How to Book Flights Like a Pro

Chelsea Brinkley

Purchasing flights is usually the most expensive part of a trip. And being a travel planner, I often get asked many questions from family and friends about booking flights. To save myself some time from answering the same questions and to share the knowledge, here’s everything I know and use myself when it comes to booking flights.

GENERAL TIPS:

  • The biggest thing that will save you money on flights is to be flexible on your dates and times
  • If you’re going to fly when everyone else is trying to as well, you’re going to pay more. Back to economics class with good ‘ole supply and demand. So, summer time (June-August), around big holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years are all going to be more expensive. If you still need to fly during those times, try to arrive and depart a few days before and after.
  • Airlines know when there’s a large festival, holiday, school breaks, or major sports event at in-demand locations. They’re smart so they raise prices according to demand. Your only way around this, if you want to go to that thing and pay less on flights than what’s offered, is to travel a few days before and after.
  • You don’t always have to fly directly to your location. Instead, fly to a nearby airport and rent a car, take the train, or bus to your primary location. Get creative! The website Rome 2 Rio can help with this and give you options how to get from where you are to where you want to be. It just depends which is a higher priority for you – convenience or saving money.
  • Fly with a budget airline
    • You get fewer perks but if you know ahead of time you can plan by bringing your own snacks, drinks, only bringing a carry-on, etc.
    • Make sure you watch out for fees because on budget airlines there’s one for everything. Be sure to add up the ticket price and fees to make sure it’s cheaper than a bigger airline.
  • Always sign up for the airline rewards programs
    • No matter how often you fly, you should be signed up for the reward program. You get points for any flights you take with that airline so you might as well have them accumulate and add up over time.

WHEN SHOULD I BOOK MY FLIGHT?

  • If you’re in the U.S., book your flight approximately 54 days before your departure for domestic flights.
  • For international flights, the number of days in advance you should book varies by location so use the image below as a guide.
  • I know this sounds obvious but book a flight when it’s on sale
    • If a big airline announces a sale, their competitors usually match it (at least where they compete directly) within 24 hours. So take some time to shop around before you book.
    • To know when it’s on sale, create a fare alert on Momondo.
      • Search what you’re looking for and hit the Fare Alert button on the results page. You’ll then get an email notification when there is a notable change in price.
    • Scott’s Cheap Flights is another resource I use to get flights that are on sale
      • Sign up to get email notifications. He sends all the sale fares he finds directly to your inbox (you can customize what you receive as well). I’m a big fan of SCF.


WHAT DAY IS THE CHEAPEST TO FLY?

  • It’s cheapest to fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Most people travel on the weekends and airlines hike their prices then. So, try to avoid Saturdays – they’re the most expensive day to fly.

WHAT TIME OF DAY IS THE BEST TO FLY?

  • The cheapest time of day to travel is in the early morning or late night. Why? Because fewer people want to travel during those times. Again, flying when no one else is will save you lots of money.

WHERE CAN I FLY FOR CHEAP?

  • If you want to travel but not sure where to and are trying to be budget-conscious, use the Google Flights explore feature.
    • Click on the map, put in your home airport and dates, and check out your options.


HOW I SEARCH AND BOOK FLIGHTS:

  • I start all my flight searches with Google Flights to get a general idea of cost. I love the features of Google Flights and how user-friendly it is.
  • If we have a little more time on a trip, I’ll look at prices to nearby airports on Google Flights too (since it may be cheaper to fly elsewhere then take a rental car, train, or another flight to final destination)
  • I then do the same search on Momondo to find the best price
    • Momondo searches all major AND budget airlines so this is where you’ll find the best price.
  • The only time I don’t do the above is if Scott’s Cheap Flights or Momondo sends an email notification for a cheap flight deal that I’d like and I just go ahead and book it that way.
Published: December 1, 2017

Chelsea Brinkley

Travel Planner with a heart to explore the outdoors as much as possible.

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