Hack Cheap Flights
(aka How to Find the Cheapest Flight Possible)
Ok. So I am going to run you through a step by step, play by play process, that I personally use to find the cheapest flights possible. Not trying to brag, but I can find flights for pretty cheap. How? Patience and versatility. The correct combination of both will lead you to glory in your search for affordable airfare.
This is a strategy for finding a flight when you have a versatile travel dates. If your travel dates are less versatile, read this.
The beauty in all of this is in the application. While I may suggest using four particular airfare search sites, you are free to use any other sites you prefer. Although I personally find my exact strategy to be most effective, you are more than welcome to use the same blueprint, but using the sites you prefer. What is crucial is the strategy. The execution can certainly vary.
Example -> Looking for two one way flights from Hong Kong to Manila with NN co-founder Bernie who was teaching English in Hong Kong. He was on vacation on a set of particular dates, hence why this particular travel itinerary is considered less flexible. This was a fairly specific itinerary, and I searched for the flights accordingly. We had some flexibility, but ideally we were searching for flights departing early from Hong Kong on the 15th of February.
First of all, put your computer on ‘private mode’. I’m not saying that airlines and search engines keep track of your history and cookies and then inflate prices accordingly, but it has been proposed many a times by many a people.
NomadicMatt agrees. He says “search incognito. If you are going to be searching for flights, use the incognito feature in your browser to hide your browsing history so booking websites don’t track your cookies and raise the price on you.”
If it’s good for Matt, it’s good for us. If you don’t know how to put your browser on private mode, learn so here.
There are a lot of airfare search engines, and Americans will have a tendency to stick to the largest companies. Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity and other sites will typically dominate airfare searches, but undeservingly so. Let’s compare.
Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia. $138, $133, $133. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes these search engines will deliver good results, but typically they won’t deliver the best results. If you want to find the cheapest airfare possible, seek your answers in other websites.
Personally, my favorites for finding cheap airfare are using a combination of Google Matrix, Kayak, Momondo and Adioso.
Above is the Matrix. I love the Matrix for many reasons, most in particular is the software’s ability to toy around with flexibility, both in dates and routes. To take advantage of this incredible flexibility, first I click to see “calendar of lowest fares” which enables me to see the cheapest fare over a two month span.
Next, click the “nearby” tab, and get ready for some magic.
As you can see, the Matrix is pretty awesome. You can choose a ton of different airports, which is crucial if you have flexible plans and want to save some money. I choose 500 miles for this particular excursion because it best suits my traveling needs. If you notice, all of those red dots are airports spread throughout the entire country of the Philippines. This function enables us to search through an enormous amount of information.
Boom. According to the Matrix, $122 is the cheapest fare available, and it’s on the date we need it to be. So far we’ve saved $16 from what our first results on Travelocity yielded us. Savings = $16
After clicking on the fare, we see the flight is on Philippine Airlines, departs at 11:15 am and goes straight through to Manila, landing at 1:30 pm. Notice, it is the exact same flight that Orbitz, Expedia and Travelocity found, but at a cheaper price. Great job. Thank you Matrix. Momondo. Your turn.
Yet again, “one way” and always checking for “nearby airports”. Momondo. Go.
And already! Let the competition begin! Momondo has just one-upped the Matrix by an impressive $6.00. Yet again, notice that is the exact same flight yielded by Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia and the Matrix, but at the cheapest price yet. Kayak is up. Savings = $22
Trying to keep the dates somewhat closer to the 15th, I choose the “two days before and after” option.
Ok. Now in case you didn’t notice, Kayak is the first program to pull up an airfare from CEBU Airlines. So far, Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia, the Matrix and Momondo had pulled their lowest fares from the exact same flight on Philippine Airlines. Although the price from Kayak the same ($116), this demonstrates that if you want to hack cheap flights, it’s important to check on a variety of search engines, as not all of them deal with every airline. Savings = $22
Above is Adioso, where we have found a fare for $98! Success!
But wait. False alarm. The fare went up. But fret not! It’s a normal part of the process called “Fare Jumping”. The prices of airfare are erratic and can literally change in a moment. It sucks, but there’s nothing you can do about it.
But, even with the brief let down, Adioso has still delivered us the cheapest fare at $107. Savings – $31
So, the lowest fare we found is on Adioso with CEBU Airlines. Sometimes airlines will offer cheaper airfares if you book the tickets directly through their websites. So, let’s try it.
$821 Hong Kong dollars = $105.88 US = we saved… one dollar. Savings = $32
Ok, did I actually search for the flight in this exact order? No. I found the cheapest flight on Cebu somewhere in the middle of the process. But! I wanted to show the progression, and how beneficial using multiple search engines is.
It’s not difficult to hack cheap flights. It honestly only takes the knowledge of what to do, and a few extra minutes and patience. This entire endeavor took me less than 20 minutes, and enabled to save me $32. While $32 is nothing to lose sleep over, this brief lesson represents the potential of perseverance. Some things to remember.
1) BE FLEXIBLE
2) Put your computer ‘incognito’… just in case
3) Although we have general “rule of thumbs” for airfare prices, the truth is most of us have no idea when or where will be cheapest. Using multiple flight search engines allows you to navigate through incredible amounts of data, which will deliver you the best fares. I personally prefer Matrix, Adioso and Momondo, with a final check on Kayak. These websites can really allow you to dig deep for the cheapest means of transportation. Some other notable mentions include Bing, Hipmunk and FlightFox.
3) After checking on the search engines, go to the airlines actual website to see if you can find a cheaper fare (believe me, many times you will).
4) Do what you are comfortable with. If you want a direct flight from Point A to Point B, that’s fine! I promote flexible travel plans, but that philosophy does not work for everyone. Never compromise your experience for the sake of pinching a penny, it’s not worth it.
6) As in the example above, sometimes the advertised price will not actually be available when you attempt to make a purchase. Be mentally prepared for price fluctuation or “Fare Jumping”, because it happens. Take a deep breath and search on.
There are ways to reduce the cost of travel, and even small gains certainly add up over time. This one example saved us a bit of cash, but I’ve been in plenty of situations where the same blueprint saved me hundreds of dollars. You just need to apply the tactics.
This is the way I look at it, $32 is more than enough for an entire days worth of food, lodging, drink and fun in Thailand. Would you put in 20 extra minutes of work for an extra day in Thailand? I would.
This is the mantra of the budget traveler. And that is how you should look at Travel Hacking. With every portion of money you save, you are enabling yourself to spend more time traveling. It’s a beautiful thing.