How to find cheap airline tickets? I will reveal 4 principles and 3 tools that will answer this legitimate question. In fact, when I was planning my world tour, I effectively managed to book 10 flights for our family of 4 – a total of 40 tickets – for 3533 CAD (2838 USD), only 883.25 CAD (709 USD) per person. Impressive, don’t you think?
Here is our flight itinerary for the first 5 months of our trip with the prices we paid for each flight:
|Departing From||Arriving In||Airline Company||Total Cost (CAD)||Cost per person (CAD)|
|Montreal, Canada||Reykjavik, Iceland||Wow Air||1019.00||254.75|
|Reykjavik, Iceland||London, UK||EasyJet||258.00||64.50|
|London, UK||Basel, Switzerland||Ryanair||88.00||22.00|
|Basel, Switzerland||Berlin, Germany||EasyJet||107.00||26.75|
|Berlin, Germany||Sofia, Bulgaria||Ryanair||227.00||56.75|
|Istanbul, Turkey||Athens, Greece||Aegean Airlines||146.00||36.50|
|Chania, Greece||Paphos, Cyprus||Ryanair||189.00||47.25|
|Paphos, Cyprus||Tel Aviv, Israel||Ryanair||227.00||56.75|
|Amman, Jordan||Abu Dhabi, UAE||Etihad Airways||1272.00||1019.00|
|Abu Dhabi, UAE||New Delhi, India||Etihad Airways|
- My Philosophy
- The Principles behind the Method
- The method
- Some examples of applying these 3 tools
Spending an hour to save $100 is equivalent to earning $100 an hour after tax
This saying makes perfect sense in the context of what I am about to share with you. Admittedly I came up with it myself but that makes it no less true! For me, this saying represents a way of life, and expresses my personal philosophy. This way of thinking has allowed my family to enjoy a quality of life comparable with that of an average family with twice our income, despite me being the sole earner. And it’s also for this reason that we are able to plan a trip around the world.
Who can claim to earn $100 an hour after tax? Probably only a small handful of us (certainly not me!). However, who can claim to save $100 an hour? To this last question I can say with certainty that it’s not beyond the realms of possibility for anyone. The fact that I spent 8 hours finding 40 tickets for $3533 demonstrates how the goal of saving $100 an hour is achievable, as I reckon I saved much more than $800 during my 8 hours of research.
The Principles behind the Method
The method is based on 4 principles which when applied either in whole or in part, will make snapping up such low prices easy.
- Make use of low-cost airlines;
- Travel light;
- Be flexible with departure and arrival locations;
- Be flexible with travel dates.
Use Low-Cost Airlines
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. There’s a reason why certain airlines qualify as ‘Low-Cost’ : they offer cheaper prices than the traditional airlines. But watch out, ‘Low-Cost’ doesn’t mean ‘No Service’. Rather it means that every additional service has a price which could potentially increase the cost of your flight. To be economically profitable, these airlines come up with ingenious ways to cut costs, and so can offer extremely low prices. Some of these are:
- The planes have more seats;
- There is less legroom;
- They operate in airports outside city centres;
- They operate during less desirable hours;
- The base price only gives you the right to one seat;
- Only one ‘small’ piece of luggage is included in the price;
- The reservation and registration procedures are automatic, with no human intervention;
- Additional services each incur an additional cost such as :
- Reserving a seat in advance;
- Extra luggage;
- Making changes to the initial reservation;
- Any human intervention.
- Flights are nonstop;
- Being late is non-refundable;
- There is a policy of no refunds.
In other words, if you love travelling in comfort it’s best to take the traditional airlines. As is it very likely that by adding all the extra services, which are usually offered “free of charge” by traditional airlines, you will end up paying more.
Here is the list of Low-Cost airlines.
Travelling with luggage which must go in the cargo hold makes your ticket substantially more expensive. Although sometimes buying a $15 seat and registering a hold bag for $50 could still be economical.
In our case, we’re planning to travel light as we will be taking quite a few flights and we want to avoid paying extra fees for our luggage, we also wouldn’t mind going without the stress of potentially losing them!
We’ve therefore designed our itinerary to avoid travelling through cold seasons during our world trip. We’re also planning to wash our clothes once a week, which I can put up with when considering the thousands of dollars I’ll have saved from luggage fees. We’re also buying light and compact items, everything we bring has to deserve its place in our suitcases!
We are therefore travelling with 4 Cabin Bags : 1 Osprey Farpoint 40 litres rucksack, 1 Osprey Fairview 40 litres rucksack (the ladies version of the Farpoint), as well as 2 little Away Travel Carry-On suitcases. The advantage of these bags are that they fit within the authorized dimensions set by most low-cost airlines, without having to pay the extra baggage fees. They are specifically designed for travelers who want to avoid the extra luggage costs and so they are durable and practical. Moreover they come with an all mighty lifetime guarantee; unlike the cheaper versions we’ve used before which never last longer than a few trips. If the outer layer cracks, rips, perforates or if a wheel breaks or stops rolling smoothly, both Osprey and Away Travel will repair or replace them completely without asking any questions. These two companies offer some of the best warranties in the industry, and so we have chosen these bags with the aim of never having to buy a travel bag again for the rest of our lives – in the hope that these companies still exist when our children are retired.
Among the 10 flights that I bought, I only paid hold luggage fees with Wow Air, as their cabin luggage dimensions are stricter. This means we paid a total $200 for our 4 bags, which isn’t negligible, but is still a good deal overall.
Familiarize yourself with each airline’s cabin bag restrictions. The dimensions, weight and number of items can vary from one company to another. The bag must fit inside the metal tester to prove that it is within the dimensions permitted by the airline you’re using.
Be flexible with departure and arrival locations
In Canada we have the bad habit of thinking that flying is very expensive and that the further we go, the bigger the hole in our pocket. Which is totally wrong.
The first assumption that flying costs a lot comes from the fact that in Canada, airlines pay high airport taxes, which they then pass on to their customers. For this reason, it’s often cheaper to cross the border to our southern neighbors to fly.
The second assumption, that travelling far is expensive, though close to reality, is also a myth. If “far” means Europe or Australia, then yes it’s perhaps true but still up for debate. There are a myriad of destinations where accommodation and food cost next to nothing compared to what we would pay in the West. So a month in Turkey, India or the Philippines could cost as little as $300 per person, not including the flight ticket, without sacrificing comfort – well, maybe I’m exaggerating a little.
While we’re on the subject of flight tickets, to counter the second assumption, I can say that choosing an arrival city reasonably near to the one you envision can also save money. For example, knowing that Low-Cost airlines operate everywhere in Europe, buying the cheapest ticket to anywhere in Europe then a second ticket from that city to the final destination will save you a fair sum. From Canada, a stopover in London is often your best bet. However, it’s important to leave enough time between your two flights as if you miss the second flight you won’t get your money back. I even recommend leaving a full day between flights as you’ll get to visit a new city, which is a win-win!
Another trick is to get the return flight from a different city, for example an outbound flight Montreal-Paris combined with an inbound flight Brussels-Montreal with a different airline could save dollars compared to a simple return flight Montreal-Paris. Because remember it doesn’t cost much to travel within Europe.
Be flexible with your dates
Now you understand the principle – flexibility is key. If you plan holidays in high season, be prepared to pay high prices. If you don’t, you’re lucky! However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that low season is always cheaper and high season is always more expensive. Because you can find good deals in all seasons. You just have to take the time to search and have a little luck on your side. Even in the space of one day, the same flight can double, triple, quadruple etc. in price. Luckily there are some tools which can help find the best deals.
This is all very well and good, but you’re probably waiting for me to tell you something you didn’t know. Enough talking let’s move onto some action. Are you wondering how I managed to snag such ridiculously cheap flights? Here’s how to put the theory into practise.
I’ll explain how to use these 3 tools to find low-cost flights:
- Kayak Explore, because of your flexibility with destinations;
- Google Flights, because of your flexibility with dates;
- Wikipedia, to find airports used by Low-Cost airlines.
Kayak Explore, because of your flexibility with destinations
I use Kayak Explore to find discounted destinations from a specific city. I love this site because it reminds me of wandering down the aisles of Walmart and finding a big sign saying “Low Price”. It catches my eye and my adrenaline starts pumping, until I realize it’s just a cheap useless trinket. That’s the effect it has on me. I’m a very visual person and low prices attract my attention much more than higher ones.
As you can see from the screenshot below, from today’s date, a ticket from London to Bremen, Germany is $11, to Lourdes in the French Pyrenees is $23, or to Malta is $57.
Google Flights, because of your flexibility with dates
I use Google Flights to find discounted dates between two locations. This is an essential tool for those who are not in a hurry. The most practical thing about this tool is that you can enter a list of airport codes in the ‘departure’ box, and another list of codes in the ‘arrival’ box. The system then offers you the best possible deal using a 3-dimensional matrix (x = departure city, y = arrival city, z = travel date).
For example, the search query on the screenshot below shows you that setting the departure from all 6 London airports towards the cities of Basel-Zurich-Memmingen-Karlsruhe, the system finds a few dates for $11 between London Luton and Basel. What’s more, as I write these words, and since I took a screenshot about 5 minutes ago, the price for the February 27th is no longer $11, but is now $53! That’s why it’s best to use your browser in privacy mode!
Wikipedia, to find airports used by Low-Cost airlines
Wikipedia is a fountain of knowledge for just about everything, from World War 2, the Queen of England as well as the Teletubbies. But what I find interesting when looking for low-cost flight tickets, is that just by typing the name of an airport, Wikipedia can tell you which Low-Cost airlines operate there.
Some examples of applying these 3 tools
From Greece to Israel
When I was searching for flights from Greece to Israel I saw that on Kayak there was a cheap flight from Cyprus to Tel Aviv (Thanks Kayak Explore!). I then went on Wikipedia’s page on Paphos, Cyprus (see the screen below) to see if there was a flight from Greece to Paphos. I therefore discovered Chania, which is a town on the island of Crete in Greece. I didn’t hesitate and leapt at the opportunity! As a result we will now take the boat from Athens to Crete (with stopovers in Mykonos and Santorin) where we will spend several days. Then we will fly to Cyprus to spend just 4 days there – 3 or 5 would have been a lot more expensive (thanks Google Flights!). Finally we will make our way to Israel. In short, because we were flexible with our dates and departure/arrival locations, I managed to get from Greece to Israel for cheaper than a direct flight, and as a bonus we get to visit the islands of Crete and Cyprus, 2 destinations which I had not initially intended to visit but which have now captured my imagination.
From Basel to Berlin
It’s important not to fall into the trap of reaching a dead end by booking flight tickets too hastily when thinking you’ve found the bargain of the century. Because if you have to double back on yourself in your itinerary of one-ways, you could end up paying more in the end, as low-cost tickets are non-refundable. You therefore have to think strategically, like in a game of chess, and plan 3 or 4 moves in advance. For example, when flying from Basel, Switzerland, I was looking for an intermediary destination which would allow me to visit the surroundings of Prague, Czech Republic (so within a radius of 500km), before heading to another intermediary city before Greece. I therefore used my research tools which offered me excellent prices for Prague or Dresden, Germany (Thanks Kayak Explore!) for my desired dates (Thanks Google Flights!). However I was counting on renting a car to make a road-trip in the area, and as it’s cheaper to return the car to the same rental location, I had to choose a destination that allowed us to leave cheaply as well. Unfortunately neither Prague nor Dresden offered a good deal on flights under those conditions. So I had to compromise and choose Berlin (1st chess move), which offered me a good price to Sofia in Bulgaria (2nd chess move), which we will then use as a base to visit the Balkans.
Heading towards Greece
Along the same lines we were able to book flights from Sofia to Athens for $64 for 4 people. In my initial plan, I intended to visit Turkey after Greece. But I realized that a flight from Athens-Istanbul was much more expensive than Istanbul-Athens for the dates I was looking for, so I chose to go to Istanbul first (3rd chess move) as we could take a bus or sleeper train from Sofia under the star-dappled sky, and wake up in Istanbul in the early morning serenaded by birdsong and enchanted by the spiced aromas of Eastern markets…. Oops sorry, I got a bit carried away! In short, we will visit Turkey before flying from Istanbul to Athens (4th chess move).
To conclude and summarize my ramblings, I managed to get from Basel to Athens, via Berlin and Sofia whilst passing through Turkey instead of visiting it after Greece. All this for only 120 CAD per person.
I hope that you now understand how to use these 3 tools. I know that my method is perhaps not the best or the most ideal, as there are other tools which may be more suited to your needs. After all, not everyone has the same degree of flexibility. But I am confident that this method could help you find some very cheap deals. Then, it is up to you to find other tools and compare them. But remember my saying : “Spending an hour to save $100 is equivalent to earning $100 an hour after tax.” Design yourself an effective research method to save yourself dozens of dollars in several minutes. But don’t waste more time just to save a few extra pennies. I recommend spending time with your loved ones! Because on the contrary, as my other saying goes:
It’s best to stop searching if you’ve spent 1 hour saving $2
I’d like to point out that this itinerary is for the first 5 months of our round the world trip and I haven’t yet bought the tickets for the next part. I’m not expecting to find such good deals in Asia, but who knows! I might be pleasantly surprised. So, this story is to be continued… Stay tuned!
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I would also like to take this opportunity to share with you the summary of our exceptional world tour as a family!
To learn some techniques to improve your travel planning skills, have a look at our our travel tips:
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- How to make the most of your travel points? (for Canadians)
- Which credit card to carry when traveling ? (for Canadians)
- How to travel with carry-ons only ? Our lightweight travel gear list
- How to build an itinerary for a world tour ?
- How to estimate a budget for a trip around the world ?
- How to enhance your photos with Lightroom?
- How to start a travel blog ?