Let's face it. Booking flights is stressful. Are you getting the best rate? Are you booking too early or too late? Does that "book on Tuesdays" piece of advice actually mean anything?
We've gathered up the ultimate checklist of 10 things you should do when booking a flight to make sure you're getting the absolute best deal. Because no one wants to spend $1200 on a flight only to kick yourself later when you realize the price has dropped to $600.
A special thanks to our friends over at Dollar Flight Club for sharing these with us. If you want to skip the legwork of finding flight deals yourself, subscribe to their newsletter and they'll send you daily flight deals straight to you inbox.
1) How Much Should Airfare Actually Cost?
Here's how to know what is actually a good deal. If you ever stumble upon prices to these destinations in these ranges, book ASAP!
Europe: $300s-$500s round trip
East and Southeast Asia: $300s-$500s round trip
South America: $400s-$600s round trip
Africa: $500s-$700s round trip
Australia: $700s-$800s round trip
Caribbean: $200s-$300s round trip
Hawaii: $200s-$400s round trip
2) Be Flexible With Airports (On Both Sides)
Make sure to check ALL airports close to where you live AS WELL AS those close to your destination.
For example, NYC to Paris might be $1200 roundtrip, but if you check for flights from NYC to Brussels, it's just a short 1.5 hr train ride to Paris from there.
You can even broaden the range of other cities you check since budget airlines in Europe and Asia frequently have round-trip flights for less than $100.
3) Be Flexible With Travel Dates
This one is obvious, but the best thing to do is to first see what travel dates are the least expensive instead of deciding on your dates first. Figure out your flight situation, then request time off at work!
It also helps to be flexible with not just WHEN you travel, but the LENGTH OF TIME that you're traveling for. Airlines try to price flights so they can charge business travelers more, and leisure travelers less so they can fill seats on a flight. That means that if you're departing on a Sunday or Monday morning, and then coming back on Friday, you look like you're a business traveler to the airline and the flights will be pricier. However, if you select a 10-day period (e.g., Wednesday through the following Saturday), then you're most likely a leisure traveler since business travelers will always try to return home before the weekend and those flights will almost always cost less.
Continue reading below for tips on tools to use to figure out the least expensive times to travel.
4) Search And Booking Using These 3 Sites
Google Flights: Always start here. There's a nice calendar view that allows you to see the cheapest times to travel up to 9 months in advance. Remember to not only play around with date ranges, but also try different trip lengths (7 days, 10 days, etc).
Another good way to do this is to search one way flights first to see which days are cheaper in each direction using Google's price calendar feature. After you find the lowest priced departure and return flights, then use those dates for your round-trip.
Then, keep tabs on the price you found and then head over to...
Momondo: Momondo always returns the absolute lowest priced fares, even less than in Google Flights 95% of the time. Re-enter the itinerary you found in Google Flights and hit search. Keep tabs on the price you found on Momondo, and then do one last check using...
Skiplagged: This site was sued by United Airlines for exploiting a pricing loophole in their booking system. Enter your dates into Skiplagged to make sure you found the absolute lowest fare, and then book with confidence!
5. How Far In Advance Should I Book My Flights?
Typically you'll want to book 2-3 months in advance for domestic flights when you find a great fare, and 3-8 months in advance for international flights.
Remember that cheap fares often disappear within 24 hours (and some even within a few minutes), so if you see a good deal like $310 roundtrip from New York to Paris, you should book it ASAP.
Waiting last minute usually doesn't work out, though if you're flexible and you're looking for last minute flights, try SkyHi. It charges a monthly membership fee of $199 (steep, yes), BUT it comes with 5 one-way flights per month and those flights start at just $35 so if you're a frequent last-minute weekend traveler, it works in your favor.
6. All About Mistake Fares
A mistake fare happens when an airline mistakenly publishes the wrong ticket prices. There are a few reasons this can happen:
Simple human error: Let's say a ticket from NYC to Capetown was $1308 round-trip, but it ended up being priced at $130 round-trip. Someone forgot a zero, or entered in the wrong number for price, which leads to a super discounted fare.
OTA glitches / omitting fuel surcharges and fees: Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) are often what cause these mistake fares. Their backend booking systems are incredibly complex, which means errors are inevitable. In some instances, a price is significantly reduced because it's missing fuel surcharges. Fuel surcharges prevent frequent flyer programs from allowing people to book 100% free tickets using miles (you'll notice when you redeem miles you always have to pay some sort of taxes or fees). Oftentimes, a significant drop in fares is because these charges were dropped by accident.
Currency conversion errors: Currency conversions also lead to mistakes. For instance, the team at Dollar Flight Club recently found a $4000 United Airlines flight that was available for $79. That mistake happened due to a miscalculation between the Danish Kroner and British Pound.
Finding mistake fares can be tough as they only pop up every once in a while. To save yourself from sitting in front of computer checking Google Flights and Momondo all day long, you can subscribe to a service like Dollar Flight Club to alert you when these happen (some of their best mistake fares have included SF to New Zealand for $260 round trip, NYC to Ivory Coast for $318 round trip, Business class from US cities to Lima, Peru for $450 roundtrip).
When you find a fare like this, you should always go ahead and book it, but don't make any non-refundable plans for hotel or activities until the airline confirms your ticket, which can take a up to week or so. Recently, airlines are no longer required to honor mistake fares, but the vast majority do get honored as airlines prefer to avoid bad PR from canceling flight tickets.
7. Check Pricing Trends
While it's helpful to be flexible with your travel dates, you should also look at overall pricing trends during the year - what if you're only looking for dates in the next 6 months, but you see that 8 months from now is actually when the fares are lowest?
Tools like FareDetective will show you historical data around flight prices. Just enter in your departure and arrival airport, and they'll tell you what time of year will likely be the cheapest to travel.
One caveat here is that you should also check for weather and any special local holidays. For example, you might mind a cheap flight to Bali between October and April, but then realize that you really don't want to go during monsoon season. Or, you may find cheap flights to Tokyo around New Year's, but then you'd get there only to realize that EVERYTHING in Tokyo shuts down for the 1st week of January and most restaurants, shops, etc. are closed as people travel to spend time with family.
8. Use Google's Flight Insights Tips (Get Discounts On Premium Cabin Fares)
When searching for flights from Google, it's always worth clicking on the "Tips" icon right below your flight search box.
Tips can include anything from assurance that you're booking a good deal (e.g., "Prices for your dates are $108 less than usual"), advice on when to book for a cheaper flight (e.g., "Depart a day earlier and save $59"), as well as notifications around discounted premium cabin flights.
9. Clear Your Cache, Search In "Incognito Mode"
Before searching for flights, be sure to clear your cache and search in incognito mode. Almost airlines will use browser cookies to trick customers into buying flights.
When an airline or site sees you returning multiple times to check the price of a certain flight, they'll show prices going up to urge you to book ASAP. If you were checking flight prices multiple times and then noticed the price going up almost by the minute, instead of panicking and thinking you need to book right away before prices get even more crazy, do this instead.
Clear your cache before each search, or simply open your browser in incognito mode (Control+Shift+N will work for the most popular browsers) and check again.
10. If You Have One, Use A VPN
If you have access to a VPN, you can set your location to another country with a different currency and flight tickets may be lower.
Websites use multiple ways to determine your location and then quote you a price based on where you are. By using a VPN, you can change your IP address to a lower-income country as prices always fluctuate depending on what country you're searching from. You can learn more about how this works, and get a VPN to try it here.