How to Find Cheap Flights Online (not your typical tips)
Disclosure: Some of the links below are referral links and, for no additional cost to you, I may receive a commission if you make a purchase. This hasn’t affected my honest opinions!
Seeing the recent Black Friday and Cyber Monday flight deals and booking my own dream trip abroad has gotten me thinking a lot lately about how to snag “cheap” flights. As I shared on my Instagram stories this week, I think it can be pretty hard to find actual good deals with airlines during these holiday sales. More often than not, I find that the amazing prices are only good on flights to just a few destinations during very specific dates. So you spend hours and hours scouring the different airline websites looking for the mythical cheap flight unicorn and come up empty-handed and disappointed.
BUT, I have found some other ways to find great prices on the flights you actually want without holiday deals or signing up for a thousand credit cards (aka hardcore “travel hacking”). If you’re willing to put in a little time and look at things a few different ways, you really can book great flight deals. These are just the methods I use, but I hope they help you get to your dream destinations and check off that travel bucket list!
Subscribe to deal alert emails to find cheap flights
To be honest, a lot of my methods for finding affordable flights require putting in a fair amount of time for research. But one of my favorite ways to discover good deals in less time is to use a flight deal alert email subscription. Some companies offer a limited free version, but most require a small annual fee to get the best deals.
So how does this work? Is it sketchy? Not at all! I was a little hesitant to subscribe at first, but now that I understand how the deal alerts work, I’m totally on board. These companies are constantly searching tickets for flights everywhere at all times. They’re monitoring what average prices are, and they are looking for those amazing deals that pop up once in a blue moon. If you or I tried to find those flights, we’d waste crazy amounts of time. But when the companies find a “deal” (usually $300+ off the regular price), they notify you so you can book. Typically you have to be fast in booking since other people are snatching up the deal, and it’s sometimes a 24 hour only sale or glitch. You won’t book through the company that found the deal, so you’ll still be able to use miles with the airline or travel deal sites to book. I’ve found that each company does things a little differently, which is why I use more than one.
One of my favorite companies to use is NextVacay, which is only $25 a year. You get to pick five “home” airports, and you’ll periodically get emails alerting you to US and international flights going from those hubs. I think what I love the most is that the NextVacay team is hand-picking these deals for you, and every time I’ve emailed them I’ve received a helpful and nice reply from someone on their small staff.
When I first signed up, I was only using my home airport of Albuquerque, and only getting a few emails per month. After adding larger nearby airports like Phoenix, Denver, and California hubs, I tend to get multiple emails a week (which I love!). Each email includes the airports, date range, price, and if the flight is nonstop or not.
Dollar Flight Club
I’ve been on Dollar Flight Club’s free account for about a year, but I recently upgraded to a paid subscription when they offered 70% off for Cyber Monday ($12? Okay!). On the free plan, I’d get four or five emails a month that showed a specific destination (usually international) and what airports to fly from. The email lists out the price for each airport, a date range that the prices were valid for, average prices, and a little blurb about what to do in the destination.
Now that I have a paid membership, I can log into my account online and view a dashboard with random current flight deals or tweak the settings for my email notifications. What I like about DFC is that I can ask for emails from specific destinations as well as home airports. I wanted to use this subscription a little differently than my others (to catch different flight deals), so I included about twenty destinations that were high on my list, but I left the home airports open to anything. This way if a crazy good deal comes up on a place I really want to visit, I’m not limited to flights leaving just a few airports. I also really love that Dollar Flight Club (in my experience) has really friendly and helpful team members!
Scott’s Cheap Flights
Scott’s Cheap Flights offers a free subscription with limited emails, which is currently what I use. I don’t get nearly as many deal notifications as a paid member would, but I’ve found it’s enough for now. I usually get around five emails a month for mostly international flights from a variety of US locations. The notification includes what airports are included, the date range, price, original price, and what airline the deal is from.
Use ITA Matrix to find cheap flights
I know a lot of people love to use Google Flights to look for airline deals, but I have honestly found it to be a little limiting and clunky to use. But maybe that’s because I’m a huge fan of its not as pretty but way more efficient sister, ITA Matrix (also powered by Google). If you’re looking for a specific destination from a specific home airport at a specific time, don’t bother with ITA. But what I love about ITA Matrix is the flexibility it provides in how you search.
This website lets you put in as many airport codes as you want in the departure and destination spots. So when I wanted to visit Hawai’i, but I wasn’t sure which island would be cheapest to fly to or where from, I used the Matrix. I put in the airport code for each of the Hawai’ian islands in the destination section, and then included Albuquerque and many other west coast airports for the departure. In that scenario, I wasn’t sure specifically when I wanted to travel. ITA Matrix let me choose a range of how long I might want to stay, a date of when I might want to depart, and showed me a calendar of lowest fares within a month of the date. The search does take a bit longer than Google Flights to load the results, but I don’t mind. Once you pick the dates you want to look at on the calendar, you’ll load specific information like airlines, departure/arrival times, layover locations and duration, etc. So awesome!
It can take a bit of time to go through all the information with ITA Matrix, but I think it’s one of the best ways to find amazing flight deals. Since I’ve found this gem, I’ve used it to search out great deals for all my travel. Just a couple of things to note: You can’t book through this website, but I’ve always been able to find the same itinerary and price on booking sites like Expedia and Travelocity. ITA also doesn’t include a few discount airlines like Southwest (my fav) and Spirit.
Think outside the box and be flexible to find cheap flights
When I’m determined to travel somewhere amazing, I WILL find a way to do it affordably. It just takes a bit of creativity sometimes. One of my main obstacles in finding cheap flights is the high price of flights out of my home airport of Albuquerque. Because it’s a smaller airport, flights are often much more expensive than busier locations. It’s also six or more hours to any airports with cheaper flights, so it doesn’t make sense to drive to a different location. But if there’s a crazy good deal at another airport, I can usually make it happen. For our Hawai’i trip, the best price was to fly from San Francisco to Honolulu for a price of $350ish. Flights from Albuquerque to Honolulu were $900+. But Southwest Airlines frequently offers low prices on flights from New Mexico to California, so we would have only paid about $500 round trip. Well, we actually used Southwest Rapid Rewards points (from our Southwest card) to fly to California for free, so that’s even better!
And speaking of frequent flyer points, that’s another great way to save some cash while traveling. I don’t recommend getting every flight rewards card out there and messing up your credit, but if you’re going to get a credit card anyway you might as well look into one that will reward you well. I really love my Chase Southwest card, and we fly with Southwest often enough that it was a good choice. Of course Southwest Airlines doesn’t fly everywhere, but they do cover most US cities, the Caribbean, Mexico, and soon Hawai’i. If you want 40,000 points right off the bat, use that link to sign up for the card! And I get a few bonus points as well. 🙂
And even if you don’t sign up for a credit card with an airline, it’s still worth it to collect rewards points on the flights you take. I recently discovered I had accrued a fair number of Delta SkyMiles that had been sitting there for about 8 years! That, combined with a recent trip to Jackson, Wyoming (now that’s an expensive ticket!) gave me enough miles to fly my husband and myself both to Boston (one way) where we’ll catch our flight to the UK (which we only paid $295 for by finding the deal on ITA Matrix). Another cheap flight win!
I hope this has been helpful for you and has given you some ideas for how to find inexpensive flight deals. Everyone has their own tricks and favorite websites to use, so figure out what works best for you. And don’t let a small budget get in the way of seeing the world. Cheap flights are out there, and you can find them!
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Hey, friend! I’m Julie – an adventure wedding & elopement photographer who loves the outdoors and traveling! My photography is fun and heartfelt while highlighting the beauty of love and nature. I’m based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but wedding photography takes me throughout the southwest, to national parks, and all over the world! To find out more about destination wedding photography, check out my travel page. And if you want to get some great elopement planning tips, check out the planning and advice section of the blog.
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