How to Get the Best Airfare
Start with Google Flights
Google Flight's powerful search engine allows you to search across 7 origin and 7 destination cities at once (49 route combinations!). Keep in mind that some carriers (Southwest being the main one) are not listed so you still need to check on your own for those.
Subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights
There is a free and two paid service options. I buy the minimum paid one ($60 annually). This year, I bought $40 roundtrip tickets to New York City and a flight to Oaxaca, Mexico for $121 roundtrip courtesy of SCF. Do I think it’s worth it? Hell, yes! And man, if I didn’t have kids, I would be all over the world with some of the deals that come up.
Please note: I am an affiliate for Scott's Cheap Flights which means that I get a small commission for anyone that signs up that goes towards my website costs.
Buy at least 21 days in advance
I think, er hope, that we all know this by now. Of course, that’s not always possible. But if you are searching and getting close to your departure date, make sure you put a 21-day notice on your calendar. It sucks to miss that window just because you forgot (says the voice of experience).
Check neighboring airports at origin and destination
Again, Google Flights is your friend. We all want to leave from and arrive from the closest airport. But if it’s the difference between a $200 flight and a $500 flight, I’m willing to add a little travel drive time.
Be flexible on your destination and jump at good airfare
This is probably the biggest one. In the United States, you are protected from all air travel that originates or arrives in the U.S. by the 24-hour rule. This means that you can purchase any airfare - from anyone - and are protected against penalty for 24 hours. When you see an amazing fare, you need to jump on it. And not in an hour. Do it as you see it. I book and then confirm with whomever I need to after the ticket is bought.
Travel during the shoulder season
The shoulder season is the window of time that is just on either side of the busiest times of year to travel to a place. The National Parks are crazy busy all summer so flights to nearby destinations are often expensive too. In May or September? You are golden. Disneyworld? Um, Spring Break or Thanksgiving or Christmas vacation is not a good time to get a great price. Paris? You are best January - March, but before June and after August are good as well.
Get a credit card that allows you to travel for free
There are several good credit cards that provide awards for travel. Some airline credit cards are great. If you travel a lot and don't want to continually compare credit cards, the gold standard is the Chase Sapphire. Look at the annual membership costs and the rewards that are the most value for you and then choose among the Preferred or Reserve. It provides so much more than free travel such as lounge access, a Door Dash membership, annual travel credits and more.
When you see a new airline - or a new route - coming to your home airport, start looking for deals
A few years ago, now defunct WOW Airlines came to Dallas. Icelandair started a huge fare sale to compete. We were able to fly to Reykjavik for $320 per person roundtrip. You will also see all airlines compete when an airline offers a new route (e.g., as Southwest expands internationally, all airlines that fly that route will try and compete with them.
Lock in a price on Southwest
There are no change fees so you can always rebook if you find a cheaper flight on them later. And worst case, if you can float it, you can cancel the flight and keep the flight credit if you find a great fare somewhere else.
Set up a flight tracker to track your flights on Kayak or Google Flights
Actively searching for fares is so twentieth century. Set up an automatic tracker and get alerted if the price drops.
Now you know the secrets. Go forth and travel!