How to get the best deals on flights: 17 expert tips to find cheap flights in 2023
Industry insiders and travel experts share their tips on how to find cheap flights and get the best deals
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Knowing how to get the best deals on flights can be the difference between booking that big trip or staying at home. But finding those elusive cheap flights is easier said than done, especially as air fares continue to rise.
There is no one secret to getting cheap flights, as fares fluctuate for a number of reasons, with flight prices primarily based on supply and demand. However, even when demand is high, it's not always in the airlines' best interest to raise fares too high or passengers will look elsewhere. They also need flights to be full in order to justify the costs of operating the journey. All of this means that even when it feels like everything is impossibly expensive, there are still good deals to be found.
Just like securing the best holiday deals or learning the top hacks for getting the best deals on hotels, timing, flexibility and a bit of savviness are key. We spoke to travel experts and insiders who revealed their tips to find the best deals on flights, plus whether or not fares are likely to rise in 2023.
How to get the best deals on flights, according to travel experts
1. Be as flexible as possible
Airline prices can massively vary, especially around the peak season and big holidays such as Christmas and Easter. If you don’t have set travel dates, you can take advantage of cheaper flights.
“Being flexible with dates, times, airlines and airports can lead to considerable flight savings,” says Chris Webber, Head of Holidays and Deals at Ice Travel Group (opens in new tab). “Traveling during less popular seasons makes it easier to find reasonable prices," he adds.
Travel sites and tools can also help you identify the best (and cheapest) times to travel. “Use Google Flights, Skyscanner, or your favorite search tool to look at a wide range of dates and times,” says the author of Winning the Airfare Game (opens in new tab), Charles McCool.
“Expand the geographic range to open yourself to more flight deals. Compare one-way flight options to a return journey,” he adds.
Many of Europe's best hidden gems are best enjoyed off-season, not to mention some of the best places to visit in Greece. If you avoid the summer rush, you can enjoy sparser crowds, low airfares and cheaper hotels.
2. Avoid flying during peak season if you can
A pro tip is to also check when the peak season is for the destination you're looking to visit. This might be different from your home country, so it’s worth researching or speaking to a travel agent to get expert advice.
Different countries are also best visited at different times of the year and this will obviously have an impact on flight prices. For example, Christmas in New York is going to be far more expensive than traveling at the start of the year. Traveling in the shoulder season can also save you money on hotels as well as flights.
“Check when peak season is for the destination you are visiting and try and go during alternative seasons," says award-winning travel blogger Binny Shah from Binny's Food and Travel (opens in new tab). “For example, Kenya and Tanzania are the best places to visit in October or November as safaris are cheaper outside of the peak season of July to September."
3. Book your flight early - but not too early
Booking at the right time can be crucial when searching for flight deals. Naveen Dittakavi, founder and CEO of Next Vacay (opens in new tab) says, “Tickets often increase in price the closer you get to your departure date, so it’s best to book early.”
There is such a thing as booking too early though, as when tickets are just made available, they might actually be more expensive, not less.
“For domestic trips, you’ll want to book your travel between 1 and 4 months out. Any closer than one month and you’ll start to see those prices tick up, or worse, they might sell out," Naveen adds.
“With long-haul international trips, begin watching trends 8-9 months in advance and plan to book your travel around 7-8 months before.”
4. Consider booking indirect flights
A favorite hack of travel author Charles McCool is to break long or pricey routes into separate flights, such as New York to Paris to Cape Town.
“By buying separate return (round trip) tickets, I can choose from more airlines, pick better-scheduled flights, save money, plus create a stopover vacation in the interim destination,” Charles explains.
Travel writer Lavina Dsouza from the Continent Hop (opens in new tab) agrees, “In some instances, with companies like Emirates, you can extend your stay in countries like Dubai and fly on a day with lower airfare after enjoying a mini-vacation."
It's also worth flying to a major hub with one airline and then booking regional flights with local airlines.
“Local flight providers may have better prices, which may not be available on metasearch engines,” explains Lavina. Meaning you could fly to Bangkok with one airline and then continue your onward travel in Thailand with a domestic airline such as AirAsia.
5. Search for cheap flights on Google Flights
"Use search engines such as Google Flights (opens in new tab), which can show you the cheapest fares by destination and carrier," suggests Travel Editor Rob Burgess.
This innovative site aggregates flights from major airlines and when you find a flight you want to book, they then take you straight to the airline site to book your trip. One of the best features is that Google flights will show you a flight price graph so that you can see how flights are likely to compare over the next few months.
"Google Flights is the most powerful travel search engine on the planet," says cheap flight expert Mike Ferraco (opens in new tab).
“You can view flight prices across a range of dates, which means you'll always find the cheapest day to fly. My favorite feature is the price drop alert, which allows you to set up an email notification as soon as your flight price drops," Mike adds.
6. Fly long-haul with budget airlines
While they predominantly fly domestic and short-haul routes, some low-cost airlines like Play, EasyJet and Norwegian do offer cheaper, long-haul flights that tend to connect at European hubs.
For example, you can fly to Boston via Reykjavík with Play and even spend a few days in Iceland’s capital if you have the time and budget.
New budget airlines like Norse and French bee are also making international travel more affordable than ever if you are willing to give up the luxuries of more expensive carriers. The Managing Director of French bee, Muriel Assouline, advises booking "ala carte services. This means you can book a base fare and customize it to only pay for what you need." This way you can book the base fare then choose from 20 additional options, ranging from how much luggage you want to take, to the meals you want to eat and additional add-ons. This way you only pay for the services you want and you can keep it as low-cost as possible.
Travel author Jen Ruiz's tips for long flights with a budget carrier include, “Pack light and bring your own snacks and entertainment so add-ons don't negate the deal."
The downside to flying with any low-cost airline is that you will have to pay for things like baggage, seats and food - so once you start adding on these services costs can slowly creep up. Plus you will likely have less legroom and a fairly basic seat with no added comfort - so this is really one for the more economically-minded traveler, looking to save cash.
7. Book with a travel agent
It is possible to save money on flights by booking with a trusted and professional travel agent. By booking with an agent, you have an added layer of protection if anything goes wrong, so you won’t be out of pocket should your travel plans fall apart.
"It might sound counterintuitive, but I've found using a travel agent can result in significant savings on flights," says award-winning travel blogger Bella Falk from Passport and Pixels (opens in new tab).
"They often have access to deals that we mere mortals don’t, and talking to a real person can save you from making expensive mistakes," she adds.
"For my recent trip to Guatemala, I booked my flights through Flight Centre. They got me a deal I couldn’t find online, and then for an extra £75, I’m allowed unlimited date changes," explains Bella.
"I’ve already changed my return date three times, and when United Airlines canceled my route home, they had my back and helped me find another route."
8. Sign up for 'Going'
Going, formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights (opens in new tab) is an innovative email subscription service that sends out flight deals for domestic and international flights and can save you a lot of money. They have free and paid options and they reckon that the deals featured in their newsletter are around 40% to 90% off average flight prices.
"With the proliferation of low-cost carriers like Spirit Airlines and Ryanair, it isn’t hard to find cheap flights," says founder Scott Keyes.
Scott is quick to point out that not all airlines and itineraries are created equal and emphasizes that they only include deals that pass the "Bestie Test" where they will only send out deals they would recommend to their best friends.
He also stresses that cheap airfare isn’t enough. "The itinerary needs to have a good routing that minimizes your travel time, so either a nonstop flight or one with a reasonable connection time," he adds.
Typically, the deals also need to be on an airline that’s not considered a low-cost carrier and not for last-minute travel to qualify for their newsletter.
9. Use airline points and miles to fly
Pro travelers utilize points and miles to get free flights, perks and even free upgrades on flights.
Naveen Dittakavi, founder of Next Vacay (opens in new tab) is a big fan of so-called travel hacking, "The term travel hacking is intimidating for many people, but it's just the use of points and miles to get free travel."
Naveen explains that you can earn points and miles in any number of ways, from opening up a new travel credit card to shopping online through airline partner portals. "Using this strategy, I flew from Miami, Florida to Auckland, New Zealand for $38."
For UK travelers, Rob Burgess, Editor at frequent flyer website Head for Points (opens in new tab) suggests that travelers join the British Airways executive club and start collecting Avios to save money on flights.
"Historically frequent flyer miles haven't been a great deal when flying in Economy, given low cash prices and the taxes you are still required to pay," he says. "This logic doesn't apply anymore, with exceptionally good deals to be had using Avios on British Airways given cash prices," he adds.
Burgess also points out that you can also exchange Nectar card points for Avios (and, if you can't find flights you want, exchange them back at the same rate, so you've not lost anything.)
Using a credit card to make regular, everyday purchases can be a way of racking up points to put towards flights and hotels, but you need to be very organized to pull off travel hacking and be able to use a credit card responsibly if you want to collect points without getting into debt.
10. Book with airlines that are launching new routes with seats to fill
Travelers should always keep an eye on new airline launches and new routes, to see if there is a flash sale. Budget carriers regularly add new routes to destinations and travelers can take advantage of seats that need filling. For example, Ryanair recently launched 13 new routes to its winter schedule and had a flash flight sale to celebrate.
Low rates are often snapped up quickly, so sign up for airline newsletters and deal sites like HolidayPirates (opens in new tab), to be the first to jump on cheap flight deals.
11. Be flexible about your destination
Use Skyscanner’s ‘Everywhere’ option if you are looking for some travel inspiration and to save money on flights. Select this option from the drop-down list and Skyscanner will display a list of possible destinations, showing the cheapest place first. Use this tool to bag a bargain to a destination you might not have even considered before.
Suffice to say, this tip is for the more adventurous traveler who is open-minded about where they go but is a great way to find the best cheap places to travel in 2023. Before booking, ensure you check out any travel advisories attached to that location.
12. Watch out for hidden fees
With travel prices soaring, it's tempting to opt for the cheapest airfares possible to save money. However, you need to be aware of additional fees, surcharges and extras when booking low-cost flights, as these can soon add up.
"Don't let 'basic economy' and 'saver economy' discount fares fool you," says Lauren Gumport, from Faye Travel Insurance (opens in new tab).
Lauren points out that these new base levels of fares were created as a step below regular economy and their price points now match what economy fares used to represent.
"Airlines act like these are a discount, when in reality, if you purchase the saver fares plus one or two add-ons (such as hold luggage), you'll end up paying more than you will for a regular economy ticket which likely already includes those add-ons," she adds.
Remember to carefully check saver airfares for hidden costs and avoid checking in luggage to make travel more affordable.
13. Sign up to receive flight alerts
You can use travel tools like Google Flights or Skyscanner to get notifications on flights you are thinking of booking so that you can keep an eye on prices.
These are perhaps the most popular tools but there are other ways of getting flight alerts and notifications of secret airfares and deals. Certain companies make it their job to find the best airline deals and notify you when there is an error fare, sale, or price drop.
“They do the hard work, so you don't have to,” says Jen Ruiz, author of The Affordable Flight Guide (opens in new tab). “They are perfect for travelers that want a quick win. In the U.K. or Europe, check out SecretFlying (opens in new tab) and CheapFlights.co.uk (opens in new tab)."
14. Use price comparison sites
You can search for cheap flights across hundreds of sites with flight comparison websites like Skyscanner (opens in new tab) or Booking.com (opens in new tab). If you also have flexibility with your dates, you can use Skyscanner to find the cheapest day to fly, or the cheapest month, to get to your chosen destination.
Use can also use OTAs (online travel agents) such as Expedia (opens in new tab) and Ebookers (opens in new tab) as well as airlines, to find your cheap flight deals. These sites give you a great overview of the cheapest flights to your chosen destination and crucially, who is the cheapest to buy from.
If you sign up as a member with sites like Booking.com (opens in new tab) you can also save money by earning loyalty rewards. Combine these points with airline miles to make extra savings on flights.
15. Use a VPN
Flight prices can vary depending on what location you book from and crucially, the currency you book in. This tip comes courtesy of James Brockbank, Editor at The Family Vacation Guide (opens in new tab), "Use a VPN and check if it’s cheaper to buy tickets in another currency," he advises. "VPNs are a popular privacy protection solution, but they can also offer life hacks if you use them correctly. Sometimes changing your VPN location to the country you’re flying to can help bring down prices.
"However, you must pay using a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees and check the conversion beforehand to ensure you save money."
The last part is important as you might offset any savings if your bank charges hefty foreign transaction fees.
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If you've never installed a VPN before, don't worry, it's quick and easy. Just follow these three steps:
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16. Fly midweek
The best flight and holiday deals can often be found midweek, so if you have flexibility, it's worth flying off just before or after the weekend.
"We’ve found flying out and returning midweek vs the weekend can be up to about 60% cheaper on short-haul, and up to about 30% cheaper for longer haul flights," says Evan Day, UK Country Manager at travel agency and search machine, KAYAK (opens in new tab).
"It is a similar story for shorter breaks. Traveling either side of a weekend will generally be more expensive than at other times of the week."
17. If you're not superstitious, consider traveling on Friday 13th
Flight fares change based on supply and demand, so naturally, some dates are less desirable to the masses than others. 'Unlucky' Friday 13th is one of them. So if you're not particularly superstitious or are willing to forgo any tendencies in pursuit of a cheap flight, then it could be worth traveling on this day.
"Fun fact - flight prices seem to be significantly lower on Friday the 13th," explains Evan. Based on their data, this year, flights found on KAYAK were about 23% lower, compared to the average price of all other Friday flights this year."
The next Friday 13th will fall on Friday October 13, 2023, so mark your calendars!
Will flight prices go down in 2023?
Due to a combination of inflation, increased fuel costs and higher customer demand, airfares have increased over the last year. But will this slow down? In short, this answer will vary from country to country.
"Demand for flights and the desire to travel is at record levels, higher than before the pandemic. One huge factor that determines the price of airfares is the cost of fuel," explains Jen Catto, CMO at Travelport (opens in new tab). "As the dollar is strengthening against nearly every currency, US-based airlines are likely to be more profitable in 2023. In turn, they can provide more competitive pricing than places such as the UK."
So does this mean that US travelers can expect prices to drop? Potentially, says Jen. "While recent data shows a 25.6% increase in airfare from last January to January 2023, meaning Americans are paying more for flights than they did a year ago, airfare in January 2023 was down 1.4% compared to the previous month, so prices are going down."
This is corroborated by regular traveler and founder of Touchdown Money, (opens in new tab) Scott Lieberman. "Airfare has increased 25.6% from January 2022 to January 2023 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index," he notes, adding "I see flights continuing to be more expensive than last year, but not rising quite as quickly as before."
Mark Pollard of independent travel experts Where Would You Rather Be? (opens in new tab) tells us that it's difficult to predict whether fares will rise or fall in 2023, adding that the current hike in prices is unsustainable. “We’re stuck in limbo, with customers unable to afford big increases, and high costs making it impossible for airlines to reduce prices in the short term," he admits.
"The lifting of Covid travel restrictions has unleashed pent-up demand in the long-haul sector and airfares are soaring," he tells us. “Costs are particularly high across the Atlantic and to Australia and New Zealand, with some premium cabin tickets about double what they were pre-Covid. European airfares have not leaped to the same extent, and the summer’s package holiday prices are priced fairly, but fares are unlikely to come down naturally in the near future."
It's not all doom and gloom though as Mark noted that the current situation is not sustainable and that airlines might have to promote offers and special fares to keep people traveling throughout winter especially.
"On the plus side, the cost of fuel is falling, which should soon be reflected in flight prices," he adds.
Portia Jones is a freelance travel journalist, podcaster and host of the Travel Goals Podcast (opens in new tab). She specialises in adventure travel, destination guides and solo travel guides and has travelled, volunteered and worked around the world for almost 20 years. She writes for a wide range of newspapers, magazines and websites and also is a regular travel contributor for BBC Radio.
When she's not writing or podcasting Portia can be found hiking, swimming, kayaking, or drinking endless cups of coffee in hipster cafes.
- Anna PaulDeputy Digital Editor
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