Revisited: Where to Find the Best Deals on Airfare

Last year when my blog was in its infancy, I posted about where one should look to find the best airfares.

Some of my suggestions ring true today, but it’s time we re-visited this and update the post a little, because people ask me this question literally every day.

Where to Hunt Deals:

If you don’t do anything else, check-out these two websites, and/or  follow them on Twitter… at the very least!
  • TheFlightDeal.com  (@TheFlightDeal)– This website is an awesome resource for those who are casually browsing for deals.  It is a blog that calls out fantasic deals.  It evaluates fares on  a CPM (cents per mile) basis to show the value of the fare.  Follow this site on Twitter to stay on top of the deals.  Notice that the site has a menu option where you can select a specific US city.
  • AirFareWatchdog.com (@airfarewatchdog) – This site has been around for a while, and they’re amazing at what they do — uncovering some of the best deals that are listed by the airlines.  The site has e-mail subscriptions and airfare alerts.  Their Twitter feed distracts me on a daily basis… I love itScreen Shot 2014-09-12 at 11.58.06 AM

 

Other places to hunt for deals…
  • Travelzoo “Today’s Best Fare” Airfare specials – These are not always accurate, but they do provide a nice, at a glance view of lowest airfares out of specific US gateways to various domestic and international destinations, sorted by price.  This is a good starting point for finding good fares.
  • ITA Matrix —  For hardcore searching, I run searches from WAS to a list of places on the west coast on a semi-normal basis.  This tool tells me when and where there’s space, and how much it is listed for.  This is more of an advanced search tool, but it allows searching to multiple cities and returns the cheapest airfares — for that reason, it’s an invaluable resource for airfare hunting.  This site requires a bit of direction in order to use to its fullest potential.
  • Flyertalk mileage Run message boards — Though these fares are sought specifically by and for mileage runners, they certainly can be used by anyone.  It is Flyertalk etiquette to evaluate a fare on a cents-per-mile (CPM) basis.  On this site, CPM is calculated referring to Premier Qualifying Miles (generally the actual mileage flown), and not redeemable miles.  The goal is to fly as far as possible, for as cheap as possible.  Generally speaking, a “good” mileage run deal comes in at less than 5 cents-per-mile.  A very-good mileage run is less than 4 CPM, and an amazing mileage run would be less than 3 CPM.  This can be overwhelming if you’re new to it, but some threads started here regularly feature some really great deals.  Learn your airport codes if you plan on using this site!  Despite the recent change in structure to United and Delta’s miles earing programs, this site still produces some gems.

These five resources are great, but it does take a bit of time to stay “up to date” on the fares disclosed on these sites.  Since most of these deals are so good, they rarely last more than a day or two.

Best resources for searching specific flight criteria (flying to a defined destination on defined dates):

  • ITA Matrix — Again, this is the most thorough search engine for finding fares between defined city pairs.  The only downside is that you cannot book directly on the website – you must go to the airline’s website, or another booking site in order to make a reservation.  There are a series of codes to return exactly what you may be looking for, and I will detail these in a later post.

    ITA Matrix Search and Syntax for hints on searching

    ITA Matrix Search and Syntax for hints on searching

  • Kayak.com – This is a very popular and very useful metasearch engine for flights.  It searches over 120 websites to find the best price.  It’s usually pretty accurate and gives great results.  Definitely a good site if you know what you want and need to book today.
  • Google Flights —  Another useful search engine that works with the ITA matrix in a more user-friendly way.  The searches are highly customizable too, which is nice.

You can search all you want for fares.  There are a few tricks of the trade, but many times it just comes down to luck.

I know this is not necessarily the answer people want to hear, but it’s the truth.  If you’re looking to travel on specific dates to any destination, you have a good chance of getting “lucky” when a good fare comes about.  However, if you are looking for a certain destination at a certain time, things get substantially tougher – you’ll actually have to search for fares, and they will most likely not be one of the crazy deals that you want — unless you get lucky.

Below are a few tips for finding good deals:

  • Be flexible.  This is probably the best way to get in on an airfare deal.  The more you limit your options, the less likely it is that you’ll find a great fare.  I routinely fly from BWI or IAD instead of my preferred DCA – simply because I can get fares that are sometimes hundreds of dollars cheaper.  In fact, if the price is right, I’ll even consider flying out of PHL and the NYC airports (EWR, LGA, and JFK).
  • Be alert.  Use all the avenues above to their fullest.  The more you monitor fares, the more likely you are to benefit from them.  This can be crazily time-consuming, but if cheap and frequent travel is your goal, this is just a fact of life.  Use Twitter, RSS readers, and online forums to better your chances at finding deals.
  • Use Twitter to monitor deals.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  Plain and simple, if you’re not following @TheFlightDeal and @airfarewatchdog, you’re doing it wrong.
  • If you see a mistake fare, BOOK NOW and THINK LATER.  When I see something too good to be true, it may be.  But lots of times, the airlines let them slide because they’re a headache to deal with.  Just book the mistake fare and work out the details later.  Generally speaking, one has 24 hours to cancel any flight they book online (unless travel is within a week of the purchase date).  Ultimately, if the mistake fare doesn’t get canceled by the airline, you’ll likely have plenty of time to work out the hows and whys of the trip.
  • Make friends who seek out deals.  What’s better than monitoring fares on the reg?  Having friends who monitor fares and then alert you of them!  Since I’ve been doing this for a while and have friends who share the same interest, I’m often alerted of awesome deals that I may have missed, or that I just didn’t see.

All in all, cheap fares are out there.  It’s just a question of how much time you’re willing to put in to find them.  There’s no “magic bullet” to finding the cheapest fares all the time, but by visiting some of the sites suggested in this post, and by adhering to some of my tips,  your odds are much better!

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