5 quick hacks for how to search for cheap flights online

The quest for cheap flights to a traveller is the hunt for the best bone to a dog. We love an airborne bargain and making our dollar fly us as far as possible. It’s not too hard with a few tricks and a bit of knowledge. Here’s how we search for cheap flights online.

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Christina and I have travelled quite a bit together. We’ve tried lots of different ways of finding the cheapest airfares. Some have worked, others haven’t. Others have worked but at a cost to our sanity.

Once – when we were younger and valued our dollars more than our time – we flew one of the last flights on Royal Brunei from Sydney to London.

It was an incredibly cheap fare that stopped in Brunei and Dubai. The planes had no TVs in the seats and were alcohol-free flights, which didn’t worry us too much.

It was only on the way back to Australia that we realised why these flights were so cheap.

Door to door, it took us 53 hours to get home. The 14-hour stopover in Brunei nearly broke us.

These days we look for savings in other ways – and always try to find the quickest way to get to our destination. Lesson learned… kind of.

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Why are we sharing our tips for finding cheap flights?

We’ve recently booked an epic multi-stop itinerary that will take us a month to get from Sydney to London! But we’re going via several parts of the USA, Canada and Cuba.

By the time we’d finished booking our trip and looked at our credit card bill, we knew we had to share how we found our cheap flights.

In the past we’ve enlisted the help of travel agents to find us good flights. And to be honest they’ve often come up with some good prices and saved us hours of hunting those cheap flights online.

But because of this complicated itinerary, we knew we’d be better off doing it ourselves with techniques we’ve used in the past.

And you know what? Using the 5 easy tips we’ve shared below definitely pay off.

I’ll tell you how much we saved this time in a minute.

But first let’s look at what we do when we search for cheap flights.

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5 quick hacks for how to search for cheap flights online

These hacks work best if you use them in this order. So in a way, this is almost a recipe for finding those lovely cheap flights.

By the way, we didn’t book with secondary or budget airlines this time. So potentially, you could get even better deals than the ones we found!

Here’s what to do:

1. Use an incognito window

An incognito window stops your computer saving your search history. Most flight companies and 3rd party travel sites are able to see that you’ve searched for similar flights before with cookies and may slightly increase the price of tickets each time you look.

Using an incognito window means your computer won’t remember what you’ve looked at and will minimise this price hop from happening.

2. Clear your cached history

Once you’ve opened your incognito window, clear your computer’s cached memory. You can clear it before you open the new window if you like. You just want your computer to go into this search as innocent as possible.

In fact we use 2 computers – one to search, the other to book, just to mitigate the cookie issue as much as we can.

3. Use a VPN

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) allows you to ‘hide’ your computer’s true location, which is exactly what you want to do when you’re searching for flights.

Different countries will have different prices for the same flights. Plus you don’t want those cookies or tracking pixels that travel sites use to remember what flights you’ve been searching for.

4. Search from different locations/countries with your VPN

Once you’ve turned your VPN on, you can change where your computer is showing it’s located. Try a few different countries or even cities to search for the best price.

This might not save you a huge amount, but every penny saved is another penny towards your next beachside margarita!

5. Use comparison sites to find the cheap flights

This is the big one.

Trusted comparison sites like Skyscanner and Cheapflights allow you to look through hundreds of fare options in one go. Most of the cheapest flights are through 3rd party booking sites, which are basically online travel agents.

They get fares way below even the airlines themselves can sell for. With low overheads and lots of these deals, these 3rd party sites can hold some real bargains.

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A little bit of knowledge goes a long way

Along with this 5-step method for finding cheap flights online, knowing when to fly and when to buy is crucial.

Here are a few golden rules that will help you sniff out that perfect flight at the best price.

– Know when to fly

Fridays and Saturdays are the most expensive days for long-haul flights. People want to squeeze in an extra weekend.

Flying on a Tuesday is the cheapest and could make you substantial savings. But shop different days around the time you want to fly if you can.

– Know when to book

Everyone knows that last-minute flights are the most expensive. But booking too far in advance can also be more expensive. According to Cheapflight’s annual Compass Report, booking between 3-6 months out from departure for long hauls is the sweet spot.

For domestic flights it’s more like 1-3 months.

– Know the best time of year

Of course, December is the most expensive time of year to fly almost anywhere. Christmas really makes things pricey. But school holidays also make a big difference to fares, as do public holidays.

A bit of research into your destination will tell you if there are any long weekends or national days that could cause prices to go up.

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So how much did we save this time?

We knew we’d got some pretty good deals here, but we wanted to see just how good they were. We compared our fares with how much it would cost to book the same flights with the same airlines directly.

For the 7 flights – including the trans-Pacific flight from Sydney to LAX and the trans-Atlantic one from Miami to London – we saved over AU$6,500.

We’re not expecting to make this kind of saving every time we buy a flight, but it’s clear that a bit of extra time spent looking can lead to some great savings.

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll love these other travel posts where we share our favourite tips and hacks:

37 tips for flying in style

15 ways to survive airport delays

7 tips for how to survive a long-haul flight

15 travel hacks for when you’re flying low-cost airlines

Do you have any tips for finding cheap flights online? Have you got any flight nightmares you want to share? Tell us in the comments below!

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