Although airfare has been slightly cheaper lately thanks to low oil prices, the cost of flights is still outrageously expensive when you consider how little you get out of it. A tiny seat, one free checked bag (if you’re lucky), a soda, and some peanuts? Is that really worth hundreds of dollars? Flying can be expensive. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are ways to still find cheap flights even without using frequent flier miles.
If you have no choice but to fly then there are many ways to avoid expensive airline tickets. Well-seasoned travelers usually get airline-branded credit cards and rack up miles to put towards discounted or free flights later. However, if you’re an occasional air traveler without any frequent flier miles to your name, then this guide will help you find cheap flights through other means:
How to Find Cheap Flights Without Frequent Flier Miles
Compare Airfare Websites
When you search for flights, you probably won’t be buying the first tickets that show up in your web search. However, not all flight sites are created equal. Some, such as Orbitz, eDreams, and Expedia are transaction websites, where you directly purchase your flights.
Others, such as Fare Compare, Kayak, and SkyScanner are metasearch websites where you can compare several different flight booking websites in a single search. If you’re not beholden to a specific date or airline, then comparing the same flight across many websites will help you the cheapest airfare. You can even find coupons to save money on flights from websites like Frugaa.
Take back control of your finances!
Get a FREE checklist for the money moves to make in the New Year.
Also get new articles, advice, and tips delivered right in your email inbox with our newsletter!
Sometimes, the same flight may cost several dollars more on a different website, so comparing flights before purchasing your airline tickets is key to saving money on airfare.
Fly During ‘Off’ Times
Flexibility is always preferable when it comes to cheap traveling, and if you don’t have specific dates – or even destinations – in mind, then saving money just got so much easier. Flying on Tuesdays tends to be more affordable than other weekdays, and weekend flights are generally cheaper because this is when leisure travelers fly on their own dime, not business travelers with flights paid for by their companies.
Red-eye flights – departing between 11pm and 5am usually – are inconvenient but can also save you money on flights by choosing an unpopular time. If you’re flexible about the month you travel, then going to places during their off-seasons is yet another way to fly frugally.
For example, an American visiting Australia during the months of June-August (Australia’s winter) or a New Yorker traveling to California in early spring (just before the tourist-crazed months of May through August) will save money on their airline tickets just because of the season they chose to travel.
Buy Plane Tickets in Advance
A 2015 report from Expedia and the Airlines Reporting Corporation analyzed flight data from 10 billion passenger flights around the world and determined that 57 days in advance was the optimal time for Americans to purchase domestic flight tickets.
Researchers found that this timeframe yielded an average of 10% extra savings on airfare compared to the usual fares. The report also included an analysis of international flights starting in North America and found that buying airline tickets 160-176 days in advance was key to landing the best airfare prices.
If you are preparing for an upcoming trip, another tool that can help you determine when to buy plane tickets is the Price Trend graph on Kayak.com. This graph first predicts whether airfare prices for your desired destination will rise or fall in the coming days or weeks.
Next, the algorithm will either encourage you to buy or wait for prices to drop, based on a percentage confidence level produced by the flight predictor model. This tool is immensely useful for helping passengers find cheap flights at the right time, and you should incorporate it into your airfare search before you buy your tickets.
Find Cheap Airline Tickets with Apps and Email Alerts
Perhaps you don’t have lots of free time to compare airfare prices or search for multiple days and times to determine which dates offer the lowest flight prices. If you’re looking for deals on flights without a lot of time to spare, then a great way to snag the cheapest flights on-the-go is by signing up for email price alerts and/or downloading comparison apps such as Eventurist by Fare Compare or the SkyScanner app.
Both of these flight comparison apps are highly rated in the Apple Store, Google Play, and Windows Stores, and allow you to receive regular airfare pricing updates on your tablet or smartphone.
Signing up for email alerts through Kayak, Expedia, Orbitz, or any of the other major flight sales websites will let these sites do the work for you and deliver cheap airfare deals to your email inbox. Just remember to “unsubscribe” from these updates after your flight has been booked and you’ll be set!
Use Credit Card Points
Even if you don’t have an airline-specific credit card or actual miles racked up, some credit card companies let you convert your rewards points into miles to reduce the cost of your airline ticket. Rather than waste your rewards points, funnel your points into a travel program offered by your credit card company – if they have one – to reduce your airfare expenses without being bound to a single airline company.
There are some credit card companies that have flexible points (which can be used for a variety of purposes, including airline ticket purchases). Take Chase, for instance. You can get access to the Chase Ultimate Rewards program with a Chase Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus Business, or a Chase Freedom card.
Chase is partnered with six airlines – British Airways, Korean Air, Singapore, Southwest, United, and Virgin Atlantic – through which you can transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to save money on airfare. Citi also has some sweet rewards for travelers through their Thank You Rewards program, in which you can pay for some or all of your airline ticket with credit card points.
More and more credit card companies are giving their customers flexibility when it comes to shopping for flights with their credit card rewards points, so check with your credit card provider to see what affordable travel options are available to you as a cardholder.
Discounted Airfare for Students
If you’re a student with valid ID or a .edu email address, then you won’t want to miss Student Universe. This website finds special deals just for travel-savvy college students who want to save money on flights, hotels, and group tours.
Oftentimes the prices listed for students are noticeably lower than what you’ll find on other discount airfare websites, but you need to prove you’re a student before joining, so have your credentials ready!
As you can see, affordable flights are accessible to everyone, even folks without airline-specific credit cards in their wallets. If you don’t have enough or any frequent flier miles, then use the tips in this guide to save money on flight tickets anyway!
What about you? How do you find cheap airline flights? Leave your best tips in the comment section below!