Top 13 Tips for getting the Cheapest Airfare

by Michael Bluejay • Last update: November 15, 2023

#1  Be flexible with your travel dates!

If you insist on traveling on specific dates you'll pay a lot more.  If you can leave or return even a day earlier or later you'll often save you a lot of money.  This is our #1 tip for getting the best airfare!  Ignore it at your peril.

Sample fares we just checked:

For international flights the difference can be even greater.

Most of the major airfare search engines let you do a search without specific dates, so you can see which dates are cheapest.  But the interface and the wording is different on every site, so you might have to poke around a bit.  Here's how it currently works for the top engines.

Here's more on flexible dates.

If you can't be flexible with your dates, at least try to be flexible with your flight times.  Don't specify a time when doing a search; let the engines find all the flights for your days and then you can see which times are cheapest.

#2  Book at least two weeks ahead, preferably three.

Prices go up as the flight dates get closer.  So, buy early and save.  Prices for domestic flights generally start rising three weeks before the flight, so that's the best time to buy. (source)  Buying more than three weeks out usually doesn't help (unless you're buying for Thanksgiving or Christmas, when flights fill up fast), and tickets bought months in advance can actually cost more than those bought three weeks in advance. (source)

For international flights, prices start going up four weeks before the flight.

Sample fares we just checked:

#3  Using neighboring airports sometimes gets you cheaper airfares.

Several times we've saved a lot of money by flying into the Newark, NJ airport instead of into a New York airport, even though each was about the same distance from our destination in New York City.  Once we saved $200 by flying into Philadelphia instead of Atlantic City, then took a $6 train ride (1.5 hours) to Atlantic City.  Another time we saved $400 by flying into Minneapolis, only 1.5 hours from our real destination, Rochester.  All the major search engines let you search for nearby airports.  Kayak is nice by giving you a nice list of the prices it finds for each airport, in the sidebar (rather than dumping all the results together).

#4  Use the best website, then check airlines separately

  1. Use Skyscanner if you need to travel on specific dates, or Kiwi if your dates are flexible.  No site shows the lowest fare every time, best these two show the lowest fare more frequently than their competitors.
  2. Then:
    1. For domestic (U.S.) flights, try to find a better price at Southwest.  The search engines don't include fares from Southwest, because Southwest won't let them.
    2. For international flights, try to find a better price at Momondo, and see our tips on international fares.
    3. For domestic or international, check the price at the website of the airline that the search engine found.  For example, if Kiwi says that the best fare is on American Airlines, go to American's website and search there.  Even if the base price is no lower on the airline's website than on the engine, you won't have to pay a service charge to the airline, while some search engines (like Skiplagged) tack on an extra service fee.  Make sure to go through all the steps on both sites (just short of clicking the Pay button), so you can compare the price of all the extras.  Also, realize that booking direct can save you some hassles vs. booking on a search engine.  For example, in Nov. 2023, booking directly through United vs. Kiwi for the same United roundtrip flight (Japan/Austin):
      • Kiwi charges for checked bags.  (United doesn't, when booked directly.)
      • Kiwi doesn't let me select my meal type.  (Would require a call to United after booking.)
      • Kiwi doesn't let me reserve a wheelchair.  (Would require a call to United after booking.)
      • Kiwi charges about $20 more than United for window seats.
      • Summary: $1500 booked directly, $1300 on United.
  Sample Thanksgiving fares we checked 
Price Wed. Thu. Fri. Sat. Sun. Mon.
$498 ☹️


$417 ☹️


$363 ☹️

$363 ☹️




#5  Avoid busy holiday dates

For Thanksgiving, most people fly out the day before Thanksgiving Day, and return the Sunday after.  For that reason those are the most expensive dates to travel.  You'll save money if you travel on Thanksgiving Day itself, or if you return the following Friday, Saturday, or Monday.

Expensive Cheaper
Day before Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day itself

The Sunday after Thanksgiving The Friday, Saturday or Monday
after Thanksgiving

#6  Always check the round-trip price even if you're flying one-way.

For some bizarre reason, one-ways often cost more than round-trip.  We just checked Austin to San Jose, and round trip was $274, while one-way was over $700!  On international flights the savings can be even bigger.  Tokyo to Las Vegas: round trip $930, one-way $1720.

#7  Two one-way tickets are often cheaper than a round-trip ticket.

For example, I just checked Austin to Osaka:  Round-trip was $1276 each way, two one-ways was $746 each way.

#8  Stay over Saturday night to get a better rate.

Many routes are cheaper if you fly back after a Saturday night.  The reason is that the airlines are trying to avoid giving these discounted fares to their business travelers:  business travelers will pay the higher rates because they have little choice about when to travel, and they don't usually stay over a Saturday night.

On some routes it's a little different, with a discount being available as long as the return trip is 1, 2, or 3 days after the departure.  So remember this when you're doing you're searching, and see if you can get a cheaper fare by adding days to a short trip.  Of course, if you're using flexible dates as in tip #1, you're already ahead of the game on this one.  (source 1, source 2)

#9  Fly mid-week if you can.

Weekend flights are usually more expensive because that's when most people fly.  Flying midweek usually means a cheaper fare.  According to Frommer's:

Sample fares we just checked:

#10  Fly in January (domestic) or June (international).

For domestic flights, January is the cheapest, and June is the most expensive, but the difference is only around 10%.  For international flights, August is the cheapest, 20% better than December, the most expensive.  (Frommer's)

#11  Buy on Sunday.

The cheapest day to buy your ticket is usually Sunday.  That doesn't mean flying on Sunday, that just means that Sunday is the best day to make your purchase.  (Frommer's)

#12  For U.S. to Europe, fly to London first

Our friend Kelly Fine tells us: "We found that it was much cheaper to fly to London on one airline and fly from London to the Continent on another airline. This seemed to be true no matter what city in Europe we wanted to go to. And it was impossible to find a cheap flight from anywhere to Bratislava, so we found a flight to Vienna, which is only a little over an hour by bus from Bratislava. Flying into central and eastern Europe is much more expensive than flying to western Europe." See more on international fares.

#13  Book multi-city trips using the special search

If you're traveling to City A, then to City B, then returning to your original city, use the special Multi-City search provided by most search engines.  Kayak offers this feature, Skiplagged doesn't.

#14  How to get vegetarian meals

This is not a cheap airfare tip, but I've got to put it somewhere, so here you go.  Most domestic flights don't offer meals, but some do, and certainly all international flights do because they take so long.  All major airlines offer vegetarian options, and most offer vegan options, but the trick is you have to order them in advance.  If you're lucky, the booking engine lets you check what kind of meal you want when you book; if not, you'll need to call the airline at least 24 hours before the flight to order your special meal.  If the airlines weren't clueless they'd simply offer veg*n meals on the plane, because even non-vegetarians like vegetarian food, as evidenced by the fact that nearly every single time I've received my meal, my neighbor passenger always exclaims how good it looks and how did I get it and how could she get it?  At which point it's too late, because the airlines won't offer it unless you special-order it.


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