Last updated on January 16th, 2020
Type “flight search” (with inverted commas) in Google and you’ll get over 4 million results. Yep, there are a lot of websites for finding flights. Travel hackers might know the top 50. New sites appear regularly and some just work better than others. But there isn’t a single search engine that works for everyone all of the time. Booking cheap flights takes a bit of work. Luckily there are plenty of tools to help you. But which ones are the best?
Looking for a complete guide to finding cheap flights from anywhere to anywhere? Want to save money on your next long haul or short haul trip? You’ve come to the right place. I’ve been buying trips for solo, independent travel since 1994 and have learned a few things about cheap flight hacks. Read on to steal my tips on finding hacker fares, using search engines for maximum benefit, and automating your travel hacking experience.
Here’s how to become a flight ninja and find cheap flights anywhere.
This is not a guide to flying for free with Air Miles. There are literally thousands of websites that talk about credit card points, air miles, upgrades, and the rest. But credit card air miles are not available to the citizens of many countries. This is a guide for people who want to save money and find the best value deals anywhere without relying on miles or points.
Start with Google Flights
Since the arrival of Google Flights, other flights search engines have had to up their game. Google now shows a flight widget in the search results and the company’s power and omnipresence makes it hard for other travel sites to compete. This means fewer clicks to websites like Skyscanner and Kayak. Google now takes many of those clicks.
✈️ What does this mean for you?
From a consumer point of view, Google is doing us a favour by creating a super fast flight search engine with a great user interface. On the other hand, Google does not show every flight available, and it doesn’t always show the best travel deals. The bottom line is that you should use Google’s product with other products that I’ll discuss later.
Some things to keep in mind about Google Flights
- Google does not cover all airlines.
- Google misreports flight information on smaller airlines. Other than my own anecdotal information, I can’t confirm this but I have seen it frequently. An Example: Google sometimes shows inflated prices for 1 hour journeys between cities. Check directly with the airline’s website. I’ve saved money many times by doing this.
- Don’t rely on Google for the cheapest prices. Sometimes flights + hotels can offer much better deals. I’ve found the best deals on flights and accommodation packages for hotels that were fully booked up on the search engines. With both the accommodation and airfare included it was much cheaper than buying them separately. And doing it this way allowed me to stay in a place that appeared to be fully booked.
- Google Flights is getting so sophisticated and voice search is becoming so prevalent that one day you will be able to say “Google, find me a cheap flights” and you’ll get a deal tailored for you. Google will understand what you want better than you do.
- And did you know that Google can already let you check-in by voice?
- Sometimes Google lists unavailable fares for a number of reasons. The point being that you should always click through to the final booking screen before making any major decisions.
- Google will refund the difference on a flight price drop if it meets certain conditions (the main one being that it’s only available to US-based users.
- Search results display legroom, wifi, in-seat power & USB outlets, and On-demand video features if they exist.
- There’s currently no mobile app.
Find The Cheapest Flights Anywhere
Cheap random tickets are easy to come by but they’re not much use if they don’t suit your schedule and ability to get to the departure city.
That’s where the semi-hidden features of both Kayak and Google come in handy.
To search for deals from your airport in Google flights, leave the destination field blank and hit enter. You’ll get a price breakdown of flights within the radius you set. Filter by month and price or set flexible dates.
Log in to Kayak to access the Explore feature. Click More and then click Explore. Set your departure airport, your budget, maximum duration, the number of stops, and date ranges. You can leave this last option blank to search Anytime, Any Duration. Find cheap tickets when you’re flexible with the destination.
Check the Best Flight Search Engines For Cheap Fares
This is one of the original and still best known cheap flight search engines. Skyscanner recently added the “Inspire” feature which works like Kayak’s Explore feature and Google’s “any destination” feature.
Skyscanner is arguably better than Google and definitely better than Kayak at putting together multi-flight routes. And I’m not sure how they do it, but prices are generally better than the others. It might only be a few dollars but it all adds up, right?
There’s a great mobile app and a free email service that delivers custom Skyscanner offers and deal alerts to your inbox.
Adioso’s filters are some of the easiest to use. You can check an entire month, specific weeks or exact dates. A handy graph shows the best times to fly. Filter by fastest, cheapest, or “best”.
Like Kayak, Skyscanner and Google Flights, Adioso has an alerts service called “Watch Prices”. If you have a rough idea of your flight dates, you can set up these alerts for months in advance. As soon as the price drops below your set threshold, you receive an email.
Hipmunk can sometimes show better fares than the Skyscanner and Adioso. The visual representation of the flights times is useful (especially for people who try to avoid ridiculously long travel times).
Search for flights with Layovers
Use the “Connecting Airports” feature of Google Flights and add a stopover duration of your choosing. You can sometimes filter for up to several days, great for side trips to cities you might not otherwise visit. Select a city or multiple cities and enjoy your free layover.
With Airwander, a stopover is a stop in a country for over 24 hours. Contrast that with a layover where passengers change planes or wait out a short stopover of less than 24 hours (more common).
I found Airwander a little glitchy but it’s worth checking if you have time to spare.
While Google’s incognito mode does not truly hide your internet browsing or cookie history, it can help when reserching better airfares. Some experts reckon incognito doesn’t help but I’ve had good results from using incognito mode. Change location and currency to improve your chances of scoring deals on hotels and flights on Expedia.com and Booking.com. Test it out and see for yourself.
Another option is to use Brave or Firefox as secondary browsers.
A third way is to use a VPN in conjunction with an incognito browser or non-tracking browser like Brave
Look for Open Jaw Flights
Open Jaw flights are where the destination airport on the first leg and the departure airport on the second leg (return flight) are different.
An example is buying a oneway flight from London to Riga and flying back to London from Vilnius.
Open jaw tickets can be great for several reasons:
- You might want to travel inside a country or across borders without backtracking to the original arrival point
- The costs can be much lower. And we like that part, right?
Split your Trip and use multiple airlines
Sending your luggage to the final destination is convenient but sometimes it pays to split a journey.
If you’re flying from Europe to Madagascar, for example, it can often be cheaper to boook a return flight to a hub in Africa (Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, or Kigali) and grab a low cost ticket to Antananarivo.
Hidden City Flights
Skiplagged is a hidden city flight search engine which helps you uncover the fares the airlines don’t want you to see. The developer was sued by some airlines a few years ago because they considered Skiplagged to be a threat. But the airlines lost and Skiplagged continues to deliver the cheapest unique fares.
What are hidden city flights?
This is a fare which works out cheaper when you book a longer flight with a stopover in your target destination.
Hidden city flights: buy a cheaper ticket to a hub or cheaper airport destination past your target country. Leave the airport at the stopover.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say you want to fly from New York to Paris but it’s cheaper to fly from New York to Rome via Paris. Take advantage of this “hidden” city fare, by exiting the terminal in Paris.
Airlines hate this and have tried to prevent passengers from taking advantage of this loophole – It’s actually against the airline’s terms of service and they can try to punish you. In reality, airlines find it hard to prevent passengers using the hidden city ticketing hack.
Pick your departure city, add dates, and let Skiplagged suggest the best fares. From my research, the hidden city fare search works best from major hubs and with one-way flights.
Find cheap multi city flights
If you’re the kind of budget traveller that likes multi-stop trips and you don’t have specific dates in mind, EightDays.me can help you build the cheapest itinerary.
Select your departure city, pick a region or zone based on recommendations, pick a start and finish date and let the algorithm do its magic.
EightyDays has a beautiful user interface and lays out the dates, prices, airports, in a fast-rendering map in the browser window. The site mainly shows low cost flight companies and budget airlines like Ryanair, EasyJet, and Wizzair.
Take Advantage of Error Fares Flights
There’s some debate (on the internet where everything is debated) whether most of the so-called “error fares” are truly mistakes by the airlines or just low cost tickets.
What are error fares?
Error fares are glitch prices or mistake fares published by airlines at heavily discounted prices.
It’s not clear why these glitches in the matrix happen (one would imagine airlines have expensive systems to prevent this) but price glitches appear a few times a month at least. You just need to be in the right place at the right time, ready to head to wherever is going cheap.
Don’t forget the promotional aspect of it. Gifting consumers ridiculously cheap flights garners a lot of attention. And publicity is what airlines need. Consumers talk online about the airline and wait patiently to see if the company honours the error fare boooking.
Bali, Thailand, Philippines, and China seem to be the most common destinations for so-called “price mistake deals”
When an airline releases an error fare in business class, these websites are the first to know. Be warned that the best offers sell out fast.
Some of the websites below let you choose departure airports and let you choose geographical areas to search. If you’ve got flexibility in your schedule and destination, this is one of the best options for saving money.
The following websites bill themselves as error fare finders. Note that while they list very cheap flights, the majority of fares are not “mistake prices”.
Similar to the first two, Flynous promote error fares.
I’m sure that these three are copying each other but I could be wrong. The systems they use will detect drops in price at the same time so it depends on which one gets their blog post out first.
Flynous lets you sort deals by country but only departing from European hubs. You can check trips from these regions:
- Germany / Austria / Switzerland
Don’t miss the section for Promo Codes – a good place to check before booking a flight via an airline’s booking form.
Sign up to the newsletter to get the latest deals for your region in your Inbox as they happen.
Secret Flying finds deals from every region of the world.
“Secret flights” include the cheapest published airline prices, error fares, open jaw flights, and other deals that the team can find.
Browse these categories:
- South America
- Central America
- Middle East
- Central and South Asia
- Southeast Asia
That’s pretty much everywhere covered. I’m sure if any cheap flights leaving Antarctica pop up, they will find them.
Fly4Free is an alternative to Secret Flying. Despite the catchy name, the flights aren’t for free. But they can be really cheap.
I found some cheap fares from Dublin to Antananarivo on Fly4Free that were not listed on any of the other websites for several days. By the time the other websites listed the deal, prices had risen.
If you’re looking for a hotel error fares, many of these websites show the latest deals. But Fly4Free has the annoying habit of lumping flights and hotels together (and displaying the total cost). 😒
Hack The Flight
Previously called The Flight Hack, Hack The Flight has morphed into a leaderboard of the latest deals pulled from various sources.
Holiday Pirates skills are in finding cheap holiday deals and packages. It’s less of a flight exploration engine and more of a flight and hotel deal finder.
Still, you can search for only flight fares, as well as cruises and accommodation.
Holiday Pirates is no slouch in the bargain flight department. Here’s an example of one that really caught my eye:
Bangkok bargain: Flights to Thailand from £287 return
Travel Free expands even further by including bus trips along with flights, cruises, and accommodation.
The Flight Deal
For US-based travellers, the Flight Deal aggregates deals departing from major US airports.
Keep in mind that many of the deals you will find appear on across websites. But don’t focus on one deal finder site as this can lead to missed opportunities.
Monitor the Internet & Set Alerts for Cheap Flights
The first step is to sign up for the mailing lists of the websites listed above. They are doing all the hard work so you don’t have to. Yes, they get a commission when you click their links and buy flights. But it costs you not a penny more. So it’s a way of indirectly paying these websites for trawling the flight databases so you can save money.
Set up TweetDeck for your Twitter account and create flight related searches. Then you can scan these searches to see what people in the Twitter travel world are talking about. This is a good way to find deals that people have missed. You might need to refine the filters after a while but start with broad topics like #cheapflights and then move to #cheapflights New York, etc.
While Google supposedly has access to more information on the internet than anyone else, the Google Alerts feature isn’t quite as good as using a specialised social & web monitoring tool. But it’s still a powerful addition to your search toolbox.
Add an alert with your key terms and manually filter through the results. There are some gems in the rough but it takes patience.
Examples of Google Alerts for finding airfares:
"cheap flights" denver
"Cheap flights" "from London"
Cheap Flights Email List
Scott’s Cheap Flights is one of the original cheap flight email services. Started by Scott, a fan of flight hacks, to help his friends, Scott’s has blossomed into a service that emails thousands of people daily with cheap flights based on their preferred departure airports.
Email services like Scott’s Cheap Flights are great ways to get airfare deals that you might never find alone. The army of travel hackers that work for these companies search for deals all day. They know what they’re doing. You need to ask yourself, what’s your time worth? Of course, if you enjoy flight hacking, that’s a different story.
Dollar Flight Club
And that’s not the only option, an alternative to SCF is Dollar Flight Club, which offers instant alerts on cheap flight deals anywhere leaving from your home airports.
Dollar Flight Club recently added a new, juicy service to it’s offering. It’s an exclusive club that gets you Business/First Class flights for a bit more than the price of economy fares on international flights. 👍
✅ EVERYTHING ON PREMIUM
✅ BUSINESS AND FIRST CLASS FLIGHTS DEALS
✅ PREMIUM PLUS+ PARTNER PERKS
✅ DISCOUNTED ACCESS TO MOBILE PASSPORT PLUS
And here’s something to sweeten the deal. Use coupon code DFCbusiness50 and get 50% off at signup. Check out Premium+ here.
Tips for finding the best flights
- Don’t rely 100% on Google Flights, Kayak, or Skyscanner (to name a few). Sometimes it pays to check the flight search engine on small carrier websites. I’ve seen it countless times where Google reports a much higher price than the carriers website for the same flight.
- These sites do not always list the cheapest airline fares.
- Don’t search across every travel website on the internet. Some of the top players in the travel booking business have the same owner. Expedia owns Wotif, Trivago, Orbitz, and Travelocity. So stick to one of these (I recommend Expedia) and ignore the rest.
Be adventurous! Browse last minute flight deals
Hopper & Adioso are good choices for finding the best last minute air fares. Expedia’s Last-Minute Deals page can offer up some competitive flight and hotel deals for people with the ability to fly at their convenience.
Happy Flight Hacking!
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between a Stopover and a Layover?
Simply put, a stopover is where a journey is broken for operational reasons (refuel, passenger shuffle, etc). A layover is a change of aircraft on a journey.
Does incognito work for flights?
Yes, incognito mode can help find lower flight fares. Another option is to change browsers or computers.
Will a VPN help me get cheap flights?
VPNs can help find the best airfares by hiding your real location and making flight booking websites think you are connecting from another country. When flights and hotels are cheaper for users in other countries, you can sometimes grab bargains using this method.
Does timing matter when booking flights?
Yes it does. Booking a couple of months out from a flight is one of the optimal times for booking. Add an alert (Track Prices) in Google Flights and watch how the price fluctuates. Look at the upcoming months to see for trends in prices.