexibility is probably the hardest part about travel for most working people. I have a very flexible job and even I try to always plan trips from a Saturday to a Sunday to get as much time as possible around the five PTO days I’m taking. But there’s no denying that date flexibility really pays off. Any time you are searching for flights, always always ALWAYS check the fare calendar or surrounding dates for price flexibility if you have wiggle room on dates.
Lately when I fly, I just look for the cheapest dates to wherever I’m going and fly on those days. If your job allows remote work and the cheapest dates are on a weekday, ask if you can work remote during travel time. Sure working in airports and planes isn’t ideal and you’ll need to purchase in-flight Wifi, but if the cost savings on the flight are sizable, I’d say it’s worth it. Besides, what better way to end the work day than arriving in an exciting new destination!
Travel Time & Distance Flexibility
Round-trip flights are not always king in terms of prices. Always check one-way flight prices for a destination on the major flight search tools and discount airline websites. In addition, oftentimes extremely cheap flights have insanely long layovers or multiple stops. I try to stay within reason on total travel time but if it’s a really cheap flight and I am mentally prepared, you better bet I’ll take an additional layover or two.
These cheap flight tips will help you get the best rates on flights to any destination you, but if you can’t necessarily afford your dream destination right now, start considering closer spots. To me, travel is all about changing your scenery, getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing a different culture—which I can do just as easily in Mexico as I can in Vietnam. Establish your budget and then choose your destination—not the other way around.
No matter where you go, you are bound to have an adventure and see something you’d never find at home, so open your mind to the possibilities! I’d like to think visiting somewhere new is better than visiting nowhere at all. 😉
2. Use the Right Resources & Tools
Okay, this is where we get down to the nitty gritty. There are millions of flight tools out there nowadays (tell me your go-to tools in the comment section, please!), so I am just going to mention the tools I use on a regular basis.
A. Sign Up for Scott’s Cheap Flights
Scott’s Cheap Flights—ahh, where do I begin. To me, Scott is like the friend I want to be—the friend that helps friends travel the world on the cheap.🖤 If anything, having this subscription just gives me serious FOMO since I want to buy ALL THE FLIGHTS and visit ALL THE COUNTRIES, but I digress.
Scott’s Cheap Flights sends seriously cheap flight deals to your inbox, daily. I recommend starting with the free version, which sends you a limited amount of deals, unlike premium, just to make sure you find it useful (you will) and then pay the $39/year for ALL THE DEALS!
Once you have Scott’s Cheap Flights, you can keep an eye out for cheap flights to that exotic beach you’ve been dreaming of taking Instagram pics on or plan your trip on the fly to whichever flights fit your budget and timeline. The deals come in hot and don’t last long, so just remember to be on your a-game if you want the deal.
B. Start your research in Google Flights
Even though I hate giving in to the all-knowing Google overlord, I use Google Flights pretty religiously when I start my search. It just gives me a general idea of flight prices for my dates and it has tools in the calendar to search different dates, durations, maximum prices and more.
I pretty much always have a trip in mind so once I narrow down when I want to go (usually 2-8 months out) I start checking Google Flights a couple times a week just to get an idea of cheapest and popular routes, main airlines flying those routes and cheapest dates.
C. Make a List of Cheapest Flights
From there I start making a list of the cheapest flights I find with: Price, XXX>XXX (airport code), Dates, Travel Time. As I get closer and closer to travel dates, I start looking for tickets with credit card in hand, rechecking the best flights from my list (which usually change in price).
D. Check Other Search Engines & Airline Sites
In this whole process, I branch out from Google Flights and try other major search engines like Skyscanner and Momondo (my favorite). Momondo often has lower prices than other booking engines, so it’s important to always check multiple sources before handing over the green.
I also check directly on airline websites. Many sites offer deals for booking directly with them or have handy destination calendars like Norwegian which makes it way easier to see their cheapest routes.
E. My Favorite Sites to Scour
These won’t apply to everyone since they largely have to do with being located in the Southeastern US, but I’m confident these tips can be replicated anywhere.
Skyscanner – Search Anywhere Feature: The very first time I used Skyscanner, I was at a loss on how to get from Krakow to Budapest. The two cities aren’t that far apart, but all flights and trains were so expensive. I decided to try another search engine since my usuals weren’t helping, and that’s when I saw the “Search Anywhere” feature on Skyscanner—a tool that shows you the cheapest flights out of whatever city you choose. I figured Budapest wasn’t happening, so I may as well go somewhere else, and that’s when $70 flights to Israel came up—a destination that wasn’t even on my radar for the trip! By the time I booked, the flight ended up being $150 (I hesitated), but nonetheless I never would have found or even thought to search for that destination without the “Search Anywhere” feature.
Norwegian Airlines Fare Calendar: Once you choose your country and get onto the Norwegian site, find “Destinations” on the menu. The Destinations page allows you to select your departure airport and see the cheapest destinations from that airport for every month of the year. I found a $140 direct, one-way flight from Fort Lauderdale, FL to Paris, France using this tool.
Spirit Airlines: Spirit Airlines has a terrible reputation for tiny seats, insane baggage fees and mediocre customer service. But if you can need to get from certain US cities to Central or South American and you can get by with a personal item, you can get extremely cheap flights.
Gate 1 Travel & Travel Zoo: My grandma swears by Gate 1 Travel and Travel Zoo vacation packages—and now I do, too. If you have flexibility on travel dates and search 3-6 months in advance, you can get amazing travel deals including flights, accommodations, breakfast and a rental car. In 2015, my family and I booked a six-night vacation to Italy on Travel Zoo for $899/pp. It included round-trip flights, accommodations in beautiful hotels, breakfast and a rental car for every two people. We paid an extra fee to change the flight dates home so we could stay in Italy longer, but the package itself did not come out to more then $1,100 with that change.
3. Working the Points System
I’m still no expert on airline points, I just know it’s extremely important to make an account and earn points on every single flight you take. If an airline has a points program, you need to be in it. I did this for years with American Airlines but could never remember my AAdvantage number, so now I make a note of every single airline login/number and email it to myself every time I update it so I don’t lose the points.
Credit Card Points
If you are not good at managing money, only spending what you have and paying bills on time, please ignore this section and skip to tip number four.
Credit cards are scary. For years, I was seriously anti-credit-card because I thought if I had a credit card, debt and finances spiraling out of control was inevitable. Then I realized I am actually really good with money and budgeting, so I opened my first credit card to build credit (it was a Discover card with o travel point advantages) and later got an amazing travel points credit card: Chase Sapphire. While there are tons of cards out there and I am sure they vary from country to country, I recommend Chase Sapphire and Capital One Venture. Both cards offer 50,000 point sign-on bonuses when you spend a certain amount in the first three months ($3,000-4,000 but it varies by card).
Plus, many travel credit cards have perks way beyond points. Depending on which card you have, you’ll enjoy benefits like no foreign transaction fees, car rental insurance, trip cancellation insurance, baggage delay insurance and more.
For Example: When I did a road trip through Ireland with my mom, we ended up getting a rental car for $10/day. Normally rental car insurance substantially increases the total cost, but since I booked it with my Chase Sapphire card, I declined the pricey insurance offered through the rental company and relaxed knowing I was covered by Chase. You do need to get paperwork and make a few calls for this to take effect, but it’s obviously worth it.
Repeat after me: “I am obsessed with getting flight deals.”
Does anything ever work without at least a little passion behind it? I don’t search flights late into the night because I have to, I do it because I’m obsessed and constantly daydreaming about where I want to go next. Sometimes I’ll spend an hour looking up flights for somewhere there’s like a .5 percent chance I’ll go anytime soon. This is the nature of the cheap flights traveler. BE ONE!
Sign up for flight deal notifications (like Scott’s Cheap Flights, Google Alerts), constantly play around with flight dates and destinations and talk about your upcoming travel plans constantly like a college student just back from a semester in Spain.
5. Pack Light
Cheap travel means you’re not spending money on baggage. Baggage is exactly what it sounds like: baggage. Heavy, inconvenient and burdensome.
The ONLY time you should be checking a bag, is if it’s included in your flight price (unless you’re moving overseas or something). Even if a checked bag is included, I still recommend only bringing a carry-on. Exploring the world is best when you are free and light. Moving around is a lot easier with just one little suitcase or backpack.
A few packing essentials you’ll want to bring along:
- Packing Cubes
- TSA Travel Lock
- Adapters & Converters
- Power Bank
Check out my packing guide for hot and cold weather and my packing guide for winter in Europe for helpful tips or pick up How to Pack by Hitha Palepu—it’s an awesome little book that really breaks down how to pack so it’s not so overwhelming and stressful.
6. Lower Your Standards
Getting great deals on flights means you’re not flying first class, let alone purchasing your seat or any extras. Most budget airline websites direct you to choose your seat for a price, but you should continue without selecting a seat. If you have a preference, like window or aisle, ask the attendant at check-in if any of your ideal seat is available; they usually just assign you the seat at no additional cost. 🙂
Do you have any go-to flight booking resources? Or do you need help finding cheap flights or planning a trip? Let me know in the comments below or connect via my Contact page.