Secrets to Booking Cheap Flights: 12 Do’s and Don’ts

Deal Expert, Chicago
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Did you know there’s a team of people at Travelzoo dedicated to finding cheap flights and telling you, our members, about them? Yes, it’s pretty much a dream job. And yes, they use every single one of their vacation days. Collectively, our New York team has flown over 2 million miles. We’ve rounded up their smartest tips to help save you time and money when booking airfare.


1. DO search for tickets one at a time

Even if you’re flying with a group. Airlines often sell multiple fare classes at different prices, with a couple seats in each class. If there’s only one seat left in the lowest fare class and you search for four seats, most automated systems will show you the highest fare class for all four tickets. Try searching one at a time, just in case there are limited seats on sale. This way, you’ll rest assured that at least some, if not all, of your tickets were purchased for the lowest possible price. If you lock in the cheap fare and have the option to select seats, pick one next to an empty seat; then, immediately book the second ticket and select the seat next to the first one. It takes a little time and effort, but can really pay off.



2. DO search for flights midweek.

Airlines tend to launch their sales on Tuesdays and end them on Thursdays, so don’t limit your searches to the weekends. Advertised fare sales generally target the next two or three months of travel and have 14- to 21-day advance purchase requirements.


3. DON’T avoid flying on the actual holiday.

Changing your departure or return date by one day can save major cash. The biggest savings typically come with flying on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day. The exception is if you’re traveling over a three-day weekend around Labor Day or Memorial Day. Then, everyone is looking to fly on the actual holiday, so that’s the perfect time to try and extend your vacation by a day.


4. DO search for two one-way fares, even on different airlines.

While some airlines charge extra for a one-way fare, it can pay to compare. Just make sure to triple-check the dates, times and cities so you don’t book two tickets from, say, Seattle to LA. Not that this has happened to any of our Deal Experts.


5. DO try to fly at least one leg of your trip on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday.

Because planes are least full on these days of the week, these flights usually have the lowest fares. Side perk: Getting through airports is usually a breeze.


6. DO look to book a package.

If you need a hotel in addition to your flight, it may be cheaper to buy a flight-and-hotel package than to book each separately. Many hotels take this opportunity to hide a very aggressive discount within a packaged price versus discounting the hotel alone. This is a great opportunity to find deals at big brands that are hesitant to have a low price next to their name.


7. DO jump on a hot fare when you see it.

Airlines are required by the DOT to offer 24-hour free hold or cancellations as long as you are booking your ticket 7 days prior to your travel date. Typically, you’ll have to pay first, then you get the full refund. The only exception is American Airlines, which is transitioning to this policy, but still offers a free hold for 24 hours. The other big exception to note is that you have to book with the airline directly. This rule doesn’t apply if you book your ticket with an OTA (online travel agency), like Expedia or Orbitz.


8. DON’T rule out alternate airports.


For example, JetBlue mainly flies to Long Beach instead of LAX — so if you can fly into LGB, you might save as much as $50-$100 on the flight. Consider the same for Chicago, New York, the Bay Area, Dallas, Houston, South Florida and Washington, D.C.

Shutterstock/Andrey Bayda


9. DO check Twitter, Facebook & Travelzoo Newsflash emails.

Follow your favorite airlines on social media in addition to signing up for Travelzoo Newsflash emails. This way, you’ll have access to deals that airlines can’t advertise directly. Little known fact: Airlines only have a certain number of seats they can advertise at a sales price, so when we see something hot, we’ll make sure you know about it ASAP.


10. DO know when to be loyal and when to compare.

Keep a loyal rewards membership with favorite airlines to rack up points when it makes sense. Sometimes, it’s worth it to book a slightly more expensive ticket when it earns you points. Many airline credit cards offer generous sign-up bonuses that are enough for a free flight, not to mention perks like priority boarding, free checked luggage and more. But, to make an informed decision, it pays to compare all available fares before booking.


11. DON’T be afraid of the layover.

Even though a nonstop is ideal, you can sometimes save $100-$200 by stretching your legs during a plane change. Some airlines, like Icelandair, also offer free stopovers — meaning you can extend your stay in the layover city and make it part of your vacation.


12. DON’T shy away from off-peak or shoulder-season travel.

During months when destinations see a lower volume of visitors, they respond by lowering flight and hotel prices. For example: Don’t rule out Europe in winter. Flights are a bargain (think $400+ less than what you’d pay in peak months). In addition to fewer crowds, you can check out picturesque Christmas markets and escape feeling guilty for spending all your time indoors wandering museums, palaces and cathedrals. And is there anything more romantic than wandering centuries-old cobblestone streets while snowflakes fall dreamily from above?

Travelzoo’s new hotel search helps you find exclusive deals at thousands of hotels on the dates you want to travel. You’ll also find hotels with member-only perks like free breakfast or room upgrades.

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Show 58 Comments
  • Uncharted101

    Those are some great tips and i will always find a better deal but simply buying two one ways always cost me more when traveling overseas and sometimes it’s not even an option. You have to book both ways

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  • alpern

    Another tip – sort of related to tip #9 above: Set up deal alerts with several travel search tools (such as, kayak, hipmunk) to alert about price fluctuation (ideally downward) with the specific future itinerary being considered.

  • Lin

    I just got excellent one way tickets to/from LGA by using travel site. I was shocked, saved $50. over all the other travel sites that didn’t allow cheaper fares for 2 one way tickets.

  • Jon

    Many of these are tried and true tips, thanks for pulling them all together in one place.

  • Anita Ferguson Shue

    Great tips! I was just wondering what days were best to fly last night!

  • dave

    what if you need 4 tickets and you buy them one at a time and when you get to the 4TH no tickets left but you could buy all 4 at once which means they more then 4 anyway. is that correct

    • dsnows

      Valid question. I’d like to know how to avoid this also.

      • Casey

        Maybe request refund for previous 3 tickets (see #7)?

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  • FareDepot

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  • Bella Green

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  • Mohammad ALqattan

    to get great Deals think of flying from another country than yours to reach your destination, for example for me I always use Istanbul as my base to fly from to anywhere else so if i want to fly to Milan i make it 2 separate tickets, first Kuwait to Istanbul stay there for 1or 2 days enjoy the great food and baklava there then fly from Istanbul to Milan and i found Trips From Istanbul are crazy cheap but in the right timing, and also another tip if you are flying multiple countries or cities Do not buy round trips just make them all one way then go from your last point back to your home .. ENJOY TRAVELING

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  • Taj Travels

    Great tips on selecting cheap fares in airlines …I especially liked the one you gave on looking out for individual seats even while doing booking for 4 to 5 persons since it can help atleast some in flying in low rates..will certainly keep this in mind while booking my next flight!

  • raasel

    Some tips are plausible, specially the one talking about avoiding weekends. By avoiding flight at Saturday and Sunday I saved really so much money.

    Usually I compare many flight portals, and I don’t stuck by one

    try this one

  • Travelomatrix

    Really say best tips for flight booking within budget. Your tips are useful for me and I try to remember this point in my next flight booking.

  • Tripbeam Travels Inc.

    I once traveled a maximum of 12 hours in a flight and that really sucks. I seriously recommend others to follow these tips because they are the best tips for booking cheap flights!

  • charlesmccool

    good stuff

  • Ibadah tours

    I have to say i commend you guys for creating these tips for customers worldwide who are being ripped off for travel from certain websites and companies! Great tips guys.

    One basic tip i would recommed is to make sure you check what your deals include, if they include all taxes etc, countries like Dubai have recently begun charging a tourist tax as well as a hotel tax which isnt expensive that is payable to hotels directly via the customer on stay, these arent stated on many sites but if you read the small print you will understand that these arent added on. things like breakfast etc are sometimes also bumped up in price.


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  • Rick

    Some of this information is helpful but if you’re a fan of Southwest, the best deal hands down is the Southwest Companion Pass. For those of you who never heard of it, it is basically buy one get one free tickets. The easiest way to get it is to apply for 2 Southwest Visa cards that have the 50,000 point sign up bonus. Right now the public offer is 40,000 points per card but I do have referrals That will get you 50,000. It only takes 110,000 to earn it and it is good for the year you earn it plus the following year. Best part is you don’t have to use your points to “buy” the pass. The points are used to book award flights and your companion flies on those free as well. Click on the link for details.

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  • voyages booth

    This blog is fully formative way. Everything is step by step i liked it when i was reading it. It helped me a lot when i was booking my cheap flights.

  • Jeremy Hayden

    We were badly burnt (figuratively speaking) earlier this year by a / South African Airways issue. With increasing travel in mind these are the kind of tips we are looking for.
    Though this is USA oriented and we are UK based, most of these still seem to apply.

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  • Anne Mackey

    Did you know there’s a team of persons at Travelzoo dedicated to finding cheap flights and telling you, our members, about them? Yes, it’s pretty much a dream job. And yes, they use every single one of their vacation days. Collectively, our New York team has flown over 2 million miles. We’ve rounded up their …..
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    Thanks for these great tips guys, certainly helpful! I recently wrote a similar post with some hacks for finding cheap flights that I didn’t see here. Curious to know what you think:

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