How to find cheap flight tickets

finding-cheap-flights-lrg1Tight on budget, but still want to travel? I spent many hours searching for cheap flights. During these hours I discovered some useful websites and tricks that you might find very useful. In this article I will present my findings and hopefully save you time and money. We will go together through all the stages from following special offers to actually buying the tickets. Examples will be given for departure city Ljubljana, Slovenia but you can easily adjust searching strategy for your own city.

Content

1. Discovering your needs and importance of flexibility
2. Preparing - establish land transport options and possible departure / arrival locations
3. Following discounts and special deals
4. Searching for flight tickets
5. Buying flight tickets
6. Summary

1. Discovering your needs and importance of flexibility

Before you go and search for flight tickets, you should first establish the following:

  • When do you want to go - are the dates fixed or are they flexible? Here at least some flexibility can be great since it's really difficult to get a good price on exact dates even worse at exact time.
  • How much time are you willing to spend traveling - are you willing to change multiple airports, spend a few hours more on an airport? Are you fine with taking a trip with a train / bus / organized transport? Or do you want a direct flight if possible?
  • How much time are you willing to spend searching for the tickets - are you willing to subscribe and read mailing lists, search for tickets every few days etc.
  • Where do you want to go - is this a done deal or do you have multiple interesting destinations? Of course don't forget to check the weather so you don't end up being in a country at the worst time of the year. 😉

Time and flexibility = great price! Usually it works like this: more time you have and more flexible you are, the better the price of flight ticket will be at the end. However if you value a few hours of your time more than a 100€ you should probably just search for a flight ticket, find a good deal and forget about getting a great deal.

2. Preparing - establish land transport options and possible departure / arrival locations

When calculating cost of a trip you must not forget about the cost of getting to the departure airport and from the destination airport to the real destination. Although if you have loose plans I would not worry too much about the destination as you will incorporate arrival city or other nearby sites into your plans. However the departure location is important as you do not have much choice here - it's usually your home city.

Write down your destination countries / cities with international airport codes.

If you want to visit a particular continent go through the countries, check the weather and write down all the countries you wish to visit. If you want to visit a particular country write down the cities with international airports that are best for you.

Now write down all the IATA airport codes of international airport (or major airports) in your desired destinations. Use Google and Wikipedia for that.

Example (our favorite countries are Guatemala, Panama and Peru):
Guatemala - FRS, GUA
Panama - BOC, CHX, DAV, PAC, PTY
Peru - AQP, CUZ, IQT, LIM, PIU

Write down all possible airport IATA codes of departure that are easily accessible.

Check local transport options near airports. Are there any bus shuttles, buses, trains going there? Check which distant airports have good connections that are not too expensive. Check low cost airlines from nearby airports and their destinations.

Make yourself a few lists of airport IATA codes: nearby airports, cheaply accessible airports (even if they are not so close or convenient), airports accessible through low cost airlines (you can check them on Wikipedia).

Example (Ljubljana has a shuttle specialized in transport from/to the airport named GoOpti):
Nearby airports (accessible by car or GoOpti) - LJU, KLU, TRS, RJK, ZAG, GRZ, PUY, VCE
Accessible with GoOpti or train - LJU, KLU, RJK, TRS, GRZ, VCE, TSF, VIE, BTS, MUC, SZG, PUY, ZAG, BUD, BEG, MIL, BLQ
Accessible via low cost airlines - LJU, KLU, RJK, TRS, GRZ, VCE, TSF, VIE, BTS, MUC, STN, SZG, PUY, ZAG, BUD, BEG, MIL, BLQ, STN, LHR, LGW, LTN, BHX, DUB, AMS, BRU, BVA, DUS, FRA

As you might have noticed every row contains all the previous airline codes as well. This is because it will be later easier to search for flights. You will choose the scope and search with one query instead of multiple queries.

Make a list of airports accessible with private or public transport with approximate one way price so you will be able to quickly estimate the total price of the transport (flight + arrival to the departure airport). You can also collect this information as you search for tickets because often the same airports come out as "cheap". You should check specialized private companies, public transport (bus, metro, train), taxi, car sharing sites etc.

Example (approximate prices for one way transport from Ljubljana to the given city):

Trieste 15€, Venice 20€, Vienna 35€, Munich 43€, Milan 55€, Frankfurt 65€, Graz 25€.

Tip: Airports accessible with transport by land are usually more useful because low-cost airlines have fixed schedule and you might have a long layover before continuing your travel. It will also be faster.


3. Following discounts and special deals

Search for flight tickets should start at least a month in advance. Tickets usually become more expensive the closer the date of departure is. So it's wise to subscribe and follow mailing lists, websites where discounts and special deals are published.

Subscribe to mailing list of bigger airlines with known special cheap deals. For cross-continental flights subscribe to mailing lists like Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Etihad Airways, Emirates and similar. For intro-continental subscribe to budget airline offers like Ryanair, Wizzair etc.

Follow cheap deals sites. Find the websites in your country where the best flight deals are published. As a lot of them publish cheap open-jaw flights a good search term on Google is cheap "open jaw" flight to. Examples of sites are HolidayPiratesFlynous, SmartTravel etc. From there you can get tips on suitable dates and destinations. Then work your way to a flight ticket by researching different options as described in the next section.

Tip: If you have to decide between following mailing lists and following special offer websites choose the websites as they are more focused and offer great deals.

Extra websites for Slovenia: Izlet na dlani, Po svetu, Letalske.si, Letalske.org.

4. Searching for flight tickets

The best search engines I found were Matrix (ITA Software) from Google and SkyScanner. Each has its own benefits. Matrix has a powerful search engine that can search through multiple departure / arrival airports at the same time, but it does not include cheap airlines like Ryanair. Skyscanner on the other side includes cheap airlines but can search only single departure / arrival location. Now let's have a look at both of them.

Apart from using search engines you can also contact local agencies that offer flight tickets for a price quote. In Slovenia the student travel agency (STA) has a reputation for finding good prices, however you must give quite precise information where you are going and when. Usually you can also find the same tickets yourself via the process described below but it might take a bit more time.

Matrix

Matrix ITA software

Go to Matrix ITA Software website and agree to their terms. If your page does not look like in the screenshot above click on Advanced search options (No. 5). The best thing about Matrix is that you can search multiple departures / arrivals at the same time.

Let's fill out the form.

No. 1 - For most purposes you can keep Round trip as it also searches open jaw flights. Select Multi-city only if your destinations are fixed or you need multiple different flights.

No. 2 - Here we will make use of our prepared IATA airline codes. Into departing from copy your prepared departure airports. For example we can use Nearby airports and enter LJU, KLU, TRS, RJK, ZAG, GRZ, PUY, VCE. Write them one after another separated with a comma. Into the destination you can again enter multiple airports. In the example we were interested in Panama, Guatemala and Peru so enter all the airports combined FRS, GUA, BOC, CHX, DAV, PAC, PTY, AQP,CUZ, IQT, LIM, PIU.

No. 3 - You can search exact dates and select Plus/minus 2 days or other suitable option for flexibility. However if you are really flexible the better option is to see the calendar. In departing select the first possible departure date and in length of stay number of nights staying there. Here the longest flexibility is 7 days (22-29 is valid while 15-29 is not).

No. 4 - Select Economy cabin, don't limit the stops unless needed and don't uncheck Only show flights and prices with available seats. This last option might show you additional flight but they won't be of use since tickets are not available. For currency enter your own currency (EUR, USD or GBP for example) as you might otherwise see the prices in some other currency.

Now we are ready to go. Click search and you will see the best prices for the given criteria. If you selected calendar view, the prices might be a bit higher than the actual price, but when you select the date and duration you will get the exact price of the flight ticket.

Play with different departure / arrival codes that you have prepared before (nearby, accessible with public transport etc.) to find the best price. If best price is found for one destination, the next best offer will reveal when you will remove that destination airport.

For example the form filled as stated above found a flight Venice (VCE) - Panama City (PTY) - Venice (VCE) for 695,39€. Now don't forget to add the cost of transport to the airport which for Venice is 40€ (two way ticket) so we get all together 735€.

Tip: Searching for many airlines (more than 10, 20) at the same time sometimes does not produce the same result as searching for only a few. So it makes sense to split the destination airports a bit and make multiple searches as you might find some additional better (cheaper) connections.

SkyScanner

SkyScanner screenshot

The nice thing about SkyScanner is that it includes low cost airlines. Now let's go to Sky scanner and fill out the search form.

No 1. - Enter departure / arrival airport (here you can choose only one city / airline).

No 2. - For the dates choose either a fixed date or if you are flexible choose Whole month / Year. This will give you a nice graph of prices throughout the month and you will be able to pick the lowest price of departure and the lowest price of arrival back.

No 3. - Leave it as it is. This means you are flexible with time of arrival / departure and you don't mind switching airplanes.

Let's search. After clicking search you will be presented with a list of all prices. Sometimes there are more results than shown so in that case click Show all  (ex. 147 of 167 results (show all)).

Tip: Warning! The price listed here is not necessarily the final price. The exact price only shows after clicking Select! The actual price can be lower or higher.

Direct airline search

We assume that you have found a great deal for a flight. How to check the price and see if there are any other options? The best way is to go directly to the airline and check. Some airlines offer multi-day view so you can see the price of the tickets on different days. You can also check one-way ticket prices and if you combine two great prices on one-way flight you will get a great deal on round trip flight.

If flight is not direct you can check which part is really cheap and then check if it is possible to go to another destination using the same starting flight. Let's say you get a special price on flight to Jakarta via Qatar (Qatar Airways). If what makes this tickets cheap is the low price of the flight to Doha (Qatar) you can go to many destinations from there. Bangkok for example might for example have same or very similar price.

Searching on the airlines website will also provide the latest information on available seats. Search engines can cache some results in one or another way.

For other search sites and description of their strengths check this link:
http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-flights

Tip: If search engine does not show low price air ticket that does not mean they do not exist! Search engine can use cached prices or base results on searches of other people. The only reliable information is the last step of flight selection or information available from the airlines. SkyScanner seems to cache more results and have less up to date prices than Matrix. Matrix on the other hand optimizes the search and can leave out some results but has pretty accurate prices.

5. Buying flight tickets

When buying tickets I recommend that you purchase directly at the airline you are flying with. The price is usually the same or lower. Most accept major credit cards. However be aware that most airlines also require that the owner of the credit card is the traveller and that he has it with him when boarding. If you must go through a third party air flight ticket provider use a website / company with reputable name. You can also verify their name on travel blogs. Also verify that the tickets will be issued in time if you are on tight schedule.

6. Summary

The first rule of getting a cheap flight ticket is to be flexible as much as possible. Try to decide as early as possible and regularly follow sites with special offers of cheap air flight tickets. Don't forget to take into account the total cost of arrival to your final destination. If you are searching yourself use Matrix or  Skyscanner or other preferred website. Remember that if there is a cheap flight to some destination with stopovers you might get a similar flight to other destinations. Also one-way tickets are a good indicator of the price of a round trip or multi-city ticket. Often when purchasing flight tickets with a credit card the passenger (or at least one of the passengers) must be the owner of the credit card and have it with him when checking-in at the airport. Not all airlines require this neither are they checking it strictly, but they might ask you to present that credit card at the counter.

Good luck with cheap flight ticket hunting and traveling!

4 thoughts on “How to find cheap flight tickets

  1. Great Blog on how to find the cheap flight tickets.
    Everybody should go through your blog before booking flights online.

    Thanks for sharing informative blog!

    Reply
  2. Yes there are many ways to get a cheap flight to reach to your destination one of the easiest way is to do an advance booking of at least 120 days before the actual date of journey.

    Reply
  3. Hi there! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I truly enjoy reading thtough your articles.
    Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same topics?
    Appreciate it!

    Reply

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