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Attention all jet-setters: travel is officially BACK! But knowing how to find cheap flights is more important than ever. If you haven’t heard, flights are pretty expensive right now, and domestic airline prices are up by as much as 47% over last year.
As the post-pandemic travel rush continues, flight prices will remain high. So how do you avoid the headache of overpaying for airfare? Luckily, there are plenty of ways to save and score cheap flights every time you book. I’ll walk you through where to book, when to book, and how to find cheap flights to rack up the most savings on plane tickets (and even score flights for free).
1. Always check prices directly with the airline first, then check other booking sites.
I get it — it’s easy and convenient to compare prices across airlines on sites like Orbitz and Expedia when you’re researching how to find cheap flights. But these days, you’re more likely to find cheap flights directly with the airline.
For one, lots of airlines have things called “low fare calendars” (like the Southwest Low Fare Calendar) on their websites. These calendars show you ticket prices for each day of the month based on your departure and destination. That way, you can see when prices are the lowest and highest and plan your trip accordingly.
Some airlines even promise you the best prices when you book directly with them, like JetBlue’s Best Fare Guarantee. If you find cheaper tickets anywhere else on the web, JetBlue will give you a $100 credit. That sounds like a challenge to me!
2. There isn’t really a best day or time of the week to book your plane tickets.
We generally recommend booking your flights on Tuesdays at 3 p.m. Why? Because airlines publish new flight prices on Monday nights, and by Tuesday afternoon, they’re all dropping prices to compete with one another. However, more recent research says booking your ticket on a certain day and time of the week won’t help you save as much as it used to.
Instead, the key is knowing how far in advance to book your flight if your goal is to score cheap flights.
3. Book a domestic flight 76 days in advance for the best prices.
How far in advance you book your flight has muchhhhh more to do with prices than if you book on a certain day or time of the week. The tricky thing is you’ll pay higher prices if you book too early or too late, so what you’re looking for is that sweet spot.
CheapAir.com studied nearly a billion airfares last year to figure this out (and as the name implies, they’re pros). For 2022, they determined the “sweet spot” for booking domestic flights was 76 days in advance. Overall, the “prime booking window” is considered three weeks to four months before your departure date.
While the data doesn’t lie, I’ve personally found that booking within the 30-day range is a risky game. Even the pros say booking your flight 14 to 20 days before takeoff is “pushing your luck.” So I’d start looking at ticket prices at least three months in advance, then pay closer attention when you’re 70 to 80 days out.
TIP: You should always aim to book international flights earlier than domestic flights. But the when depends on your destination.
4. Aim to fly on Wednesdays and Tuesdays for the cheapest prices, and avoid flying on Sundays.
When it comes to cheap flights, CheapAir.com says flying in the middle of the week is much cheaper than flying over the weekend.
Wednesday and Tuesday tend to be the cheapest days to fly, while Sunday tends to be the most expensive. You’ll pay an average of $25 more per ticket if you fly on Sunday versus any other day of the week. But you’ll save an average of $20 per ticket if you fly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Cha-ching!
5. Consider booking with a budget airline for an all-around cheap flight.
If saving money is your top priority, budget airlines can be your answer to how to find cheap flights, as their base fares are typically lower. Breeze Airways, Spirit Airlines, and Frontier Airlines are a few of the most budget-friendly airlines in the U.S.
These airlines tend to offer the cheapest plane tickets, but you’ll usually miss out on other travel perks that make flying more enjoyable and the whole activity of traveling less stressful. Last-minute delays or flight cancellations are typically far more difficult to fix, and baggage fees are usually higher. You’ll also likely experience a no-frills flight without free Wi-Fi or in-flight entertainment. Basically, you pay for what you get.
So if your main concern is getting from point A to point B, booking with a budget airline is a great way to save.
6. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two of the best times to score cheap flights.
Tons of airlines slash ticket prices on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, making those two shopping holidays some of the best times to score cheap flights. For instance — Alaska Airlines, Breeze Airways, Frontier, and JetBlue all had Cyber Monday flight deals in 2022.
Here are some of the best deals we’ve seen:
- Frontier Airlines: One-way flights as low as $19 for Black Friday
- Spirit Airlines: One-way flights as low as $22 on Black Friday
- Alaska Airlines: One-way flights as low as $25 on Cyber Monday
- Southwest Airlines: One-way flights as low as $39 for Cyber Monday
- American Airlines: Fares under $100 on Black Friday
- JetBlue: $100 round-trip fares with code CYBER for Cyber Monday
7. Book cheap (and even free) flights with a travel reward credit card.
Using a travel reward card is probably the best and fastest way to score cheap flights on the reg. You can earn miles or points on everyday purchases and sometimes more on purchases you make with a certain airline.
Now, travel credit cards tend to have high interest rates — up to 20% higher than other credit cards. But if you’re good about paying off your balance on time, it can really help you save on flights.
If travel is a big part of your life, you’ll probably benefit from a high-reward credit card — one that helps you rack up points and miles the fastest but charges you an annual fee. A few of our favorites are the Captial One Venture Rewards Card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, and the Alaska Airlines Credit Card.
But if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option (and we always are), there are plenty of travel credit cards with no annual fees. These are a great fit for less frequent travelers who still want the rewards. Take a look at some of the best ones:
8. Sign up for free airline rewards programs to earn points or miles toward flights.
You won’t earn miles nearly as fast as you would with a travel credit card, but it’s free to sign up for these loyalty programs, and sometimes you’ll even unlock special perks and savings when you hit certain thresholds. All that for $0 sounds good to me. I usually fly with Delta, American Airlines, or JetBlue, depending on who has the lowest prices for my route. So I’m signed up for all three of their rewards programs.
American Airlines AAdvantage
Earn miles when you fly on American Airlines and other participating airlines, including 1,000 partners. You can use your AAdvantage miles on flights to nearly 1,100 destinations worldwide, seat upgrades, vacation packages, car rentals, and hotels.
- You’ll earn five miles per $1 spent, and miles never expire as long as you don’t go 18 months without earning or spending miles.
Delta Airlines SkyMiles
With Delta SkyMiles, you’ll earn miles for flying Delta Main Cabin or above and when you fly with 20+ partners. You can use your miles for Delta flights, Delta vacation packages, seat upgrades, and premium drinks at Delta Sky Club.
- You’ll earn five miles per $1 spent, and your miles never expire.
JetBlue TrueBlue gives you points when you fly with JetBlue and select partner airlines. You can use your points on JetBlue flights and Hawaiian Airlines flights, plus JetBlue vacation packages.
- You’ll earn up to six points per $1 spent and start redeeming benefits with as little as 500 points.
Southwest Rapid Rewards
With Rapid Rewards, you’ll earn points when you fly with Southwest or make purchases with their partners. You can then redeem your points for Southwest flights.
- You’ll earn anywhere from six to 12 points per $1 spent, depending on the fare.
9. You’ll pay the most money for flights out of Washington, D.C., San Francisco, or Detroit.
FinanceBuzz compared prices across the 45 busiest U.S. airports. The ones with the most expensive plane tickets were three major airports in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Detroit. More specifically, these three airports had the highest ticket prices:
- Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. ($408.08 avg. airfare)
- San Francisco International Airport ($400.66 avg. airfare)
- Detriot Metro Airport ($366.33 avg. airfare)
Sometimes you have to go where you have to go — so avoiding these airports isn’t always an option. But if you can, try to fly into or out of a different nearby airport in these areas. Here are the closest alternative airports in these three locations:
- Washington D.C. – Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (29 miles away)
- San Francisco, CA – Oakland International Airport (31 miles away)
- Detroit, MI – Windsor Airport (6.3 miles away)
10. Looking for a low-cost vacay? Florida airports tend to have the cheapest flights overall.
Florida is THE state to fly out of when it comes to the cheapest flights. FinanceBuzz found that these four airports in Florida had some of the lowest average flight prices:
- Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport ($233.36 avg. airfare)
- Orlando International Airport ($241.01 avg. airfare)
- Miami International Airport ($263.76 avg. airfare)
- Tampa International Airport ($270.88 avg. airfare)
11. Search for flights out of multiple airports in your area to see which has the cheapest fares.
If you live in the vicinity of multiple airports, check for flights from ALL of them. Sometimes driving an extra hour or so to a different airport can save you money in the end.
I live in Connecticut, so my closest international airport is Hartford. But I find much cheaper plane tickets out of the NYC airports, so I always take the trip there and spend some extra time driving to avoid the pricey airfare. What I end up paying in gas is still much less than what I’d pay for a plane ticket out of Hartford.
12. Don’t forget to factor in baggage fees when you book your flight — some airlines charge more than others.
The worst thing is when you pay for a super cheap plane ticket, then get slammed with added fees afterward. Baggage fees can really add up, especially when checked bags and carry-ons aren’t built into the price of your ticket. If you learn one thing about how to find cheap flights, just know those extra fees should ALWAYS get factored into the equation.
Southwest has the absolute best baggage policy — you get a free personal item, a carry-on bag, and two checked bags per ticket. Other airlines charge between $30 – $60 for your first checked bag and even more for your second. So you’re saving money just by flying Southwest.
13. Save even more on your flight when you pay with a discounted airline gift card.
Buying discounted gift cards is one of my favorite ways to save at major retailers, but did you know you can buy them for different airlines, too?
It’s true, you can buy discounted gift cards online for Southwest, Delta, JetBlue, Frontier, and more airlines — and get up to 10% off the gift card value.
These gift cards are super popular and get snatched up quickly, so sometimes it’s hard to find them in stock. But right now, you can buy Southwest gift cards and Delta gift cards for 7% off on GiftCardSavings.com.
TIP: Don’t forget that a Target RedCard gets you a 5% discount on everything Target sells — including airline gift cards!
14. Sign up for airline newsletters to get deals, promo codes, and coupons.
If you’re anything like me, your inbox can hardly handle another email subscription. But I promise — airline emails are worth the space they take up.
Southwest sends out promo codes weekly (yes, weekly) in their free email newsletter. Plus, you’ll get sale alerts, giveaways, and the occasional free drink coupon as a subscriber.
A few other emails worth signing up for:
- Delta: Sign up for SkyMiles and get emails whenever Delta drops a special flash sale. These flash sales are deeply discounted international fares that other airlines simply can’t beat.
- Frontier: Sign up for Frontier’s email newsletter for special offers and deals.
- Spirit: Sign up for Spirit’s email newsletter for frequent coupon codes and deals.
15. Check for cheap flight deals and offers posted on the airline’s website.
Again — checking for flights directly with the airline is always a great way to start, especially if you can book a cheap flight through their online deals and offers.
If you have flexible travel dates, you’ll score some incredible prices on last-minute fares, travel packages, and one-way tickets to major U.S. destinations.
- United: The United flight deals page is the clearance rack for United, where they’re trying to fill seats at a discounted rate.
- Frontier: Visit Frontier’s online deals to see the latest deals and coupons available now.
- JetBlue: Check for JetBlue’s Flash Fares online to see if you can snag a stellar deal before they sell out.
- Delta: Head to Delta’s current flight deals online to browse a list of the cheapest round-trip tickets available from your airport.
- Frontier: We’ve seen flights as low as $19 in Frontier’s online deals section.
16. Use free travel apps like Hopper to track ticket prices and find cheap flights.
There are TONS of different booking sites and travel apps out there when you’re learning how to find cheap flights, so it can be hard to weed through the crowd and find ones that truly work. I can personally tell you that Hopper (iOS / Android) is a must-have travel app to keep handy on your phone.
Hopper uses a super smart algorithm to predict price drops (and price jumps) for different flights, telling you exactly the best time to book. You can also “watch” different flights and get alerts when the price drops.
The app even lets you freeze the price of a great flight deal you spotted. So when you find a low price and don’t want to lose it, you can freeze it to lock in the deal for a limited time. If the price gets even lower, you’ll pay even less. If the price goes higher, Hopper will cover up to $300.
You can also book vacation homes, hotels, and car rentals through Hopper.
17. If you fly often, sign up for paid services like Scott’s Cheap Flights and JIFU to save more.
I’d rarely recommend paying for access to deals, but if you’re truly a frequent flyer, paid programs can actually help you save in the long run.
Scott’s Cheap Flights works around the clock to find you the best deals on flights. Their experts hunt for flight deals 24/7 and deliver the best ones to you ASAP, so you never miss an amazing fare. It’s free to sign up as a Limited member, but you can upgrade your plan for more benefits. A premium plan costs $49 a year, and an Elite Plan costs $199 a year. The Elite Plan gets you the best deals on first class, business class, or premium economy, which are priced much higher than your typical seat in coach. So if you travel for work, grabbing the best deals on these fares can really pay off.
JIFU offers members discounts of up to 75% on hotels and huge savings on flights, cruises, and other travel purchases. It costs $25 a month to be a JIFU member, but you can try it free for 30 days (and you won’t even need a credit card to get started).
18. Use these airline-specific hacks to save more and get the most out of your flight.
KCL is always looking for bigger and better ways to save, and scoring cheap flights is no exception. We put together complete savings guides for the most popular airlines, which cover everything from baggage fees to sneaky hacks that help make your trip more enjoyable. Check them out:
- Southwest Savings Hacks
- Delta Savings Hacks
- JetBlue Savings Hacks
- United Airlines Savings Hacks
- American Airlines Savings Hacks
- Spirit Savings Hacks
- Frontier Savings Hacks