Having lived abroad now for a few years, coming back to the US has been a challenge. It’s weird that people are so friendly in restaurants, I’m not used to tipping and I once got really angry at the man at CVS when my item rang up as more than the price tag, forgetting that tax isn’t included here. However, the biggest adjustment has been the flight prices. Coming from Europe, land of the affordable airlines, it was hard to stomach some of the flight prices.
Of course there are reasons for some of these prices. A flight from New York to LA probably won’t be very cheap, but it’s also much further than a quick hop from London to Berlin. Nonetheless, trying to find cheap flights in the US can be hard, but not impossible. My biggest mission on this blog is to encourage people to travel. Travel anywhere, travel often and get good deals. Since finding cheap flights in the US can be a bit of a challenge, I’d like to share some of my top tips.
Tips On How To Find Cheap Flights In The US
Trying to find cheap flights in the US is a burden a lot of people don’t want to take on so they just don’t do it. They either pay the price they find or they avoid flying altogether and this makes me sad. The whole flying experience can be fun and much quicker, so having the ability to find cheap flights is critical.
I absolutely cannot stress this point enough. Usually, the reason people can’t find cheap flights is because they want to fly out or into one specific airport on a particular day at a particular time. If you have these restrictions, you’re just going to have to pay what the price is. Being able to find cheap flights in the US doesn’t make me a wizard. Finding cheap flights isn’t magic, you have to work at it and you have to want it.
So rather than saying I must fly out of this airport because it’s more convenient, try looking at the one a bit further away, or be more flexible with your time of day and consider whether you can move the dates around. If you can do this, you’ll be well on your way to finding some great flight deals.
Use Credit Cards
I know some people don’t like credit cards and that’s ok, but it’s important to consider them because they can offer you some great benefits. I’ve written about airline credit cards and hotel and cashback credit cards before so if you don’t know where to start, those posts may help you.
So how can credit cards help you find cheap flights in the US? Well, a couple of ways. For starters, you get points through these credit cards that you can redeem on various airlines. On some airlines, like Delta, you can even pay with miles, meaning you can redeem the miles you have for a discount rather than requiring the full amount of miles for a full award flight.
With the Alaska Airlines credit card, you get a companion fare, which is essentially two for one and this is great for traveling couples. If you sign up now, there’s an offer to only pay the taxes and fees on the companion fare versus the regular $99. Don’t be afraid to explore how credit cards can help you find cheap flights in the US.
Use The Right Tools
Sites like Kayak, Expedia, Orbitz, Skyscanner and the like are all great and can help you find some great deals, but a lot of finding cheap flights is about using the right tools. Personally, I love Google Flights and the ITA Matrix Airfare Search.
Google Flights is great for searching when you want to go somewhere but don’t care where. Put in your departure airport, set a price limit and view the map to see where you can go. Most times I don’t have a particular destination in mind, I just want to travel somewhere so using Google Flights is the perfect way to see all my options without needing to constantly change the destination.
The Matrix is another fantastic site that’s great for finding cheap flights because of the flexibility aspect. What I love most about this is you can look at whole calendars and see the prices for the flights you’re interested in and can easily see in one image what days are cheaper over others. It’s so much easier than searching each day individually.
Check Individual Airline Websites
Another way to make sure you’re not missing out on cheap flights is to check the airline’s actual website rather than search through a search engine. Sometimes, not often, but sometimes, there will be some great prices on the site that weren’t showing up in the search engines. This is especially true for budget airlines like Southwest or Jet Blue.
On this note, Momondo is a good flight search engine because it does include the budget airlines, whereas many of the traditional flight search engines do not.
Don’t Forget About The Other Budget Airlines
There are other budget airlines out there other than Southwest and Jet Blue so don’t neglect them. This includes Allegiant, Frontier, Spirit, Sun Country and even Virgin America.
Don’t Be Afraid To Connect
Sure, connecting can be a bit of a hassle, but sometimes it can save you a lot of money rather than flying direct. Just like it’s helpful to be flexible with your destination, days and times, it’s also really helpful to be flexible with your route. Sometimes the cheapest fare is going to be the one with the connections.
You will all have your own limit on what you’re willing to do for a cheap flight. Michael and I have connected four times, hopping continents to get to our destination if we have to and we enjoy that, but others may think of nothing worse and would rather pay the premium to avoid it. That’s ok! Cheap flights are subjective and it’s all about what you view as worth it.
Piece Together Itineraries On Multiple Airlines
Some of the best ways to save money are to piece together cheap flight to cheap flight to get where you want to go. However, I say this with caution because when you’re not on the same ticket you’re liable for any missed flights or mishaps. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, but if you’re not comfortable with it, don’t do it because you’ll only spend the whole journey a nervous wreck.
What do I mean by piecing together your itineraries? Say you want to fly from Boston to Chicago. Your flight directly from Boston to Chicago may cost you $240, but maybe you can get to New York for $50 and then the New York to Chicago flight is only $130. That means you’d save $60 on your trip. These are obviously example fares and you may save less and there’s the possibility to save much more. Just remember this is always an option to find cheap flights in the US and can ultimately save you a lot of money.
The following is an example of how you may save money by splitting your itinerary.
In this instance, splitting your itinerary from DC to Chicago via Cincinnati on Southwest and Delta would cost you approximately $118, whereas a nonstop flight from the ideal airport would cost you nearly $170.
**This was just a quick one way search to demonstrate my point, I’m not guaranteeing this is the best deal out there and of course these prices are subject to change since I wrote this post.
Use Student Or Youth Discounts If Applicable
If you’re under 26, you may be eligible for cheaper fares. You can search these prices on STA Travel. Personally, I don’t care much for STA Travel, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have decent deals. When we traveled to Australia for our working holiday, we booked one way fares through STA because they offered a better one way fare than anyone else.
Don’t Forget To Credit Your Miles
There’s nothing that pains me more than when people fly but then don’t credit the miles. While that one flight isn’t going to get you very far on its own, you don’t have to do anything to get them so you might as well. Then you might find you want to get that airline’s credit card or you fly them for a big trip and suddenly you’re only 400 miles short of a redemption that you would have had if you had just credited those earlier flights.
Also, don’t forget that airlines have partners and you can usually redeem on other airlines so do you research to make sure you’re signing up for the best possible program. For example, British Airways and American Airlines are partners, but more often than not I’ll credit my miles to BA to redeem on American because it’s better value.
Know Your Budget
So many people look for flights and want a good deal but have no budget in mind. While you need to be realistic, going into the search with absolutely no idea of how much you want to pay will make it even harder to make a decision. Knowing what you’re searching for will make the process simpler, easier and less painful.
Even better, go into it with a specific price range and once you find a price and itinerary you’re happy with, book it and be done with it.
Ultimately, being able to find cheap flights in the US will take some research. You can’t just expect to do a quick search for one thing and find the best deal. You need to be flexible and willing to put in the effort, but just remember there are no set rules and there’s not always rhyme or reason for airline pricing.
These tips and tricks will usually help you find cheap flights in the US, but sometimes you’re never going to do better than an ok deal and that’s fine! It doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong or you’ve not tried hard enough, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Don’t beat yourself up, but employing some of these tips into your regular flight searches will help you find better deals overall and save you more money in the long run.