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How to Get Cheap International Flights

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How to get cheap international flights?

Don't we all want to know? These days, getting those cheap tickets for international flights is easier than ever. Airlines proliferate and compete with one another, while third-party companies vie for your business by cutting their own profit margins and fighting to give you a reason to shop through them.

Not that long ago, even a short trip was exorbitant.

I still remember paying US$900 from Geneva to Rome, a trip that can now cost as little as $50 thanks to the new breed of low-cost airlines. The world of aviation has changed dramatically, and it's in our favor.

But it’s not just about getting super cheap international flights on low budget airlines: that's one approach, but there are plenty of ways we can book cheap international flights with full service airlines if discount airlines aren't our thing.

If you want to know how to get super cheap flights every time you fly,  let me share this 'how to get cheap flights guide' with you and I'll unveil all the tips and tricks I have used (and still use) myself to get cheap international flights.

How to Get Cheap International Flights – Step by Step GUIDE

When it comes to international travel, your airfare will probably be your most significant single expense, which is why it’s well worth the effort to get overseas cheap flights.  But where to start?  And where to get cheap flights?

Below are my step by step tips on how to find very cheap international flights.

1. Search for Cheap International Flights in Secret

No, I don’t mean put on a disguise while searching on your laptop in your closet! 

But have you ever noticed that the exact same airfare increases after you’ve looked at it a few times online?  Some people contend this isn't true, but it certainly seems that way. Since your search is based on cookies in your browser, airlines know you’ve been checking out a flight and want you to book quickly before the price increases again. So yes, it makes sense from their point of view.

That's why when it comes to booking cheap international flights, you need to search in incognito mode.  This is easy to do.  When you go to Google, simply click on the 3 dots in the top right hand corner and then choose “new incognito window”.  This will open up a new window where your searches are not being tracked, so you can search for cheap flights abroad 'in secret'.

2. serch for overseas cheap flights on a flight search engine

These days there are plenty of options when it comes to cheap international flights websites, which basically compares a range of flights for you. I’m not necessarily suggesting you book your flights through these websites, but they make good starting points for your research.

In my view the best website for cheap international flights may well be Skyscanner, but there are plenty of others to such as flylc.com, WeGoLo, Expedia, Webjet, even Google Flights. I also often use Momondo to check my flights, and BootsNAll's Airfare Comparison Tool is worth testing.

When it comes to how to find cheapest airfare, another option is to use one of the new wave search engines. One engine that bills itself as covering nearly 25,000 different routes is WhichBudget, which lists every budget airline flying out of or to your chosen destination. I like this one because it makes me dream - I just click on my home town, and see where the cheap international flights tickets are. 

If you're flying around Europe, Harefares will save you money by finding you discount airlines that take you near your chosen destination. For example, if you want to fly to Geneva and prices are too high, you'll be directed to flights from Lyon or Chambery, each of which is easy driving distance from Geneva but less frequented, so often cheaper.

Or you could try BudgetLongHaul, which focuses on long-haul flights.

Many of these sites specialize in digging out obscure or new airlines that you've probably never heard of... Air Sarah? Flyglobespan? Air Arabia? Yet these and many other low-cost carriers may tie together two cities that major airlines wouldn't dream of servicing because there's simply not enough traffic.

Discount airlinesFinding low-cost airlines isn't difficult, especially in some of the most popular destinations

3. book cheap international flights by playing around with dates

When exploring how to find cheap international flights, play around with your dates – both departure and return dates.  This is probably one of the easiest ways to get cheap flights.

Most people book a flight by deciding where they want to go and what day they want to go. But that’s not necessarily how to fly internationally for cheap. 

Did you know that merely flying out the day before or after your planned departure date could save you hundreds of dollars? If you want to know how to get cheapest international flights and save yourself a stack of cash, be flexible.

The good news is that most websites will show you which day has cheap international flight deals.  So be sure to look around a few days before and a few days after – even a few weeks if you’re entirely flexible.

Also consider the time of day you fly. Sure, catching a 6am flight or a midnight flight might not be great for your sleep patterns, but again, it can save you hundreds of dollars.

4. get cheap flights abroad by checking different airports

Another great tip for how to get a cheap international flight is to check different airports for both your departure and arrival.  In the same way you can save hundred by playing around with dates, you can also save by playing around with different airports.

Most major or capital cities have at least two airports, and even if they don’t, the next city with an airport might only be 50-100kms away, an easy journey on public transport.

Many of the comparison  websites mentioned above will allow you to check an option to search nearby airports. Always tick this!!

5. consider overland travel to get cheap tickets for international flights

Following on from the previous step, consider some overland travel with your flights – another one of the good tips on how to get cheap flights. 

This is particularly useful if you’re traveling somewhere with an excellent rail service like Europe. You might even get to see a different city that wasn’t in your original plans.

It’s just a fact that some cities are more expensive to fly in and out of – so look at what cities are close by and see how hard it might be to factor in some overland travel.

6. how to get cheap flights? split your trip into multiple legs

Another way to find cheap international flights is to pay attention to stopovers: consider splitting your trip, and not necessarily at the most popular layover destination. Consider booking the journey as two separate trips, rather than one big trip – this can often (but not always) save you money.

I once tried to fly from Geneva to the Far East at an exorbitant price. Instead, I flew discount to London and then on to Asia on a scheduled airline. I don't remember the cost but it was half, including the night I spent in London!

If you do get cheap air tickets international flights this way - give yourself plenty of time between connections.  If you miss your flight, you won't get a refund, since technically you're not 'connecting'.  Better yet – spend a few days at the layover destination and experience a new city that wasn’t in your original plans.

7. more ways to get cheap flights: book different airlines for your return trip

Sometimes (not always) you can get cheap international flights air tickets by booking single trips with different airlines, rather than a return trip with a single airline.  So compare a return flight with one airline with cheap one way international flights on two entirely different airlines.  Take advantage of the most affordable fares each way.

Most good flight comparison websites will show you these different options, but don’t be afraid to play around with this a bit yourself.

8. you can also get super cheap international flights with scheduled airlines

Often, when exploring how to get the cheapest international flights, booking through a budget airline is best.

Until recently, scheduled airlines were more expensive, but not anymore. They often undercut discount airlines because they're feeling the pinch of competition.

Make sure you get on their mailing lists because they often issue cheap fares to subscribers before posting them publicly.

How to get really cheap flights often comes down to being prepared to hunt for the deals. Sign up to all the emails of your favourite airlines, like their pages on Facebook and sign up to newsletters for sites like I Want that Flight and I Know the Pilot.  This way you will know as soon as a deal is available.

Often, when a deal comes out, you need to be ready to book straight away.  Even a few hours' delay can have you miss out on a flight.

British AirwaysAlways check scheduled airlines - their prices can be competitive and at times cheaper than no-frills airlines

9. fly 'cheap' airlines

There are several types of discount airlines and tickets:

  • mostly internal or domestic routes (like WestJet Airlines in Canada, Southwest Airlines in the US or Jetstar in Australia)
  • regional routes (those that tend to cover a single region, like EasyJet or Ryanair within Europe, or AirAsia)
  • international routes (with longer haul airlines like Virgin or Air Berlin) from one region to another, say from North America to Europe or Asia

Finally, there are charter flights, usually managed by a tour operator, where you can also get great deals, even at the last minute, but they're not as common.

10. buy a round-the-world ticket

If you’ve got a big trip planned over several months with many different destinations, you may be better off buying a round-the-world ticket, known as an 'RTW' ticket.  This can  work out cheaper than buying multiple cheap air international flights.

RTW tickets usually have a few conditions, so be sure these fit with your plans. These usually center on how many stops you can make, your direction of travel and the time frame. 

Comparison is free, and it could save you a lot of money on a major trip. 

11. when to get cheap flights: book early

When to get cheap flights?  Book your flights early!

Planning well in advance often leads to the best cheap international flights and deals.  Usually, the first few tickets for a flight are the cheapest, instead of the last few tickets.  You could pay $40 for a flight booked a few weeks in advance, and $400 for the same flight booked on the same day.

Unfortunately, flights rarely get cheaper the closer the departure date approaches. So if you know when you’re going, don’t delay your booking - the sooner the better.

12. book direct with the airline

At the end of the day – after you’ve done all your research and found your cheap air fare international flights, my recommendation is to book direct with the airline. In most cases, this will give you the greatest flexibility in case you need to make any changes, even if it does cost a little extra.

You can often save a few dollars by booking flights through third-party websites, but these sites don't usually allow any changes. While airlines will charge for them, at least you'll be able to make them. 

If you do find super cheap international airline flights on one of these third-party sites and are 100% certain you won’t make any changes to the flight, then by all means book it.

13. fly with points

This one takes significant pre-planning, but it’s possible to save thousands simply by being smart about which credit cards you use for your everyday shopping, especially if you live in North America, where the system is well developed.

Now if you’re not great with money, I don’t recommend this as an option, but if on the other hand you're disciplined with your spending habits, collecting points through credit cards is a great way to get super cheap international flights.

Different financial institutions will offer huge sign-on bonuses in the form of frequent flyer points, and then you’ll continue to earn points with your typical day to day shopping.  So if you know where you want to go next year and which airline will get you there, look out for credit card offers.

Of course you can also accumulate frequent flyer points by simply flying and applying your miles to your plan. Once I flew to Borneo from Europe for free. And to Panama. All because I religiously keep track of my miles. Since I live in Europe, I don't have access to the same credit card plans that abound across the ocean but that said, I fly enough to make it worthwhile to keep scrupulous track of every boarding pass.

14. look for error fares

Hard to believe but sometimes airlines make mistakes about their own fares. It may be a computer glitch or human error, it doesn't matter. The point is, the mistake is there and once it's published, nothing prevents you from buying that $3000 fare for $50 or whatever the 'cost' of the mistake.

These fares are hard to find and require specialized knowledge - which some companies now have. Take a look at Scott's Cheap Flights or The Flight Deal.

how to get very cheap international flights: dos and don'ts

How to book cheap international flights isn't the easiest of tasks, but if you fly often (or want to) and do it cheaply, putting in the effort is worth it.

So let's do a brief recap on how to get very cheap flights:

  • Do your research. Certain times and days are best for cheap fare international flights, like early Sunday morning, mid-day weekdays or flights in the middle of the night. 
  • Check all the airlines. Look into scheduled, budget and full service airlines- you never know which one will have the better cheap airfare for international flights. Booking with the airline itself can be less expensive than using a booking engine, so double check.
  • Check the extras. That no-frills airline may come in cheap but once you've added the credit card fee, the baggage fee, the seating plan fee and the cost of food and coffee, you might be in for a shock.
  • Book early. On many discount airlines, the first few tickets sold for a flight are much cheaper than the last few. You could pay $40 for a flight booked a few weeks in advance, and $400 for the same flight booked on the same day.
  • Consider overland segments. Remember, you don't have to fly everywhere, so comparison shop - there are other cheap ways to travel. One of my favorites is rail, especially in Europe, where cheap train travel is still within the realm of the possible. And there are plenty more - travel by bus, boats, bicycles...
  • Look into single journey tickets. Fly with one airline and return with another, taking advantage of the cheapest fares each way.
  • Explore nearby airports. Many cities have alternative, more distant airports for low-cost airlines; if there's public transportation to town, you could save a bundle by using these.
  • Split your trip. I once tried to fly from Geneva to the Far East at an exhorbitant price. Instead I flew discount to London and then on to Asia on a scheduled airline. I don't remember the cost but it was half, including the night I spent in London! Give yourself time though - if you miss your flight, you won't get a refund, since technically you're not 'connecting'.
  • Plan ahead. Changing tickets at the last minute will cost you money.
  • Sign up for frequent flyer plans. I flew to Borneo from Europe for free. And to Panama. All because I religiously keep track of my miles. Get the right credit cards to build air miles each time you pay for something.
  • Read up online. Airlines often have special offers or web-only promotions. Stay on top of airfare news and be the first to grab that discount ticket! Sign up for newsletters or email alerts of those airlines flying to your destination.
  • Don't forget the error fares!

A caveat...

Air travel is not the cleanest way to travel, and cheap air travel means more of us travel further than ever. I'm not suggesting anyone should stop flying, but I do believe we should be aware of our carbon footprint - and do something to offset it.

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