How to find cheap flights online

Simple tips to get the best flight deals

What takes to find the best deals when deciding to travel? How to find cheap flights (or the cheapest flights) online to your dream destination? When are the best dates to travel? When are the best dates to buy your ticket? These and other questions are common when you want to travel and decide to search for your flight online.

airplane landing

The thing is that there’s no simple answer, and that is like that because the travel industry, specifically the flying industry, has turned into a very hi-tech one. In a few words, it´s a matter of technology above all, and you will only succeed in finding the best deals, and saving tons of money if you follow the rules that we break down below.

Does browsing in incognito mode really affect the flights’ prices?

First, it´s important to understand that algorithms rule. Finding an amazingly cheap fare depends on a complex combination of factors, and the first one of them is: leaving the least amount of “digital footprint” you can.

Why?

Well, because the moment you browse on the internet, in open mode (like, the “normal” mode), you leave a lot of information that feeds all sorts of algorithms. One of them will indicate to the hi-tech machines that operate in the travel industry that you are interested in flying from destination “A” to destination “B”. The moment the machines detect your interest in flying, it triggers a flag in demand: someone wants to fly. If you keep searching for flights, it understands that, indeed, someone does want to fly. And this process repeatedly goes on, it is enough for the algorithm to understand that, maybe, the price could go up, as there’s someone really eager to fly.

What is incognito mode and what does it have to do with booking a flight?

incognito browsing

Browsing in incognito mode is critical to leave less footprint online and, consequently, to prevent the algorithms that balance travel pricing of increasing flights prices, based on the data that show that you are more open to making a buying decision on that product.

Incognito mode is used to keep only temporarily your browsing activity, browser cache, cookies and form data entered on websites you visited. And then these data are deleted when you finish the session. So incognito mode makes it possible to stop flight vendors snooping what you are interested in. But while it deletes (part of) the local information stored in your computer, it doesn´t delete all the information exchanged with servers around the internet – so you are not totally anonymous. In any way, it helps to prevent the prices of your desired flights to go up when you repeatedly search for them.

So, rule number 1: Search for flights in incognito mode, and it’s very easy to do that.

If you are using Chrome, click the wrench icon (Windows) or the vertical 3 dots (Mac) in the top right corner of the screen. Then click New Incognito Window and start browsing. In Safari, incognito mode is called Private Browsing and you can find it on the Safari menu. To enable private browsing in Firefox, click on the hamburger icon at the top right and then select New Private Window.

How does the flight industry work?

In the travel industry, there are many different types of companies that interact with each other. This creates a complex ecosystem where you find 5 main players directly involved to flight booking: the airline reservation systems, global distribution systems (GDS), travel agencies, IATA (International Air Transport Association), and Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC)/ Billing Settlement Plan (BSP).  

In old offline days, when you wished to travel, you’d go to a travel agency, who had agreements with the other industry players, or directly to the airline company’s sales office, and that was it. You, as a traveler, had a very limited view of the whole system. This however evolved and became ultimately complex when all these transactions were transferred to the internet AND also to the traveler’s own hands. The immediate benefit was easier, faster and cheaper access to flying seats.

So when you search for a flight online you may see yourself in three big situation types:

  1. You are on a metasearch kind of site, like Trip Trip Now, Skyscanner or Kayak. These are called “aggregators” because they “aggregate” dozens of other sites (others alike, airline companies and travel agencies) to deliver some results: flights with “x” prices. When you click to see the flight, you are redirected to another site – the vendor, that may be the airline company itself or a travel agency. So on my site, just like on Kayak or Skyscanner, you don´t buy – you only search intelligently on a bunch of sites all at the same time and have immediate results.
  2. You are on an online travel agency (OTA) site, like for example eDreams, BudgetAir or MyTrip. You search on their portfolio of offers, which is basically all of the airlines. If you find something you like, you buy it there.
  3. You are on the airline company site, and you buy it directly there. You may, of course, start browsing in an aggregator or an online travel agency and end up buying on the airline’s site.

In the cases above, the responsibility for your purchase recalls on the player that sold it to you. If you bought on the OTA or directly from the airline company, they are the ones processing your purchase. Any complaints go to them.

Sometimes when you buy through an OTA, the booking codes may vary in relation to the airline’s ones. But you always have those codes on the reservation papers that are sent you by email. Buying through an OTA guarantees the purchase is made as they themselves bought or booked these seats from the airlines. Unless the OTA is a hacked site (which is really odd to happen), the whole operation is 100% safe.

Are flights cheaper if I buy them directly from the airline?

They may or may not be cheaper. It’s actually impossible to say. There’s no way to guarantee that buying directly from the airline supposes a cheaper flight. And it is like this because prices are defined by algorythms and the OTAs buy or book tickets on a digital marketplace. It means that the whole process is automatic and not defined by someone that sets the prices variations this or that way. Once the airlines make their flights offer available for the ecosystem, what happens from there is very hi-tech with a minimum of human interaction.

Comparing prices guarantees better purchases?

Some years ago you could find big differences in the same tickets searching in different sites (aggregators, OTAs or the airlines). Nowadays the difference in prices for the same flight is very reduced and sometimes non-existent. So, if you have time for comparing and comparing, go ahead. If you tight in time, be more efficient.

But what may vary indeed is the flights’ portfolio, the flights that are offered to buyers. Some OTAs have a wider portfolio of air tickets to sell; Some aggregators have the capacity to aggregate more offers; And all this depends on the time as the availability and portfolio changes constantly. You see this when comparing aggregators and on one, you are offered flights that are not offered on the other one. The next day it may be different. So, this is a very dynamic market and based on the real-time searches that are being done.

Why do prices change when I click to see the offer?

It’s not uncommon that even in big and safe aggregators like Kayak or Skyscanner, there’s a price difference from the first results screen and the flights’ details screen (first and second steps).

This happens because the first results screen is, actually, an estimation based on the prices of the last 48 hours. These results are not updated real-time and sometimes are updated every 2 or 3 hours, which already supposes a huge amount of data request. If all the first results screen were updated real-time, this would suppose an incredible data capacity.

On the other hand, the flights’ details screen is updated more regularly as it is a narrower request of data.

At Trip Trip Now finder, the results screen is updated very often. It is rare to see different results from the first to the second page. Besides, when the first results screen is probably outdated, you see a red warning band on the upper part of the page.

Which are the best flight booking sites?

If you wish to compare prices, we suggest you open three tabs at once. At Trip Trip Now we offer our own engine, and widgets to search directly on Skyscanner and Kayak flights.

All of the three offer cheap flights calendar; Skyscanner and Kayak offer alerts. And Trip Trip Now offers a Secret Flight Club, that emails you a list of the next upcoming cheap flights on the routes you wish. Join the club sending us an email to info@triptripnow.com or read this.

What is the cheapest day to book flights?

As stated before, there are no fixed rules in this because it simply varies according to the users’ experience and browsing habits. As the majority of people search for flights not in incognito mode, the prices are affected every other hour and even in minutes.

However, there is an urban legend that says that the best day to do the purchase is Tuesday. It is said that airlines in the U.S. release flight sales usually on Monday afternoons or Tuesday mornings, and then other vendors enter the run to compete for better prices. But…

Tuesday is not the cheapest day to book flights anymore!

According to this study taken by Expedia and Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC),  the best day to book cheap flights in 2019, and this is valid for the whole world, is Sunday. The savings by booking on this day can reach up to 36% in comparison to weekdays. Actually, the study says that weekends are better in general, and Sundays specifically. The good prices apply for economy and premium fares.

Do flight prices increase when oil prices jump?

It might be, but not immediately. A rise in the price of oil or fuel is more likely to impact the flights’ prices later on, not on the same day. Actually, some experts say that booking your flight right when the fuel price rises are the best window gap you may find on the upcoming weeks.  This is due to a range of reasons, including when airlines purchase their fuel as well as their common ability to negotiate or set standard rates for fuel purchases over time.

What is the cheapest day to fly?

If you search on the internet, you’ll find a myriad of opinions, but according to the ARC study, the best lowest fares are for flights departing on a Thursday or Friday (for economy and premium cabin).  Travelers can save around 10% on airfares simply by choosing flights that take off on these days.

What is the most expensive day to fly?

The most expensive day to start a journey is on a Sunday, the ARC and Expedia study found out.

How long in advance should I buy an airline ticket?

Prices may vary a lot and you can find great deals at anytime, right? Not really.

If you book too early or too late, you’ll probably pay more. Regardless of the destination, the average ticket price tends to rise as departure gets closer. According to the ARC and Expedia study, booking flights at least three weeks ahead of departure is the “sweet pot” for fare savings.

When is too early to book a flight?

More than 3 months ahead of departure is a bit too much. So between three months and three weeks ahead of departure is an excellent time to find good deals and stumble upon offers.

In a nutshell: how to find the best flight deals

  • Browse in incognito mode;
  • Book flights on weekends; Sunday better
  • Book between 90 and 21 days prior departure;
  • Compare tickets by opening tabs vendor (Trip Trip Now, Skyscanner, Kayak, Kiwi.com) at the same time;
  • When you find a fare that fits your budget, do not overthink. Algorithms may play a trick on you.