We love to give advice on how to help you save money when you book flights. After all, we are CheapAir.com. We’ve compiled our most popular advice below to help you find your next cheap flight. Let us know if you have questions.

Top 10 Tips for Booking Cheap Flights

1. Check Fares Early & Often

Do you know that, on average, the fare difference between the best day to buy your airline ticket and the worst is $236! And that doesn’t even include people who purchase within 7 days (who pay even more!). Airlines change fares constantly, often multiple times a week. So when it comes to buying an airline ticket, timing is everything. We recommend that you start checking fares as soon as you know you’ll be flying. Then, check continuously, at least once a week to get a sense of what’s a good deal. And when you find a fare you like, be ready to pull the trigger since the same fare may not be around for very long. We know it sounds crazy (and exasperating) but the airlines use very sophisticated computer systems to adjust fares literally in real-time. Buying an airline ticket really can be like playing the stock market! (Learn more about why airfares fluctuate.)

2. Buy at the Right Time

Knowing when to buy your flights can be the best tip for saving some serious cash on your next trip. We did a study last year and found that for domestic flights 49 days (about 7 weeks in advance) was, on average, the optimal time to buy plane tickets. But that number can vary quite a bit depending on where and when you’re going. The most important takeaway from our study: you’ll likely pay a big premium for booking too late (within 14 days), or for booking too early (more than 5 months in advance). Somewhere between 3 weeks and 4 months in advance is usually the sweet spot for flights within the U.S., although all bets are off if you’re traveling for a holiday or other peak time (see #4 below).

3. Some Days are Cheaper than Others

The day of the week you fly on can make a big difference in your air fare. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are generally the least expensive days for domestic flights and Friday and Sunday are the most expensive. (Monday, Thursday, and Saturday are in the middle). The difference between a Tuesday flight and a Sunday flight is $29 each way on average, or $58 round trip. If you’re traveling for the weekend, consider Saturday to Monday or Tuesday instead of a Thursday or Friday to Sunday trip. And if you’re traveling for a full week, Tuesday to Tuesday or Wednesday to Wednesday is often your best bet. More generally, if you’re willing to be flexible, check a bunch of alternate dates around the same time period because you never know when there might be one combination of dates that has a fare a lot lower than the dates around it.

4. Be Mindful of Seasonality & Holidays

Knowing when to go can matter just as much as when to buy. Because the most important factor that influences the price of a particular flight is how full that flight is, it makes sense that travel during Spring Break, Thanksgiving, or Christmas time would be more expensive than normal. Similarly, some destinations, especially international ones, are very seasonal in nature so research the low and peak seasons for the places you’re interested in visiting. If you’re going to Europe, for example, you can find some amazing deals during the February and March low season, but if you want to go during the summer, you’ll pay up to double the price. If you do need to travel to popular places at popular times, you usually want to book earlier than you otherwise would since discount seats are likely to sell out quickly.

5. Mix and Match Airlines to get the Cheapest Flights

CheapAir.com features a “Mix & Match” category that essentially lets you combine two one way fares that may or may not be on the same airline, to form a round trip. “Mix & Match” options come in handy when either (1) the best possible fare for an itinerary requires travel on one airline going out and another airline coming back; or (2) the airline with the most convenient outbound flight doesn’t have a convenient return flight or vice versa.

6. Sign Up for Airfare Alerts and Track Routes

To help keep an eye on fare trends, sign up for CheapAir FareTracker alerts. You’ll get notified more quickly when a sale starts and get a head start when only a limited number of seats are available. Acting quickly when a fare sale starts can save you a lot of money.

7. Prepare for Extra Bag Fees

Different airlines have different policies on baggage. Most charge for checked bags and some even charge for carry-on. You should factor that into your purchase decision. CheapAir makes that easy: when you see a list of flight options on our site, just hover over any of them with your mouse and you will see, among other things, the amount that airline charges for bags. With some airlines it’s also important that, once you buy your ticket, you pay for your bags ahead of time by going to the airline website because they may charge a premium if you wait until you get to the airport. Read more about airline baggage fees and what you need to know before you fly.

8. Check Alternate Airports

If there is more than one airport near your origin or destination city, check them both. The more options you have in terms of airports and travel dates, the more likely you will find what may be one of the last discount seats to where you are going. CheapAir automatically checks some nearby airports for you (San Francisco and Oakland; Miami and Ft. Lauderdale; New York and Newark; Washington, DC and Baltimore), but if you are willing to use other alternates, you should check those, too, by doing separate searches.

9. Break up Families or Groups into Separate Purchases

This one sounds counter-intuitive – the more people that go, the better the rate should be, right? That’s rarely true with the airlines; “group discounts” are few and far between. Because airlines will typically limit the number of seats per flight they sell at their lowest rate, sometimes you can actually price yourself right out of a good deal simply by having too many passengers. If, for instance, Airline X has two seats remaining on a flight at $100 and a bunch of other seats available for $150, if you do a search for a group of 4, the price that will come back will be $150. But if you search for two seats at a time you can buy two for $100 and only have to pay the extra $50 for the second two. How do you know when to do this? Always search first for your whole group at once to make sure that the flight has enough seats to accommodate everyone. Then try the same search for a smaller group. If the price comes out lower for the smaller group, buy the seats for the smaller group, and then do a subsequent search for the rest of your party. It can be a lot of work but, hey, if it saves money…

10. Buy on a Site that Offers Price Drop Payback

OK, this is a somewhat shameless plug, but we think it’s justified. CheapAir’s unique Price Drop Payback program is as simple as this: if the price for the same itinerary goes down any time before your trip, we’ll pay you back the difference in the form of a travel voucher for up to $100 per ticket! We are proud to be the only U.S. travel site that offers this buyer protection and we hope this program will arm you with buying confidence.

CheapAir Travel Advisors are committed to helping you book your next flight and helping you find that awesome travel deal. Use this list as an airfare booking guide. What’s your favorite tip?

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601 Comments

  1. 11. Search One Way Flights

    We’ve all been taught that the best way to save on airfare is to buy a round trip ticket. But that may not always be the case. Searching for one-way tickets can sometimes result in finding two cheaper flights than if you’d searched for a round trip. This is especially true if you’re flying two different airlines or if you’re flying into one airport and out of another. (Of course, you’ll need to factor in the cost and hassle of getting yourself to and from the airports.)

    Lewis

    • Hi Lewis, that’s a great tip. CheapAir.com automatically does that with our “Mix and Match” feature. It saves you the hassle of searching twice. (It’s number 5 on our list.). Thanks for your comment.

  2. Planning a trip to from Syracuse to Tampa or Sarasota 10/4 – 10/11. When do you suggest the best time to book these tickets would be?

    • Hi Donna, If you can book 2.5 weeks to 4 months from your travel date, the historical data shows that you’re likely to get the best deal on airfare. 54 days is the average “best time” to buy, but our version is called the “prime booking window” which gives a more accurate snapshot of when you should plan to purchase flights. CheapAir also offers a feature called “price drop payback” so if the fare drops after you buy, we’ll give you a credit up to $100 per ticket to use on future travel.

  3. We are looking for two round trip direct flights from Boise ID to San Jose CA, Dec. 22-31. Dates are a liitle flexible.

    • Hi Cindy,

      If you’re dead set on those dates, we’d suggest booking sooner than later. Friday, December 22nd and Sunday, December 31st (New Years Eve) will have the highest fares this holiday travel season. But since you mentioned you’re a little flexible on the dates, if you can depart December 19, 20, or 21st, you can save. Also if you return on December 30th or January 2nd, you can also save. We’ve noticed that historically, holiday season fares tend to dip towards the end of summer and then climb up and spike the closer it gets to the holidays. We’d suggest aiming to book around the end of August, but possible sooner if you’re going to go with the more popular travel dates.

      And don’t forget… when you book on CheapAir.com, if the price for the same itinerary goes down any time before your trip, we’ll pay you back the difference in the form of a travel voucher for up to $100 per ticket! Please let us know if you need any help with finding flights.

  4. I need 6 tickets from Charlotte NC to Detroit MI from July 28-30, 2017. I see the cheapest price is $375 should I go ahead and get the tickets?

    • Hi Lisa, Because you need 6 tickets and you’re traveling at a very busy time of year, I would probably lock it down. That fare is actully great for a nonstop from Charlotte and may not be available later in the spring (nonstops at reasonable prices sell out first).

  5. Hi, I’m looking to book a flight from NY to Chicago for June 23-25 non-stop. I found a flight for round trip $680. Do you think that price will drop? Should I wait to book?

    • Hi Charlotte, that price does actually seem a little high. I see nonstops from LGA as low as $260 on American or $350 on Delta from JFK.

  6. Hello, I want to fly from Denver to Columbus on 11 July till 11 Aug. When is the best time to buy the cheapest ticket? Do you think it’s worth to buy it on early of May?

  7. It makes sense that to get the low cost tickets, flying at the most inconvenient times will save you the most money. I didn’t know that Tuesday afternoon was the best time to look for deals. Good to know. Also, I wondered how far in advance you should start looking for deals.

    Your tips will really be helpful. Thanks.

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