How to find cheap flights when you have NO flexibility

Posted by in Flights

4 techniques to save big, even when you can’t change your travel dates

After flying more than 120 times with 30 different airlines around the globe, I have spent a decent amount of time looking for cheap tickets online. In this post I will show you 4 easy techniques I use to save hundreds of dollars every year and always find the best possible flight.

Booking your plane ticket is often the first step while planning a trip and its price can even determine if a destination is affordable or not. Flights prices are based on offer and demand but with the complex pricing systems and number of alternatives on the market, going through the process of finding deals online can be a very daunting task. But it does not have to be!

Even though, this topics is widely covered in many travel blogs, I’ve always found articles with tips that are difficult to apply when you have a tight schedule, specific travel dates and overall no flexibility whatsoever. Those tricks would for example involve flying on a week day, avoiding peak periods, taking longer routes or in other words, being flexible.

Unfortunately, flexibility is a luxury you may not be entitled to when you work full time. Because of your job obligations, you may be able to take vacation days only in the first week of November for example. Plus, most people working on week days will want to fly on a Saturday and come back on a Sunday, allowing for 7 full days abroad, 2 days for flights and transfers, and all that by using only 5 vacation days, therefore optimising their usage. Nobody wants to leave on a Tuesday when you could have left on the prior Saturday and get 3 more vacation days by taking only one additional day off!

Check out below 4 easy ways to keep your plane tickets’ price to a minimum and that work even when you have NO flexibility:

1. Make sure you know all your options

To make sure that you are aware of all the possible options, you should always visit the destination’s airport website, where you will find the full list of carriers flying there. Then cross reference this list with the results you get on two or three flights comparison websites like Kayak or Expedia and if any airline mentioned on the airport’s website does not appear then investigate further, you might be onto something!

Next steps in your research involves visiting the airline’s website to find if they fly to your city and if they have better prices. Some low cost airlines may not be listed on major flights aggregators like Expedia, Kayak or Momondo because they only sell directly on their own website. That’s why this step is important. But remember, low cost airline have strict conditions that you should read carefully. Some of them don’t include a checked luggage, while other charge you a fee if you don’t check-in online and print your own boarding pass.

Here is an example of a research from Marseille to London on Nov 5, on Expedia. At time of research, the best price is $54.92 with EasyJet (which is a low cost airline in this case).

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But with a quick search on Ryanair (another low cost airline) I easily found a flight that is 51% cheaper at $26.83.

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NB: remember when you find a deal on a site like Expedia or Kayak, always have a look at the airline’s website too. You will often find a similar price but without the hidden commission that appears on the last step of the paying process (I hate when they do that!). Plus if there’s any problem with your booking or flight like a delay or cancellation, it’s always easier to deal directly with the airline than with a third-party website.

Depending on the distance you’re travelling, it can be useful to compare with other transportation means. For example a 1 hour flight can easily be replaced by a 3 hour train ride. To do that easily you can check the website rome-2-rio that lists all the possible alternatives for your route, from plane, boat, train, car pooling and more!

2. Make the connection your final destination

When you travel for only a week or so, you should be able to travel with a carry-on only (assuming you prepare accordingly and have all your liquids in containers equal or smaller than 100ml).

This gives you access to another great trick that can save you additional bucks. It consists of buying a flight to a specific destination that includes a connection in the city you want to reach.

To do this you need to buy one way tickets because when the airline notices that you missed a part of your flight, their system will automatically cancel the rest of your trip. So you should book separately two one way tickets instead of a standard return ticket.

For example, let’s say you want to fly to Detroit, which is a big hub and large city. This will create demand for this destination and therefore airlines will offer those tickets at a high price for the most requested dates. However, if you look for tickets to a city near Detroit but much less popular, like Buffalo, chances are that the flight will be cheaper. But it won’t be a direct flight and some options will actually include a stopover in Detroit. Therefore you can now buy your ticket for Buffalo, through Detroit, and since you have no checked luggage, you simply leave the airport in Detroit and don’t take the connection included in your ticket. You can look for the different alternatives offered on a map by using Google Flight (from the landing page, enter your destination and travel dates then click on the map below).

Here is an example from Montreal to Detroit on Saturday, November 5. The best available price is $286.

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But if you look at Buffalo, there are flights for $176. Then click on Buffalo to look at the details to see if there’s any interesting connection included.

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Perfect there’s one in Detroit with Delta! So you just paid $176 for a direct flight to Detroit instead of the initial $286. That’s a 38% saving! Plus, the initial Detroit flight included a connection, and the Buffalo flight is direct to Detroit. So you just saved $110 and a connection, making your trip even more enjoyable!

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Pricing systems don’t always make sense, it’s your job to find the loopholes 🙂
There’s also a website that can do this type of search for you: Skiplagged.

3. Compare with surrounding airports

When you have a specific destination in mind, the main airport of that area may not be the best choice for your flight. Since the demand is high for major cities, there are some times when ticket prices can quickly increase for the most requested travel days. Usually for leisure destinations, tickets are more expensive during the weekend, while for business destinations, it’s more expensive on Mondays and Fridays.

Because of an increase in demand, the city’s main airport may become overpriced that’s why you should always compare with the nearest airports. This can be easily done in a few minutes using Google Flights again!

Let’s say you want to go to California, although the Los Angeles LAX airport is the most obvious choice, neighbouring cities like Santa Ana or Burbank can sometimes offer a better deal. See below for example, a trip leaving from Montreal and going to California. For the specific date of Saturday, November 12, I have displayed the map zoomed on the LA area to check out which airport is cheaper. It appears that Santa Ana and Burbank are respectively 15% and 4% cheaper. It can be more, it can be less, but still it’s a good option to check before purchasing any flight.

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And because they are smaller airports, you may find that car rentals, transfers and other services are cheaper too, so you save not only on your flight but on following expenses as well!

You can also apply the same trick to your departure airport. For example if you live in Washington DC, you may find out better deals from New York City and it might be worth the short additional ride.

4. Think the other way around

Instead of choosing your destination first and then spend hours looking for a deal that works with your travel dates, why not starting the process the other way around? With the Google Flight tool, you can search for flights based on your departure city and travel dates and easily display on the map all the destinations with the price attached to the cheapest ticket available. You can even select a price range to display only the destinations within your budget. (Skyscanner also has this function).

See below an example of a research for return flights under $600 CAD from Montreal on Saturday October 8, 2016 and back on Sunday October 16, 2016 (that’s a One Week Adventure!). Sample destinations include Miami, London, UK, Denver and Mexico City.

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Plus, in addition to giving you the best deals available for your dates, it’s also a great suggestion tool! You may not have thought of that specific destination but with incredibly cheap plane tickets, it might be your chance to discover an unexpected off the beaten path destination. I once used this technique to buy flights for Billings, Montana and drive around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

To recap, you have two scenarios:

When you already know where you want to go
then you should :

  • Compare prices with the nearest departure and arrival airports
  • Make sure you know all the airlines available for your destination
  • Figure out if your destination is a major hub and try to book a longer flight that includes a connection at your desired airport

When you have not decided on a destination yet
In this case, you should start to have a look at the map of prices from Google Flights for your specific dates to figure out what cities/countries are within your budget

Have you used any of these tricks before? Feel free to share your saving techniques in the comment section!