A while back I wrote a post about ‘How to book cheap flights on Skyscanner‘ and it remains one of the most read posts of all time on my blog. Everyone loves cheap flights and everyone wants to know where to find them. Having taken 100’s of flights (probably 1000’s actually!) over the past 10 years, I think I have now got the hang of where to find and book the cheapest flights online.
This guide will, hopefully, help you to find the absolute cheapest flights out there and ensure your itchy feet are cured at anytime. Please be sure to leave a comment if you have any more suggestions, I love hearing feedback…especially if it means I can find cheaper flights!
The best flight comparison sites
Be it Skyscanner, Expedia or even Google Flights here is a break down of best flight comparison sites out there, with their pros and cons and lots of detail about who should use them and what they are good for.
The good: This really is my go-to website when looking for cheap flights. I think it is good for most types of travellers, but is especially good for people looking to go on backpacking trips, mid-week breaks or are just flexible with dates in general.
The best part about Skyscanner is that it will tell you the cheapest month of the year to fly and then the cheapest days within that month. Last week I found return flights from Dublin to Kenya, Dublin to Tanzania and even Dublin to South Africa for less than 450 euro. That is unbelievable!! Only catch? You must be totally flexible with dates.
The bad: There are a lot of price quotes from third parties. If you don’t book a long haul flight direct with an airline, and book through a third-party instead, be prepared to pay big fees to change flight dates or times or even cancel your flight. Also, sometimes Skyscanner quotes you one price and when you go through to book you are quoted with a much higher price. Major flaw.
2. The ITA Matrix
The good: As Robert from LeaveYourDailyHell.com says, “The ITA Matrix might sound like something related to a sci-fi movie (or, worse, actual science), but it is in fact one of the most useful tools for finding cheap flights out there.” The site is powered by Google and is essentially an airfare shopping engine. It offers an advanced way to search for complicated itineraries allowing you to pick multiple destinations, your preferred airline, your preferred dates.
The bad: While the ITA Matrix is amazing for searching for the best flights and for finding the best and cheapest possible route to far off locations, you cannot actually book flights on the site and sometimes it can even be difficult to find the flight anywhere online once you have found your ideal route. You might even have to do things the old-fashioned way and actually call up the airline or a travel agent to track down that flight!
The good: This site has won numerous awards as ‘best flight comparison site’ and has been recommended by sites such as CNN and the New York Times. The site lets you to search across airlines, travel sites and low-cost carriers to find the cheapest flight tickets then directs you to the companies that sell them. Once you type in where you want to go and what month, it will give you a range of dates over that period so you can choose the cheapest day to fly. It will also tell you which flight is the quickest, which is the cheapest and which it believes it ‘the best’. The best thing? You can search for multiple destinations such as ‘Dublin – London, Paris – Dublin’ in one search. Very few other sites let you do this.
The bad: It won’t let you select ‘whole year’ so you must search for cheap flights month by month. It also takes you to a lot of third party websites such as lastminute.com which, like I mentioned earlier aren’t the best place to actually purchase your flights.
The good: Kayak is a bit more no-nonsense than the others. It is perfect for people who know where they want to go and when. Once you these details, it will then go about to find you the cheapest possible deal for those exact dates (or +-3 days). Once the list of suitable flights come up, you can pick the ideal time range you would like to depart and return at, flight length, length of stop-overs and choose from many other filters. One thing I love is their predictive chart which shows how likely it is that flight prices will either increase or decrease in the next 7 days.
The bad: Kayak is not great for people who have a lot of flexible travel plans as it requires you to know your itinerary before you start your search. It won’t tell you if other months would be cheaper to travel and it also beings you to many third-party websites rather than direct to the airlines. Even though they actually show you a matrix of which individual airlines are best to book with, they still bring you to sites like edreams to book.
The good: Adioso works like a dream for travelers with a very (and I mean VERY) vague idea of where they want to go. You can type in search queries in real language such as ‘flights from Dublin to South America in 2 weeks’ or ‘flights from Europe to Thailand next Monday’ and the best flight options will be shown to you. You can search by keyword, city or even just the general region. For backpackers on a budget, this site is amazing!
The bad: When you do finally choose your destination and dates for your chosen flights, the prices quoted on Adioso don’t seem to be quite as cheap as the other flight comparison websites. Their date range matrix also isn’t as clear as on other sites, only showing a range of 7 days at a time. You also have to click on each column to see how much each individual day will cost.
6. Google Flights
The good: When Google bought flight software ITA (used by other flight comparison sites), the result was Googles own super fast search engine that has been getting better and better with time. You can choose how long your flight is, where it stops and how much maximum you are willing to pay. Once you pick your destination, the very visual flight map pops up and show you how much your flight will cost and how much flights to other destinations nearby will cost.
The bad: The flights that come up don’t always seem to be the cheapest and I think some flights could be found much cheaper on other flight comparison sites. Google flights also does not give as much scope for flexible travelers as I would like as you must specify your exact dates rather than a date range.
The good: Flightfox is a totally new concept in searching for cheap flights…it uses other online users who consider themselves ‘flight experts’ to do the work for you! You upload your complicated itinerary and they will scour the internet for the best deals available. This is great for people who need good deals but don’t have the time or know-how to find them.
The bad: They say nothing in life comes free, and that is especially true here. The luxury of real humans finding cheap deals for you will cost you 24 dollars. While it’s not that much, it certainly adds to the overall cost of your cheap flights!
8. Airlines own site
Sometimes the best way to find cheap flights is to go direct to the airline site, especially if you have a preferred carrier or are a frequent flyer and collect air miles.
Travel Tips Just For You!
Pick your seat: Use SeatGuru.com if you want to make sure you are picking the best seat on the plane, especially for long haul flights. The site has seating plans for almost all the major airlines, and it will let you know which seats have the most leg room, which are nearby power outlets, and which are behind seats that don’t recline.
Buy direct: Avoid unnecessary fees and book your flight with the airline direct, especially of you are flying long haul and plan on traveling for a couple of weeks / months. If your plans change, it is much easier to change your flights with an airline than through a third-party website.
Buy on a Tuesday: This is the day that is supposed to have the cheapest flights on offer. Apparently airlines release new seats on a Tuesday and thus the price temporarily drops.
Be flexible with your dates: When using flight comparison tools, try to be as flexible as possible. Most of the time, the cheapest flights are mid-week and leave either very early in the morning or late at night. Sometimes just days that are unlucky or special (Friday 13th, Christmas day, New years Eve) will be much cheaper than the days surrounding these holidays.
Be flexible with your destination: If you are willing to fly out of or into more obscure locations and airports, such as Paris Beauvais instead of Paris Charles De Gaulle, you will find much cheaper flight deals.
Delete those cookies: Be sure to delete all the cookies from your computer before you start each flight search. Otherwise you will start to notice the same flight price increasing each time you refresh your browser.
Use different browsers: Try alternating between Chrome, Firefox and Safari to see of it makes any different to the flight price. You can also search through proxies as people claim that airlines charge different prices depending on where the user is searching from.
Sign up to mailing lists: Make sure to sign up to certain airline mailing lists so that you are notified of any special offers on routes you are interested in and any big sales the airline has lined up. Sometimes airline sales, (I’m looking at you Ryanair!!) only last 24 hours so if you not alerted to the start time and date, you will probably miss out,
Follow airlines on Twitter: Another great way to stay up to date on deals is to follow airlines on Twitter. This will keep you alerted of any delays, cancellations, competitions, sales and anything else that could help you find a cheap flight or decide which airline is best to fly with. Check out Ryanair’s Twitter here (they just LIVE TWEETED about cheap flights!).
Think outside the box: Consider flying from A -B via F. Thinking outside the box can result in much cheaper deals. Fo example, flying to the US can be much cheaper from Dublin rather than London, so if you can get a cheap flight from London to Dublin, your overall costs will be kept down. You can also now fly from Washington DC to mainland Europe via Iceland for very little…and a stopover in Iceland wouldn’t be the worst!