How to book cheap flights – 7 insights

Have you ever felt frustrated from repeated searches to book that cheapest flight to any given destination and experienced irritation because of fluctuating prices? Well, that’s the effect of dynamic pricing mechanisms by airlines / OTA’s whereby in attempt of finding that economical airfare deal, you eventually get played into their hands. And I just hate pay more for our seats in any flight! But the good news is that it doesn’t necessarily need to be that way. Here are some insights for a more pleasant flight booking experience that will save you both time and money in your pursuit of finding that cheapest flight.

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1. Search the right way


Airline websites monitor your search history which is sent to them in the form of a ‘cookie’. It is something like your digital footprint. If the frequency of a particular search is more, the price for that particular flight increases only to scare you into the buying it fast. That would also depend on how desperate you are to travel or how willing you might be to buy even at a higher price.

One way to make sure consistent pricing is to remove your cookies or clear out the browser cache but even this process is irritating since you have to do that before every search.

An easier way is to use active private browsing (Internet Explorer & Firefox) or enabling Incognito window (Chrome & Safari). Even this will not hide your digital footprint if not done the right way.

Search the right way: When you open your first Incognito window, the cookies are not used. For any later searches, the cookies may still be used. Therefore, you need to close out and open a new incognito window every time before starting a new search. This resets your cookies and ensures “pure searches” that are not influenced by earlier browsing history. You can get the best deals for both flights and hotels in this way.

For Chrome browser: Go to MoreMore and then New Incognito Window. A new window will open. In the top corner, check for the gray Incognito icon Incognito mode. This sets you up for step 2.

 

2. Be adaptable when using flight search engines


Skyscanner is a great place to start any airline search whether in India or abroad. It gives option for checking flights to & from nearby airports as well.

a) If you are NOT certain of your destination:


Just select Flights to “Everywhere” and select the MAP option at the top right corner of the search box. Choose the month, it opens a calendar view allowing you to find the cheapest days to fly. You can also check out the lowest fares offered to various other places in the map mode based on the dates selected. So, if you already know your travel dates and the place you are travelling is not yet decided, this mode really helps in zeroing your next travel destination based on the cheapest place to travel, assuming you do want to travel cheap! (like there is any other way 🙂 )

Note: Green Circles show direct flights and Red circles show 1+ stops, so when travelling with small kids, we sometimes find it convenient to restrict ourselves to the green circles, that is if the fare difference is within limits.

b) When you know your next destination but NOT the travel dates:


Once you have entered your departure & arrival cities in Sky scanner, then in the “Depart” column select “Whole Month” and then select the “Cheapest Month”. Now you can select the lowest fare dates for onward and return journey and click “Get prices” to show the selected flights.

c) Once you are certain of your destination and travel dates:


Once you have zeroed in on the destination & the travel dates based on the lowest fares, it is still prudent to carry out more searches in other search engines / OTA’s such as Yatra & Makemytrip. This is to make sure that nothing is amiss, since it is could be a very expensive mistake to assume any one flight aggregators would always offer the best prices every single time without fail.

Also, once you have confirmed the airlines, check that airlines website as well to check if they are offering any discounts / sales on their website.

Once you have zeroed down and are comfortable with the price, Don’t Delay in booking. It is not likely that you will get the a lower or even the same price again.

Google flights is also another tool to track fares for your destination.

 

3. Book at the right time


Numerous studies conducted to find the best time to book tickets in advance recommend to book around a sweet spot of 6-8 weeks earlier to your travel date. That said on an average we book tickets at least 3 months in advance. For some of our trips, we have even booked 8 months in advance due to flash sales. This however requires meticulous planning since these discounted flights are non-refundable. Therefore, if you book too early lets say around 10-11 months in advance, you risk losing out on those flash sales. Furthermore, If you book too late lets say around 1 month before departure, the fares will be higher.

 

4. Keep an eye out for those Flash sales


Airlines generally release International flights tickets for sale around 11 months before its departure. If the ticket sales are slow, flash sales could be announced anytime between this period. It would be in your interest to subscribe with your favorite airlines / OTA’s including low-cost ones for travel alerts and deals.

So when Air Asia announced flash sales, we booked our tickets for our trips to Singapore and Bali, Indonesia around 8 months in advance resulting in 45~50% savings.

 

5. Sign up for a membership or loyalty program


Most airlines offer membership / frequent flyer / loyalty programs allowing you to accumulate points / miles which you can redeem for free flights or upgrades thus saving money on air travel. All you need to do is to keep track of it. For example, Jet airways even lets you earn ‘JP miles’ by shopping at partner stores or even a review at Trip advisor.

 

6. Saving money with budget airlines


Although you get cheaper tickets from budget airlines, however there are some extra charges you need to know.

a) Food / drinks are not free and you can choose to either pre-book it or buy them at the flight itself. However, some airlines such as Air Asia X do not serve food if you have not pre-booked it along with your ticket. Onboard the flight they only serve snacks which are bit pricey. If you might need food/drinks in the flight, then it is economical to pre-book it.

b) Luggage allowance is not free. Pre-book your luggage allowance since the charges at the check-in counter are much higher. Follow the baggage dimensions and weight limits since if you are over, you might have to remove the contents of the luggage else be ready to shell out a gigantic fee. The budget airlines tend to be quite particular about it.   

c) We found out that on Air Asia X flights, the temperature becomes uncomfortably chilly forcing you to ask for a blanket which by the way is also chargeable. Also, you need to return the same around 1 hour before landing leaving you further uncomfortable. Having learnt the hard way, we now carry our own blanket in cabin luggage.

 

7. Do your own research


There are still many more ways to save on flight tickets, such as cashbacks and discounts offered by various digital wallets, Check the ones you use regularly for any ongoing offers for further reducing the price.

 

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Hope you find the insights to book cheap flights of use to you. Do let us know about any other ways you use to book cheap flights. Your comments and/or feedback are most welcome.

 

About Manish Samtani

Namaste! A passionate traveller at heart and now a blogger as well. Thanks to my merchant navy career, travelling has always been an integral part of my professional life. Eternally fascinated by the World of Travelling be it either meeting new people, learning new cultures, experiencing their customs or just trying out some new cuisines. Off late, I’ve been exploring places with my family where my job has not taken me. Mail me at manishsamtani@laidbacktraveller.com

18 Comments

  1. Wow these are some GREAT insight! I usually spend a lot of time searching for flights and it becomes frustrating when the prices start to go up but now I know its all about the cookies! I’ll definitely be mindful of that, as well as being flexible with travel dates 🙂

  2. These are some great tips to finding cheap flights. I must say that I tend to book them 6-8 weeks in advance and find the price the same. Also if I book too far in ahead, plans may change and I don’t want to tose the money!

    • I agree with you. For booking so far ahead such as what we did a couple of times around 8 months ahead, it really requires meticulous planning, such as school holidays and whether you would be able to take a break from work or not. If you can plan that ahead around the time when flash sales are announced then you will be rewarded, that is if you are able to stick to your plan.

  3. I’ve never heard of an incognito window before although I’ve definitely heard about the use of cookies by airlines. What a great tip. I’m off to try this now.

  4. Great post with useful tips! I also use incognito window when I try to search for flights. Booking at the right time can save money for sure. I usually book 1 or two months in advance.

  5. This is such good advice. I find that once I decide to go somewhere I get super eager to book and end up making foolish decisions in my booking. Hopefully moving forward I can be more mindful and try to hold out for some flash sales. Seems like you’ve had some good savings – I hope I can follow!

  6. These are such great ideas. Thanks for the tips! I find I always end up spending more than I should on flights – but hopefully I can be more mindful with these flash sales. Thanks for the help.

    • Glad you like the post and the tips. Airlines can announce flash sales anytime between 8 months to 2 months before its departure, i.e. whenever they are not able to achieve there predicted sales target. I am sure you can save a lot if you keep your travel plans flexible when these sales are announced.

  7. These are absolutely the tips that work. I also open the browser in “private” mode so that cache and cookies are not saved. Someone once said , best time to book is past midnight … I am pretty sure he was pulling my leg. 🙂 🙂

  8. Thank you for the tips. I just sign-up to Air Asia’s loyalty program because of this top. I have been neglecting it but yes, the perks are really rewarding and worth the effort.

  9. This is such a useful post. I will definitely bookmark this for future reference, as I am constantly looking for deals on flights! Thanks a lot for sharing this with us!

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