How you can find cheap flights

Ahu Tongariri

Ahu Tongariri

I take many of my trips using airline miles and points.  Having said that though, I’ve been able to take some really cheap paid flights as well, some examples: $296 to London, $430 to Israel, $440 to Beijing, and $320 to Easter Island.  A friend and I also recently went to Machu Picchu for the relatively cheap price of $376.  All of those prices were for roundtrip tickets and included all taxes.  Domestically, a buddy and I went to Park City this March, in First Class, for $78 apiece!  Am I bragging?  A little.  It’s been really cool to go to so many places for so little money and I want to help you do the same thing.  These tips are for finding epic low fares, not just lower than normal ones, so only proceed if you’re ready to travel big.

1. Check these websites
The Flight Deal
Fare Deal Alert
Mileage Runs Forum at FlyerTalk (geared more towards Mileage Runs to earn miles, but you’ll see many mistake fares pop up here also)

2. Be flexible
Deals show up infrequently and don’t last for long.  Many of these airfares are in fact mistakes and are pulled as soon as the airlines notice their mistake.  Take advantage of the 24-hour free cancellation policies of major airlines and most OTAs (online travel agencies like Expedia, etc.).  Put the fare on hold (if offered) or purchase the airfare and take the next 20 or so hours to figure out whether or not the trip is possible, THEN cancel.  Much better to do it this way than to call everyone beforehand and then have the fare evaporate right as you’re about to book.  When you see these sort of epic deals, they’ll usually work for very specific airport combinations, and usually not in reverse if it’s an international flight (might work from Beijing-DFW, but not DFW-Beijing).

3. If it seems too good to be true, BOOK IT, WAIT, and DON’T CALL THE AIRLINE
If it’s a mistake fare (like the Delta domestic First Class tickets last year), do not call the airline to confirm the deal!  Book it online and WAIT.  Within a day or two of the deal ending the airline will usually issue a press release stating whether or not they’ll honor the fares (they usually do).  Only after that point should you call the airline.  Don’t kill the deal for everyone else!

4. For non-mistake fares, know your hubs!
Airlines across most of the world follow a hub-and-spoke model.  This means most flights on that airline will be routed through 5-6 airports before going on to their final destinations.  This increases efficiencies for airlines and provides more route availability in most cases, even though it can be annoying for passengers who wish they could fly nonstop.

Here are the hubs for the Big 3 US Airlines:

  • Delta – Atlanta, Cincinatti, Detroit, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York JFK, New York LGA, Salt Lake City, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle
  • American/US Airways – Dallas/Ft. Worth, Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles, New York JFK, New York LGA, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Washington Reagan, Charlotte, Miami
  • United – Houston, Chicago, Denver, Guam (!), Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington Dulles, and Newark

Why is this important?  Airlines are competitive and attack the fares of other airlines FREQUENTLY.  Sorry for yelling, but I needed to get my point across.  An example is a trip I took with some friends back in January 2012 to Costa Rica.  A normal American Airlines flight from DFW-Costa Rica (they offer nonstop service) costs roughly $600.  One day I noticed someone posted a deal on American Airlines from Houston to Costa Rica for $290ish, which obviously got my attention.  American doesn’t have a hub in Houston but United does, so that’s a fare attack.  Whenever one airline attacks another’s hub fares, always check the “vice versa”.  Since American was attacking a United hub, I figured United would do the same to American’s hub in Dallas, and I was right: United had a round-trip from DFW-LIR for $250!  Now, it stopped in Houston, but that was ok with us, and a total of 24 good friends went down to Costa Rica on an incredibly fun trip (hilariously, if we had booked the United nonstop from Houston to LIR it still would’ve been $500-600).

This seriously happens all the time, so be sure and check hubs against each other!

 

These are four quick beginner-level tips for finding amazing fares.  Try them out and let me know how they work for you!

Oh, and I did another time-lapse of downtown Dallas!

7 Comments

    • Great minds think alike!

      Reply
  1. Great ideas and tips, as always Andy! Keep ’em coming for we novices.

    Reply
  2. Solid info. Considering my goals for next year are Scotland, Hawaii, and Mongolia, my bank account thanks you!

    Reply
  3. What are you using to get movement in your timelapses?

    Reply
    • Free transform in Photoshop, I’ll send you a link

      Reply
  4. Your article is very informative. It’s a welcome change from other supposed informational content. Your points are unique and original in my opinion. I agree with many of your points.

    Reply

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