How We Find Great Airfare Deals

One of the perks of traveling in the "off season" is that planes are not always full to capacity. Imagine how happy we were when, on a recent trip to Europe, we found out the kiddo could have a whole row of seats to herself!

One of the perks of traveling in the “off season” is that planes are not always full to capacity. Imagine how happy we were when, on a flight to Europe, we found out the kiddo could have a whole row of seats to herself!

Finding great airfare deals takes work. Plain and simple. Deals rarely fall on your lap (yes, sometimes they do) but when you find them it is worth all the searching. The trick is to minimize the amount of work you have to do in order to maximize the amount you can save on a particular airfare search.

Three months ago I bought a round trip, Baltimore to Los Angeles fare for $185 dollars. Two months ago I bought a cross country plane ticket from Baltimore to Los Angeles for $38.40. That’s right, there’s no zeros missing. Flying from BWI to LAX in February is going to cost the grand total of thirty-eight dollars and forty cents. I’ve had dinners that cost more than that! Last month I bought tickets to cross the Atlantic, from Baltimore to Amsterdam, for $325.00. That’s round trip by the way. And I could have bought tickets to fly Baltimore to Reyjavik (Iceland), round trip, for $251.00 (but Andy wouldn’t let me. Apparently we need to spend some time in the USA too). And, this month, I found (again, Andy wouldn’t let me buy them) round trip flights from JFK to Manila (Philippines) for only $500 U.S. dollars. An awesome deal for sure, though not as great as last years price of $440.00 round trip (for the same destination).

These are great deals, but not impossible ones. I see them time and time again. You just have to be patient, and be looking in the right places.

The problem is, I know people who pay more for flights within the continental U.S. than I pay for travel to Europe or Asia. For some reason, people seem to think that flights should cost an arm and a leg- and they pay those prices!

A few months ago, my friend Jennifer (name has been changed to protect the privacy of the overspender) paid $320 to fly from Baltimore to Atlanta! And, recently, another friend said he had been looking at flights to Europe but found them expensive. I asked what numbers he was talking about (my expensive is not the same as your expensive) and he said his last search yielded a $2,700 flight to Edinburg. That was $2,700 dollars for ONE round trip ticket!!! I told him if he bought at that price I would have to make fun of him for a very, very long time. I estimate that our next European trip, for three people, won’t cost that much- with everything included. In fact, while I worked on our family trip, I looked up some prices with his itinerary goals. I could get him to his desired destination for $360-$420 U.S. dollars (depending on exact dates) per person.

It must be said here that I am not afraid of “budget” airlines. I do not need the extra soda or pack of peanuts or suitcase space. I am perfectly capable of packing my family’s lunch and save myself the cash and, with a strict one small carry-on allowed policy, I am harder on my family’s packing than any airline could ever be. We’ve flown Spirit Airlines with no problems, Air Asia on a dime, and EasyJet in Europe without a hitch. We have had perfectly comfortable and happy experiences on “budget” airlines. Yes, more legroom and space would be nice. But, I find that the difference is hardly noticeable. I would not be several hundred dollars worth more comfortable on a major airline. And, truth be told, I would rather be cramped for a  few hours and save the money for an adventure once we reach our destination. More importantly, I’d rather be cramped a bit than not go at all because of the higher price! But, don’t misunderstand these statements. I would be willing to be a bit cramped to pay a lower price, but I have yet to make that sacrifice. The truth is that all the budget airlines we have flown have been perfectly suitable and comfortable.

But, as I was saying, it does take time and dedication. More than most of us have. Luckily, the internet, phone apps, and Facebook have made it possible to condense the availability of search options and optimize our time. Instead of spending hours online and searching through the many, many possible sites available, I have found the trusted few that have worked wonders for our family.

This is, by no means, an all-inclusive list. I am sure there are sites and apps that others trust and love. This is just OUR list, and it has worked wonders, for years, for us. This is the list of the places where I send my own family and friends when they ask how they too can travel around the world. This is where I have found the deals we have booked. And, where I have found the path of least resistance. I am not interested in a site that has me searching or emailing or going through hoops for the “deals”. But, again, I fully admit that there could be a better site/app/Facebook page out there. And, if there is, please let me know!

The Internet:

www.smartertravel.com (Smarter Travel) has been my number one source for cheap flights since I discovered it. I love them. We love them. If I could buy them flowers and take them out to dinner I would. And it’s not so much their webpage, which is great, but their Fare Alerts section. Long ago I signed up with their Fare Alert program and have been thankful ever since. You simply sign up, decide which airport you’d like to assign as yours, and sit back. Soon enough, emails will arrive in your inbox letting you know of great deals departing from your assigned airport. When I receive their emails, whether I am busy or just hanging out, I immediately open it. Awesome fares go fast and I once missed a $34 sale from Baltimore to Las Vegas because I didn’t check my email. Never again. And I haven’t missed a deal I wanted since. If I could offer a traveler one piece of advise it would be to sign up with www.SmarterTravel.com right away. Beware: not every email is going to include crazy cheap flight deals, but they DO come.

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Sample email received from site

Sample email received from site

Sample email received from site

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www.TripAdvisor.com (Trip Advisor) is another of my go to sites. A lot has been said about the positive and negative aspects of trip advisor but I like them for two reasons: 1) I go to check out the actual pictures of a hotel or tour before I book (I once checked into a hotel that looked nothing like the pictures on their own website and learned my lesson well) and 2) I like to read the reviews. I read a few of the positive reviews and read a few of the most negative reviews. All of this gives me additional information that I like to know before I arrive at a new destination. I rarely make too many decisions based solely on this site, but it always makes me feel more informed and prepared. Information is key when traveling.

The Facebook Pages:

Say what you want about Facebook but I love the fact that I can catch up on my friends lives AND see a great post about an airfare sale. For me, this is just smart multi-tasking. Of course, it’s only smart if you are paying attention to the right posts and not the rest of the spam. And, for me, there are three pages every traveler should add to their Facebook account:

The Flight Deal (www.theflightdeal.com). I have to admit that I have never been on the webpage (I include it just in case you want to visit). But I have liked the Facebook page and refer to it on a regular basis. I have found some amazing deals through this page and highly recommend it. The best part is that they post a “Today’s deals” which lists a variety of flight deals to pretty much anywhere in the world. That $500 U.S. dollar round trip deal to Manila I refer to earlier, this is where I found it. Last years $440 U.S. dollar Manila deal as well.

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AirfareWatchdog (www.AirfareWatchdog.com). Again, never been on the website, but I include it for you. I just can’t spend my whole day visiting websites in search of great deals (though sometimes I’d like to), but I can certainly keep my eyes open for them while I indulge in some Facebook time. And it has been worth it! AirfareWatchdog publishes their “Top 50 fares today” list with locations and prices that sometimes make you want to visit a place like West Virginia (for $16 U.S. dollars!).

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The Points Guy (www.thepointsguy.com). This page is simply amazing to me. The amount of information he gives you to maximize your frequent flyer-stay-etc points is awesome and he also posts incredible flight deals around the world. This is also great eye candy for us visual learners. The Points Guy has flown on some incredible seats and, as someone who always travels on the cheapest seat on the plane, I love to see how the first class section looks. This is one of the few non-personal friends posts I actually read through on a regular basis.

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The Apps on my iPhone:

Skyscanner (www.skyscanner.net). This is a great search engine that consistently yields great returns. Their biggest claim to fame is, however, their “everywhere” option when searching flights. You put in your departure point and then, instead of writing in your desired destination, you choose “everywhere”. What this does is give you a list of destinations, by price. You can instantly see where in the world you can fly to from your home airport, or any airport for that matter, for the lowest fare price. Turns out that taking a train from Amsterdam to Paris is the same price as taking a flight from Amsterdam to Dublin and then Dublin to Paris. Guess which option I am going to pick!

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ita Matrix (http://matrix.itasoftware.com). I like this app because of my ability to search by month, calendar, or specific dates. I can choose a block of time that I am able to fly, how many days I want to be away, and then the app will give me a calendar showing me the price to take that flight on any given day. I find it extremely useful to know that if I just fly out on a different day or a week earlier/later I can save money. Of course, flexibility is key with this app. But if your plans are flexible then you can save money here. It also lets you choose up to three different airports from which to start/ end your journey. This means that if LAX is cheaper than SAN the app will show me flights from LAX first and let me decide if the drive is worth the savings.

Sample search. Notice I can select up to three airports and depart during a wide date range.

Sample search. Notice I can select up to three airports and depart during a wide date range.

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These are the results given to me on the date I took this picture. Prices are constantly changing.

These are the results given to me on the date I took this picture. Prices are constantly changing.

Momondo (www.momondo.com). This search engine is pretty basic. You input the standard airport/ dates information and it gives you your options on various airlines and for different prices. The flights are actually offered on other sites (such as through CheapO Air or SuperSaver) which is not for everyone, but we’ve never had a problem. And, many times, you can simply find the flight you want and then go find it on the airline website. Instead of looking through the hundreds of airfare search websites, you can simply go here and see what they are all offering. Can you say timesaver?

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Results and prices change daily

Results and prices change daily

The Airlines we like:

Emirates Airlines (www.emirates.com). This is my daughters favorite airline. And, when traveling 12 hours straight, only to change planes and travel another 6-8 hours, what the kiddo likes the kiddo will usually get. I have to be honest and say that she does not care for the food. But she loves the entertainment system, the attention, and the free snacks. Food I can pack. Hundreds (or thousands) of movies I can not. I also love the ability to have a free stopover in Dubai (if you don’t mind the time frames or you can have a better time frame if you are willing to pay).

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Bangkok Airways (www.bangkokair.com). This airline offers itself as a “boutique” experience and I have to say that I totally agree. It is our number one choice when traveling around Asia (even though I will admit it is usually a bit pricier than the alternatives in the area). What you get with this airline more than makes up for the higher price: free bag, free hot meal on the flight, free access to their airport lounge, free internet, and a complete and free snack bar (more like lunch bar) at the airport lounge. If you have kids I highly recommend this as an option. I wrote a full review of our time with Bangkok Airways here.

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EasyJet (www.easyjet.com). There are plenty of budget airlines in Europe but this is one of our favorites. We have never had a problem while flying across the continent with EasyJet.

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Air Asia (www.airasia.com). This is probably the best known budget airline in Asia and rightfully so. Their fares are priced well within budget and, if you’re willing to be flexible and search, you can find tickets that are so cheap it seems like you HAVE TO fly somewhere. You do, depending on your bag size, have to pay for your suitcase, food, and other options. But it’s a great budget deal.

Volaris (www.volaris.com). This airline is based in Mexico, has a website that can fully function in Spanish and in English, and has some great finds around the country (Mexico). During the right time of the year or during one of their sales you can find yourself drooling over round trip flights between Tijuana and Mexico City.

WOW Airlines and Norwegian Air are two airlines we are dying to try out. We will get a chance to try WOW Airlines in a few months and, hopefully, Norwegian Air by the end of the year. Their prices are great (from the USA to Europe and, for Norwegian, from Europe to Thailand as well!) and if you fly like us (pack your own food, small carry-on only) it seems like you can save a lot of money. I will be bringing you reviews on both very soon.

There are, of course, many other airlines that we like. These are just some of the ones we always aim to fly.

As my mom always says: “I am not angry with my money. Why would I part so easily with it?”.

In my twenties I slept on dirty train station floors, overnight buses and trains, and, once, in a seriously seedy “hotel” in Russia. But I have a kid now and, as the commercial said: “baby changes everything”. For me, my desire to explore and experience the world has grown stronger as my daughter grows. But my budget and what I can “take” as I travel has also changed. I have no desire to sleep on a train station floor with Mackenzie. None. She can have that adventure in HER twenties. More importantly, she has no desire to sleep on a train station floor (because, let me be completely honest here: if she wanted to experience this I would probably do it). But these days we need a bit more comfort, and that’s ok too. That’s why I search for and find great flight deals… so we don’t spend too much money on getting there and save more money for the being there. Hopefully, now you can too!

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4 thoughts on “How We Find Great Airfare Deals

    1. I really like both skyscanner and secretflying.com
      I find that both are great resources when finding flights originating in Europe. My sister, who lives in France, really likes secretflying.com and I am always impressed by the deals they post. Follow us on our facebook page and you’ll see us sharing their latest and best deals too.
      I have seen some amazing deals on WOW airlines and Norwegian Airlines. I can’t fully recommend them because we have not flown with either airline but we’ll be flying both in 2016 and I will make sure to write a full review for both.

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