It’s a pretty safe assumption to say that I am travel obsessed. I spend a significant amount of time planning trips and scouring the web for flight deals. I have had talks with countless people who are astonished that I am able to travel as often as I do. Hint: It’s because I get fantastic deals! Gone are the days of saving for your dream destination only to have spent your budget before you land. After snagging a recent deal to Sydney, Australia for $450 round trip and Barcelona, Spain for $380, I figured I would share some of my tips on how to score cheap, international flights!
1) Regularly Monitor Deals
Airfare is constantly changing. I basically stalk flight deals. When I say stalk, I mean I search multiple times a day. You would be surprised to find that a flight to Zanzibar is over $900 round trip one day and then a glitch or sale happens and that same flight is now $250 or $350 round trip When I look at flights I not only look for sales, but I look for error fares or glitches. Those are big words in the travel community. Essentially, they mean an airline has mistakenly posted a fare. Typically the fare has been posted without the addition of fuel costs which can skyrocket the price. One caveat with glitches and error fares, you must move fast and act before the airline has realized and corrected their mistake. Often, there is no time to consider perfect dates or whether it’ll be the rainy season, just book and worry about the rest later. I have traveled to Abu Dhabi and Singapore on glitches and have seen countless others that I have opted to pass on. They come every now and then but you must regularly monitor the fares. (Note: airlines will usually honor your glitch fare at the price you’ve booked it)
Now, where do you find sales or glitches? I regularly monitor SecretFlying and Google Flights. There are membership sites like Scott’s Cheap Flights which are great, too. Secret Flying does the dirty work for you and is my absolute favorite. They will post a sale or glitch, for example from Dallas-Istanbul for $200 round trip. Further information on the post allows you to determine the dates that they have found the price for. Let’s say June 19-23, June 21-28, July 8-19, etc. Then take that information to Google Flights to look for the perfect dates for you and then head to the carrier’s website for booking.
Lastly, while monitoring Google Flights, check out economy and business. Sometimes there may be an error on an international business flight but what I’ve seen most often are steals on domestic business class seats. I have also found domestic business class seats cheaper than economy! Double check before you book!
2) Be Flexible
Let the deal tell you where you want to go. I have a list of countries that I would love to go to, however, I often go where the deal takes me. Being flexible is such a crucial tip in scoring flight deals. Here’s a perfect example: I recently began planning a trip to Peru in July. I mean hotels were booked (refundable of course), excursions and dates had been planned out with an itinerary just waiting to be booked. Well, fares to Australia for May had recently gone on sale. $450 for a round trip flight from Chicago to Sydney is incredible. I had planned on traveling in July but a week off is a week off whether it is July or May… flexibility!
I tell that example to say flexibility in not only your dates of travel but also your location is key. Regarding dates, if you know Dakar, Senegal is your dream destination, use a tool like Google Flights to see exactly what dates flights to Dakar are the cheapest. Even though it may not be when you planned to take a summer vacation, a fall vacation is just as good, right?
With respect to your location, I want to travel to every country in the world at some point and I have some that I would like to see sooner than others. With that said, Australia honestly wasn’t on the top of my list… but it is on the list! Because of that, why not take advantage of an opportunity to travel to a new city at such a great price? Pro tip: Be open to nearby cities or countries. I recently told a story on a fantastic travel podcast, the Travel Guydes where I spoke about flexibility in travel to nearby cities when you find a deal. About 2 years ago, I found a great deal for $350 round trip to Singapore. I didn’t particularly want to spend 9 days in Singapore so I looked at a map to see what was nearby. Indonesia! Bali! Perfect! Pro Tip: Traveling within the region is typically very affordable. So that flight from Singapore to Bali likely won’t break the bank.
3) Set a Max
I find A LOT of cheap flights. Sometimes, however, you don’t have that advantage and you can’t be flexible with your travel. Set a number in your mind as to how much you will spend on a flight. For example if I don’t score a deal, I refuse to spend more than $650 round trip on an international flight and no more than $300 domestically. That may seem like a stretch, but it can be done! With the exception of places like the Maldives, I have seen flights to almost every country for under $650 at some point.
4) Wait for Flight Deals out of Your Base City
There will inevitably be spectacular flight deals out of other cities. Particularly New York. I feel like New York regularly has affordable flights to Europe and Africa. However, if New York is not your base city, don’t book the deal. You will stress yourself out far too much now finding a cheap flight to New York that aligns perfectly with your existing flight times. If you happen to find a steal of a flight to New York, great, but more often than not, you will end up breaking even with what a flight to that European or African country would have been out of your base city.
5) Sign up for Frequent Flyer Programs
This one may seem like a no-brainer but always sign up for Frequent Flyer Programs so you can get some sort of benefit off of that flight. Even if you never think you will fly Delta again after scoring that flight deal, you never know and building some amount of points to be used towards a future flight is better than nothing.
6) Get a Travel Credit Card
I probably have one too many credit cards but the rewards on them are SPECTACULAR. If you are spending your money towards purchases anyway, why not earn some points in the process. Many rewards cards offer tens of thousands of points as an introductory offer which can typically be used for at least a one-way economy fare to an international destination (obviously this may vary). I personally have the American Express Gold Rewards Card which offers 4x points at US restaurants and supermarkets and 3x points booked directly with airlines. I then roll those points over into an airline rewards program of my choice. I love the idea that I can book my next vacation by doing something so routine like spending on everyday purchases.
7) Find a Connect
This one is so overlooked but with seemingly EVERYONE now working in the airline industry in some capacity, get a friend who is willing to give you a buddy pass here or there. As a child, my connect was always my mom who had seniority with the airline she worked for but now, if I can’t find a deal, I’m happy that I can get passes through my uncle. Traveling on a pass requires you to fly standby which comes with its own ups and downs, but at least you know that you were able to save a ton of money on your flight.
I hope these tips help you fulfill your affordable wanderlust dreams and in no time you’ll be soaring high on the way to your dream destination.