Tricks to Buying Cheap Flights
This post is inspired by a college friend who reached out to me on Facebook and asked for some advice on planning a trip to Europe (hi Kaitlyn!). So far in our relationship (8 years running), Austin and I have taken an international trip at least once a year, but when we've been lucky, multiple times in a year. As we are currently planning our next getaway, I wanted to share some of our tips and tricks that help us find the cheapest ways to fly, which can the most expensive and overwhelming part of the trip.
1. Pick a destination
If you're wanting to plan a multiple city/country trip in Europe, picking the destination where you will fly in and out of is important. We've planned a trip wanting to go to London and Paris but found cheaper flights to Copenhagen so we flew there first and spent a couple days exploring a new city for us (and loved it!!) before jumping on an inter-continental flight for exceptionally cheap through airlines like EasyJet or Ryanair (I'm talking a flight for like $100!)
2. Explore other departure airports.
Right now, we fly out of RDU airport, but have also utilized cheaper flights out of Charlotte and even BWI up in Baltimore! While it might be more inconvenient to drive farther for a flight, sometimes it is really worth it for a great deal! When I lived in Kentucky, I had Louisville, Lexington, Cincinnati, Evansville, IN and Nashville as departure options and you really can get a good deal by comparing other airports near you.
3. Know the best websites to search for flights.
Our go-to websites are often airlines that don't show up on the sites that claim to search "all" the airlines- like a Priceline for example. Our best deals have come from WowAir, Norwegian Air, JetBlue, and Southwest. WowAir has a stopover of up to 48 hours in Iceland and is a no-frills airline. We were perfectly content, but pack light and have low expectations. Norwegian has been amazing for us and you can get amazing deals to certain cities, it's probably our favorite option. We haven't tried TAP Portugal (layover in Portugal) or FinnAir (layover in Finland) but have heard great things about those and want to try them out in the future! Other great options, albeit a little risky at times, have been Momondo and Skyscanner. Just make sure to buy travel insurance on these flights as they've been known to cancel at the last minute or require complicated connections- it's never happened to us but since they are a third party website you need to be more careful and pay attention to the details like luggage allowance and connection times.
4. Be flexible with your dates
Unfortunately, with Austin's soccer schedule we usually can only travel around Christmas or the summer which are more expensive seasons to go on a trip. If you can travel in the fall or spring, you'll not only get cheaper flights, you'll also get fewer crowds and better weather. Also, if you can be flexible on which day you depart or come home, that can make a big difference. Leaving on a Monday as opposed to Sunday can also be beneficial. We love looking at flights on GoogleFlights because they show a calendar with prices showing which days are cheaper and more expensive.
5. Play around with one way tickets versus round trip
Often times when we have traveled to Europe we will fly into one city and leave to go home from a completely different country. This isn't always the cheapest option, but it's usually the most convenient for us because we want to make the most of our time. We've booked trips into London, then flown to the south of France, took a train to Paris, and then flown out of Charles De Gaulle. Also note, there are about five airports in London and two in Paris- so pay attention because your arrival airport may be different then the airport that you depart from. Being flexible with the dates and airlines is helpful and most of the European airlines are actually cheaper for booking separate one-way tickets versus what we are used to in the US of just booking round trips in and out of the same city. Southwest also operates by having you book two one ways and I love that model!
6. Use those credit card points!
Since Austin and I fly home to visit our families we earn and use a lot of Southwest Rapid Rewards points. By using their credit card exclusively for daily expenses, we earn a few FREE flights a year just by making our normal everyday purchases. The Southwest card is great for traveling domestically and the Caribbean and Mexico. Usually when opening a card, they gift you at least one one-way flights worth of points for just signing up and using the card. If you're interested in free flights to Europe, United, American, and Delta have cards that earn points the same way and can also be used for upgrades to first class. For the stage of life we are in right now, Southwest works for us to make trips home more economical and we usually can find pretty cheap Europe flights in other ways (like you've read above!) where we aren't confined to one airline option. Austin's dad swears by United and he has been using them for so many years that his status gets him bumped up to first class on most trips without even using his points. So definitely committing to a card for years has some perks!