International flights can be very expensive. But there are many ways to find cheaper flights and save hundreds of dollars on your next international trip. Here are my top insider tips for getting great deals on flights abroad.
Be Flexible With Your Travel Dates
One of the best ways to save money on international flights is to be flexible with your travel dates. Airlines often have sales or price drops on certain days of the week or times of year. If you can travel a day earlier or later, or even shift your trip by a few weeks, you may be able to score much cheaper flights.
I always check prices for a range of dates around when I want to travel before I book. It only takes a minute but can make a huge difference in what you pay.
Flights are typically cheaper if you fly in the middle of the week rather than on weekends. If your schedule allows, aim to travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays. The savings might be small for domestic flights but can add up to hundreds of dollars for long international routes.
Book Early For International Flights
While last-minute deals do sometimes pop up, international flights are cheapest when booked further in advance. For trips to Europe, aim to book 6-8 months ahead. For other regions, 4-5 months out is ideal. Of course, if you find a good price earlier than that, go ahead and book it. Prices only tend to go up closer to the travel date.
Use Flight Deal Alert Services
One easy way to find cheap international flights is to sign up for free flight deal alert services like Scott’s Cheap Flights. They monitor fares and send you emails when great deals pop up for your chosen routes. This takes the work out of constantly checking prices yourself.
Be Open To Connecting Flights
Nonstop flights are convenient but they are also generally the most expensive option to overseas destinations. Consider booking a flight with one stop along the way instead. This can shave hundreds off the price you pay. As long as the layover isn’t too long, it’s often worth it to save money.
Check Prices From Nearby Airports
Before you book, always check the prices of flights leaving from airports that are a short drive away from home. If flights from a nearby hub airport are significantly cheaper, you may want to book those instead and drive there. Parking and gas costs are probably still less than what you’ll save on airfare.
Use Private/Incognito Browsing
When searching for flights online, make sure to use a private or incognito browser tab each time. This prevents the airline or travel site from tracking your search history and raising prices. You’ll have a better chance of seeing the lowest fares available.
Clear Your Cookies
Similarly, clearing your cookies between flight searches helps prevent airlines from tracking your activity and adjusting prices upwards. Take this simple step to keep prices as low as possible.
Check Prices in Other Currencies
Some international airlines show cheaper fares if you view prices in a foreign currency rather than your home currency. It doesn’t hurt to compare prices in U.S. dollars, Euros, British pounds or other currencies. Sometimes you’ll luck out and find a lower fare.
Use Credit Card Rewards
If you have a travel rewards credit card, check if you have enough points or miles to pay for part or all of your next international flight. This is an incredibly easy way to wipe out a chunk of the cost. Just don’t forget to keep earning points for future trips!
Fly Budget Airlines When Possible
Full-service international airlines aren’t your only option now. Budget carriers like Norwegian, WOW and AirAsia offer very cheap (but basic) flights to select European and Asian destinations from the U.S. If you primarily care about getting the lowest fare and can pack light, this is the way to go.
Travel Light to Avoid Fees
Speaking of budget airlines, their cheap base fares generally don’t include checked bags. This means you’ll pay steep luggage fees at the airport if you overpack. To avoid this, only bring a carry-on bag when flying these airlines. Traveling light saves you money upfront on your fare and on baggage fees.
Book Directly on the Airline Website
Third-party booking sites like Expedia sometimes show higher prices than what’s listed on the airline’s site. Always double check the airline website and compare fares before you book through an aggregator site. Cut out the middleman whenever possible.
Use Student Discounts
If you’re a student, or you can borrow a “.edu” student email address, take advantage of student discounts on flights. These can save you up to 10-15% on airfares year-round, not just during student travel periods.
Join Airline Frequent Flyer Programs
Join an airline’s frequent flyer program before your trip to start earning points and miles that can be used towards free flights. Even if you only fly that airline once or twice a year, those points eventually add up. Plus many programs offer members-only fare deals.
Get Refundable Fares When Possible
If your plans may change and you might need to alter your flights, try booking a refundable fare. While pricier upfront, you’ll get all your money back if you need to cancel or change the ticket later on. Make sure to read the fine print to understand change/refund policies.
Use a Flight Tracking Service
Instead of constantly checking prices manually, use a flight tracking service like Hopper. You tell it your ideal dates/routes and it will analyze historical fare data to predict whether prices may go up or down. It will then send you alerts when it’s the best time to book. Super handy!
Book at the Right Time
While there is no universally agreed upon best time to book international flights, most data points to 4-8 weeks before departure dates for the lowest average fares. Prices usually peak 14-21 days out. Use these booking windows as a baseline guide.
Be Persistent and Patient
Finding cheap international flights often comes down to persistence and patience. Be willing to check back regularly over a period of months leading up to your travel dates. Temporary fare drops do happen if you’re paying attention. Snag those deals quickly!
Consider Flight + Hotel Packages
If you were planning to book a hotel anyway, see if any flight + hotel packages can save you money compared to buying both separately. Airlines and hotels want to fill empty rooms and seats, so packaging both together is incentivized.
Don’t Assume Direct is Cheapest
It’s easy to assume that nonstop flights are always the most expensive option. But that’s not necessarily true, especially when flying with a low-cost carrier. Make sure to compare prices for direct and connecting itineraries side-by-side to see where the best deals lie.
Check Prices One Way vs Round Trip
Most travelers automatically search for round-trip fares when booking international flights. But did you know that two one-way tickets can sometimes be cheaper than a round trip? Before you buy, price out your route as a round trip AND as two one ways.
Use a VPN When Searching
When browsing flight prices online, using a VPN (virtual private network) can sometimes surface cheaper fares than you’d see without one. Airlines use your location, search history and other data points to adjust prices. Obscuring that data with a VPN can prevent those sneaky tactics.
Don’t Overlook Alternative Airports
Check all airports that service a city, not just the major ones. Flights to smaller regional airports often cost less even after accounting for ground transportation to your final destination. For example, Paris has two main airports (CDG and Orly) but flights to Beauvais Airport outside the city are usually much cheaper.
Fly Through Hubs of Partner Airlines
If your international route requires connections along the way, consider flying through the hub airport of an airline partnered with the one operating your long haul flight. Tickets with connections involving partner airlines are sometimes more attractively priced.
Book as a Return vs Round Trip
Here’s an odd trick: when searching for round trip international flights on European carrier websites, try entering your itinerary as a return flight instead of a round trip booking. This often brings up cheaper pricing on the same itineraries.
Check for Coupon Codes
Before you pay, do an online search for coupon and promo codes related to the airline you’re booking with. Some offer discounts for first-time flyers or subscribers to email lists. See if any codes pop up that could save you 10% or more on your flight cost.
I hope these insider tips help you unlock huge savings on your next international trip! Let me know if you have any other questions. Safe travels!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best day of the week to book international flights?
The best days of the week to book cheaper international flights are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Weekend flights tend to be more expensive.
How far in advance should I book an international flight?
For the lowest prices, you’ll generally want to book international flights about 4-8 months before your travel dates. Of course, if you happen upon a good fare earlier than that, go ahead and book it.
Are international flights cheaper when booked online or with a travel agent?
International flights are usually cheaper when booked directly through the airline website rather than through a travel agent or third party booking site. Cutting out the middleman typically saves you money.
What’s an example of a very cheap flight deal to Europe?
One recent example of an incredibly cheap flight deal to Europe is Newark to Paris for $250 roundtrip. Deals like this do happen if you track prices carefully and pounce when low fares briefly appear.
Should I buy travel insurance when booking international flights?
Yes, it’s highly recommended you purchase travel insurance when booking flights abroad. It will protect you in case of flight cancellations, delays, and other mishaps for a relatively small upfront cost.
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