My tricks to save $$ on plane tickets – Pt 2: Search Engines (Domestic)

Here’s a list of things I do to find the cheapest flights domestically. I never wonder if I have found the cheapest fare, I am always confident I found an airfare so cheap I can’t believe my luck, or I did so much research I know I got a damn good price. Being a Type A control freak has its advantages but it also helps to be flexible, book around 2 months in advance (more for international flights) and use low fare calendars and airline’s email subscriptions. Supposedly, Wednesday is the cheapest day of the week to fly, if you’re über flexible.

When I worked in the travel industry, I’d ask customers, “Where would you like to go?” and half of them had no idea, vaguely muttering, “somewhere tropical, please.” After a two-hour conversation to narrow it down to the northern or southern hemisphere, I’d find out Mr X hates sand and Mrs X hives tend to breakout in the humidity. They’d end up on a skiing trip to New Zealand. You don’t need to know everything about your trip but at least have some idea about your destination, your dates and flexibility, and the price you feel comfortable with per person.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAustralia: One of the most expensive and time-consuming long haul flights in the world

1. Step One

Go to a flight search engine you trust and search for your specified route. Write down the details of the top two or three flights that suit your needs – price, airline, date, time and stop overs.

I’ll be using the route Denver to Chicago and the flight search engine onetravel. A “special” was advertised at $79, and Spirit Airlines had a flight being advertised for $94.80.

travellingassassin.onetravel2. Step Two:

Go directly to the airlines featured on the search engine you liked. In this case, I went to Spirit Air and found the same $94 flight for  only $78. At Frontier Airlines, I found the above $134 flight for $62.90. If you are flexible, make sure you check out the ‘low fares’ calendar most airlines make available. I like Southwest’s as it’s simple – the lowest priced flight everyday for the month is readily available and you could save $70 just by going one day later.

travellingassassin.lowfares3. Step Three (This is usually my first step but I was a travel agent!)

Look at the airlines who use your destination as a hub. (Read my blog entry on airline hubs) My route is Denver to Chicago, so I would try American Airlines and Southwest. Southwest was the cheapest of the two at $64. The cheapest direct flights so far from Denver to Chicago are from Frontier Airlines at $62.90 followed by Southwest at $64.

 4. Step Four

People have their preferences; some airlines have better service, wider seats, frequent flyer miles, they would like to redeem. This is the last step I use to make sure my favourite airlines are not cheaper if I haven’t seen them in the process above. I normally do a quick search of one or two more airlines just to make sure before I book. I tried Alaska $360, American $286, and Delta $165, so I know I am on to a good deal with Southwest and Frontier at the $65 mark. The Frontier Airlines flight is the cheapest by few dollars but I’m not going to buy it.

5. Step Five

Before you book, just make sure there are no hidden costs. This is the reason I would book Southwest over Frontier and it will save me $40+. The reason I am not buying the Frontier ticket is because I’ll be charged for checked in baggage, in-flight entertainment, food/drink on board and to choose my seat. That’s almost an extra $40 in fees without food or drink.

The $62.90 flight just increased to $102.90. The Southwest flight because I get complimentary 2 pieces of checked luggage and a carry on, and they offer complimentary snacks and non alcoholic beverages. Bottom line: The $64 Southwest flight will stay $64 when I go to buy the ticket.

How much did I save?

The most expensive flight on the search engine was $371, the cheapest one I found on my own was $64, saving a potential $307. Spirit Air was $94.80 on onetravel and $78 direct on the airlines webpage, saving $16.80 on this ticket

Frontier Airlines was $134 on onetravel and $62.90 directly on Frontier’s webpage, saving $71.10 on this ticket 

At the most I saved $307, at the lower end I saved around $38 – the difference between the Frontier flight and Southwest.

Here are some cool flight search engines:

Fare GeekWebjetHipmunkSkyscanneriFlyJetabroadAdiosoDohopOne TravelBest FlightsCheap FlightsZujieDreamsAirfares Flights

How do you search for your flights to make sure you get the best deal?




  1. Airline industry is highly competitive and to fill all the seats before take-off there are many strategies applied by the airlines. I only got mine using Flight Fox,

  2. Some other tips came to mind, so I thought I’d share.

    I’ve found that using Kayak or Sky scanner alerts COMBINED with checking the best rates on airline website like you suggest finds some of the best deals, but I think you covered that pretty well.

    I also found surprisingly helpful too. I know, I know, but really. It’s amazing what kind of awesome deals you can find when you know what to look for and how to look for it.

    You suggest looking into budget airlines. I always check wikipedia (unusual advice I know) because it lists all the airlines that fly into a certain airport. Perhaps that’s helpful for someone!

    Thanks again for the great article!

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