How I find cheap flights to almost anywhere: tips and hacks for frequent flyers
Thanks a lot for reaching out and I feel your pain. When I started flying frequently, it was so difficult to find cheap flights, most especially destinations that are too far from the Philippines. When I went to Kenya, I had to be on three different airlines, booked separately just to get the cheapest flights. It was so exhausting! Through the years, I learned some hacks on how to find cheap flights that work well. But believe me, up until today, I am still learning!
I hope this helps and good luck in your travel to Brazil! It is my favorite country and I hope you’ll enjoy it. If there’s anything that wasn’t answered in this post, please let me know by sending me a message on Instagram.
For the benefit of our non-Filipino readers, I’d love to tell you a few stories of our struggles with the Philippine passport. Let’s talk about flying to Mexico from Manila. It sounds far, right? It is really far! When you directly put Manila to Mexico City in a flight search engine, the results will give you stops in the US – JFK, LAX, Texas, and even Miami are the top suggested layovers. These flights will normally cost not more than $800 USD which is a good price if you ask me.
But what’s the problem? Philippine passport holders need a visa to stop in the US. And the transit visa application process is as tedious as applying for a tourist visa to the USA. Meaning, it may take months. But if we do have a valid US visa, there is no need to apply for a transit visa when stopping in the US.
Most of my European and American friends here in Mexico were staggered about this idea. They realized how difficult it was for me to go on an impromptu travel as it is very easy for them. Their privilege were suddenly appreciated and highlighted by them. So, what I did in this flight situation was to find a flight that didn’t stop in the US. My route was Manila-Beijing-Tijuana-Mexico City: 27 hours of non-stop flying that still cost more than a flight stopping in LAX or JFK ($1,095 USD). It’s not that cheap, I know. But if you are not well-informed about how to find cheap flights, I am sure you will find a $2,000 USD flight in this route because that really is the price.
I haven’t shared these hacks before but I do practice them religiously. You may think I get sponsored by airlines because of my work but that is not always the case. I’ve been in this industry for quite a while to know that airline sponsorships are the hardest to get.
See these tips and hacks on how to find cheap flights and share yours, too!
#1: Go incognito
So you already set a flight budget because your first search for the flight that you wanted to show you that price. After just a few hours that you are about to book it, you search for the exact same flight with the exact same dates only to find out that they are $50 USD more. That sucks, right? It happened to me a lot and little did I know that airlines jack up prices if you keep searching the same flight. But they don’t do it on purpose – like many things on the Internet, it’s based on your search history.
It’s annoying how our browsers are not private these days. One day you’re searching for a bikini on Google, the next hour, you are flooded with bikini ads on Facebook and Instagram. Creepy, right? The bulk of my job is on the Internet and I am really annoyed that I have to be aware of my privacy, even on my own computer.
To prevent this from happening, especially if I want to find cheap flights, I use an Incognito browser. Also known as InPrivate Browsing, Incognito mode is a setting in your browser (Google Chrome or Safari) that prevents your search history from being stored. For Mac/Apple users who use Google Chrome, you can enter incognito mode by simultaneously clocking Command + Shift + N. If you use Safari, you can easily click ‘private browsing.’ This way, your searches will not be remembered by the search engine. For every time you browse in an incognito window, the search tools reset so they don’t have any record of what flights you looked for.
#2: Know the cheapest day to fly out
Alright, this may be a myth or a placebo but I read in some website long time ago that Wednesday is the best day to find cheap flights – it always worked for me! I do have more options as I can fly any time of the weeb because of my flexible blogging job but if you don’t have a lot of leaves at work, I always proved that flying back on Sunday is cheaper than Monday.
Again, there is no proof that Wednesday is the cheapest day to fly but what I do in order to know the days is to click on the calendar view. The screen shot above is from Kiwi.com but I’m sure most websites have this month view feature. This way, you will see all the prices for all departures all month. Then you’ll have a more flexible option! Make sure you’re in incognito window though, as stated in #1.
#3: Start collecting miles and points
I’ve been flying with different airlines for the past 10 years so I didn’t think miles and points really mattered. I only started paying attention to it when I realized that many airlines are ‘friends’ and that they have come together to make collection travel miles and points easier for us. That was already 5 years after – all the flights I accumulated on those years went to waste because I didn’t collect them. Star Alliance is the most common organization of frequent flyer programs where you can collect points and combine them even if booked with different airlines.
One website that I recently turned to recently is Upgraded Points. Many of us really don’t know how to redeem our miles or what to do with it before it expires but this website will tell you all! I’ve been binge-reading their website because they have a lot of free resources on finding cheap flights – the information they provide really helps me a lot. One thing I also noticed is that when somebody else (like a travel agent/specialist) explains miles and points to me, they are not easy to understand but the articles in this website use words that are super simple and very easy to decipher.
#4: Buy/spot/search error fares.
Error fare is a term that is not well-known but is famous to frequent flyers. When airline systems are pricing flights (you can imagine they are handling a lot of prices every day), a system error sometimes occurs and this is when the error fares come to life. Some of the reasons why error fares are published are currency conversion or human pricing errors. I am not sure why this happens a lot because it does happen often but if you spot one, buy it right away!
For some, it may seem like a fake price – imagine a roundtrip flight from New York to the Maldives for $123 USD? Unbelievable, right? But these are not fake! 70% of the time, airlines honor error fare but some do cancellations and gives you a refund. Never happened to me when I booked an error fare – they always honor it!
Airfare Watchdog and Secret Flying are the two websites I am subscribed to. Both send me e-mails whenever there’s an error fare alert. All you have to do is to set your ‘home airport’ and it will give you regular e-mail alerts that involve your chosen departure airport/city.
#5: Learn the difference among flight booking platforms
Most people prefer to go to the main websites of the airlines they are loyal to but in my experience, it’s always more expensive if you go to the airline websites. If you really want to find cheap flights, you need to explore third-party platforms that airlines partner with. I know that sometimes, it does not give you confidence (especially with refunds) but because of the pandemic, these external platforms have also improved their refund policies. Below are the ones I use, together with my personal experience with them:
For budget backpackers: Kiwi.com
Kiwi.com is the only flight search engine I use because it shows you the cheapest possible flight and route. It has a lot of options! Some are ridiculously long but you ask for cheap, they give you cheap. There are a lot of filters and parameters you can use such as number of hours of flights, nonstop or direct, and maximum travel time. You can even filter it to the airlines that you like! The best thing about Kiwi.com is when you don’t know where to go, you can just choose ‘anywhere’ as a destination and every cheap flight in every major city in the world will appear in ascending order.
For real-time COVID updates and entry requirements: Momondo
I frequently use Momondo because of it’s new COVID feature. They have this map on their website where you can see real-time COVID updates including entry requirements (i.e. if you are eligible to fly to that country you are trying to book a flight for). Just enter your departure country and the map will reflect the country’s opening status and entry requirements! It’s really amazing! These days, rules for every country change frequently so this platform is best if you are traveling for a vacation with start and end dates.
For European flights: E-dreams
I use this platform when booking flights to and from Europe. All the flights here are guaranteed cheap. I once booked a Mexico-Madrid flight for only $300 USD! I always find cheap long-haul flights here. You can also use this for rental cars and hotels.
For hotel and flight combos: Orbitz
My favourite Orbitz feature: you can book anything according to the type of traveler that you are! They filter LGBTQ and female-friendly accommodations, destinations, travel inspirations, and more! Click here to get a 15% discount on your first trip with Orbitz.
There are a lot of other flight booking platforms that I use but I won’t include them all in this post. In case you want to compare and you have time to explore your options, see the full list here.