Coronavirus might not be over but many Americans are sick of staying home, not seeing their loved ones and not traveling. My wife and I are an example, as we were extremely cautious for the past two years, some might say too cautious. But we have two young children so we weren’t taking any chances. Now that we’re vaxxed and boosted, like so many, we’re starting to travel again. In fact, we just returned from 10 days in Hawaii (here’s my trip report). I booked those First Class tickets for the same price as what economy used to cost on that same route.
However, those deals aren’t sticking around for long. Thanks to the combination of unprecedented demand and oil prices surging, airfares have nowhere to go but up. Just the other day, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian told a news conference in London (per Reuters) that “Delta had enjoyed the busiest booking day in its history last week, even though many Asian routes remained suspended, and he was seeing the strongest demand in his career.” If you’re planning on traveling this summer and you haven’t purchased your plane tickets, you better get crackin’. Below are 10 ways to find cheap flights this summer.
1. Be flexible
I’ve said this at least a thousand times. The key to finding cheap flights is to be flexible with your travel days. If you aren’t flexible, then you aren’t going to get a deal. It’s not that difficult to figure out that the most expensive time to fly is when everyone else is, too.
One way to tell is just bring up a Google Flight search using their calendar (click on the dates to access it). The above screenshot is as an example of what fares look like for a Los Angeles to London, one-week, round trip economy class flight. As you can see, if you fly in the middle of the week it’s cheaper than the weekend and if you can wait until mid-August when some kids go back to school, you will find huge savings. Just keep in mind not all routes are created equally.
Tip: By leaving early in the morning, you have the best chance of not getting delayed.
2. Alternate airports
Not only do you want to be flexible with dates and times, but also with airports, too. For example, let’s take a Los Angeles to South Florida trip. Below is a screenshot of what fares are to fly into Miami.
However, if you fly into Fort Lauderdale Airport (FLL), which is 26 miles north it’s usually much cheaper. See screenshot below.
You can also check out West Palm Beach (PBI), which is another 49 miles away but PBI is usually pricier. But it doesn’t matter what the destination is. The point is that almost all major airports — especially in the USA — have cheaper alternatives. You might have to drive a little but the savings could be substantial. I created a website called AlternateAirports.com to get a better understanding.
3. Consider making a stop
I definitely don’t recommend making a stop unless it provides significant savings because the more stops you make, the more chances you have of your flight getting delayed or canceled and your checked baggage getting lost. However, sometimes booking a flight that has a connection as opposed to flying nonstop can save serious cash. The screenshot above is for a one-way, nonstop flight from New York to London.
Now check out the screenshot above when you make a stop. Huge savings. Again, just know the risks and avoid making connections in airports that have a terrible on-time track record like San Francisco, Chicago O’Hare or all of New York’s airports. Here’s a link to airport on-time performance reports to help you make a good decision.
4. Avoid low-fare carriers and basic economy tickets unless …
When you do a flight search, don’t just grab the cheapest fare you see, especially from a low-cost carrier because it could end up costing you much more than you think. Allegiant, Spirit and Frontier are just a few that are notorious for offering ridiculously low fares and then hitting you up for everything from assigned seats, carry-on luggage, refreshments (including water) and even to print your boarding pass. The worst part is legacy airlines like American, Delta and United have added similar restrictive fares to compete so make sure you read the fine print on your fare before buying—even from the mainline carriers.
5. Choose Southwest Airlines if you’re checking bags
Speaking of low-cost carriers. Southwest is the original but they’re not so low-cost carrier anymore. If you are planning on checking a couple of bags then check fares on Southwest Airlines. They don’t show up in any search engine except their own so you need to log on to Southwest.com. Most airlines would charge an extra $160 for two check bags on a roundtrip ticket so keep that in mind when booking (unless you have elite status or an airline-branded credit card where one of the perks is free baggage).
6. Sign up for fare alerts
If you don’t want to constantly have to check airfares manually (as I like to do for some insane reason), then sign up for fare alerts. Here are the sites that offer fare alerts for free.
7. Hold your airfares for free for 24 hours
In the US, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has made it a rule that all US and foreign carriers have to allow consumers the ability “to hold a reservation at the quoted fare for 24 hours without payment or allow a reservation to be cancelled within 24 hours without penalty.” Most Americans don’t realize this so if you’re searching for fares and find a great deal, book it. Then you can think about it or ask your travel companion if the dates, times or itinerary works. If it doesn’t, just cancel within 24 hours. Keep in mind, if you’re booking a last-minute ticket (seven days or less), this rule doesn’t apply.
Good to know: American Airlines is the only airline that allows consumers to hold a reservation without a credit card for 24 hours, making it much easier to cancel.
8. Buy two separate tickets to Europe
If you are traveling to a secondary destination like Sardinia in Italy it might be wise to break up the trip into two separate tickets. Several years ago, I needed to get from New York to Sardinia. When I priced out the tickets directly to Olbia (Costa Smeralda Airport), the fares were $2,000. I then figured out if I just bought two separate tickets—the first to London on a major airline and the second to Olbia on a low-fare carrier—I could save over $1,000. Just make sure to leave plenty of time between flights (preferably a day), because most low-fare carriers usually depart out of secondary airports. And don’t forget to pack light because they have crazy baggage fees.
9. Use frequent flier miles or credit card points
Unfortunately, with COVID-19 still running rampant and Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, it has spooked a lot of Americans from traveling internationally. Combine that with the fact that not many business travelers are traveling yet and definitely not as many during the summer, the airlines have opened up award space to fly in business or first class. So if you’re sitting on some miles or points, it might be time to cash them in.
10. Look for new routes and airlines
One trick for finding great fares is to look for airlines announcing new routes or new airlines popping up. Just recently, Breeze Airways announced 35 incredible introductory rates and new routes. For example, you can fly San Francisco to Richmond, VA or Charleston, S.C. for $99 or Las Vegas to Fort Myers for the same price. Another startup, Avelo Airlines, has new routes and fares starting at $49. FYI: Here’s my play by play on Avelo’s inaugural flight last year.
Bonus: Sign up to newsletters
To find the best deals, you need to be in the know and that means signing up to as many newsletters as possible. I subscribe to the newsletters of almost all the airlines, hotels, car rentals, cruise lines … If you don’t want your inbox inundated, then just sign up for a few. Besides subscribing to my daily travel tip newsletter, my favorite is Scott’s Cheap Flights.
I hope these tips help you find cheap flights and more importantly, motivate you to see the world and visit the ones you love. Happy travels!