Editor’s note: We updated this popular post in August 2016. Check out the new tips to help you save money every time you shop for airfare.
How to Find Cheap Flights
Let’s start with the two most important things every airfare shopper should do.
- Rule #1 – Always Compare Airfares
It’s real simple: Always compare airfares.
No airline always has the best prices. Not Spirit, not Southwest, not every single time – and I’ve proven this. If you don’t compare airfare prices (and it only takes a second) you could pay too much.
- Rule #2 – Set Airfare Alerts
If you know where you want to go, set an airfare alert. It only takes a second and the deals come to you. When you see one you like, act fast; others have set alerts too and cheap seats are always limited.
LISTEN: More useful tips from travel expert Rick Seaney.
Cheapest Days to Fly, Cheapest Times to Fly
Fly hungry, fly tired: In other words, fly when people don’t like to travel on planes such as meal times, at dawn or overnight. Check out these general guidelines, but as always there are exceptions, another good reason to compare fares and compare fares for different days and times.
- Cheapest days: The cheapest days to fly are Tuesdays, Wednesday, Saturdays.
- Expensive days: The most expensive days to fly are Fridays and Sundays.
- Cheapest times: Fly when most people don’t want to including flights at dawn, red-eyes (overnight flights) and flights around the lunch and dinner hour.
Can’t fly the cheapest days or times in both directions? Do it on one leg of your trip and you’ll still reap half the savings.
The Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets
When to begin shopping and when to wrap up your purchase.
- Best day to shop: FareCompare’s data shows that best time to book a flight in the U.S. is Tuesday at 3 p.m. eastern time. By this time, airlines have released their sales and the competition has matched the lower prices and you have more deals to choose from.
- When to start and finish shopping: Shop too late and you may be hit with the steep last-minute fares business travelers get but shopping too early can also cost more. These are the shopping windows for the best-priced fares.
- U.S. domestic tickets: Shop between 3 months and 30 days before departure.
- International fares: Shop between 5 ½ months and 1 ½ months before departure.
- Peak travel: During peak seasons such as June, July and August or the December holidays, purchase tickets two months in advance.
Cheaper Flights with a Little Inconvenience
If you can be flexible with your travel plans, a little inconvenience can save you a lot of money.
- Connecting flights: Non-stops are more convenient but you can often find better deals on connecting flights. Adding a stop (or two) can sometimes save as much as 50%.
- Bigger airports: Bigger airports (particularly hubs) often have cheaper airfares. Compare prices from your hometown airport as well a larger airport and you may find a longer drive is worth it in savings.
Finding Cheap Flights for Two or More
When you’re not shopping just for yourself.
- Shop one ticket at a time: When booking travel for two or more people, book just one ticket to start. Do this because of a quirk in airline reservation systems that requires multiple tickets sold in a single transaction all be the same price. Example: An airline has only one ticket for $50 and the rest are $100. If you shop for two, you will pay $200 total, but if you shop one-at-a-time, you will pay $150 total.
More Tips to Find Cheap Flights
More useful advice and tools that really work.
- Getaway Map: The newly updated Getaway Map shows you deals from your hometown.
- Eventurist: This free app has once-in-a-lifetime events at incredible destinations, and the deals to get you there.
- Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and dthe Deals Blog is loaded with sales. More good stuff in my weekly video podcasts.