how to find cheap flights

How I find cheap flights to almost anywhere: tips and hacks for frequent flyers

Reader Mail: Hi Trisha! I am very amazed by your travels! Thank you so much for inspiring Filipinos like me that we can go anywhere despite our third-world passport. I am going to Brazil soon from Manila and can’t find cheap flights on that route. Can you please suggest any trick? Hacks? Thank you so much and more power to you!
– Jane Mendoza, Philippines

Dear Jane,

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.

Xx,

Trisha

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!

How to find cheap flights

#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.

See also: Should you be obsessed with planning your backpacking trip?

find cheap flights

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.

How to find cheap flights

#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.

Read: How to become a digital nomad – tips from being a DN for 10 years

find cheap flights

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.

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How to find cheap flights

#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.

find cheap flights

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.

How to find cheap flights

#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!

find cheap flights

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.

Do you like what you’re reading? Does it help? I take a lot of time creating valuable and meaningful content. If you like to support my content creation and my blog, consider donating to my coffee fund. Thank you in advance!

How to find cheap flights

#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.

Ready to book your trip?

Most readers of this blog can easily plan their trips on their own and if it’s too stressful for you (especially because of COVID), you can always call or e-mail me – I do a lot of customized trip planning that guarantees your most authentic trip experience. Below are the main things I use (and trust) when booking all my trips.

  • Vrbo: In 2021, I am officially supporting VRBO instead of Airbnb. VRBO has a “Book with Confidence Guarantee Program” that is very beneficial especially at this time when our travel plans are always changing.
  • Hostelworld: I backpacked a lot for most of my formative years and always used Hostelworld. This is best for people who travel solo and want to meet friends on their trips!
  • Agoda: This platform has lots of deals and no other booking platform shows the best accommodation discounts!
  • Booking.com: Since I am always traveling indefinitely, I do not always have fixed travel dates. I use Booking because they don’t need a credit card to secure your accommodation. Most of it is on a ‘pay at the property’ set up so you don’t need to pay for a cancellation fee in case your travel plans change.
  • Kiwi.com: You can find the cheapest flights here with the best airlines. What Kiwi does is analyze your route and give you the best prices for your itinerary. Try it and see the difference with other flight booking platforms!
  • 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!
  • Get Your Guide: I must admit – sometimes, I am super lazy to do things on my own so I always book the tours here! They are really cheap compared to other tour booking platforms and most of the tours here are not super guided. They give you a lot of free time!
  • TripAdvisor: I book tours here whenever I want to see real-time reviews. The reviews here are from real people so you can always compare their experiences! Tours are super cheap, too!
  • Travelwifi: take the internet with you! As a digital nomad, this is very important to me. If you decide to rent a portable wifi device, use my code PSIMONMYWAY to get a 10% discount.
  • Transferwise: As a digital nomad, handling money in different currencies have always been hard for me. Read my experience with Transferwise here – the best bank for long-term travelers!
How to find cheap flights on Pinterest: save it for later!

Trisha is one of those people who left their comfortable life to travel the world and learn about life. Her style is to stay in one place she likes for 3 months (or more) to know what it feels like to eat, cook, speak, and sleep in another culture that isn’t hers. She'd like to believe she's not traditionally traveling but she just chooses to be somewhere else all the time. In no particular order, her favorite cities in the world are Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Mexico City, and Tel Aviv.

Comments

  • B
    September 22, 2019

    Going incognito for better prices is a complete myth. So is buying on a specific day etc.

    reply
  • Kathleen
    September 30, 2019

    I fly a lot and didn’t know about some of these. I will try private browsing next time I’m looking for a ticket or something I don’t want to see advertised on my social media. I hate that. I’m going to sign up for those fare error sites too. Great information.

    reply
  • Linda (LD Holland)
    September 30, 2019

    I must admit that I am a bit hooked at chasing airline status. So I don’t always look for the cheapest flights. But our kids certainly do! I like the idea of Kiwil.com providing the best cost and routing information. We do often stop along our travel path. I have had a few incredibly low airfares that I was sure were errors. And were glad that I got to fly on them with no issue. I will pass this post on!

    reply
  • Danik
    September 30, 2019

    I always go incognito, those airline companies are very clever when it comes to the interweb and seeing which routes are popular when people research. Great tip there guys! More people should go incognito and then see what the reaction of airline bosses are like. 😀

    reply
  • Adonis A Villanueva
    October 1, 2019

    Good tips! I’m long known about browsing using incognito mode in Chrome to score the best tickets. I use Kiwi too sometimes as well as other tools. I’ve been collecting miles and points as well but use it more to upgrade flights rather than getting the flights themselves 🙂

    reply
  • Rosemary
    October 1, 2019

    Great tips!! I subscribe to Airfare Watchdog and Secret Flying and they do have good deals from time to time. Thanks for the tip for Upgraded Points. This is the second time I’m hearing about it and I just subscribed 🙂 Cheers.

    reply
  • Eric Gamble
    October 2, 2019

    Love Kiwi in incognito mode! These are great tips though I haven’t tried the error fare yet. Seems a bit of a gamble even for me, Eric Gamble. (Sorry for the dad joke!) But seriously, Have you bought an error fare with any success?

    reply
  • Patricia
    October 2, 2019

    I had never heard of Kiwi.com before, and now I’m definitely going to use it. I ran into the price hike problem when flying United a couple of years ago. I had looked at the same flight too many times, and I got a higher price — which made me panic. But then I went into my system and erased the cookies. Next time I searched for the flight, the seat was back to the original price. So, from my own experience, blocking the cookies can keep you from the search/price hike. I’m going to try the Wednesday trick next! It’s certainly true with accommodations, so I can see it being true for airlines. Thanks for the tips!

    reply
  • Kamree
    October 2, 2019

    Finding cheap flights can be tricky sometimes, it is definitely a benefit to know the tricks. These are fantastic tips i’ll have to use when booking my next getaway! xo – Kam

    reply
  • Tami
    October 2, 2019

    I knew about the trick of using an incognito window but I had never heard of Kiwi.com before. So happy to learn a new tip, and of course, I’ll be saving my airline miles too!

    reply
  • Nisha
    October 2, 2019

    Trisha !! What amazing hacks you’ve spoken about!
    We personally do in incognito mode and also collect miles and more.
    The best tip in my opinion was to spot the error fares. Thanks for sharing.

    reply
  • Joyli3
    November 26, 2019

    Hi Trisha!! amazing!. Can you please tell me how did you book your flight to Manila-Beijing-Tijuana-Mexico City? what airlines are they? I wanted to fly back to Mexico next year with this route and maybe this route is cheaper than ANA airlines..

    reply

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P.S. I'm On My Way is a blog by Trisha Velarmino. She didn't
quit her job to travel the world. She made a job out of traveling and you can do it, too.