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United Airlines | © Tim Gouw/Unsplash
United Airlines | © Tim Gouw/Unsplash

The Ultimate Guide to Saving on Airfare

Picture of Nikki Vargas
Travel Editor
Updated: 28 June 2017

In the world of travel there is one topic that is discussed ad nauseam: how to save on airfare. Travel experts, bloggers and hackers swear by a myriad of tricks that promise the cheapest possible price for any flight. Finding affordable airfare is an art – an orchestrated dance of sorts – that requires more thought and finesse than a visit to Expedia. From when you first open your web browser to the moment you click “buy”, Culture Trip compiles the best tips to ensure you never pay more than you have to for a flight.

 

Searching for airfare online

Before you embark on your internet search, there is a simple trick most travel hackers swear by: clearing cookies. Internet cookies are data bits that store a user’s browsing history, including flight searches. Contrary to popular belief, refreshing your browser while flight searching will not yield lower prices; in fact, it’s the opposite. According to Business Insider, “[refreshing your browser] may make the price go up as it changes based on demand, as airlines and travel websites will use your search history against you.” Once your cookies are cleared, the next step is to pick the right website. When you begin looking for flights, use search engines such as: SkyscannerMomondo and Google ITA Software. The benefit of these over popular Expedia, Kayak or Orbitz is that they include smaller, budget airlines in their results, which will yield cheaper tickets.

 

The cheapest days to travel

When it comes to saving on airfare, learning to travel when no one else does is the golden rule. As expected, it is the red eye flights, off peak seasons and mid-week days that statistically prove the cheapest to fly; while Friday and Sunday are the most expensive days for travel. “The universal consensus seems to be that airfares tend to be lowest for flights that depart on Tuesdays and Wednesdays,” explains Airfarewatchdog. For long weekend trips, Expedia reports that flights leaving on a Thursday and returning on a Monday are 20% cheaper than those leaving on a Friday and returning on a Sunday.

Airport sunset | © Ashim D'Silva/Unsplash

Airport sunset | © Ashim D’Silva/Unsplash

When to book your flight

Holiday weekends aside, your best bet for booking a cheap flight is to buy it six to eight weeks before a trip. Of course, keeping a trained eye on flight price fluctuations is daunting, which is where Hopper comes in. Hopper is a nifty app that monitors flight prices in real time, alerts you to changes in fare and sends a notification when you should book.

 

Consider secondary airports

Most large cities are served by multiple airports: London is served by Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, City and Southend, Paris has Charles de Gaulle, Orly and Beauvais, while New York has JFK, LaGuardia and Newark. A good way to shave dollars off airfare is choosing to fly into a city’s secondary airport (especially as most budget airlines will operate out of these smaller airports). The one downside to this decision is you’ll likely have a longer commute to the city proper; but an extra 45 minute train ride will be well worth the couple hundred dollars you save.

View from airplane © Andrea Vincenzo Abbondanza/Unsplash

View from airplane © Andrea Vincenzo Abbondanza/Unsplash

Set up an airfare payment plan

Despite our best intentions to save, sometimes we simply lack the funds to buy a plane ticket outright. If your flights are at an optimum price but you can’t afford to buy them, consider using Airfordable. Airfordable is a new service that allows people to set up payment plans for flights. The way it works is, you submit your desired itinerary, pay an initial deposit to ‘hold’ the ticket and then receive your e-ticket once you’ve submitted your final payment. This option is great for people who book flights well in advance and have time to set up a payment plan.

 

Sign up for deal alerts

Every once in a while, the social media world is whipped into a frenzy when an airline offers fares that are less than $100. To stay on top of these affordable airfare sales, we recommend signing up for price deal alerts. Price deal alerts will notify any time there is an airline sale in progress. Sign up with Airfarewatchdog, which will list and compare prices on low cost carriers.

Compass © Heidi Sandstrom/Unsplash

Compass © Heidi Sandstrom/Unsplash

Deciding on your destination

Affordable travel starts with selecting a destination. It goes without saying that a trip to Vietnam will be cheaper than one to Paris; although a flight to Asia may prove more expensive than a flight to Europe. Although airfare typically proves the most expensive part of travel, you can budget your trip by choosing a cheaper locale. If you’re unsure of where you want to travel, Skyscanner offers a ‘Fly to Everywhere’ search function where you input your home airport and select ‘Everywhere’ as the destination. The results will then list affordable destinations around the world that you can travel to from your hometown.

 

Skipping the flight connection

One of the newest (and most controversial) ways to save on airfare is Skiplagged. The basic idea of Skiplagged is to find affordable airfare with ‘hidden cities.’ Let’s say you’re hoping to fly to Chicago for the holidays, but flight prices are through the roof. What Skiplagged does is help you find the cheapest connecting flight; so rather than fly direct to Chicago, you would book a flight with a connection in Chicago and just skip the last leg of your trip. The genius behind this travel hack is connecting flights tend to be cheaper than direct ones; so by treating a connection city as your main destination, you snag cheaper airfare. The controversy is that airlines aren’t too happy about having passengers skip their connecting flights when they could have sold the empty seats to other guests.