11 Secrets to Getting the Cheapest Plane Tickets

Learn and implement these strategies if you want to try to save on future flights.
Updated Aug. 22, 2023
woman looking at the flight information board

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Travel isn’t a privilege reserved for the wealthy, and booking a flight doesn’t have to break the bank. Rather, travel is for everyone, and booking cheap flights is well within the realm of possibility, even if you’re living paycheck to paycheck.

If you’re wondering how to navigate the world of plane tickets so you can save money on an upcoming trip, you’re in the right place. We’ve compiled a list of proven strategies for helping you find inexpensive flights. Whether you’re on a tight budget or simply enjoy saving money, here’s what you need to know.

Book an award flight

Song_about_summer/Adobe Buying plane ticket

Using credit card rewards is easily one of the best ways to save money on flights. These rewards typically come in the form of points or miles and can often cover most of your plane ticket expenses. The best thing about using credit cards to earn travel rewards is that you don’t have to do anything special or change your daily routine.

You simply use these cards on expenses you already have, such as gas or groceries, and watch the rewards pile up. When you’re ready and have earned enough points or miles, use your rewards to cover your flight and immediately remove one of your largest trip expenses. To get started, consider these best travel credit cards

Don’t wait too long to book

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The early bird gets the worm doesn’t apply to all situations, but it can be pretty spot on for booking flights. Ticket prices can often go up the longer you wait to book, which means booking early can help save you money. This isn’t true in every situation, but it’s a good rule of thumb to follow.

In addition, booking a flight early gives you time to make changes if needed. If you book your flight with an airline that allows you to change your flight for free, you could easily rebook your ticket and save money if the price goes down.

Compare, compare, compare

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You might have your favorite search engine or online travel agency you like to use when looking for flights (looking at you, Google Flights), but you likely shouldn’t stick to just one option. Certain sites and search engines are powerful and show plenty of options, but it doesn’t hurt to check other sites, too.

For example, if you typically use Google Flights to browse ticket prices, you won’t be able to see anything from Southwest Airlines. For reasons like this, it’s important to look around at different sites for the same itinerary. This should include looking directly on an airline’s website.

Set alerts

Novak/Adobe A smiling man outside wearing a coat and looking at his phone.

This thought may not have crossed your mind, but you’re not the only one out there who wants to find cheap flights. The world is a big place, and it’s likely that someone else is searching for flights that are the same or similar to yours. If you want to stay ahead of the competition, you have to stay in the know.

Set alerts and notifications for your specific flight itinerary with different services. You can do this through Google Flights, and you can also subscribe to free newsletters. Secret Flying, The Flight Deal, and other services can help you know about flight deals before the general public becomes aware.

Add up all expenses

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If you’re wanting to travel while quickly paying off your debt, it’s important to consider all the expenses involved with buying a plane ticket. The main thing to consider is whether you’ll have baggage fees or not. Additionally, some airlines might charge hefty surcharges. Keep an eye out for both of these extra costs and be sure to compare different airlines and fares when browsing flights.

Be flexible with your dates

Rawpixel.com/Adobe Looking at dates on calendar

Unfortunately, you can’t expect all flights to cost the same at all times of the year. This is because many destinations have peak seasons and off-peak seasons depending on the flow of travelers to the area.

If you can be flexible with your travel dates, you might be able to shave a decent chunk of money off your flight costs. This could include traveling at a different time of year, but it also might make sense to simply travel on a different day of the week. For example, it might make sense to check dates for an entire week to see whether a flight is cheaper on the weekend or on a weekday.

Search individual flights

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The most convenient way to book a round-trip flight or make a family booking is to book everything at once. But if you plug your potential itinerary into a search engine with multiple people included or as a round-trip flight, you might miss out on some savings.

This is because search engines follow the instructions you give them, which might not account for booking two one-way flights or booking with multiple airlines. If you include searching individual flights in your research routine, you could benefit from increased savings.

Use a budget carrier

K.A/Adobe Frontier airlines

They aren’t fancy, but budget airlines can often save you money compared to their non-budget counterparts. But you still have to be aware of the additional costs associated with these types of airlines, such as paying to select your seat or paying for carry-on luggage.

One way to get around these pesky costs is to look for deals like the recent Frontier status match promotion. This promotion allowed people to use their existing loyalty program elite status (from 30 airlines and hotels) and match it to Frontier for $49. The included benefits of having Frontier’s highest elite status include a free carry-on bag, a free checked bag, automatically cheaper fares through Discount Den, refundable fares, and more. 

Be flexible with your destination

NDABCREATIVITY/Adobe Friends exploring city

This tip can go hand-in-hand with the tip about being flexible with your dates. If you’re flexible with your dates and with your destination, you can basically have the pick of the litter when it comes to cheap flights. This is because most people have some type of constraint with timing and destination.

For example, not everyone can fly across the world on a whim, which means while other people are flocking to popular spring break destinations around the U.S., you can head to Europe. Or another location of your choosing. This doesn’t mean the prices will always be cheaper, but they might be cheaper than another destination or another time of the year.

Search for discounts

cunaplus/Adobe Military at airport

Depending on your occupation or another attribute, you might qualify for specific flight discounts with certain airlines. Military members, students, and teachers often have discounts with loads of retailers, so it makes sense that you might find something similar for plane tickets.

Even if you can’t find a flight discount for your trip, you might be able to find discounts on other travel-related expenses, such as hotel stays or activities. The money you save on those parts of your trip can be put toward your flight.

Be active on social media

JacobLund/Adobe Smiling friends

Similar to setting alerts to be in the know about flight deals, don’t forget to follow specific accounts on social media. This could include travel companies and bloggers, but you should also follow your favorite airlines. Major airlines often share news about possible deals to their social media channels, which could give you the time you need to book something before the deal runs out or everything gets booked.

Bottom line

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You don’t have to be an expert on airlines or everything travel-related to be able to book cheap flights. But it can help to implement some of these strategies as you plan your next trip. Keep in mind that not every tip shared here is going to work in every situation, so adjust them to fit your needs and use the ones that make the most sense for your travel goals.

If you want to help save money in other ways, apply the same principles of planning and research for achieving your financial goals. If you want to pay off debt or start investing, here are some smart money moves to make.

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Ben Walker, CEPF Ben Walker, CEPF, is a Senior Credit Cards Writer at FinanceBuzz. For over a decade, he's leveraged credit card points and miles to travel the world. His expertise extends to other areas of personal finance — including loans, insurance, investing, and real estate — and you can find his insights on The Washington Post, Debt.com, Yahoo! Finance, and Fox Business.