Tips on Hunting for Cheap Flights

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Original Photo by ArchDevil
The post on getting a free flight to Costa Rica received a lot of attention. It’s clear to me that many readers of this blog are interested in cheap flights. Recently I was looking for cheap flights to Brazil and Europe. I learned a lot and want to share some of the observations. I know that those tips are very effective. How effective? A year ago I visited USA, Iceland, Spain, Italy, Poland, and Ukraine for the cost of a direct flight from Toronto to Warsaw. This year I’ll pay even much less for visiting Portugal, Spain, Poland,  France, and then going back to Canada. Update: I recently booked transatlantic flights: Toronto → Glasgow and Lisbon → Toronto for $273 in total! (a typical transatlantic return flight is 2-3 times more expensive) Convinced?
  • Searching for flights takes time. This is the key requirement. If you want to find a flight in a great price, you’ll have to do your homework and search multiple websites. Depending on how much $$$ you make per hour, it may be worth or not worth it. I’m a student so whenever I can save some money, I’m happy.
  • Your location and destination matter. Check out local airlines and deals. For example, if you are in Europe, you can fly from Barcelona to Rome for $30 (final price) with low-cost airlines. Similar deals are probably possible in other parts of the world, but Europe is pretty much unbeatable. Having said that, if you fly to Europe, get the cheapest flight to anywhere in Europe and then travel by low-costs inside. Update: if you fly between Toronto and Europe checkout Air Transat and Sunwing. They offer increadibly cheap flights!
  • Fly with low-cost airlines. Deals offered by low-cost airlines can be found only on their websites. You buy tickets directly from those airlines and there is no point in searching elsewhere. Find out where those airlines fly. I typically check airport information on Wikipedia to see what airlines go to places of my interest. Update: you can use WhichBudgetflycheaposkyscanner, and Fly4free (Polish) to search for destinations of low-cost airlines.
  • Check out multiple websites. If you cannot fly with low-cost airlines, check out traditional airlines on search engines like Kayak, Cheapoair, Expedia, and others. Compare prices with those shown on airlines’ websites. You’ll see that each website offers different price. Search with flexible dates and check nearby airports. Recently I’ve been playing with Matrix Airfare Search that can search for flights to/from multiple airports at once! Update: checkout Google Flights. Although limited (includes only certain airports), it is a fantastic website for analyzing how prices change over the year. Click the calendar icon.
  • Take advantage of travel agents. These days people tell you to book flights online. Generally, it’s a good idea but take a look at the deals offered by local travel agents. For example, Flight Centre has the Lowest Airfare Guarantee policy. It means that if you find a flight and their price is not lower, they’ll match the price and will offer you a $20 voucher. You think that $20 is nothing. Sure, it’s not much but it’s enough to fly with low-costs in Europe! Also, if you make travel agents match the price several times, the $20 multiplies. Update: a lot depends on the agent who sells you the ticket. Bargain and ask for student discounts whenever possible (even if it’s against their official policy).
  • Monitor prices. Did you know that the price of a ticket depends on when you book it? Monitor prices for a week or two to see when it’s best time book a ticket. How important is it? Well, I was looking for a flight from Paris to Toronto. One day it was $417, while the other day it was almost $600!
  • Sign up for crowdsourced deals. There are more people who look for deals and are glad to share them. A great example for Toronto area is the YYZ deals blog. Recently they found out how to fly to Europe for $338 (final price).
  • Get an ISIC card. International Student Identity Card can help you save money on food, air, train tickets, etc. In Canada it is offered by Travel Cuts and they have nice discounts (> 10%) if you have the card.
  • Travel off the season. This is probably the most common tip, but it totally makes sense. Find out when the season starts and ends for a given destination. For example, in Europe it is typically from June to August. In Caribbean it is from December to May. If you fly to Europe during the season, you are almost guaranteed to pay twice as much as off the season. Update: as Justin suggested, if possible, avoid flying during holidays. Prices are much higher than usually.
  • Take advantage of different currencies. Generally, it is best to use the currency of your credit card (to avoid possible exchange fees). Sometimes, however, it pays off to switch the currency. A year ago I saved $30 on switching from Canadian dollar to Icelandic krona when booking transatlantic flights between Europe and USA.
  • Find more websites with travel tips. This blog post is by no means complete. Google for more tips and share them with others!

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