Every hack you need for finding the best airline ticket deals

Everybody thinks they’ve got a tip when it comes to scoring the best deals on trips: book flights on a Tuesday, clear your cache so “they” don’t know you really want the flight, book hotel and airfare together, book four months in advance—no four days in advance. Ugh.

The mixed signals are enough to set anyone crazy and make them just book what they see when they see it, deal or no deal.

Here’s the gospel according to the Airlines Reporting Corporation: in short, they say, book airline tickets when prices fall in July and August, try to book at least 21 days in advance and do it on a Sunday (more on those tips here).

But of course, that info is so last season, and there’s new stuff to know now thanks to a robust expose on “When is the best time to buy airline tickets?” by New York Mag.

Let me break it down for you.

Here’s who knows the deals

There are people who make it their business to find the best airfares, so you don’t have to make it yours.

  • Secret Flying can tell you when the sudden sales, last-minute deals and the too-low-to-be-true error fares come around.
  • The Flight Deal will teach how to work those air miles to get the most out of them, plus pass on super-low error fares when they find them.
  • The Points Guy does something similar, dishing on how to max mileage, but the site also provides airfare alerts and the lowdown on airline loyalty programs.
  • Airfare Watchdog will crawl the internet for the day’s top 50 deals and send them to you, plus customize fare alerts by route.

The best site for finding airfares

There’s Cheap Tickets (a favorite of mine), Kayak, Orbitz, Expedia, going direct to the airline and probably 700 other flight sites I don’t even know about. But according to New York Mag, Google Flights does it best.

The fun part? If you don’t already know where you’re going next, hit “Explore destinations,” type in some travel dates and your budget and see what the orange dots give you. It’s kind of like digital spin-the-globe.

The best travel rewards card

I don’t have this card, so I can’t speak from experience, but the article says the award goes to Chase Sapphire Preferred. When you get it, there’s a 50,000-point signing bonus (after you reach a certain spend), and it earns triple points on airfare and double points on restaurant food (so all those Seamless orders). The card is free for the first year and then costs $95 after that, which sounds like a lot to me who has paid a grand total of zero dollars for a credit card, but I guess it balances out.

The tip of all tips

Tacking on trips is really where it’s at. It’s how I’m able to do a lot of the trips I do without spending the lot of money it would typically cost to do them. And turns out airlines are trying to help you realize your trip tack-on dreams.

If you add a stopover, which is more than 24 hours, then you can see a little something in place you may not have been planning to go, and most airlines let you do this at no extra charge. Emirates allows for multiple stopovers, which means you could be getting three places for the price of one. TAP Portugal lets you stay in Lisbon and Porto for up to three days (72 hours), Icelandair allows for up to a week-long stopover in 26 different European spots and Hawaiian Airlines doesn’t care how long your stopover is at all, for the most part.


Q: Are there really last-minute flight deals?

A: Not really, no. New York Mag says years ago that used to be the case but now airlines hike prices at the last minute because they know there’ll be desperate business travelers who will bite.

Q: How far in advance should you book?

A: One to three months before you fly is supposedly ideal.

Q: What’s better, roundtrip or two one-way tickets?

A:  For international travel, roundtrips are usually cheaper, as much as five times less, according to Secret Flying. Sometimes, though, if one of the one-ways is with a low-cost carrier, it might work out to be cheaper. (I’ve tried two one-ways and sometimes it has come out cheaper than the roundtrip, so this one might be case by case).

Q: Should you book directly with the airline or on sites like Cheap Tickets and such?

A: The fares are often comparable, but experts say it’s better to book with the airline in case anything goes awry, which it will at some point. When you book with the airline, they’re responsible for getting you to your destination (at some point), but sites like Cheap Tickets may not have your back in the same way when you’re stuck somewhere for 17 hours.

Q: Does clearing your cache before a flight search really matter?

A: New York Mag says there’s no proof travel sites are monitoring what you’re looking for so, no it doesn’t matter. But I say, there’s no proof that they aren’t, so it couldn’t hurt.

Q: What’s the best day to fly?

A: Tuesday and Wednesday, then Thursday for international travel. So right at the times that would eat into most of your vacation time. Sigh.