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How to Book an Inexpensive Flight

So, you want to go on vacation huh? With SO much information out there, planning a trip can get expensive and overwhelming. But we have so many tips and tricks to help with everything from flights, accommodations, researching destinations, budgeting, and more. We are creating a travel series where we will go into depth on all of these topics.. keep checking back over the next few weeks. This is one of our most highly requested blog series ever and we’re so excited to jump right in.

Let me start at the beginning – I caught the travel bug back in 2017 when my boyfriend and I were able to take a free flight on Southwest anywhere. We decided to go Puerto Vallarta, Mexico where we stayed at a gorgeous resort and ate the most delicious food and explored the beautiful area. We spent almost a week there, and we only spent around $1000 together. Can you believe that? I realized then that traveling was way more attainable than I ever realized, and that if I planned out trips in a smart way and budgeted for them.. I could travel internationally way more often. Only a couple months later, my boyfriend and I ended up backpacking Europe for 3 weeks and we traveled to 6 different countries. Later that year, I traveled to China with my family and we were able to find flights at an amazing price. Overall, visiting 8 countries in 1 year was definitely a whirlwind experience and it encouraged me to prioritize traveling. Through this process, I have learned that I’m a great planner and I love to organize trips. I’m looking forward to sharing some of my tips and tricks that I have discovered with all of you.

Read our other posts in the travel series:

  • Click here for “How to Budget and Save For Travel”
  • Click here for “How to Book Hotels Inexpensively”

First – Plan out Dates

Decide when you can take a trip. This is the number one step that I always follow because you can’t help when you can take off work/other obligations. I think it’s easiest to look at your schedule and decide what week/month works for you and go from there.

Before you start looking at flights, decide which area of the world you would like to go to based on the dates that you would be visiting. Important things I note for destination wise:

  • Weather (You might not want to go to Sweden in December.. unless a cold vacation is what you’re after!)
  • Holidays (I avoided Thailand in February because of Chinese New Year.. makes accomodations & flights 10x more expensive)
  • Be aware of World News & Country Conflict – In some regions more than others, before purchasing a flight make sure to check your country’s advisory list. This site also shares everything from vaccination information, restriction, visa info, and more! (For U.S. click here)

After you’ve researched a bit – the dates are set! Now it’s time to pick out your flight.

Use the Best Flight Search Engines

There are tons of different flight search engines out there.. but it’s important to check a few while researching flight options. The following are some of my favorites:

  • Skyscanner – more on this tool below. My #1 travel tool and I’ve found many amazing deals on flights through this website.
  • Hopper – I love this app for your iPhone! You plug in the dates you are planning to travel and the airports and it lets you know if it’s time to buy your ticket or wait.. it calculates the timings of flight prices and judges whether or not the price will lower, get higher, or stay the same. It’ll send you an alert to your phone letting you know when it’s time to purchase.
  • Airfare Watchdog – This website is great for finding mistake fares.. if you’re a little more easygoing with dates the prices will excite you.
  • Kiwi.com – Another great tool to use when trying to find an inexpensive flight. I like this website because it combines multiple airlines to find the cheapest roundtrip flight. (vs. just flying with one airline during the trip.. sometimes this can be way cheaper.) I usually don’t book through Kiwi though because then you’re dealing with a 3rd party website. More on that later.
  • Kayak – I use this website to see what deals are being offered.. I almost never book through a third party like Kayak/Expedia/others though because if something goes wrong with your flight.. the airline can’t help you because you booked outside of them. (Even though the prices are inexpensive and tempting!) But it’s helpful to use this tool to see different prices/options.

More on Skyscanner:

Once you know the dates of your trip, you can use one of my favorite travel tools – Skyscanner. This website is AMAZING and I think everyone should use it as a reference. Skyscanner looks like your traditional Expedia/kayak on first glance, but it has a tool that I am a huge fan of. It COMPARES all of the different flight websites out there to give you the BEST deals. For example – My boyfriend and I have 1 week in March that we knew that we could take off. We didn’t have a location in mind specifically but we knew that we wanted to travel internationally. Through Skyscanner, we were able to fill in that we wanted to fly from San Francisco to “Everywhere” during the dates we could take off. (Skyscanner will show you a dropdown menu with the least expensive flights from your starting location to anywhere in the world!). Luckily for us, Skyscanner showed that flights to Barcelona from San Francisco were only $350 roundtrip on American Airlines. We couldn’t believe it and booked the tickets directly through the American Airlines website. You never have to book through Skyscanner or a third party, they just provide the details of what airline sales are going on at that moment and once you find a flight you like.. you can directly book with that airline. SO convenient! I’ve shared some screenshots of what these pages look like below.


The front home screen of Skyscanner looks like this – where you can plug in  your home airport & where you’d like to go/dates or choose “Everywhere!”

Once you click “everywhere” – It’ll show all the least expensive locations you can visit during your specific dates through the most expensive! 

Once you click “everywhere” – It’ll show all the least expensive locations you  can visit during your specific dates through the most expensive! 

Once you click on a specific place, you can see that there are roundtrip flights available to Barcelona for $328 in April.. pretty amazing!

Once you click on a specific place, you can see that there are roundtrip flights available to Barcelona for $328 in April.. pretty amazing!

When picking your destination, there are many factors in where/what/and why you would choose that specific place. It’s extremely important when picking a destination that you have a general idea of what kind of vibe the country has/what type of vacation you are looking for. When I booked my Puerto Vallarta trip, I knew I wanted to lay on the beach at the resort everyday.. but when I visit Belize and Guatemala this summer, it’ll be more of a adventurous and backpacker type of trip.

Some examples of my trips this year booked using these tools:

  • January – Thailand trip. I bought roundtrip tickets from San Francisco to Bangkok using Singapore Airlines (Consistently ranked one of the top airlines in the world and the best economy flight in the world) for only $600 roundtrip during peak season. (Skyscanner)
  • March – Barcelona trip. Using Skyscanner we found roundtrip flights from SFO-Barcelona for only $350 on American Airlines. (Skycanner) 
  • May – SFO to Portland for the weekend was less than $100 using Southwest.
  • July-August: SFO to Cancun one way and then 3 weeks later booked a Guatemala City to SFO one way using a multi-city plan, booked the Cancun flight using Southwest and booking the Guatemala City flight using American Airlines (and going on Business!) for only $500 roundtrip. (Kayak, Skyscanner, and Southwest!)

All of these flight search engines have saved me hundreds of dollars on my trips, and I’ve only booked through the designated airlines so I never had to deal with 3rd parties. Incredible and easy!

Budget Airlines

Another way to travel on the cheap is with budget airlines. There are so many incredible budget airlines all over the world.. and I use them constantly when I’m traveling between cities.

Something I’ve done (especially easy for Europe) is saving money by booking the cheapest flight to Europe from my airport, and then booking a budget flight to the country/city that I actually want to visit. When Zach and I backpacked Europe, Ireland was the cheapest place to fly into.. by hundreds of dollars. We flew to Ireland, and then took a budget flight to Paris to save money! The flight to Paris was only $30 vs. flying directly to Paris from SFO was around $400-500 more expensive per person. Easy choice!

I’ve gotten flights for less than $20 in some places using budget airlines.. so it’s a great tool to use! However, it’s important to read the fine print and check all of the extra fees. (Some of these airlines charge to pick your seat, to check a bag, printing a boarding pass fee, and more.. so definitely check on that before booking.) Also please check safety ratings before booking as well.

Some of my favorites include:

  • Southwest in the U.S. (They have an incredible rewards program and a great credit card to earn mileage.. more info below!) They also include 2 free checked bags, and are very easy-going when it comes to changes.
  • RyanAir in Europe. (Thousands of flights within Europe for extremely low prices.. I always use them.)
  • AirAsia in Southeast Asia. (I bought numerous flights while in Thailand the day before and most of them were under $40. Insane!)
  • EasyJet in Europe. (Similar to RyanAir)
  • and many many more!

Miles and Points

This is another way to book flights inexpensively and save money in the long run. Basically, you can sign up for travel credit cards, get rewards for signing up and different perks and then by spending money on those cards.. you get mileage earned for specific airlines or points for hotels!

My boyfriend has 2 “travel cards” – One being a Southwest Credit Card and another being the Hilton American Express.

For signing up for the Southwest Credit Card, he earned over 150,000 free miles.. and we earned many free flights basically anywhere through that alone. Plus, when he spends money on this card, he accumulates airline miles.

Zach’s Hilton Card is great because of the incredible perks that come along with it – he received a priority pass (He can use basically any lounge in any airport in the world), 150,000 bonus points for signing up, diamond status for a year, a couple of free weekend nights at any Hilton property, $250 Hilton Resort credit, annual free weekend night reward at any Hilton property, and more. (Plus no foreign transaction fees and earns SO many points when you spend money at Hiltons, on flights, hotels and restaurants abroad!)

I recommend using your credit card for everyday purchases and to treat it like cash (only spend money that you have in the bank!) and pay off your balance each month to avoid any fees/interest.

Travel hacking is so interesting and there are is SO much more to it – Zach and I have barely scratched the surface on finding ways to travel hack & save money. Click here for a fun video talking about Travel Hacking on ABC. Also click here for an interesting deep dive on travel hacking 101. 

Now on to booking!

It’s important to note that even though some flights may be super inexpensive… some may not be worth it in the end. When you’re connecting 2-3 times and flying a full day from SFO-NYC.. you might want to rethink how much savings is worth your time and energy.

Also – many airlines are now featuring “basic economy” but I NEVER take basic economy. I love a good deal however I won’t sacrifice my comfort for a cheap flight. I’ve provided a screenshot below of what isn’t included in basic economy fares:

I personally don’t like flying this way, I’d rather spend a little more to check a bag and sit with someone I know but it’s completely up to you. Read the fine print!

Now that you found the flight you want…

I would book as soon as possible. In most cases the flight will only get more and more expensive as time goes on. Especially if you’ve already found a great deal.. just settle and buy it. I usually look for flights 6-9 months in advance of a trip.

Last Minute Tips & Tricks When Flying

  • Bring a reusable water bottle (empty through security) and ask flight attendants to fill your bottle when you get on the plane. Such a time saver and it’s important to stay hydrated while flying. (Or buy a water bottle at the airport.)
  • Bring an extra set of clothes along with small toiletries and medicines in your carry-on if you’re checking your bag. Just in case they lose your bag. This is so helpful!
  • If you’re on a flight with a meal, and would like to be a little healthier – prebook the vegetarian option. Usually these meals are less greasy/less sodium!
  • Bring earplugs/eyemask/neck pillow and a travel throw. It’s gross to use the airplane blankets because they may not be washed and it’s nice to block out the world and sleeeeep.
  • Get Travel Insurance – I’m going to be writing a post all about this soon but I never travel internationally without coverage. It’s so little for the protection that you get in case of medical emergency, in flight/cancellation issues, losing luggage and more. My favorite company is World Nomads! I’ve used them for numerous trips over the years, and thankfully nothing has happened to me.. but I just read a story about a guy who got bit by a shark while surfing in the galapagos islands and World Nomads covered everything for him. Even adventure activities like trekking, bungee jumping, and skydiving! Crazy. Get a quote for your next trip by clicking here.
  • Sign up for TSA PreCheck, Clear, or Global Entry. These babies are incredible.. you don’t have to take off your shoes, you get to skip the lines, and you can glide through customs. My entire family has this and it has made traveling a breeze.
  • Bring Powerbanks on the flight. (Transportable Chargers) – I charged my iPad Mini 2x and my phone once just using 1 powerbank charger on my long travel day to Thailand! (which was over 23 hours of travel).
  • Last minute tip: Travel insurance is SO important, and I always book mine through World Nomads. Even if I’m just taking a quick weekend trip to Cabo San Lucas, I always get insurance (in case of flight cancellation, losing my luggage, health insurance, evacuation, and SO much more. World Nomads doesn’t break the bank either! (It’s also backed by Lonely Planet, Eurrail and more as the best travel insurance.) Price out your next trip below:

Hope these flight tips and booking tips have helped you with future travel plans! I am currently writing the next post in this travel tips series all about accommodations and that should be up next week. Let me know if you have any questions below and I’ll try to answer them as soon as possible. I love talking about travel! I really think I may have been a travel agent in my past life so if you need help with booking anything just comment and I’ll try to help you!

Also – share the photo below on Pinterest/save it to your board if you’d like to use this post in the future. :) Thank you!

How to book an inexpensive Flight in 2019 - Free flights, miles and points, which websites are the best deals, and more! Kristywicks.com

xo,
Emma

Thoughts?

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95 thoughts on “How to Book an Inexpensive Flight

    1. Hi Maureen,

      Thank you for reading :) I’m so glad this post is helpful for you. I’m actually planning on buying a new camera for my next travels (I’m going to Cabo San Lucas in a couple of weeks!) and I’ll be posting photos from my travels on here way more! xx -Emma

  1. Incredible post… love it .. super informative !!!! Thank you for putting this together … can you also share a post about hotel/resort bookings for vacations and how to save money on them ????

    1. Hi Viji,
      So glad you enjoyed this post and thank you for the feedback! My next post in this series will be all about how to book accommodations on the cheap. xx, Emma

  2. This information is fantastic and so helpful! I am looking forward to reading more of your travel tips, especially on booking accommodations. Thank you for sharing Emma!

  3. Love love LOVE!!! This was so awesome! I thought I was pretty good at traveling on a budget but after reading this I’m like, “woah! I’ve been approaching this all wrong!!!” I’m so thankful for this! I’m going to be using this baby for the rest of my travels!! Thanks so much Kristy and Emma!! You guys are amazing!

  4. These are wonderful tips, Emma! Thanks for sharing. I travel quite a bit–especially throughout my milestone birthday year and I would concur with the info you have included. What is somewhat new to me is the apps you mentioned and I can’t wait to try them out! Happy Travels…it’s a wonderful world.

  5. Fantastic Tips Emma! You’ve done an excellent job on your research. Thank you so much for sharing your tips to save us so much time & money! You rock!

  6. I loved this post so much! So helpful! I will look for more tracks posts and I’m ALL OVER the Skyscanner app! Thanks so much for sharing!!!

  7. What an excellent post, especially for your 1st one Emma!! I am always trying to find the best prices for when I travel, I usually always the planner. This is extremely helpful and will be downloading SkyScanner!
    Kristy I just love your blog and follow you on IG :)

  8. Fantastic post, Emma! I only wish I had it before booking my anniversary trip thru Expedia a few weeks ago. I’m going to use your tips to plan our next family vacation. Looking forward to reading your next one on accommodations.

  9. Fabulous ideas! Thanks so much for taking the time to share all these helpful tips. Your trip to Thailand was beyond incredible and clearly you are an experienced traveler.
    Looking forward to seeing more of your photos on your up and coming trips.

  10. Thanks so much for the tips. About to book the next vaca so this will be very handy.
    What is the name of the beautiful resort in Puerta Vallarta?

    1. Hi Jennifer – Yay! I’m so glad this post is helpful for you. I actually stayed at the Marriott in Puerto Vallarta (such an inexpensive hotel) and is in a GREAT location directly across from a Marina with tons of delicious mexican food places, and a bus stop that will take you to downtown PV for only 10 pesos per person. Downtown has great little markets, food, shopping and more. Plus there are tons of excursions to take part in like ATV riding, water sports, waterfall places, ziplining, and all the other adventure sports. :) Here’s a link: https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/pvrmx-marriott-puerto-vallarta-resort-and-spa/

  11. What great information Emma!! Thx for sharing.
    We are planning a trip soon to Mexico. We are trying to figure out if we want to do a cruise or stay a week in Puerto Vallarta. Can I ask you where you stayed? Would you recommend it?
    Thanks in advance. ?

    1. Hi Jolina! Wow.. how exciting. I’m more of a destination person vs. a cruise person but it’s definitely up to you. :) I actually stayed at the Marriott (such an inexpensive hotel but it’s nice!) and it’s in a GREAT location directly across from a Marina with tons of delicious Mexican food places, and a bus stop that will take you to downtown PV for only 10 pesos per person. Downtown has great little markets, food, shopping and more. Plus there are tons of excursions to take part in like ATV riding, water sports, waterfall places, zip-lining, and all the other adventure sports. :) Here’s a link: https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/pvrmx-marriott-puerto-vallarta-resort-and-spa/

  12. Excellent information. Skyscanner is a great app, booking through the airline is a great tip while using the app for research. Looking forwardto your next posts?

  13. Hi Kristy,
    I am new to the Instagram world. Your house is beautiful. ❤️
    I was a flight attendant with a major airline in the 80’s – 90’s and stopped flying when I had my first daughter. I flew for Virgin in 2014 for a very brief time, I was not prepared for the commute (near Tahoe). Im so glad that I did it again for a brief time.
    Anyway, I just wanted to say “hello” and introduce myself. Your blog and Instagram feed is warm and welcoming.
    Take care,
    Lisa. :)

  14. Dear Emma,

    Though I live in SEA – Kuala Lumpur to be precise, I love love your travel tips blog nevertheless :-). Can’t wait for the next one!

    I love love your mum too & I follow her on a daily basis all the way across many continents !

    Keep up the good vibes :-)

    Love,
    Sook from KL ?

    1. Hi Sook – Ahh hi! I want to visit Malaysia so badly.. definitely on the bucket list. I recently went to Thailand and would love to travel all around SEA someday soon. Thank you so much for your kind words. :)

      xx, Emma

  15. Good tips but have you tried Google Flight matrix which compares flights as well? And
    Also there’s plain old google
    Flights that lets you really search for food flight deals using broad categories for max flexibility. I’d also recommend a more generic credit card like Chase for travel points that you can use for hotels or flights. Just some additional food for thought.

    1. Hi Lisa – Yes I have!! I’ve used both but I’ve found more deals through Skyscanner actually. It usually includes more airlines in the search for me vs Google flights. and I agree on Chase! Very great starter card for anyone looking into travel hacking or just earning points related to travel. Thanks so much for your comments.. I appreciate them all! xx, Emma

  16. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this great post! I can’t wait to try these out so I can travel more!!!

  17. Thank you so much, Emma!! This actually makes me excited to plan a trip instead of dreading it!! My husband and I are celebrating 25 years this summer and we really want to make time for a special trip!! Hope you and Zach have fun in Barcelona!! Thank you again, I think we are aiming for Italy!!!

    1. Hi Cari! That’s awesome.. I’m sure you and your hubby will have a great time! Make sure to search all the cities in Italy to see which is the least expensive to fly into (usually Milan or Rome is the cheapest vs. Venice or Florence!) you can always get a hopper plane or quick train from Milan or Rome to the other cities for a fraction of the cost. xx, Emma

  18. Hi Emma,

    Thank you for sharing such important tips!! I personally love the idea of booking a cheaper ticket to a city in Europe and then buying a tkt to your destination city. That’s awesome!! Please keep feeding us more tips ??

    1. Hi Nellie, I’m so glad to hear this! Thank you so much for your comments. It usually has saved me hundreds of dollars so I LIVE by that advice myself! ;) Happy travels. -Emma

  19. This is great info! One thing I would like to offer is to set your computer to ‘private’ when searching for fares. My brother-in-law let me in on this little nugget when he realized that prices were going up between sites as he would click back an forth, looking for the best deal. Tricky, but true!

    1. Hi Shelley,

      Ahh yes! This tip… I used to be 100% about it, however sometimes I’ve found that it doesn’t make a difference.. so I definitely think it depends! Thanks for sharing :)
      xx, Emma

  20. Hi Emma
    Thank you so much for all this information. To be honest I have felt intimidated in the travel process since the few times I started to research it seemed so overwhelming but this post has left me feeling empowered and excited for the future travel with your series. Thank you Thank you ?

    1. Hi Christine,
      I’m so glad to hear this. I used to be the same way.. and never ended up traveling because it was way too overwhelming! Once you are strapped with knowledge and information it gets WAY less scary. xx, Emma

  21. Thanks Emma. I have to go to China and Copenhagen this year….I have been out of the international travel circuit for a while so these tips are going to be so helpful!!!

    1. Hi Lynn,
      Wow!! Have so much fun in both destinations. Where are you going in China? I’ve been to Beijing but I’d love to visit more of the mainland in the next few years… xx, Emma

  22. Fantastic post!! I’ve been looking forward to this blog series as im headed to Europe in June. For TSA precheck and Global entry, those primarily work inside US only, correct? Thought about getting it for me and my son but doesn’t seem like it would help us much in Europe. Thank you for All of these tips!

    1. Hi Jessica – Thank you so much! You are correct.. these only work in the U.S. But they are soooo helpful even for international travel! (And with precheck, a lot of times only one person in the booking needs to have it, and they will let the other person with you get precheck as well!) Especially for Global Entry.. last time I came home I waited for over an hour just to clear customs without it. With global entry it took less than 2 minutes. :) Definitely a time saver and worth the $$ if you travel internationally at least 1x per year. xx, Emma

  23. this is a fabulous post! There are so many websites out there, and I have usually booked through priceline, etc. I won’t do that anymore. Also, since I don’t fly very often, I didn’t know about
    TSA precheck, clear or global entry. Could you discuss a little more about this subject and how a person signs up for this? Thank you, Thank you!

    1. Hi Tina – You can still book priceline/other websites but I definitely would save that option as a last resort! :) As for Precheck/Global Entry.. you can make an appointment online. (Precheck: https://www.tsa.gov/precheck, and Global Entry: https://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry) you need to meet in person with a government worker who will ask you a few questions. It’s a harmless process that includes a background check and fingerprinting. The cost is around $85 and global entry is around $100 for a 5-year period.

  24. Thanks so much for sharing your tips, Emma! I can’t wait to try Skyscanner and some of your other suggestions for an upcoming vacation!

  25. I will certainly be using your info when hooking our trip. Great information.
    Could you link the power banks you recommended. Look forward to using your info! Thank you.

  26. Thank you so much for putting this post together! So many great tips for booking my travel to Europe this summer with my family.

  27. This post was awesone! I had never used Skyscanner before and I was finally able to book our 4 week trip to Portugal in June, with multiple side trips for our family of 6! Thank you, thank you!!!!

    1. Wow Tonia!! That is SO exciting.. have so much fun in Portugal. That is one destination that is definitely on my bucket list. :) Where are you going? And 4 weeks makes me SO happy!!

      -Emma

      1. We are so excited!! Porto for a week then to the Algarve for a week, then a week moving thru Lisbon Coimbra and the central region and then our last week we are in the Azores!!! Now I have to start finding accomadations so I’ll look at your new post tomorrow.!!!

  28. Thanks Emma and Kristy. These tips and tricks are invaluable. Your blog and IG accounts are filled with invaluable information. Also, I adore seeing the loving pictures of family and of course, Maggie.

  29. This was such a helpful post. Thank you so much! Now that my kids are past the toddler stage I really want to start traveling more. We have travelled much in the last few years so it’s nice to have someone catch me up on all I’ve missed! ?

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