Forget traveling the globe year-round and living a location independent lifestyle, many people don’t even book a single plane ticket abroad – mistakenly believing that it’s just too expensive for the average person.
But that’s just not true. I’ve been traveling the world for 13 years (in fact my first flight was abroad – nothing like jumping in with both feet!) and along the way I’ve found a number of tried and true ways that you can use to score a flight to anywhere in the world you want to go.
1) A bit of flexibility on your destination and dates will get you there cheaper!
So you’ve got the itch to go somewhere… but where isn’t terribly important. You’d just like to get your first stamp in that stiffly starched passport you’ve yet to crack open. You’re in the right place. These days there are a ton of tools out there that let you explore prices all over the world from exactly wherever you’re reading this right now.
Skyscanner: Everywhere Feature
Using the everywhere feature on this site puts the world at your fingertips. Just plug in your departure airport, select a departure and return month and scroll through the options.
If you’re more of a visual person, you can also explore with the map view. It’s very similar to “everywhere,” but shows you prices in various locations on the map with green dots showing really inexpensive deals.
Kiwi.com: Everywhere Feature
Kiwi.com also has an everywhere feature. Where they differ from Skyscanner is that they are an online travel agency instead of just a flight comparison site. This means that you can book directly through them.
They also find you flights based on the cheapest possibilities for a route, not based on keeping you on the same airline. Obviously, this can cause problems if your flight is delayed and the next leg of your trip is with a different carrier, but if you’re trying to get somewhere for the absolute cheapest price, this is your best bet for flight search. Kiwi also offers a flight guarantee in case of these kinds of missed connections, and while it won’t get back the 8 hours you spent waiting for that next flight, it’s nice to know you’ll be compensated for the hassle.
Another great feature is that they allow you to search by region instead of just city to city. This means if you’re looking to get over to Amsterdam but know you’ll want to visit some other cities in Europe you can select the “surrounding areas” option, to see which city is the cheapest to fly into, then make your way to Amsterdam from there. For a great in depth article about using Kiwi.com check out this post.
Google Flights: Explore Feature
Google flights is well known and a tried and true approach. Using the explore feature you can put in your starting destination and then explore prices all over the world. Got an itch to go to London but the prices are just too crazy right now? Fortunately, Paris is a pretty cool alternative and it’s on sale for your dates and a pretty short trip over to London from there.
Being flexible with dates is also key. Opening the calendar to the month tab lets you scroll forward looking for the lowest prices on dates that will fit into your schedule. Google flights is even nice and helpful showing the best dates in green. From this view, you can click into specific dates and play around with itineraries depending on whether your stingy job gives you just 5 vacation days, or you’re lucky enough to work for one of those “unlimited vacation” companies.
In this case, opening up the calendar view shows you that there are several dates in February that are almost $50 cheaper than the price in the explore tab, and when you click into them, they’re nonstop flights!
Wherefor.com: Search by budget
Wherefor.com is just a little different. Let’s say you’re working with a really tight budget (make sure to check out Tip 3 for how to score this flight for free) and you’re tired of clicking around in Skyscanner or Google flights only to find that by the time you find a cheap flight and then hop over to Hotels.com or Airbnb.com accommodations are too expensive.
While this post is about how to score the flight for cheap, it’s important to have somewhere lined up when you get to the “now I lay me down to sleep” part of the day. Wherefor.com lets you search for hotel and airfare at once to see where you can afford to go. Instead of getting a bunch of listings for places your bank account won’t allow, you plug in what you can afford to spend, and they’ll give you back a nice tidy list of places you can go. If you’re located in Fort Lauderdale and have $1000 to spend, looks like you’re heading to Cartagena, Quito, or Chicago! Happy travels!
I have to point out that this site does leave a lot to be desired, and you’ll likely be much better off putting together your own flight + accommodation itinerary for cheaper. The site can be glitchy and I’m not too impressed with their search feature — I mean they include Orlando from Fort Lauderdale as an option when that’s just a 3 hours drive away. But if you have no idea where to start or how far your money will take you, this could be a good starter site.
OK, where are my busy people? Hands up! You work a full-time job, maybe a full-time parent to a four-legged child or two, your calendar is full and you’re just living for the weekend… ahh but you forgot you’ve got your nephew’s 1-year-old birthday party to go to… so there goes Saturday.
Jetting off to the other side of the world sounds incredible, but how in the world are you going to find the time to look up destinations, let alone juggle dates?! Boy, do I have the service for you!
They’re called Next Vacay (and while they were one of my first freelance clients, no this is not an affiliate link and I’m not getting a dime from posting this) and they are the ultimate in done for you flight finding.
You might be thinking, “If I’m looking for a cheap flight, how in the world does she think I can afford a flight finding service?!” But the reality is you can’t afford not to use them for what they save you in time. Their membership price is a stunningly low $25 per year! And depending on the size of the city you live in you’ll receive anywhere from 5-20 deals per month to amazing destinations all over the world.
How it works
Let’s say you live in Newark, NJ:
- You go to www.nextvacay.com and sign up entering Newark as your departure airport.
- You’ll start to receive several deals out of Newark each week (surrounding airports like all of the NYC airports are included at no extra cost).
- The deal email contains the dates the deal is good for, typically a range like May – November and the link to the flight. You click the link, figure out the dates that work for you, and book directly with the airline so you can use points/miles if you’ve got them (we’ll touch more on points later!).
Nonstop to Europe for under $300 without spending a second searching!
A few more quick points about Next Vacay…
- They offer a 30-day free trial so you can try them out without spending a dime.
- They further offer a full 6-month money-back guarantee once your actual membership starts. So if you don’t see any deals you’re able to take advantage of (think your stingy boss frowns every time you even mention vacation) you can get your money back no questions asked. (That’s technically 7 months total to “trial” the product!)
- They send deals that are up to 10 months out, so there’s no need to drop everything, pack and leave the next day. In fact, they avoid sending last-minute deals unless it’s something like an exceptional holiday find.
- All deals are vetted by real humans who love to travel so they make sure you’re not getting long layovers, or heaven forbid, switching airports like JFK to LaGuardia during a stop.
- You’re booking directly with the airline so saving on any 3rd party fees and avoiding any booking snafus.
- Finally, one of their coolest features is that they are not just US-based. While they service a ton of airports in the US, they also have membership airports in Canada, Australia, and Europe with more being added every year.
2) Consider extending your layover to get TWO destinations for cheap
Let’s say you’re flying from Los Angeles to Paris and it just so happens that your route takes you through Reykjavik, Iceland. Look, you’re flying for 8-9 hours just to get to Iceland and you’ve got to step off the plane and stretch your legs anyway. Instead of hanging around the airport for 4 hours waiting for your next flight, why not just turn the layover into a stopover and stay for a few days?
Not only does this give you the ability to add another passport stamp to your collection, it can actually be cheaper! That’s because the next day that you fly, the last leg to Paris might have dropped in price. That’s what I found to be the case when I flew this itinerary last April.
Going right to Paris with a connection was around $650, but adding a 4-day stopover in Reykjavik dropped the price to around $500. I mean, two countries for the price of one? How can you beat that? Just look for the stopover option when booking and if you don’t see it try googling for “departure city to destination city stopover.”
3) Use credit card points to get you there
This is hands down my favorite tip for getting a free flight. I never knew the beauty of credit cards until a few years ago when I started working with a client and learned a ton about how to use them responsibly. Like some of you, I had the whole “credit cards are bad” spiel drilled into my head by my dad and it still pains me to think of the years and years of points I could’ve been earning.
So here’s how this works on a very basic level. Credit card companies often offer a signup bonus for getting one of their cards.
The idea is that:
A) many people will sign up and not take advantage of the bonus and
B) even if people do take advantage of the bonus, it’s a small price to pay because the majority of people use credit cards incorrectly and the credit card companies will reap plenty back in interest charges over the years.
All you have to do is not be one of those people and you’re golden.
Let’s walk through an example. ASIV credit card company is offering credit card A with a 50,000 point sign up bonus. All you have to do to earn the bonus is spend $3000 on the card within the first 3 months of opening it. That’s just $1000 a month and well within what most people spend on expenses.
The idea is to simply transfer all of your regular expenses to that card for those 3 months. Gas, insurance, phone bill, dining out, it all adds up and everything should go on that card. Depending on your living situation, you might even be able to pay your rent on your credit card using a service like Plastiq.
The one cardinal rule you must always adhere to is: Do NOT change your spending habits to meet the bonus. Just put all your regular expenses on that credit card and earn the bonus for things you would already be buying.
Once the 3 months is up (sometimes sooner with some companies), you’ll automatically get the 50,000 points transferred into your account. Now, some credit card points are worth more than others. With a lot of the good ones, 50,000 points is equal to at least $500 worth of travel. And, as you’ve seen in this article already, there are tons of places you can fly to for under $500.
If you’re interested in learning more about using credit card points to travel for free I can’t recommend the site 10xTravel.com enough. Bryce is a former client (and now friend) and I learned everything I know from him and his team – and painlessly I might add. I thought the points and miles game was far too complex but they are amazing at getting newbies started.
4) Get notifications for when you should buy
While being flexible with dates is a surefire way to get a cheaper flight, there are many times in life when you’re locked into a certain date range and destination. Whether it be a friend’s wedding in Bali or simply that October is the only acceptable time to steal away from the huge launch that you’ve been working tirelessly on for months, these things happen.
When they do, you can turn to an app like Hopper to monitor the price and let you know if it’s likely to fall — or if it’s about to go up so you can book. Flights typically DON’T get cheaper as you get closer so this is typically only useful if you’re booking a trip a ways in advance.
Hopper touts a 95% accuracy rate at predicting flights up to a year in advance. All you have to do is find a flight that you’re thinking about booking, add it to your flights, and make sure your notifications are turned on. Hopper will send you predictions as to whether you should wait or buy. Granted, if their prediction is wrong, you’re SOL. But if you’ve got to fly a specific route/date, it does help give you some peace of mind that you’re getting the best deal possible
5) Avoid price gouging: Use an incognito browser
From buying flights on Tuesdays to actually traveling on Tuesdays, there are many rumors that abound on the internet for getting that absolute best deal. Some have just been around for so long they’re taking as fact when in reality, there’s not much evidence to the viability.
Others like this one, are based in reality. Your movements on the web are tracked through cookies. Virtually all sites use them and in fact, you may have noticed a lot of announcements at the bottom of webpages as sites are now required to notify you of this.
This means that when you visit an airline’s site over and over looking at a flight, they notice, and the price may go up accordingly. The way around this is to use an incognito browser (see how to open one) each time you check flights. This allows you to browse in private and ensure that you’re getting the same low prices each time.
6) Fly midweek versus weekend to weekend
While flying on Tuesday isn’t always cheapest, there are certainly times when mid-week flights will be drastically lower than weekends. This makes sense. People take vacation days on Fridays and Monday to maximize a long weekend. And families with kids need a Saturday to Saturday or Sunday to Sunday so the kids don’t miss much school. A Wednesday to Wednesday vacation takes the same number of workdays off but most people simply don’t think like this. (Who can blame them? Working that Weds, Thurs, Fri after vacay is going to suck, but saving a could hundred bucks isn’t.)
To find these dates, just use the flexible dates feature or “month view” that most sites like Google Flights and Skyscanner offer. Choose a week or 10-day set that works for you and just remember, to ease back into work if you come back midweek, you can always be *cough, cough* “sick” on that first day and sleep off the jet lag at home.
7) To fly budget or not?
If you’re reading this article I’m betting you don’t have the points or miles to fly Emirates First Class. (No worries … that one is still on my bucket list too.)
You’re probably more concerned with getting to your destination cheaply and spending the bulk of your money while there. For this reason, I’d urge you to consider flying a budget airline. Budget airlines catch so much flack from people but I personally like them because of their “what you see is what you get” approach. Yes, they charge extra for water, choosing your seat, priority boarding, even snacks, but if it’s really that painful you can opt not to get any of those things and buy your own $4 water at the kiosk before boarding and sit sandwiched in the middle seat for 3 hours. It’s up to you.
I’ve flown budget airlines with no legroom and subpar service and I’ve also flown so-called “budget airlines” that had plenty of legroom and a personal TV screen in the back of each headrest. I’ve also flown major carriers on older planes that had terrible legroom and crappy service. Sometimes, flying these days is simply a crapshoot.
Whether you like the idea of going budget or not, it’s undeniable that you can score some ridiculously cheap flights on budget airlines.
Round trip from Columbus, OH to Las Vegas for $51.20. I used to go every few weeks.
The key to flying on budget airlines is to plan ahead.
- Consider using a bit of the money saved to purchase your seat in advance. Even with the cost to ensure a window or aisle seat, you’re still saving money. If you’re tall and need the space, look into purchasing an exit row seat. Again, it’s very likely that you’re still saving a significant amount over the same route on a major carrier.
- Since you know in advance you’ll be charged for snacks, either pack them or grab something from the airport shops. The prices are just as outrageous as they are on the plane so it’s really six of one, half dozen of the other. The same goes for water, buy it ahead of time, or better yet carry an empty reusable canister through security and then fill it up at a water fountain.
- Carry-on and checked luggage is always an extra charge on budget airlines so pack light so you only have to pay for one or the other. Better yet, if you’re an advanced packer, learn to take only a personal item which is, you guessed it, free of charge! It may seem a little intimidating to try to fit your whole (vacation) life in a backpack but not only have I packed for a winter trip to Montana in only a backpack (think so many layers), I taught my 60+ year old parents how to use just a backpack for weeklong trips. They were the world’s biggest skeptics but have now traveled to Medellín, San Diego, Orlando and more for a week with just these little travel backpacks.
8) Check connecting flights yourself
Because of the wild, weird, wonderful world of travel, you may at some point, come across a strange phenomenon. Sometimes, when you have a connection, it may be cheaper to book both legs of the flight separately. For example, if you’re flying from Atlanta to Seattle with a connection in Las Vegas, it may be cheaper to book Atlanta to Las Vegas, and then Las Vegas to Seattle separately.
Who knows why? This is just how it is sometimes. Of course, this is more work for you putting the trip together as you then need to book the legs separately. But if you find significant cost savings it can be worth it.
One related tip is to price check one way flights as well on nonstop trips. Occasionally you can find that booking a one-way flight there, then a separate one-way back will change the price. It’s literally the same itinerary, same plane, same everything but it can be a different price.
When doing these separate itineraries, always beware of changing airlines. That’s because if you’re flying one and get delayed and miss your second flight you are typically SOL. The second airline doesn’t care that you missed your flight because your first one was late because it wasn’t with them. If you’re using the same carrier and miss a flight because they were delayed they will help reschedule you on the next flight as soon as they can with no extra cost. With this in mind, stick to the same airline OR schedule yourself plenty of buffer time on your layover.
9) Consider flying to a nearby airport and then driving or taking a cheap flight
This is especially true in Europe as the continent is so small but it works in the US as well. I’m from Columbus, Ohio and sometimes when I fly back home to visit my parents I’ll fly into Cincinnati or Cleveland instead and rent a car to drive home – all while saving money over a direct flight into Columbus.
This will depend on how much time you’ve got and how far away you’re coming from but if it’s under a 3-hour drive I would encourage you to consider it. Not only do you get the experience of being on the ground and seeing new sites in a new destination, you also have a car at your disposal for getting around.
If driving isn’t your thing, many other countries are much more connected ground transportation-wise than the US. A bus or train will typically be an option to get you to your destination and in this environment, you get to fully focus on the countryside and not worry about driving.
Finally, especially in Europe, ridiculously cheap flights between cities abound. Let’s say you really want to go to Lisbon but you’ve found a cheap flight to Paris. You should definitely hop on the Paris deal and then scour the budget airline options in Europe to get to Lisbon. At a mere $40 USD for a one way flight to Lisbon (often cheaper!) you can then decide whether to come back to Paris and fly home from there or wander on to a few more cities first.
The best way to afford flights is just to make more money! Download the free script below and take a look behind the scenes at how I afford all my travel.