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