Finding Cheap Airfare
One of the first steps in planning a trip is finding cheap airfare. When I decided to leave the U.S. for a year of solo travel, I chose to start looking for ways to save on airfare to get me to a starting point in Europe. Scotland, Portugal and Spain all seemed like great options and I thought airfare might play a role in my final decision of where to begin my journey.
My initial goal was to find a one-way ticket from Phoenix to one of these places in Europe for under $500. I spent months reading, surfing websites and using search engines in my search for finding cheap airfare and realized I could get a ticket for even lower. Using some additional tricks with rewards cards, I ended up not paying a dime out of pocket. More on that below.
Here are the three methods I found to be the most effective in finding cheap airfare.
Skyscanner.com allows you to input an airport or city in the departure and destination fields. Additionally, it offers the ability to search by country. This is a unique feature that allows for a broader search initially to get general prices into and out of each country and then a more refined search by city and airport.
Skyscanner also has an “Everywhere” feature that lists the cheapest destinations from one place to a variety of countries. This is particularly valuable for travelers who have flexibility in their schedule, as they can plan their trip around the best prices.
In my case, I started by searching from Arizona to Portugal. Then I refined the cheapest departure city in Arizona to Phoenix, and the cheapest destination city and airport in Portugal to Lisbon. Here is their helpful tool that displays pricing across an entire month at a time. This is incredibly helpful for finding cheap airfare.
dI continued this method for the U.K. and listed both Edinburgh and London. While far from the cheapest city in Europe, London is a popular starting point for many first time travelers. It is also a major discount airline hub so it is sometimes an attractive starting point. Playing around with Skyscanner’s search options, I found the following rates:
Phoenix to Lisbon: $1,078 Roundtrip, $665 One-Way
Phoenix to Edinburg: $1,120 Roundtrip, $639 One-Way
Phoenix to London: $1,141 Roundtrip, $615 One-Way
Momondo.com doesn’t have a country search or an “Everywhere” option like Skyscanner, but it makes up for it with a large number of additional regional and budget airlines that other airfare search engines do not incorporate into their search results. For this reason, it acts as a great secondary search engine in finding cheap airfare for users who have a good idea of which cities or airports they want to fly to and from.
Phoenix to Lisbon: $1,042 Roundtrip, $565 One-Way
Phoenix to Edinburgh: $1,101 Roundtrip, $671 One-Way
Phoenix to London: $1,141 Roundtrip, $577 One-Way
Google.com/flights provides a comprehensive visual map of airports and pricing. For broad searches and initial stages of planning, this site is also a great tool. The drawback is that it does not always include airfare rates from all local and budget airlines. I would recommend using at least these three sites before purchasing any airfare. As the examples indicate, each site has their own methods and searching engines and each could end up offering the best overall price.
Phoenix to Lisbon: $1,095 Roundtrip, $1,029 One-Way
Phoenix to Edinburgh: $1,132 Roundtrip, $610 One-Way
Phoenix to London: $1,162 Roundtrip, $610 One-Way
*Examples were compiled in February 2015 for airfare during the month of May 2015 on mostly mid-week flights. Results were based solely on the lowest prices.
When To Fly
Due in part to a culture of limited vacation time, many people in the U.S. tend to fly on weekend days and close to holidays. This in turn means that those flights are in higher demand and are therefore typically more expensive. Flights during the middle of the week are almost always cheaper. Also, flights that are early in the morning or late at night generally offer better rates. The ability to be flexible pays off in a big way.
International flights may have one or two layovers on their way to their destination. Using stops or layovers to your advantage through a multi-city booking, or open-jaw as it is sometimes called, may allow you to save and see more places along the way. This option may not be for everyone but offers a number of benefits worth considering.
The Everywhere feature on Skyscanner is very useful here. There are a few ways to set up this type of a search. The first way is to enter a home and destination country with as open of a travel timeframe as possible, at least a month if possible. The cheapest route may be from somewhere other than the traveler’s home city. If this is the case, complete another search to see how much a flight to that city might cost or explore other travel options to get to that city. This may not always make sense and save money but it is worth looking into if saving additional money is the goal.
From: USA, To: UK, Depart: May 2015
Boston to London $247
Phoenix to Boston $142
From: USA, To: UK, Depart: May 2015
New York to Edinburgh $336
Phoenix to New York City $148
From: USA, To: Portugal, Depart: May 2015
Boston to Lisbon $345
Phoenix to Boston $142
Each of these example searches reflects a final price cheaper than that of the one-way searches alone. If a layover occurs, the traveler would need to determine if it would work for their schedule, if they desire to spend that amount of extra time there, and if the extra cost to stay in that city throughout the layover outweighs any savings on breaking up the flights.
Special Rates & Loyalty Programs
Everyone who flies should sign up for major airline loyalty programs, even if you do not fly each airline often. There are frequently opportunities to earn miles on these programs and some of them do not cost any money at all. Loyalty programs also offer discounts and members are the first to know about them. This can mean additional savings.
ThePointsGuy.com is one of the best resources for rating loyalty programs. He also posts valuable airfare discounts when they occur. As an example, WOW Air is a new carrier based in Iceland. In late 2014, they announced flights from New York City or Boston to Reykjavik, Iceland from $179. Later they even posted a few select flights for $99. I had not heard of WOW Air before but because I followed ThePointGuy and other related deal sites, I found out about this fare and booked it. This was nearly half the price of other airlines.
TheFlightDeal.com provides one of the most comprehensive listings of deals on airfare. When you subscribe to their newsletter they will send out several deals per day. Even if you don’t end up purchasing one of the deals they send right away, they provide a good gauge for how low some rates can go for. This is another great resource.
Hopefully this helps give you a good idea on some methods I used in my searches for finding cheap airfare. The flights I ended up choosing for my trip were a balance between price and what worked best with my travel schedule. As I mentioned, I also ended up using points from one of my travel rewards credit cards, which covered the entire cost!
Check out what cards I used in Top Credit and Debit Cards for Travel!
Enjoy your travels and please comment below or email me with any questions!
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