Booking Flights

How to Find Cheap Flights [Ultimate Guide 2020]

Here at Oz Flight Club, we spend hours every day finding our members the cheapest flights possible. Recently, many of them have emailed us to ask: ‘exactly how do you find such cheap flight deals?’  To answer this question we have created the How to Find Cheap Flights Ultimate Guide.

These tips and tricks will no doubt help you find cheap flights, but you never really know when a cheap flight, error fare, or flash sale will present itself. Checking flight prices all day, every day (as we do) is the only guaranteed method we know for finding all the best deals out there.

Despite that, follow these tried and tested methods that we use every day, and you will be well on the way to bagging yourself the best flight deals around.

1. Book in advance

Now you may have heard the way to find the best deals is to wait right until the last minute when airlines have no choice but to practically give away their unsold seats.

That is simply not true. The closer it is until the departure date, the more you should expect to pay.

We recommend booking domestic flights around 1-3 months before the departure date and international flights at least 3 months before.

However, don’t just assume that because you are booking 6 months in advance you are getting a good deal. If you book too early you might miss out on a better price closer to the date.

It takes some experience to know if you are getting a good price or whether you should wait and hope for a better deal. Even if the price you are seeing is not what you had hoped for, sometimes it is the cheapest flight you are going to get and booking immediately is the best option.

A little further down we will help you with this by giving you an idea of what is a good price for various destinations.

2. Be flexible

Firstly, we know this is not always possible.

Maybe your dream is to go to the Rio Carnival, St Patricks Day Parade in New York or celebrate Chinese New Year in Shanghai.

If that is the case – great! Use the other tips listed here to get the cheapest flight possible.

However, if this is not the case – be as flexible as you can. Flexibility is by far the best weapon you have in your cheap-flight-finding arsenal!

Instead of deciding exactly when and where you will go on holiday, try this:

  • Write down 5 countries/places you would like to visit.
  • Write down in what month(s) you have free time to travel in the next year.
  • Go to www.skyscanner.com.au and type in your closest airport.
  • Leave the destination search empty and select ‘everywhere’
  • Select the month you wrote down and hit search.

 

Now you can take a look through the list and see if there are any cheap flights to any of these destinations you were interested in.

Also bear in mind that where you fly to doesn’t have to be your final destination. Maybe you want to go to Phuket but you see it’s much cheaper to fly to Bangkok for those dates.  Often it is cheaper to first fly to Bangkok and then get a cheap internal flight to Phuket.

By taking this approach you are far more likely to find cheap flights than if you input an exact destination for exact dates and have no flexibility whatsoever.

3. Travel during the low season

Find out which is the least popular time to visit your chosen destination. This will usually be considerably cheaper than travelling during the most popular times.

For example:

  • South-East Asia during the rainy season will be cheaper than the dry season.
  • Flying to Europe in their winter-time (November – March) will usually be cheaper than in summer-time (May – September).
  • Ski resorts are in high season during the wintertime.
  • Christmas and New Year will have inflated prices almost everywhere.
 

Now you are probably saying  ‘Ok, yeah it’s cheaper during low-season because no-one would want to go there during the low season!

That is not always the case.

For example:

  • European cities can be far too busy and hot during the summer months.
  • Ski resorts are stunningly beautiful and perfect for mountain biking, hiking and climbing during the summer.
  • The ‘rainy season’ in many places can consist of bright blue skies all day with a big downpour at night while you are sleeping.
  • During the low season, you will be able to find much cheaper flights, as well as saving money on accommodation and tours too.

4. Fly During the Week

Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the cheapest days of the week to fly. Fridays and Sundays are the most expensive.

Mondays can also be particularly expensive for domestic flights, with many people using this day to return back from long weekends.

Also note that early morning and early evening ‘rush-hour’ flights will be more expensive mid-week, with people travelling for business.

As you would expect, travelling around Christmas, Easter, and Australian Public Holidays will be more expensive.

You should also check whether there are any public holidays being observed at your destination.For example, Chinese New Year drives up prices to many Asian countries, with thousands of Australians flying to visit family and friends.

5. Get to the right continent first

Being from this big old island we sometimes forget how cheap and easy it is to move around Europe or Asia.

Instead of just searching to fly to your final destination, consider flying to a nearby city or country and then taking a cheap flight on a local budget airline. There are many ultra-cheap budget airlines in Europe and Asia which can connect you to your final destination for as little as $50 sometimes.

If this is not possible you can often travel cheaply by land.

As well as making the trip cheaper it can also a lot more enjoyable.

For example, maybe you want to go to Barcelona but flying to Paris is $300 cheaper. You can take a flight to Paris to enjoy a day there, and then take a cheap high-speed train to Barcelona the next day.

Or perhaps if you want to go Vegas but it’s much cheaper to fly to LA. Land in LA and rent a car cheaply and make an epic road-trip to Vegas.

South America and Africa can be a bit more difficult to traverse by land and flights between countries are not particularly cheap, so bear that in mind when travelling to these continents

6. Use the best flight search engines

Just as you use a search engine to find the information you want, you should be using flight search engines to find the cheap flights you want.

The top 3 we recommend are Google Flights, Skyscanner and Momondo. Use a combination of these 3 to search dates and destinations and then search for the best Online Travel Agent (OTA) to book with. Try these simple steps:

  1. Go to Google Flights.
  2. Use the map view to explore different destinations and see where there are some cheap flights in the upcoming months.
  3. Have a look at the price graph to find specific dates to the destination that interests you.
  4. When you find some specific dates that seem cheap, put them into Skyscanner and/or Momondo and often they will return an even cheaper price.
 

These websites have heaps of features that make it easy to search for cheap flights, such as:

  • Search destinations and dates on a map or calendar view.
  • Check average prices for each month to find out if you are getting a good deal or not.
  • Filter by airlines, number of stops, departure time and more.
  • Set price alerts for your selected dates
 

These search engines work best if you use them every day. Flight prices are changing all the time so it is important to try and look as often as possible. If you know your exact dates and destination they will do this for you by sending flight alerts to your email.

7. Fly with budget airlines

Budget airlines are designed to offer a no-frills service that gets you from A to B for the cheapest price. They normally are able to offer such cheap prices because they cut back on costs for things like entertainment and food.

They will also try and charge you for extras like choosing your seat, printing your boarding pass and paying for extra luggage.

If you travel smart you can avoid these extra costs by:

  • Packing light to avoid paying extra baggage costs
  • Print your boarding pass at home or download boarding pass on airlines app if available.
  • Bring your own food so you don’t have to pay extra on the plane
  • Bring a book/tablet/ebook reader so you don’t have to worry about the lack of in-flight entertainment.
 

Be sure to check exactly where the airport you are flying to is. Often budget airlines save costs by locating themselves in airports far outside the city.

If you are arriving late at night or early morning be aware that public transport might not be available. It can sometimes be a false economy if you end up paying for an expensive taxi to get to your hotel in the middle of the night.

The two budget airlines in Australia are Jetstar and TigerAir. Jetstar is owned by Qantas while TigerAir is a subsidiary of Virgin Australia. Both do pretty much the same job – cheap fares where you get what you pay for.

There are also budget airlines based in Asia that operate flights to and from Australia such as AirAsia and Scoot.

8. Error fares and flash sales

Error Fares are found when airlines make a mistake setting their prices, meaning a fare can be discounted by as much as 90%. Error fares are caused by technical problems when automatically setting and changing fare prices, or by human error. 

The airlines legally have the right to cancel the booking on the basis of making an error. Despite this, they normally choose to avoid bad publicity (and try to turn it into good publicity) by honouring the fare at the mistaken price.

It is not particularly easy to find these fares because airlines are normally very quick to correct their mistakes. One way you can look for error fares is to set price alerts on numerous routes or try to check flight search engines systematically throughout the day.

Alternatively, sign up for a service like Oz Flight Club that will alert you to such fares.

Flash Sales are when airlines offer a sale for a very limited period of time, normally just a few hours. You may get alerted to these by being on the mailing lists for all the airlines and checking your mail.

Sometimes an airline will alert customers to a flash sale via social media so being active and following airlines social media pages is a good idea.

9. Book a "hidden city" ticket

With this flight hack, you book a flight to a final destination that has a stop in the middle. Instead of taking the connecting flight and travelling to the final destination, you finish the journey at the connecting destination.

Take a look at how this works. Let’s say you want to fly Sydney > Doha and you find a direct flight with Qatar Airways for $1463.

However, you can book a flight to Milan on the exact same day and time that stops in Qatar on the way for $763. So you get the first flight from Sydney to Doha and then “miss” your connecting flight to Milan. Now you have got the exact same direct flight on the exact same plane to Doha for almost half the price.

Pretty neat.

This hack works because people prefer to book direct flights and so they are more expensive than multi-stop flights. The airline can charge $1463 because it’s direct, but the people going to Milan will not pay so much for a flight where they have to connect.

This isn’t something the airlines love you doing but rest assured it is well within your rights and completely legal.

Note: Often you can’t check in bags because the airline will send them directly to your final destination and you will not be able to collect them at the connecting airport.

FAQ'S

How can I track fare alerts?

If you have a specific date and destination in mind Google flights will let you input the dates and the destination and alert you every time the price changes.

If you do not have a specific date or destination in mind Oz Flight Club finds cheap flights to destinations worldwide every day and sends email alerts to its members.

What is a super cheap return fare from Australia?

As we have discussed the fare for a flight depends on many things, and the cheapest flight is not always the best value. For example, a flight at Christmas time with a 5-star airline would be considered better value than a flight $100 cheaper with a budget airline during the low season.

As a general guideline we would consider these fares to be really cheap return fares (prices in AUD):

  • New Zealand <$300
  • South-East Asia $400-$500
  • Europe < $1000
  • West Coast USA/Canada <$1000
  • Rest of North America <$1500
  • South America <$1500
  • Africa <$1500

Should I book one way flights?

As you would imagine one-way flights are much cheaper (normally half) that of return flights. They are perfect when you are going off backpacking or on a long trip and you don’t know when or from where you will return.

If you do know your return but it’s from a different airport, booking an ‘open-jaw’ flight tends to be better than booking two separate one-way tickets. For example, if you plan to fly from Melbourne to Paris and then after a few weeks fly from Madrid back to Melbourne, try booking this all on the same itinerary as opposed to 2 separate one-way tickets.

If you are going on a long trip be sure to check out flexible return tickets. Many airlines let you pay a little extra for a flexible ticket, which lets you change the date and departure airport on your return ticket without charge (normally up to a year).

This can often be cheaper than booking a one-way ticket then trying to find another one-way ticket back later in your trip. This tactic normally works better with airlines like Turkish Airlines or Emirates because they serve many countries so it is likely you can change the flight to an airport near you.

What about last-minute flights?

As we already discussed – it’s a bad idea. If you have already left it last-minute our advice is don’t wait any longer!

If you are already gawking at the price, decide if you are going to bite the bullet and pay, or if you will cancel the trip. Do not think if you wait a couple more days it will miraculously get hundreds of dollars cheaper – it won’t.

We always hear people spreading misinformation about how flights get so cheap at the last minute when airlines are desperate. It really bugs us because we know this totally avoidable mistake is costing people money all the time.

However, every rule has an exception.

Sometimes, budget airlines do slash prices last minute because of a lack of demand for their flights. In this instance, they have no option but to give them away cheaper than normal.

However, airlines are very savvy and have very clever statistical models that measure supply and demand, so it is a very rare occurrence that you will ‘beat the system’.

Should I pay for extra baggage or to choose my seat?

Often airlines let you upgrade your ticket to include extra baggage, seat selection, priority boarding, insurance and more. They try and sell this as a package which includes all the extras together.

If you don’t want all of the extras, often you can go to the next page and pay for them individually. Don’t pay for express boarding, seat selection, and insurance if you just want more baggage.

How long do deals last?

This varies with each deal. Some will stay at those prices for a few weeks and some will go up in price an hour after you see it. For that reason, we recommend that if you see a great deal – book it straight away

First, you need to know what is a great flight deal. Use the prices we listed above as a guide and make note of different prices you see to get a feel of what is good value.

Be careful with sales. They may be due to run for a few weeks but often there are only a limited number of seats available at the discounted price.

Want to save money on your next trip?

Get the emails that let you know when flights from Australia get seriously cheap.

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In all of the flight alert emails we send, we recommend that members use Google Flights to search for the cheapest dates for their trip.

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