How To Find A Super Cheap Flight

I spend a lot of time looking at flights. A lot. Sometimes I’ll literally spend the whole day punching in different destinations and daydreaming about my next trip.

I know, I have way too much spare time. But the good thing about this shameless waste of time is that I’ve come up with various tricks that have helped me save a crapload of money on flights in the past few years, and I’ll share them with you if you promise to like my page.


Fine. I’ll share them anyway.

I’m actually kind of nervous to write this post up, not because I don’t want to share, but because I’m scared everyone is going to be thinking “Duh? Doesn’t everyone do this? This guy’s a freakin’ dork!!” punch screen

If that’s the case, then I’m sorry. About your screen.

Let’s go!

1. Start with a flight search engine

This is your starting point. I personally use Skyscanner, but I have also used Kayak in the past. There are a lot of aggregator sites out there, but we’ll stick with Skyscanner for now. Let’s say we’re going from Auckland to Tokyo for two weeks – 1 April to 14 April. Just plug in your dates and destination, and it will search (almost) all airlines for you and give you the best available price.

Skyscanner AKL to TYO1

We get a “best price” of $1,257 USD, flying indirect with Cathay Pacific. You’ll also see that if you want to fly direct it will cost you $1,468. Let’s see if we can get that price down.

2. Be flexible with your dates

Hands down, the best way to save money on a flight is to be flexible. If you only have two specific weeks during the year where you can travel there’s probably not too much you can do, but if you’re travelling longer term without a strict schedule, you can save a ****load.

Let’s search for another flight to Tokyo, assuming we don’t care when we go. All we want is the cheapest flight. Enter Auckland – Tokyo, but select ‘one way’ and for dates use the ‘whole year’ option:

whole year

Skyscanner will then give you the cheapest possible flight to Tokyo for the whole year. Here we can see that it’s on June 1st, for $528USD.

akl to tyo cheapest2

Remember this is only a one way flight. We need a return flight (assuming you’re coming back). Since we know the cheapest flight going there is in June, we’ll search for a return flight also in June.

To do that, select Tokyo to Auckland, and then simply choose a date in June and select the “Whole month” option.

june tyo - akl

Skyscanner tells us that the cheapest flight back in June will be the 21st, for $339USD:

tyo to akl june1

All up the flight will cost you $528 there and $339 back: $867 compared to $1,257 earlier. Within minutes, you’ve found what appears to be the cheapest possible flight for the year. This is a great baseline to compare with any other flights you may find.

3 important things to remember here:

If you’re looking at an indirect flight (like we are in this example), try and book the direct portion of the flight seperately. Then book the connecting portion using a budget airline.

In this example, the Tokyo flights are indirect, going through Gold Coast, Australia. Therefore try searching Gold Coast to Tokyo instead of Auckland to Tokyo, and use a budget airline to fly the Auckland to Gold Coast segment. 50% of the time this will make your overall fare even cheaper (although I checked in this case and it didn’t).

You’ll notice in the above search results that not all dates have a price; some just have a ‘search’ icon. If you hover over that icon, you’ll see that the absence of a price doesn’t mean there are no flights on that day; it just means that no one has searched for one recently:

search extra

To see flights for that day, just click the search icon. You might find an even cheaper price.

Remember that airfares change every day. Wait a few days and do the search again; you’ll be surprised how much it can change in just a short time (I’ve seen this Auckland-Tokyo route at least $200 cheaper before).

3. Be flexible with your destination (and get a ridiculously cheap flight)

If you’re like me, maybe you don’t really care where you’re going. You just want to go somewhere new. So unless you’ve fallen in love with a girl on a Tokyo dating website, or have an infatuation with guys dressed in cosplay, perhaps you could pass on Tokyo and try somewhere else. If that’s the case, here’s what I do pretty much every time I travel.

Go to Skyscanner and put in your origin. For me, it’s Auckland. Then, select the “whole year” option like we did before. Then leave the destination field blank.

everywhere search

Hitting search will give you the cheapest flights from Auckland to everywhere in the world throughout the year. Check out how many places you can go to for under $500 USD:

akl to everywhere1

That’s only the first step. Now do the same search, but use a nearby international hub as your departure point. For example, the closest hub to Auckland would be either Sydney or Singapore. The Skyscanner search we just did (Auckland to everywhere) says we can get to Aussie for $89 and to Singapore for $243!

Once we get ourselves to Singapore we can book even cheaper flights; it probably has the most wide reaching airport in the world. Using the same ‘whole year‘ and ‘everywhere‘ search, take a look at where a few dollars (USD) will get you once you’re in Singapore:

sg to everywhere1

So the gameplan here would be, buy the $243 ticket to Singapore and then go crazy. Indonesia for $23? Cambodia for $33? It’s up to you!

Down here in distant New Zealand we’re so often abused with super expensive flights costing thousands of dollars. It doesn’t need to be that way. It also goes to show that you don’t need a lot of money to travel. Many backpackers spend less money flying around Asia for a year than they do living at home in their own apartment.

What if you’re not flexible with dates or destination?

So, this means you basically have no bargaining power at all, but there are still one or two tricks you could use that might save you some money.

Try using different hubs

If you’re flying internationally chances are you’re going to pass through a hub. Therefore it pays to look at different hubs both near your origin and your destination.

In our example we were flying from Auckland to Tokyo. This gives you plenty of options; Tokyo is close to many hubs such as Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Manila. Auckland is close to Australia. That leaves you with a lot of search possibilities.

For example, you might be better off flying from Auckland to Singapore and then taking a budget airline such as Tiger Air to Tokyo. We also already discussed the possibility of booking the flight from Australia to Tokyo instead of from Auckland.

I did this recently and saved a few hundred dollars when, instead of taking the Emirates flight from Auckland to Nairobi (through Australia and Dubai), I caught a budget airline from Auckland to Singapore instead, and then flew from Singapore to Nairobi with an Indian airline. It was a simple route, but a Skyscanner search never managed to put it together.

Once you do manage to find a cheaper flight into or out of a hub, you can check this list of budget airlines to see who you can fly to your final destination. You could also use the websites FlightRoutes and WhichBudget.

Go directly to the airlines website

I’ve actually never found a flight to be cheaper on the airline’s website than it was on Skyscanner.

I have however found flights on the airline’s website that didn’t exist on Skyscanner, which has actually saved my a** a few times. This was particularly common in Africa.

There’s a lesson here. Skyscanner (and every other aggregator site) will never show every single flight available. That means you need to search a little bit deeper once you’ve done your initial research, which means searching both flight search engines and the airlines’ official websites.

Also, to make sure you haven’t missed any of the lesser known airlines (which are also sometimes missed on Skyscanner), use this list of budget airlines and check the websites of the one’s in your targeted region. Also, it pays to do a quick search on Whichbudget just as a final check.

Land in a smaller city

This works because larger airports are more expensive for planes to land at, and these extra fees get added to your ticket.

For example, instead of flying into Tokyo you could try fly into one of Japan’s smaller cities. The first one that popped into my head was Osaka, and a quick search shows it is in fact cheaper (it was $1,257 to fly into Tokyo).

akl - osaka

Obviously this gives rise to the problem of getting from Osaka to Tokyo after you land, but if you wouldn’t mind visiting Osaka anyway, why not? Especially if the flight is several hundreds dollars cheaper (and sometimes it really is!)

Other examples might be flying into Clark Airport in The Philippines instead of Manila airport, or flying into Christchurch, NZ instead of Auckland.

Fly budget airlines

If you want to travel long term, you really just need to get used to this. I’ve known people that pay up to $800 more for their airfare just to avoid a budget airline. Of course, that’s fine, but it also means you have no reason to complain about not having enough money to travel.

One couple I met spent $3,000 on their airfares to Thailand because they didn’t want to fly Air Asia, which could’ve got them there for $1,600. That’s $1,400 in change! A couple could live in Thailand on that for 3 months.

At the end of the day, just think about how much better a major airline really is. You get a TV, a plate of airplane food, a couple of free Cokes and maybe an extra inch of leg room. That’s it. How much is that worth? I’d say about 50 bucks. Get used to flying budget airlines, and spend the hundreds of dollars you’ll save on something a little more rewarding once you land.

Fly at the right time

They say the best day to fly is Wednesday, and the best time to fly is the last flight out at night (or very early morning). From my experience this is often true. When flying around Asia, the 2am flight is sometimes less than half the price of the 9am flight.

Also, be clever about which time of the year you fly. Christmas and other holidays are traditionally bad times to fly; but you can also use the heavy season to your advantage.

Example: In 2011 New Zealand hosted the Rugby World Cup, and during that time airfares coming into the country skyrocketed. Also, no one wanted to leave the country during that time, so flights going out of the country hit rock bottom. During that time I flew to Buenos Aires for $1,100 return (usually around $2,300). And that $1,200 saving goes a long way in South America.

Watch out for specials!

This one is so obvious, but I need to mention it. Unless I absolutely must go somewhere at a specific time, I rarely book a flight that’s not on special. Jetstar often runs flight specials from Auckland that are almost 50% less than normal fare. A few years ago Air New Zealand had $1 return flights to San Francisco. In The Philippines, Cebu Pacific sometimes has $0 flights!

My favourite special is Jetstar’s Auckland to Singapore for $250USD (it usually pops up every March and June). I’m actually laying low in New Zealand right now waiting for it to come on. It’s a ridiculous bargain, because once you get to Singapore you can fly almost anywhere in Asia for less than $100. Not to mention most airlines charge between $700 – $1,000 for that Auckland – Singapore route. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on flights to travel.

So, that’s about all I’ve got. It seems everyone has their own little tricks to hunting down cheap flights online, so if you have any, please share them in the comments section! Flights are almost always the the biggest drain on a backpacker’s budget, so if you can get them under control that’s half the battle won.

Happy travels!

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28 thoughts on “How To Find A Super Cheap Flight

  1. That couple you’re talking about is crazy. I love AirAsia deals! I once booked a $16 flight from Malaysia to Thailand and $130 r/t from BKK to DPS.

    1. I know! I couldn’t believe it when they told me. I got the feeling they didn’t get the chance to travel too much though, so they didn’t mind splurging on a nice vacation. Long flights on a budget airline aren’t the most fun things in the world, but the savings are just too hard to give up.

  2. I love searching for flights too, and while I’ve been loyal to Skyscanner, I’ve also started looking at Momondo which has some data tools that will help you pin down the best time to travel. Not forgetting Google Flights where you can put in your budget and see where it can take you on the interactive map.

    1. Momondo has never really returned anything worthwhile for me. Same with Vayama. This is the first time I’ve heard of Google Flights though! Will have to check it out, thanks so much for sharing!

  3. You right, much of the tricks are things most of us frequent travelers already know but, good thing you still wrote this. I’ve always traveled only to destinations that the budget airlines from my country has a direct flights. And it never occurred to me that I could look up for destinations with budget airlines from another hub e.g Singapore (w/c has more flight destinations). Awesome! there is still much to learn even if you already know a lot so keep posting. 🙂

    1. It’s always changing. There’s new websites and new airlines and routes popping up all the time, so they always bring with them a new set of tricks. I learn something new every year! Thanks for reading 🙂

  4. I just stumbled onto your blog by chance and man, this post is such a great share of information and resources on travel hacks. Good job Bren, keep on inspiring us with your travels!

  5. I used Skyscanner travelling from Spain to New York earlier this year and found a farely cheap flight. I’m currently planning a trip to India with my friends and I think your tips might really help to get the best deal. Thanks and keep up the good work.

  6. Hi! I was wondering if you could help me…for some reason, Skyscanner doesn’t work when I leave it “Everywhere” in the destination field. It doesn’t reveal prices, but instead the arrows read “Get Prices.” Is it just the airport I’m using? Or is it something else?

    1. Hi Rick, that means that nobody has searched those routes for some time and it needs refreshing. You will need to click get prices and it will search the routes for you and give you up to date pricing.

  7. Just a thought on the budget airlines: it really depends on the area and what you need. A two hour Air Asia flight that gets you (more or less) where you want, you’re just going for a couple of days and using smaller, less frequented airports, so you pay 50$ instead of 100$? No-brainer.

    However: once you need to check a bag, use remote airports, etc. things aren’t as simple. A checked bag can cost you an arm or a leg, even when you pay for your bag in advance, 50$ isn’t an unusual amount. Fly from continental Europe to London, check a bag, pay for the bus or the train from Gatwick or Stansted and all of a sudden a direct flight to London-City airport or Heathrow on Lufthansa, British, Swiss or KLM ends up being cheaper. Not only might it save you money, but elbowing your way through Stansted, clawing and scratching for some space in the overhead bins and shelling out 5€ for a simple coke, isn’t what I’d call fun. Particularly, if you’ve got elite status with a major airline.

  8. I came across your site through a facebook share of your post on Bulgaria. I am hugely impressed by everything I’ve read here so far and can’t wait to read more. You have great travel insights and a very engaging style. Thank you for sharing, and for making travel feel so much more “doable”. Kudos!

  9. Hi Bren,
    Thanks so much for sharing all this information! My husband and I are in the early stages of thinking about six months of travel, and are having heaps of fun using the Skyscanner search engine to think about where we could get to.
    One question – I know of some people who worry about using Skyscanner because it uses offshore travel agents, meaning that there is a small risk that you could end up using a non-bonded agent and not having a lot of recourse against them in the event that things go wrong. Have you ever come across any issues like this?
    Keep up the great work 🙂

    1. Hi Rebecca,

      Never had a problem with it, though there are some agents that are better than others. I like Travelocity, Expedia, Hipmunk, Flight Network. Though I’ve booked with almost all the major ones and never had a problem.

  10. Hi Brendon, very good info. Thank you. As a travel addict who has visited 123 countries I’ve learned a lot about everything.. Love Air Asia, Air Arabia and most budget airlines. It’s still possible to learn something new.
    Curious, ever thought of moving from New Zealand ?

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