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 find cheap flights to anywhere.
- Start with Google
- Try ‘Hidden Airlines’ and budget airports
- Use ExpertFlyer for Award Flights
- Leverage Flight Connections
- Subscribe to Email Newsletters
- Find The Cheapest Flights Anywhere
- Use Azair for Europe and parts of Asia
- Check Flight Search Engines For Cheap Fares
- Search for flights with Layovers
- Search Incognito
- Look for Open Jaw Flights
- Split your Trip and use multiple airlines
- Hidden City Flights
- Take Advantage of Error Fares Flights
- Monitor the Internet & Set Price Alerts for Cheap Flights
- Tips for finding the best flights
This is not a guide to getting the cheapest flights or free flights 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 flight deals anywhere without relying on miles or points.
- Start your search with flight aggregator websites, Google, and your preferred flight search engine. Book direct with the airline in most cases (the exception is the following tip)
- Use credit card portals and travel portals that get your miles and points when you make a booking, especially if you’re going to book hotels and accommodation.
Start with Google
Since the arrival of Google Flights, other flight search engines have had to level up their game. Google now shows a flight widget in the search results and the company’s power and omnipresence make 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’s Flight portal
- Google does not cover all airlines (read more about that here).
- 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 flights deals 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 search 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 flight” 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.
Try ‘Hidden Airlines’ and budget airports
When planning your next trip, look for flights on the websites of lesser-known carriers and budget airlines. Some airline flights aren’t displayed on Google Flights or the ITA matrix.
I’ve found great deals on flights simply by flying with less well-known carriers and budget airlines that casual travelers have never heard of.
You can find the websites of these carriers by searching:
[country name] + airlines or [airport name] + budget carriers.
I discovered flights from Albania with Albania Air and Alba Wings, neither of which appeared on any flight or meta-search engine.
If you use these airlines, make sure to check whether their frequent flyer program is linked to another program you may already be a member of.
To illustrate, I transferred my frequent flyer miles/points from Air Serbia to my Emirates account.
Use ExpertFlyer for Award Flights
ExpertFlyer makes it easy for you to check availability and book award tickets and upgrades on more than 90 airlines. It saves time by reducing the amount of time spent browsing routes and award portals.
It’s easy to keep track of airline award tickets and upgrades with ExpertFlyer. Whenever an upgrade or award seat becomes available, you’ll be notified instantly. ExpertFlyer provides access to a bewildering array of information on airline schedules, seat maps, flight statuses, and more.
Subscribers to ExpertFlyer’s Basic Service do not have access to premium features, but many services are still available. Fare Information, Saved Queries, Flight Alerts, Aircraft Equipment Alerts, and the Mobile Edition are included. In addition, they have access to the variable date and multiple class code features in Flight Availability.
Leverage Flight Connections
Did you know that there are over 15,000 airports in the world?
And did you know that there are over 6,000 airlines operating flights between those airports?
FlightConnections.com provides a database of all available flights around the world and includes flight schedules, airline routes, and connections. The flight finder can be a very valuable tool for planning your next trip by providing you with information about airlines’ route networks so that you are able to create itineraries based on cost efficiency rather than simply relying on well-known travel websites like Expedia or Orbitz which don’t include every single destination in their databases.
FlightConnections is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to plan a trip from start to finish
Subscribe to Email Newsletters
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 airport.
Dollar Flight Club recently added a new, juicy service to its 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 for Premium +
A new service that I’m really loving is Manyflights, which sends you regular timely emails with flight deals from your home airport (or other specified airports) to anywhere in the world.
When the platform finds a good deal on a flight, it sends you an alert.
The Premium version is affordably priced and includes a slew of useful features such as price drop alerts, unlimited searches, error and mistake fare alerts, and multiple airport selections.
So, if you’re looking for a quick weekend getaway or a long vacation and are flexible on dates, this is a great service to sign up for. There’s also a free subscription that uncovers great deals. So far in 2022, the quality of deals has been excellent, and I am excited to see how this site develops.
Scott’s Cheap Flights is one of the original cheap flight email services. Started by Scott, a fan of flight booking 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 searches 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.
Find The Cheapest Flights Anywhere
Cheap random flight tickets are easy to come by but they’re not of much use if they don’t suit your schedule and ability to get to the departure date or city.
That’s where the semi-hidden features of both Kayak and Google come in handy.
To search for deals from your airport, 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 travel 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 travel date ranges. You can leave this last option blank to search Anytime, Any Duration. Find cheap tickets when you’re flexible with the destination.
Use Azair for Europe and parts of Asia
It’s certainly not the prettiest flight booking website. In fact, it looks like it’s straight out of Internet 1995. But if you can get past that, Azair.eu is a great tool for finding cheap flights in Europe and Asia.
Note that it only covers 90 countries and 528 airports. That might sound like a lot but there are almost 200 countries and 40,000 airports so it’s missing a few connections. All the same, if you’re looking for cheap flight fares in Europe, I’ve found Azair to be an excellent starting point for research.
And you can usually do all of this at the time of booking.
Check 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 price alerts to your inbox.
With WayAway you can set entire countries or regions as your arrival points and find the cheapest places from any origin. Let’s imagine you want to fly from London to Greece. There are multiple airports in both counties that might have great deals on your specified dates. Use this filter to find the cheapest and most convenient routes.
While WayAway is a great search engine for flights and hotels, WayAway Plus may be worth a look if you fly frequently and can take advantage of the site’s cashback deals.
You can save up to 5% on your flights by using cashback on tickets. You can also save up to 10% on hotel stays.
However, the flexible filters and destination options, as well as the modern design, make it a good choice.
You can also get money back on hotels and other services like car rentals.
WayAway Plus costs $99 per year, but it’s well worth it if you travel frequently and can take advantage of the site’s cashback offers. Of course, you’ll need to compare the prices with cash back to the prices you find on other websites.
My advice is to never rely on a single tool for all of your planning. Each fare finder has its own advantages, and not every app excels in every situation. However, the flexible filters and destination options, as well as the modern design, make WayAway an excellent choice.
There are also some extra benefits, such as a hidden gem directory in destinations around the world and donations to projects that help reduce travel’s carbon footprint. WayAway Plus also gives you access to travel experts who are available 24/7 to answer your questions. If you want recommendations from locals who know the area well, just ask for restaurant recommendations, interesting routes to explore, and secret spots that will make your Instagram feed look amazing.
PanFlights has several unique features. One is the ability to compare cached and live results in the same search set. What is the advantage? You can get new results with alternative flights by clicking “More” on a recommendation that interests you. This gets you more refined results than you would normally get.
Flights around the world and multi-city flights with flexible dates are available. You can perform a multi-city flight check as well as a “optimized tour.” I love how fast the interface is. Not so crazy about the destination images which seem to clutter the screen. Aside from that, there is nothing to complain about. But it provides a faster user experience than many other low-cost flight finders, and while competition among portals is fierce, PanFlights competes well.
There’s also a meeting planning for people traveling from different departure cities. Handy for any group or family meetups. Digital nomads and remote companies with distributed teams might also find this handy for booking team get-togethers. Custom-designed trips may include an overland segment between two flights. Those trips are more difficult to locate and are among the more unique offerings.
Another distinctive feature is the option to order by CO2. Those interested in environmentally friendly travel can choose the least polluting flight that fits their budget.
And custom-designed stopover trips can be ideal for nomads who want to explore new places, reduce the number of flights required to get from point A to point B, or simply take advantage of long layovers to explore a destination.
“Virusmap” shows you what Covid-19 restrictions you can expect, and The animated flight trip feature is also neat. You can also go super granular with your date flexibility, selecting one or two days on either side of your chosen dates, or any specified length of time.
Search for flights with Layovers
While Skiplagged is famous for finding hidden city flights deals, it’s also a really good place to search for long stopovers (or layovers). This can be useful if you’d like to visit a city for a day or two but don’t want to buy two seperate flights or deal with the hassle. I use this feature a lot.
Set the layover sliding scale to maximum. You can even select “one stop” only to get a better flight routing.
Here’s what it should look like:
One of the best known flight search engines also has a handy “long layover finder“.
- Select your starting and ending locations
- Search your destination using the “round-trip” search on Skyscanner.
- Find a common flight connection city
- Exclude non-stop flights from your search.
- Use the multi-city search
- Look for airlines that let you stopover without paying an extra fee.
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.
Use the “Connecting Airports” feature to 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.
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 point on the second leg (return flight) are different.
An example is buying a one-way 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 book 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
What are hidden city flights?
This is a fare that works out cheaper when you book a longer flight with a stopover in your target destination. Buy a cheaper ticket to a hub or cheaper airport destination past your target country. Leave the airport at the stopover.
Skiplagged is a flight search engine that 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.
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 this 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.
Take Advantage of Error Fares Flights
There’s some debate (on the internet where everything is debated) whether most of these 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 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 honors the error fare booking.
Bali, Thailand, the 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 city, and also 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 those flights departing from European hubs. Most of the flights are on budget airlines. You can check trips from these regions:
- Germany / Austria / Switzerland
Don’t miss the section for Promo Codes – a good place to check before you book flights via an airline’s booking form.
Sign up for 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, budget airline special offers, 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 discounted hotel rooms or 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). 😒
Holiday Pirates’ skills are in finding cheap holiday deals and budget airlines 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.
Monitor the Internet & Set Price 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 specialized 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"
Tips for finding the best flights
- Don’t rely 100% on Google, 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! Look for cheap last minute flights to anywhere
Hopper has come back from obscurity to be one of my favorite apps for booking flights. There are some incredible deals on the app and to be honest, I’m not sure how they can offer prices this low.
Kiwi.com‘s deals page regularly offers up some competitive flight and hotel deals for people with the ability to fly at their convenience.
Happy Flight Hacking!
Frequently Asked Questions
What does hacker fare mean?
There are several definitions of “hacker fare”, depending on who you ask. Some experienced travel hackers consider a hacker fare to be the cost of two one-way flights when both flights are cheaper than a return ticket. Other travel hackers use this term when describing the process of hidden-ticket booking, popularized by the Skiplagged search engine.
What happened to Adioso?
Adioso offered some really useful search filters and price watch alerts but the pandemic forced the company to close according to the ex-founder in a post on Reddit.
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 in a new browser window 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 and watch how the price fluctuates. Look at the upcoming months to see trends in prices.
How to change currency on Google Flights?
To change currency on Google Flights, click the hamburger icon at the top left and choose “change currency” from the menu.
Who owns Skiplagged?
Aktarer Zaman is the founder and CEO of Skiplagged, one of the most notorious travel hacking websites. Zaman founded the site in 2015 and
Is hidden city ticketing a good way to travel hack?
While it’s possible to save a lot of money with hidden city ticketing, there are risks and inconveniences. One risk is that the airlines might invalidate your airmiles. One inconvenience is that you can’t check any baggage.