Find Cheap Flights: Best Sites and Tips for Finding the Lowest Airfare

Domestic Flights

1. To start off, we recommend searching for flights on TripAdvisor, they aggregate almost all of the airfare booking engines. This will give you a good idea of where you might find the cheapest flight. Then check the other individual websites listed below to see if there is a “site specific” deal that they are running to get an even cheaper flight.
TripAdvisorOrbitz CheapOAirPricelineTravelocityExpedia

2. Check Southwest (they do not share prices with the booking engines). Also check JetBlue, Delta, and US Airways to see if they have any site-exclusive specials.
SouthwestJet BlueDeltaUS Airways

3. Book the cheapest flight you can find above that matches your criteria. (See additional tips on this page). Enjoy your flight!

International Flights

International fares are a bit more complicated, but here are some shortcuts:

1. Check Mobissimo, Skyscanner, and Do Hop
Mobissimo SkyscannerDo Hop

2. Check the discount search engines that offer international fares: Cheaptickets, Orbitz, Expedia, Priceline, and Travelocity.
OrbitzTravelocityCheap TicketsExpediaPriceline

3. Delta tends to return cheap airfare to international destinations. Since US Airways is part of the international Star Alliance, they also have many international airlines included in their search:
DeltaUS Airways

4. Check which airlines serve your destination country at WhichBudget.com and run searches on individual airline sites.

5. Optional: call a local travel agent to see if they can beat any of the fares you found online. Sometimes travel agents will have access to international deals that are not available online.

Travel Tips

If you book a round trip ticket with an airline and do not make your first flight, you need to notify them if you intend to use the second half of the flight. Otherwise, they will cancel your entire ticket. If your final destination is a major hub, like Atlanta or Dallas, it's sometimes cheaper to buy a ticket to another city that passes through your hub city. You'll end up being a no-show for your "connecting flight", but the savings might be surprising. Keep in mind this won't work with checked baggage.

Keep in mind airport parking fees and tolls, which can really add up over a number of days. Use satellite parking when available - it tends to be cheaper. When deciding between airports, keep in mind the cost of gas - and or public transportation / taxi fares.

Some airlines will allow you to change your flight for around $50-100 to a different day if they have availability. So if you want to stay an extra day in New York City, it might only cost you $50 to extend your trip. Call the airline and talk to a customer service rep – they can often be rather accommodating.

If you fly often, sign up for frequent flyer miles with each airline. Even if you book through a booking engine (like Orbitz), you can still apply miles to that particular airline's frequent flyer account. You might also want to look into getting a cradit card (like the Delta Skymiles American Express card) that earn points when you shop - many have double points for things you buy everyday. Those points tend to add up after a while and can be used to get free flights.

If you're a student, check out Student Universe or STA Travel for discounted airfare.
STA Travel Student Universe

Using One Way Flights

Southwest and Jetblue list separate prices for each leg of the flight. If you find that one of the legs of the flight is way is cheaper than the other, check the more expensive route via Orbitz and Travelocity as a one way fare.  This way you can book two separate flights using two separate sites and get the best deal on each one way flight.

If you do book this way, make sure that each search was run within the last 10-15 minutes and book them close to the same time. You don’t want to take the chance that one reservation expires before you get a chance to book them both.

Multiple Cities

If you need to book a flight to multiple cities, there are several strategies you can take. Most booking engines allow you to search flights using a “multi-city” or “3-way” option. You should try this first to get a baseline of prices.

It’s also a good idea to break up the flight and run searches for one-way flights for each leg. Jetblue and Southwest treat all their flights as one-ways (even if you’re booking round trip), so they often have good prices for one-way tickets. Orbitz also tends to return cheap one-way flights.

Searching Tips

  • If you find a flight you want on a booking engine (Orbitz/Travelocity), you can check to see if the same exact flight is offered on the airline’s own website (usually ~ $6 less).
  • Check airfare prices from three nearest airports. Most sites have an option to let you check nearby airports - different airport combinations can yield very different prices.
  • Check different days and times. If your travel dates are flexible, check out Orbitz flight matrix to see what days have the best deals. Once you know which dates are cheaper, try those same day combinations on the other sites.
  • It’s a good idea to check airfares often (up to 3 times per day) because prices fluctuate all the time. You might also want to clear your cookies to make sure you’re getting new results.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the best time of day to book a flight?
Mornings are sometimes better. Airlines will vary their prices according to demand and also in response to what their competitors are doing.

What are the best days of the week to check flights?
Saturday and Wednesday mornings are often good times to check airfare prices.The airlines tend to release new fares around these times. Saturday mornings are also good times to find “blooper prices” which are errors by the airlines which sometimes result in really cheap airfare. Don't get too excited, though - it doesn't happen very often. Also, since booking is often busier right after payday, it might be better to book after the 7th of the month.

Why do I need to check so many websites?
The answer is that there is no single best website every time due to the sheer number of variables involved: specific airlines, availability, specials, times of day, time of day data is fed to the site, booking date, travel date, time of day, arrival airport, departure airport, connecting flight availability, etc.

 

About this guide

The airline industry is notorious for going out of its way to price discriminate, hike fares, and try to get as much money out of you as possible. Prices fluctuate wildly all the time. However, if you’re a smart shopper and know where to look, you can find cheap flights and avoid being taken advantage of by the dizzying price structures and fluctuations that take place in this industry.

There is no shortage of travel websites out there, and many have redundant searches. At the same time, many sites provide different results. The guide here is an effort to cover a large cross-section of available flights so you can get the best price without having to search 100 different websites. The advice here is based on our own experiences as well as feedback from people like you.