How to Get the Best Flights for Your Trip
flying out of New York City.
Over the past few years of traveling, I’ve fine-tuned my methods for buying plane tickets without spending my entire trip’s budget on airfare. Here, I’m sharing the tools I use to find the right ticket, buy smart, and track flights for my next adventures. These tips have saved me time and money on nearly every trip - I hope they help on your next flight search!
Exploring London in One Day.
FINDING YOUR FLIGHT
SkyScanner is an app and website that aggregates flights from across the web and filters them through your preferences. It’s always my first step when I’m shopping for a flight because it’s an easy way to see the best-priced and best-rated flights that meet your criteria.
The mobile app has plenty of filters to help you narrow your results by stops, airlines, flight times and more. You can save certain routes to your Watched list, and set price alerts for specific flights. Maybe you have a long weekend coming up and want to take a quick, inexpensive trip? Use the Explore feature to find fares from your city for particular dates - you can browse the whole world!
Before I buy a flight I saw on SkyScanner, I check in with Google Flights first. On their Price Graph, you can see how a flight’s price varies across time, seasons and days of the week - it's generally true that flights are cheapest exactly eight weeks before departure, but there are always exceptions. Google Flights will also suggest the Best Flight for your search, and let you know if changing your schedule can save you money. For most flights you can see how the price changes over time, which could help you buy at the lowest price point instead of getting stuck with a surprise fare surge.
I use the website for my searches, but there’s also a mobile app. If you're curious, the I'm Feeling Lucky option works a lot like it does in a regular Google search - click and it will choose a destination for you based on your search history!
If you have a destination in mind and you’re just waiting for a price drop before you book a ticket, use Airfare Watchdog to set Low Fare Alerts. I like to keep alerts set for visiting my friends and family across the country. Choose a route, wait for an email, and then pounce - these deals can vanish quickly. If you’re hunting international flights, use Scott’s Cheap Flights to get an email when they find a discount for your route.
Airfare Watchdog is also a good way to learn average prices and price drops for certain routes. Sometimes $400 is a pretty good deal, and sometimes $200 is crazy-high. When you know what’s normal, you can choose whether it's worth the extra cash to fly during an expensive date range or worth waiting for the fare drop a few weeks later.
one of my Favorite Spots in New York City.
BUYING YOUR TICKETS
Hide from Cookies
Yes, those generally helpful, slightly creepy, chocolate-chip-less internet cookies are haunting your flight search. Some sites will show you higher airfare prices if they can tell that you’ve been watching the tickets as your travel date gets closer. Help yourself out by opening a new Incognito or private browsing window when you're getting ready to make a flight purchase. This makes you an anonymous browser, so you’ll see the lowest price without having to clear your cookies. I usually just do a quick check in Incognito, then go ahead and buy.
Credit Card Rewards
If travel is a top priority for you, let your credit card work for you by choosing one with travel benefits. If you're loyal to a particular airline, it might be best to use their credit card, but don't forget to compare them to travel cards that aren't connected to an airline - their points and miles can often be more valuable when it's time to redeem.
My personal favorite is the Chase Sapphire Preferred because it seems to be the best travel rewards card for everyday spending. This one really pays off if you frequently travel and eat at restaurants, but it's worth a little hunt to find a card that will reward your lifestyle and help your work towards your next trip.
Third Party Sites
Third party sites (i.e. Kayak) can be great for finding fare sales, but I don’t recommend buying through them. It’s not worth the potential headaches and, in my experience, you can always get the same flight at the same price directly from the airline. The only time it might make sense to buy from a third party is if your itinerary involves multiple airlines - which I also wouldn't recommend, unless it’s absolutely necessary for your budget or itinerary.
a San Gimignano view while Exploring Tuscany
MANAGING YOUR ITINERARY
The calendar on your phone is getting much better at syncing with events (like flights) in your inbox, and airlines' apps are getting better at being one-stop-shops for checking in, boarding passes, and keeping you updated on changes and delays. But if those aren't quite cutting it for you, try TripIt.
Along with your flight itinerary, you can forward confirmation emails for hotel and restaurant reservations to TripIt, where it will bring all your plans together in one place, complete with the details you need to reference. You can access everything from the app or a computer, and sharing your itinerary with family and friends is easy.
this post was originally published April 2017, and has been updated with new content.