Flight tickets are often one of the top expenses when traveling. If you save money here it’s one of the best ways to lower your travel costs. Allowing you to spend more on fun things, travel further and longer, or simply consume more margaritas.
What I’m about to share with you is my personal checklist I use when booking flights. It’s based on my experience from hundreds of flights over the last 9 years, traveling the world. And these hacks work for all flights.
I’ve also debunked all the typical price myths so you don’t have to. Such as it’s cheaper to book your flights on Tuesdays, or you should use your browser’s incognito/private mode to see a lower price.
I’ve organized the 19-step checklist into four sequential parts:
- Money Saving Preparations
- Searching for the Best Flights
- Booking the Tickets for the Lowest Price
- Budget-Friendly Hacks for Your Flight Day
So indulge in your preferred beverage, get comfortable, and allow me to demonstrate the techniques that have saved me thousands of dollars on flight tickets over the years.
📖 Table of Contents
- First Part: Money Saving Preparations 💻
- Second Part: Searching for the Best Flights 🔍
- Third Part: Booking the Tickets for the Lowest Price 💳
- 11. The Best Website to Book Flight Tickets (Get $ Cashback)
- 12. Don’t Buy Extras When Booking Your Tickets
- 13. Bypass the Luggage Fees by Packing Light
- 14. Compare the Prices of Buying Extras Separately vs Bundle Packages
- 15. Take Advantage of the Free Frequent Flyer Programs
- 16. Take Advantage of Free 24-Hour Cancellation
- Fourth Part: Budget-Friendly Hacks for Your Flight Day ✈️
First Part: Money Saving Preparations 💻
1. Earn Rewards and Access Free Perks With a Travel Credit Card
First thing first.
Utilizing the earning of rewards on your daily spending is one of the best ways to save money on flight tickets and other travel costs. Even on non-travel-related spending.
And by eliminating or reducing inevitable travel expenses such as international exchange fees, travel insurance, and baggage fees, it’s a simple and effective way to save money.
Benefits of Travel Credit Cards:
- Sign-up bonuses: Get bonus points or miles by meeting spending requirements within a specific timeframe (including non-travel spending)
- Earn travel rewards: Redeem points or miles for flights, hotels, and other travel expenses
- Travel perks: Enjoy benefits like airport lounge access, upgrades, priority boarding, free bags, and travel insurance
- Foreign transaction fee savings: Avoid fees when using your card abroad, saving money on international exchange fees
- Concierge services: Access dedicated assistance for travel planning, reservations, and personalized support
- Rental car insurance: Save money by utilizing included rental car insurance coverage
- Additional perks and discounts: Access elite status, exclusive discounts, events, and partnerships for sweetened travel experiences.
If you’re from the US I suggest taking a look at the top travel credit cards on The Points Guy.
From my experience, many of these benefits are mostly accessible to US citizens, unfortunately (lucky you! 😉).
If you’re from Europe like me, consider signing up for N26 (You or Metal). They provide some of the top benefits such as no international exchange fees and travel insurance. All for under €10/month.
📌 TIP: Please be aware that I am not affiliated with The Points Guys or N26 (at least at the time of writing). I simply suggest them because I consider them to be the best options available. This applies to all the other recommendations I make on my website, whether I am affiliated with them or not.
2. The Best Time to Book Flights
The best time to book your flight ticket depends on your unique situation.
A good rule of thumb is that you should book 1-3 months in advance for domestic flights and 2-8 months for international flights.
Now, when it comes to deciding whether to book earlier or later within these suggested time frames, two factors should be taken into consideration.
Consider booking later within these time frames:
- If you’re flexible and don’t have any specific dates
- If you’re traveling during the low-season/low-peak times
This way, you provide more time for the opportunity for the prices to drop. Later, I’ll show you how to set up automatic price alerts sent to your email (for free).
On the other hand, if your dates are fixed due to specific occasions or you’re traveling during high season/peak times such as holidays or other events, then you might want to book earlier.
📌 TIP: Contrary to popular belief, there's rarely money to be saved when booking last-minute flights. Prices usually increase a lot within 3 weeks of departure.
3. Set Up Alerts and Receive an Email When Ticket Prices Drop
This method is effective if you’re nearing the end of the suggested time frames for booking your tickets (1-3 months for domestic flights and 2-8 months for international).
By setting up price alerts, you’ll instantly receive an email in case the ticket prices drop.
Though there’s no guarantee that they will, there’s no reason not to do so if you have the time and flexibility.
How to Set Up Price Alerts for Different Travel Scenarios
There are three websites I recommend using, depending on whether you already know the specific or approximate dates of your travels, departure, and arrival locations, or only your departure location.
Please note that this chapter focuses solely on setting up the most efficient price alerts and not on how to book the tickets (which we will cover later).
Scenario A: You Know the Specific Dates or Months and Locations
In this case, I recommend using WayAway’s Price Alerts.
Scenario B: You Know the Locations but Not the Dates
And in this case, I recommend using Google Flights:
Scenario C: You Only Have the Location of Departure
If you’re flexible enough to neither care about the dates nor your arrival location, then there’s big money to be saved. Or maybe you’re just curious about how cheap flight tickets can get.
In this case, I suggest joining Dollarflightclub.com to get notified about ridiculously low-priced tickets. They have more than 1,000,000 members and offer both free and paid memberships.
Currently, you can get a 14-day trial of their paid membership for $1 (renews at $69/year). This gives you access to five times more flight deals, enables you to select up to five departure airports instead of one, and unlocks perks and discounts on leading travel websites such as Tripadvisor and Viator.
📌 TIP: If you receive a price alert that seems too good to be true. It's maybe what's referred to as a "mistake fare" (sometimes priced 90% or lower than average). If you decide to book the tickets, ensure that you receive an e-ticket number and/or a 6-digit PNR code. Once you have confirmed this, I suggest waiting for two weeks before booking any non-refundable aspects of your trip, such as accommodation, tours, or other transportation. This is because there is a smaller risk of the airline canceling the tickets (approximately a 10% risk according to Going.com). And considering that "mistake fares" are often time-sensitive, I recommend booking directly with the airline to avoid involving an unnecessary additional link, such as a third-party flight booking website.
4. Buy a Water Filter and Drink Tap Water From Any Airport
I’m aware that this won’t directly lower the price of your flight tickets, but it can reduce your total travel costs by replacing the overpriced water bottles sold at airports.
A water filter such as the Grayl Geopress allows you to safely drink tap water at every airport around the world. It even filters viruses which many other filters don’t.
It’s not cheap, and it will take up a bit of space, but if you’re traveling a lot it can be a good investment. Also, it will reduce your carbon footprint by not buying disposable bottles.
Second Part: Searching for the Best Flights 🔍
Now it’s time to call on your inner detective.
To search for flight tickets I use Momondo, Skyscanner, and Google Flights. In my opinion, these websites offer the best search functionalities. And I’ll show you exactly what website to use according to your unique situation. But feel free to use whatever websites you prefer.
Notice that this part is solely dedicated to searching for the best flights. We will go through how to book them for the cheapest price in the next chapter.
5. Make Your Departure and Arrival Dates as Flexible as Possible
There’s a reason I put this step first.
Having flexible travel dates are the most powerful way to lower the price of your tickets. Period.
Though I get that it’s not always possible. But remember that even a few days can make a noticeable difference in price.
How to Find the Best Price According to Your Level of Flexibility
I have not yet come across a single website that offers all the functionalities I need. As a result, I use different websites for different scenarios.
Scenario A: If You Have Specific Dates to Travel (Momondo)
Momondo allows you to search for up to +/- 3 days of flexibility on your desired travel dates. That’s why I prefer them for this scenario.
Scenario B: If You Have a Specific Month to Travel (Skyscanner)
While the other websites also let you choose to search prices within a specific month, Skyscanner just does it better and with more flexibility.
Scenario C: If You Can Travel Whenever (Google Flights Explore)
Thanks to Google, you can find the lowest prices for weekend trips, 1-week trips, or 2-week trips within the next 6 months from any given destination.
Though if you want to search for prices later than 6 months and/or for a trip longer than 2 weeks, then I recommend using Skyscanner, as in scenario B.
Optional: Check Prices During Low Seasons
Usually, this is not only a good way to save money on your tickets, but also on accommodation, tours, and other activities.
To look up the low seasons of a destination, go to Google Flights Explore (live example) and click on any city. Then scroll down a bit until you find the “When to visit” widget.
6. Include Nearby Airports as Well
Once you’ve found the cheapest tickets, you’re ready for the next step: checking whether there’s a cheaper journey to another airport near your destination.
This way, you open up even more options to choose from. And the additional transportation to your destination from an alternative airport is often worth it.
In my opinion, the best way to find nearby airports is also using Google Flights Explore.
For example, if you were to fly from New York to Aarhus in Denmark, you could save around $331 by flying to Copenhagen instead and then taking a 3.5-hour bus ride to Aarhus (which costs around $17 one-way).
📌 TIP: In the next chapter, I'll reveal how to find the best non-flying itineraries abroad, such as getting to your destination from an alternative airport.
7. Look Even Further Than Nearby Airports
The difference between this step and the previous (step 6) is that we’re now expanding to include airports that are even farther away or in other nearby countries.
If you are traveling overseas, think of it as “finding the cheapest way to cross the ocean.”
For this, I also recommend using Google Flights Explore.
For example, if you were to fly from New York to Siem Reap, you would save around $412 by flying to Bangkok instead. And then take the 7.5-hour bus ride to Siem Reap (costing around $36 one-way).
Though in this case, I would recommend flying on a later date or after the day of arrival due to the long bus ride, as flights are inexpensive (costing around $54 for a round-trip ticket). But I’m sure you get the idea.
TIP: To find the best non-flying itineraries, I recommend websites such as 12go (Asia) and Omio (Worldwide). These websites show you the cheapest and best options, combining buses, trains, ferries, etc., into a single journey for you to book. Sometimes you won't find results with these websites, and in that case, I recommend using Google Maps.
8. Consider Night Flights and Save Money on Accommodation
If one of the tickets you’re considering involves flying overnight, you’ve stumbled upon an opportunity.
While it’s not a direct way to save money on your flight tickets, sleeping on the plane is a simple way to reduce accommodation costs by one night.
Moreover, it’s time-efficient since you’re traveling while sleeping. This means that you usually check in the evening and land at your destination the following morning.
9. Consider Long Layovers
Sometimes, long layover tickets are cheaper.
Consider taking it as an opportunity to experience a place for “free” by simply making a stop between your destinations. This could range from half a day to several days.
Many airlines are even offering free layover tours and hotel stays (Going.com), all of which contribute to reducing your overall travel costs.
📌 TIP: Ensure that you meet all the immigration requirements of the layover country where you intend to disembark, such as visas and vaccinations.
10. Check Prices Separately if You’re in a Group
Sometimes booking flight tickets separately is cheaper than booking them all at once.
What determines this is the number of tickets left within the current fare.
So let’s imagine you’re traveling with one other person, but there’s only 1 ticket left for a fare of $299 and several for the next and higher fare of $399.
If you were to book both tickets together you’d be offered $399 per ticket ($798 in total), even though there 1 ticket left for a lower fare ($299), meaning that the price “should” be $698 in total.
This is because the airline is only selling you tickets from the same fare which has enough available tickets.
Keep in mind you’re not always seeing the number of tickets left in the current fare while booking tickets. Here you just have to compare the average price of your group vs the price of a single ticket.
📌 TIP: If you use this method make sure to call the airline after you've booked your tickets and tell them that you're traveling together despite the different reservations. This is to ensure that you're group will stay together in case of changes to your flight.
Third Part: Booking the Tickets for the Lowest Price 💳
11. The Best Website to Book Flight Tickets (Get $ Cashback)
WayAway is one of these websites that seems too good to be true. The good news is that it’s not.
Their concept is straightforward. They share the profit they make from your bookings when referring you to their partners without you having to pay a higher price. That’s it.
So why not enjoy up to 5% cashback on your flight tickets from trusted websites like Expedia? Or up to 10% cashback on accommodations booked through Booking.com?
The cashback you earn will be conveniently transferred to your PayPal account, allowing you to withdraw it directly to your bank account.
Let me provide you with a real-life example of booking a trip from New York to Copenhagen using my WayAway Plus account. This trip lasts 2 weeks and includes round-trip flight tickets and a 4-star hotel.
Flights from New York to Copenhagen ($5 cashback):
4-star hotel for 12 nights in Copenhagen ($202 cashback):
Based on these examples, the total cashback with WayAway is $207 ($5 on flights and $202 on the hotel).
This means you would earn your money back over four times, as the $207 cashback divided by the $44.95 yearly membership fee results in a return on investment of 4.6 times. This is without considering the savings from additional trips.
To get started, sign up for a 7-day free trial of their Plus membership. Then, browse through flights and accommodations to see the total cashback you would receive. If the amount exceeds their $44.95/year membership fee, you are guaranteed to save money.
Keep in mind that you can still book flight tickets and accommodation with a free membership; however, you won’t receive any cashback.
📌 TIP: Make sure you're logged in with your Plus account while browsing. Otherwise, you won't see the cashback amount when searching for flights, or on Booking.com after being redirected from WayAway.
12. Don’t Buy Extras When Booking Your Tickets
Many flight ticket booking websites make their living by upselling extras. This includes premium support, insurance, SMS reminders, and other creative offers.
That’s the reason they’re often cheaper than booking directly with the airline.
Keep in mind they’re doing a good job in trying to convince you that their extras are needed when in reality it’s not.
📌 TIP: I also suggest skipping seat reservations if you have to pay for them. Except if you're going on a long flight or it's a must-have for you. But before doing so, keep in mind that I'll later show you how to secure a free seat reservation or upgrade when checking in at the airport, along with my suggestions on which seats are the best.
13. Bypass the Luggage Fees by Packing Light
Skipping checked-in luggage can save you a lot of money, time spent waiting at airports, and the headaches of lost luggage or other concerns, not to mention the freedom and benefits of traveling light.
If you’re in doubt about whether you could downsize or not, consider reading my guide on how to pack light without packing less.
Chances are there’s a thing or two that will surprise you.
14. Compare the Prices of Buying Extras Separately vs Bundle Packages
There’s money to be saved when you bundle extras compared to buying them separately.
Let me show you an example from Norwegian Airlines:
Here, the price of this LowFare+ bundle ticket is $104.50, and it includes:
- 1 checked bag
- 1 cabin bag
- Seat reservation
If you were to buy a LowFare ticket and purchase these extras separately, the total price would be $124.60 (aka $20 more):
15. Take Advantage of the Free Frequent Flyer Programs
The majority of airlines have a frequent flyer traveler program you can join for free.
Here are examples of rewards and benefits offered by frequent flyer programs:
- Loyalty rewards: Earn miles/points for flights and purchases
- Exclusive benefits: Priority check-in, boarding, and baggage handling
- Partner programs: Redeem rewards with partner businesses
- Special offers: Access to exclusive discounts and promotions.
And since they’re free to join, you only have to invest a bit of time in registering and remembering to fill out your frequent flyer number during booking.
📌 TIP: As the name suggests, you're likely to gain more from a frequent flyer program if you're flying frequently.
16. Take Advantage of Free 24-Hour Cancellation
This is an easy way to potentially save money if your tickets come with free 24-hour cancellation.
Before the time runs out, simply check whether the prices of your tickets have dropped since you booked them.
If that’s the case, the only thing you have to do is cancel them and make a new reservation.
📌 TIP: Only follow this method if you're 100% confident that the 24-hour cancellation policy is free and covers the full price you paid.
Fourth Part: Budget-Friendly Hacks for Your Flight Day ✈️
17. Land a Free Seat Reservation/Upgrade
Whether your ticket includes a free seat reservation or not, there’s still a way to increase the value of your ticket.
Skip online check-in or seat reservations. Instead, go to the airport’s check-in counter and request an aisle seat in the middle row or a spot with extra legroom near emergency exits or at the front of a row. This also reduces disturbances from fellow passengers getting up.
If that’s not possible, you can always use Seatguru to find the best alternative seats on any airplane.
📌 TIP: Keep in mind that the sooner you check-in, the higher your chances are for this to work. Check-in usually opens 2-3 hours before departure.
18. Ensure That You’re Full and Hydrated Before Going to the Airport
It’s easy to become so focused on securing the cheapest flight ticket or accommodation that we forget that the only place more expensive than buying on an airplane is the airport itself.
So, if you have the time, I suggest eating well on the day of your flight to avoid eating at an expensive and busy airport.
Another thing to keep in mind is that airports are synonymous with waiting, which, combined with hunger, can easily result in the temptation of spending money on overpriced foods and snacks.
📌 TIP: In the event of "overhydration," I suggest visiting the bathroom before boarding. Unexpected circumstances can cause the lavatories to become unavailable for a longer time 😉
19. Bring Food and Snacks for the Flight
As the last tip, let’s stay in the same category as the previous one.
Bringing your own food and snacks is the cheapest way to stay full during your journey, and it’s a good alternative if you don’t have time to eat before going to the airport.
Another advantage is that it’s generally easier to eat healthy compared to most foods served on flights.
Here are some examples of flying-friendly foods and snacks you can consider bringing on the airplane:
- Pre-packaged snacks: Granola bars, energy bars, trail mix, dried fruit, nuts, and crackers
- Sandwiches: Opt for sandwiches with ingredients that don’t have strong odors, such as turkey, chicken, or vegetarian options like cheese and vegetable fillings
- Fresh fruits: Apples, grapes, oranges, berries, and other fruits that are not overly fragrant.
- Vegetables: Carrot sticks, celery, cherry tomatoes, and sliced cucumbers
- Cheese: Pre-cut slices or cubes of mild cheeses like cheddar, mozzarella, or Swiss
- Baked goods: Muffins, cookies, biscuits, or pastries that are not strongly scented
- Wraps or burritos: Choose fillings that are not pungent, like grilled chicken, vegetables, or beans
- Yogurt cups: Individual-sized yogurt containers with a sealed lid
- Snack packs: Snack packs with items like cheese and crackers or hummus and pretzels.
📌 TIP: Remember to check the specific regulations and restrictions of the airline you're flying with, as some items may have size limitations or be subject to additional security checks. Additionally, it's always a good idea to be mindful of your fellow passengers and avoid strongly scented food.