Let our inside expert walk you through the best flight booking hacks to find a great airline deal. No sleeping on the floor required, I promise. These flight hacks are for savvy travellers who know when to spend and when to save - and they're not just for budget airlines.
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The Best Flight Hacks to Find a Great Deal
As the world recovers from the pandemic, travel will reopen eventually. There's every chance that we'll see a mad rush to fly again and so it’s easy to get a little lost and miss out on cheap flights. So, I’ve assembled a useful list of proven flight booking hacks that, used together, are guaranteed to get you cheaper flights.
These techniques work for Economy, Business and even First Class flights. No matter what you are buying, you are virtually guaranteed to save. In fact, Business and First class purchases save even more with these flight booking hacks! And while there's no single cheap flight hacker trick that will do all the work for you, these techniques really will help you learn how to score cheap flights.
1. SEARCH IN INCOGNITO or PRIVATE BROWSING Mode
The first and simplest of the tricks to get cheap flights is to search for flights using incognito or private browsing mode.
Whether you are searching directly with airlines or on a search engine like Kayak, your searches are tracked using persistent cookies. These cookies are planted in your web browser and allow the airlines or search websites to identify you when you return to finish your booking. Their pricing algorithms will detect the cookies and adjust up the prices to create a sense of urgency, forcing you to buy before they raise prices further.
Browsing incognito or using private browsing will protect you from such price manipulation.
TO ENABLE INCOGNITO/PRIVATE BROWSING AND CHEAT AIR FARE RISES:
- For Google Chrome, click the 3 dots at the top right corner -> New incognito window or use the shortcut: ctrl + shift + N (or cmd + shift + N for Macs).
- For Firefox, click on the 3 bars at the top right corner -> New private window or use the shortcut: ctrl + shift + P (or cmd + shift + P for Macs).
- For Safari, go to File -> New private window or hit the shortcut: cmd + shift + N.
Alternatively, you can install add-ons to your browser to do this automatically for you:
2. COMPARE AIRFARES: Shop ARound
You'll find many different flight search engines on the web, employing different search and pricing algorithms, with no one holding a monopoly over cheap flights. What this means is that there's almost always another site selling it for less.
Simply searching for the same flight on a different website often results in a lower price. But there’s a trick to doing it the right way: search on a website owned by a different conglomerate.
Many of the most popular flight search websites are owned by large conglomerates and utilize the same algorithms. For example, Kayak and Momondo are both owned by Booking Holdings, so searching for the same flight on these two sites is pointless - you’ll simply get the exact same results.
To help you get started, these are my recommendations for websites to search flights on, grouped by their parent company:
- Kayak and Momondo (owned by Booking Holdings.)
- Skyscanner and Trip.com (owned by Trip.com Group.)
- Google Flights
- Tripli.com (new player on the block)
Searching across these websites will find you very different results, giving you the best chance of finding a lower price on the same flight.
This method might be tedious, however, so you could take advantage of an automatic flight price shopping browser extension such as BuyLo. The browser extension pops up at checkout automatically and will run a search for a lower price flight on the exact same route for you. It’s effortless and just takes around a minute, so it's one of the best cheap flight hacks around.
3. ERROR FARES
One of the best airline ticket hacks involves error fares. We’ve talked about how the algorithms on flight booking sites can work against you, but they can sometimes work for you.
Sometimes airlines make pricing errors such as:
- Calculation errors made in converting one currency to another
- Dropping the last zero by mistake (e.g, pricing a flight at $100 instead of $1,000)
- Technical glitches in the systems of online travel agencies, which omit surcharges from the fare total
- Clumsy interns manually entering prices
How to Find Flight Errors
How do you go about finding such errors? Firstly, they will sometimes show up in flight search engines. When doing broad, whole month searches, it would be glaringly easy to see such fares. They will be orders of magnitude lower than prices on any other day of the month.
However, these error fares get snapped up quite rapidly so it’s highly unlikely that you would just come across them by chance. The surest way to get notified about them is to sign up for notifications from a flight deal website such as Scott’s Cheap Flights, Dollar Flight Club, Secret Flying or Airfare Watchdog. You can sign up for email alerts or subscribe to their social media feeds to hack flight prices automatically.
However, note the following when taking advantage of error fares:
- There is a risk that the airline will not honour the fare. However, cancellations are quite rare, especially for reputable airlines. The airline will ultimately have to weigh the cost of selling underpriced tickets against the damage to its reputation, loss of customer faith and potential legal ramifications if they decide to cancel the tickets.
- Error fares often only apply to a very specific flight and the dates and times for the flight might not work for you. Obviously, cheap flight tricks are only worth anything if you end up with the flight you want!
4. PRICE ALERTS Airfare Hacks
It's usually the case that last minute flight bookings are the most expensive.
But when is the best time to book?
There is no one rule as it entirely depends on the origin, destination, dates and times.
But there is a work around. For example, when you are using a flight booking site like Kayak or Google Flights, you can subscribe to price alerts
For example, on Kayak, their price advice box pops up at the top left of the search results page. Clicking on track prices will allow you to subscribe to price changes on a specific route.
However, note that this will only tell you when it’s a good time to book a specific route. The price on the ticket will still vary based on the selected time, airlines and booking gates. To guarantee finding the lowest prices, I would recommend price shopping the selected flight or using an automated tool like BuyLo.
5. DISGUISING YOUR DEVICE
When it comes to using tricks to find cheap flights, if you want to cover all bases then this one of the least well known plane ticket hacks.
Another way that flight booking sites’ algorithms try to outsmart you is through price discrimination based on device. In a nutshell, the device you are using tells a lot about you and how much you can afford. For example, Apple users tend to be more wealthy, so they are shown higher prices.
This form of price discrimination is harder for the end user to detect. After all, who’s price shopping flights on the exact same site across devices? But don’t worry, we did our research and it is a thing. For example, this is a side-by-side shot of very different prices on the exact same flight:
The device on the left is an Android phone, while the device on the right is an iPhone. It’s only a $4 markup but the algorithms are a black box so who knows how much you’re overpaying on your Mac?
So our advice is simple:
6. The Layover Flight Hack
Hack airline tickets even more with this top tip.
Don't tick the "direct flights only" box while booking tickets. Most flights that have a transfer or layover tend to be cheaper than direct flights. It would take longer to get to your destination but the savings could more than make up for it!
Consider this: Suppose a flight with a layover takes 3 hours longer to get to your destination but would save you $600. You should take the flight with the layover unless your time is valued at > $200/hr.
Also, consider super long layover flights, even multi-day layovers. Why would anyone do that? Because you could leave the airport during the layover, making your vacation a two destination vacation instead of one!
Some airlines even provide FREE hotel accommodation for long layovers! For example, EgyptAir’s layover service will provide a free hotel, meals and transportation. It’s entirely possible to visit the pyramids during your layover!
There are plenty of useful resources with more information on airline stopover programs (e.g., here and here). However, note that many of the programs are suspended during the pandemic but they are expected to come back as lockdown restrictions get lifted globally.
The flight layover hack can often really surprise you.
7. USE A FLIGHT DEAL FINDING BROWSER EXTENSION LIKE BUYLO
If these flight booking hacks are too much of a hassle to apply yourself, you could outsource it to a browser extension like BuyLo. In a nutshell, it’s like Honey but specific to flights. Here’s how it works:
- Simply search for flights at on a supported airline/booking site (see list here)
- Go to the checkout and BuyLo will automatically pop up to run a search for a lower price.
Here’s an example of BuyLo finding £2,791 in savings on a £6,700 business class flight from London to Boston:
It only took about a minute to run. Pretty neat!
So how does it work? Basically, BuyLo automates price comparison, incognito search and device spoofing - three of the airline hacks we’ve mentioned in this flight hacks guide. It works for Economy and Business class flights and supports every currency. It's your best chance of finding the cheapest flight.
However, it’s important to note that none of these flight booking hacks can guarantee that you will save money. But if there are savings to be found, these flight hacks will find them.
Booking a Flight Tips
- Booking using a credit card can earn you loyalty points or cashback. Look into deals before making a big purchase. Watch out for foreign transaction fees when spending abroad, though. It may be better to choose a different method of paying while actually at your final destination.
- It's not only the budget airlines that charge for luggage these days. Check the baggage policy when comparing prices.
- Most airlines allow children to travel free of charge when they are under two years old. They also usually allow for extra luggage like pushchairs and car seats. However, these are not guaranteed so double check the fine print before booking .
- Being flexible with your departure date can open up cheaper air fares. Enter in a range when searching for flight deals.
- It's usually better to book return tickets with the same airline but don't rule out booking one way tickets with separate airlines. Depending on a variety of factors, this may be the best way to hack airline tickets.
- Make a note of when check-in opens and when you can reserve your seat. Some airlines charge extra for this, now, so if it's important for you to sit with someone or near the toilet, for example, then make sure you don't miss the booking deadline.
More Flying Hacks
OK, so you've mastered the airfare hacks. What about the flight itself?
Check out our ultimate guides to flying more comfortably here: