[HOWTO] Find The Lowest Airfares Online

Category: Travel

Finding the lowest airfare for your business or vacation trip takes a bit of cunning. It also helps to use specialized online search tools. But sometimes getting the lowest airfare has more to do with timing than tools. Here's what you need to know before booking your next flight, in order to get the lowest fares possible...

Want to Book a Cheap Flight? Here's How..

First, book your flight well in advance; at least two weeks before departure. You would think that airlines would drop the price of unsold seats as the departure time nears; after all, the risk that the seats will go unsold is increasing with each passing minute. But in reality, travelers will pay more when they have to fly on short notice. A family emergency or urgent business deal compels travelers to pay whatever it takes.

Avoid flying during peak times. Most business travelers fly on Mondays and Fridays. Many pleasure trips are booked on weekends. So if at all possible, you should fly on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday to get the lowest airfare.

According to a study done by FareCompare, Friday and Sunday the most expensive days to travel, and the best time to find a cheap flight is Tuesday at 3pm Eastern. Yes, they actually found that shopping on a Tuesday will yield the best deals on airline tickets, and that most discounted airfare deals disappear by Thursday. You can find some other interesting tips from travel insiders at the FareCompare site.

Cheap Airfare

Flying early or late in the day can also save you money. So-called "red-eye specials" are the earliest flights of each day, and they can be much cheaper than flights that depart at a decent hour. Be aware of the different airports near your destination and departing point. Typically, flights are more expensive out of the busiest airport in an area. It may be worth your while to drive an extra hour to a lesser-used airport.

Accept layovers to get the lowest airfare. Everyone wants non-stop flights, and they're priced accordingly. Connecting flights may leave you killing a couple of hours in some second-tier airport, but they can save you significant cash overall. Just hope that your luggage changes planes with you.

Online Flight Search Engines

Does it matter whether you book your flight through Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz, or another online ticketing agency? It does, but not in any consistent way. One of these sites will pick up deals that another misses, but coverage varies randomly. (Did you know that Expedia Inc. owns Hotwire, Orbitz, TripAdvisor, BookingBuddy, SmarterTravel, SeatGuru, and a few other travel sites?) The best thing to do is compare the best deals from all of the major ticketing sites simultaneously. That's where travel search engines come in.

Google Flights uses a unique calendar-based approach to help you figure out which departure day would save you the most money. Google Flights will also tell you the average legroom, and if Wi-Fi, in-seat power and on-demand video are available on your flight. An Android app will check the current price of your “saved itinerary” at any time, and if the price drops dramatically Google will send you an email alert. You cannot buy a ticket directly via Google Flights, but it does provide you with direct links and phone numbers to the airline(s) so you can book and pay for the flight without involving a middleman markup.

Kayak is one travel search engine. It lets you input your travel criteria just once, then it searches multiple ticketing agency sites for you. Kayak can also set a price-reduction alert after you book your flight, which will notify you any reduction in the fare that occurs after you book. You may be able to take advantage of such savings.

Hipmunk is an airfare price comparison tool you might find useful. Results appear on a single-page timeline that makes it easy to understand the tradeoffs between various flight options. Another interesting feature of Hipmunk is the ability to sort results by "Agony." The agony factor is based on a combination of price, flight duration, and number of stopovers.

AirfareWatchdog is another tool you may find useful. It lists low fares that their community of users find and verify. You can sign up for free city-to-city fare alerts, or "Anywhere That's Cheap" alerts, if you just want to get away, and you don't care where.

During the booking process, check with SeatGuru to find out which seats are the best seats on the plane, which are the ones to avoid, based on seat width, leg room, power outlets and other factors. If you're a business traveler with a laptop, this is especially important.

And although I can't confirm this, I've heard that you should delete your cookies before going back to an airfare site that you've used before. Apparently, they will raise their prices if they can tell you're a regular. Using the Private Browsing or Incognito feature of your browser should have the same affect. You may even find that shopping for airfare or hotel accomodations on your mobile phone yields a lower price than the same searches on your desktop.

Remember that airfare is only one component of a trip's cost. Many travel sites offer bundled deals on air travel, hotels, care rentals, and destination attractions. The money you save on the ground may be more than the cost of your airline tickets.

More Online Tools for Flyers

Okay, your trip is planned, and the departure day has arrived. You drive like a fool to the airport and then, you wait. But for how long? If you're flying from or to an airport in North America, Uncle Sam has some stats that may help to answer that question. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics has detailed information regarding airline punctuality. To find out how likely you are to encounter a delay with your airline, check the Transportation Statistics website.

If you make it through the security checkpoint without setting off any lights or buzzers, you can proceed to the gate, and wait some more. The Federal Aviation Administration has a website that offers data on arrival and departure delays at most major airports. A graphical display shows green, yellow, orange and red dots to indicate how long you may have to wait in the airport, or on the plane for take-off and landing. View Arrival & Departure Delays online.

Are you meeting a friend or business associate at the airport? Track a flight, with this graphical real-time monitor that shows the flight path on a map, along with the aircraft's altitude, speed and estimated arrival time. Try the FlightAware Flight Tracker.

Got any tips on finding low cost airfares, or dealing with the hassles of flying? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[HOWTO] Find The Lowest Airfares Online"

Posted by:

11 Jul 2017

Very informative, Bob. I have found that flights on Tue, Wed and Thur are the cheapest, also red-eyes on those days. The lowest prices are 54 days before your proposed flight date and yes, anonymous browsing keeps them from raising the price if you return to their site (dirty pool, huh?) I have flown for $169 on a flight that would cost over $1,000 if ticketed thru an agency! I always select a seat in the next-to-last row because many years ago in a C-46 crash in Egypt, the tail broke off and us two guys in the rear seats were the only survivors, not even a scratch! I fly to the Middle East occasionally and the $6,000 ticket you can find for about $1,000 if you can handle two stops and a 2 hour wait over and a bus trip for the last 120 miles! My overall advice: ALWAYS take a big lunch with you remembering that if the plane is NOT moving, the crew is NOT on duty so if you are stuck waiting for a gate for 2-3 hours, at least you can eat! And have enough to share with your seat-mate! Happy flying!

Posted by:

11 Jul 2017

An issue I have found is getting flights with some of the newer outfits (Norwegian, IcelandAir, etal) or the cheapest airlines (Ryanair, SW, etal)that Kayak and other search engines do not include.

Posted by:

Richard Dengrove
11 Jul 2017

Bob, I'm sure you're very right that flights with stopovers are generally cheaper. However, there's the problem of getting stuck at the layover point. O'Hare is notorious. On the other hand, the higher fares for nonstops isn't always the case. The nonstop flight to Lansing, Michigan, that I recently took was cheaper to those one stoppers.

Posted by:

11 Jul 2017

Taking a red-eye to save airfare is contingent on the length of the flight no less than your ability to sleep on a plane.

My wife Martha and I flew red-eye from Phoenix to Newark. Despite Martha's best efforts, she stayed awake. I slept. But I didn't get a decent night's sleep because the flight was too short. Worse yet, time I might have slept was cut into by chatter by the crew after takeoff and preparations before landing.

We were shot the entire day.

Posted by:

11 Jul 2017

I am pleased to see your advice about using Private Browsing, Incognito etc, as they do put the prices up if you return to the booking sites.
I find the best fare I can Online, print it and run down to the travel agent to see if they can match or better the price, and often they can get get me something cheaper. I am lucky to have a travel agent within a couple of hundred metres of my work.

Posted by:

11 Jul 2017

Great article......but do note that all these websites dot NOT INCLUDE Southwest Air!
For their fares, you have to go directly to their website southwestair.com I have found that many times their fares are cheaper than the best ones from the search engines.

Posted by:

12 Jul 2017

I have found a mega-search site like cheapflights.com usually leads me to very cheap seats.

Posted by:

12 Jul 2017

Probably the best metasearch engines for flights, hotels and rental cars I know are momondo.com and skyscanner.com. They are huge, easy to use and very effective. They are also veeeery popular in Europe. Another interesting ond is awayze.com. It lists some error fares and promotions different companies have.

Posted by:

12 Jul 2017

I'll second Constantin's suggestion on skyscanner. Very useful site with a lot of filtering/selection options. You can also see daily prices up to 15 days out. It does include Southwest and has links to purchase for all airlines shown.

Posted by:

12 Jul 2017

Here's another site for air travelers that I've found useful from time to time. Flight status, flight tracking, etc., they are the best in the industry. Check it out:


Posted by:

13 Jul 2017

Everything Bob has shared is extremely valuable; heed his advice.
The problem is that the "incognito" search concept absolutely does NOT always work to get lower rates. I have spent extensive amounts of time over several years using numerous travel sites, airline websites, etc for both domestic and international flights and I can tell you for a definite fact that searching incognito or clearing your browser does not consistently yield the lowest rates.
Likewise, Tuesday 3:00 PM Eastern booking will absolutely NOT always get the cheapest fare. If you want the cheapest flights, it takes lots of time and searching, there is no shortcut. I have never yet found a travel agent who can find cheaper rates than what I find. You must starts your search AT LEAST two months in advance (6 months for international) and watch for pricing patterns. Use multiple travel websites AND visit the airline websites.
Most people don't know that airlines DO NOT make all their flights available to Expedia, Kayak, and others. Also, when using the airline's website, ALWAYS use the "advanced search" feature; a Delta rep once explained that the "Advanced Search" feature will reveal ALL the flights to a location, something not consistently available for viewing otherwise.

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