For most of us, flights underpin our access to other countries. The air corridors planes fly through are our bridges to the rest of the world. Unless you’re travelling to a neighbouring country, chances are you’re going to need to fly to your destination.

It should come as no surprise then that for travellers, nomads or relocators, knowing how to get the best flight deals is a useful lifelong skill. For most people, the number one priority when it comes to selecting flights is saving on costs rather than securing extra comfort such as from Business or First Class. With that in mind, this post will be the one-stop guide you need to save money when booking flights.

Guide on booking flights

Step 1: Search on deal websites

Before you take an in-depth look into flight prices using the recommended process, it’s worth checking flights on deal websites in case there are fare sales available. Popular deal websites include Fly4free, HolidayPirates and The Flight Deal.

Be aware that most of the time there won’t be fare sales for your destinations but it’s always worth looking. Deal websites favour those who are open to travelling anywhere in the world at any time and love the possibility of getting long-haul flights at bargain prices.

Step 2: Flight search engines

If you haven’t been lucky enough to find a deal, the next step is to begin the process of using flight search engines to find the best flight prices possible.

Start with the ITA Matrix. This is a powerful airfare search engine created by a group of MIT scientists and since acquired by Google (it powers the Google Flights engine as well).

To demonstrate, let’s search for a round-trip flight from London to New York for 14 nights.

Flights ITA

One tip for saving money on flights is to be flexible with your dates. The ITA search page allows you to cast your dates net wide with the option ‘See calendar of the lowest fares’. If this isn’t an option for you, then use the ‘Search exact date’ option instead.

Flights ITA Calendar

Searching brings up the calendar month for January and highlights the cheapest dates for that period.

Flights ITA Matrix

Selecting one of those cheapest dates (3rd of January departure) reveals a matrix of available flights arranged by price. In our example, the best flight is direct with the airline JetBlue for £362.

The ITA matrix doesn’t always show prices for every airline, particularly low-cost carriers. So it pays to use other flight search engines to check whether there are any better deals.

Two of the most prominent flight search engines that include budget carriers are Skyscanner and Momondo. Between the two of them, they cover flights from almost all online travel agencies and booking websites.

With our flights between London and New York, a search on Momondo for the same dates yields no better deal than the one already found.

Flights Momondo

But a search on Skyscanner uncovers flights on the same days for a cheaper price at £313.

Flights Skyscanner

The final flight search engine worth browsing is Google Flights. Google Flights is useful as an additional tool because it allows you to search for regional fares. A flight to an airport in a neighbouring city or country before transferring to your destination may lead to even more savings.

To search for regional fares, enter the destination country or continent rather than city in the Google Flights search bars. This will bring up a list of the best prices across different cities for that region.

Flights Google

For our example journey, Google Flights matches the original price found on the ITA Matrix meaning there’s no extra deal for this particular round-trip. However, there’s merit in searching for regional fares this way since there will be times when flying to an adjacent city or state then transferring via a budget carrier to your destination will be the cheapest option.

Step 3: Check the airlines’ websites

Now that you’ve examined a range of agencies and booking sites via the flight search engines, the final sites to check are the airlines’ own.

Airlines can have better offers available on their websites to attract would-be customers to buy directly from them.

During our search for flights between London and New York, the airline JetBlue was listed as having the best prices.

Flights JetBlue Pounds

Checking JetBlue’s website directly, we see that the price it offers for flights on those dates is comparable to the ITA Matrix and higher than those found on Skyscanner.

This doesn’t mean better prices can’t be found for other destinations or dates on an airline’s website. Always check an airline’s own site to be comprehensive in your search as there will be times it saves you money.

Step 4: Check details, buy and commit

Once you’ve found the best deal, check the details of your flight(s) on the seller’s page. If your deal is from a secondary booking agency as with our London to New York example, make sure to check the terms and conditions so that you don’t get caught off guard with a technicality.

Sometimes, online travel agencies and secondary booking sites notionally offer the best price upfront but heap a load of extra costs and terms on top of the quoted price once you start booking through their page. These include add-ons such as charging for seats, cancellation cover, booking fees and more. 

One of the reasons it’s important to check the price of a flight with the airline as in step 3 is because airlines don’t tend to deconstruct the individual components of their flights into monetisation opportunities. When you buy from a major carrier or purchase a long-haul flight, what you see is what you get with the price. With budget carriers, add-on fees are more of a norm but if you’re buying flights with a budget carrier through a secondary booking agency, you can imagine the risk of compounding add-on fees.

Whichever website you’re using, if you’re happy with the final price, buy your tickets and commit to those flights at those prices.

It’s tempting to check the flight prices on other days to see whether they’re cheaper. The problem is flight prices are subject to complex algorithms that can raise or lower prices on given days and even multiple times per day. A flight may be cheaper days after you purchase but the productive mindset to adopt is to assume flights go up in price the closer to the date of take-off which they tend to do. Even if you find a cheaper price in the future you won’t be able to get a refund on your first set of tickets so it isn’t worth the hassle of second guessing yourself.

Commit to the tickets you’ve bought, then place your focus on the upcoming trip and not in the land of buyer’s remorse.

Bonus tips

Search for flights in other currencies

Sometimes the same flight on the same website can be cheaper in one currency than another.

For example, with the representative flights between London to New York on the airline’s own website, a switch from pounds to dollars reveals a total price of $407.35 for the round-trip. At the time of writing, this is several pounds cheaper after currency conversion.

Flights JetBlue Dollars

Be aware that even if you find a cheaper price in an alternative currency, you’ll want to factor in foreign exchange fees with your payment method which may offset savings between the listed prices.

This tactic is also useful if your currency is strong and/or the alternate currency is weak. If the currency of the airline’s country is weaker than the currency of your own nation, search for that currency’s version on the website—you may find a nice bargain.

Use airline rewards

Signing up to a frequent flyer program or airline reward scheme is the closet thing to travel hacking you’ll find. It allows you to play the long game with flying since short-term purchases build credit in the form of points towards discounts on future flights or even free flights altogether. Many rewards schemes offer a generous amount of points just for signing up potentially allowing you to put discounts to use straight away.

The power of reward schemes is that you can build up points independent of flight purchases via day-to-day spending. Many schemes offer credit cards that convert your spending into rewards points meaning you can build towards your travel future without doing anything related to travel at all.

There are dozens if not hundreds of different programs and schemes so research for the best deals in your country and treat them as investments for your travel future.


Flights are the most expensive part of so many trips, holidays and relocations people undertake across the world. This makes knowing how to get the best deals when flying the most economising action we can do when going abroad.

A good process when booking flights is comprehensive leaving no airfare stone unturned without taking too long.

Start by checking deal websites in case of one-off discounted fares. Deals for particular destinations are rare but if you’re a traveller open to visiting anywhere in the world, there’s a good chance you’ll find a great bargain.

Master flight search engines by knowing the best in the business and scouring major and budget carrier tickets on them. This ensures you make an effective search far and wide for your destination.

Don’t forget to check the websites of airlines themselves—they often have better offers than travel agencies to entice customers to buy directly with them.

Before confirming your booking, check the details on the agency’s website and factor in any add-ons which agencies often throw on top of the listed price. Once purchased, commit to the flights you have at the prices you bought them at—buyer’s remorse serves you no purpose as you often can’t refund your tickets anyway.

In addition to the booking process, checking prices in alternative currencies can be a useful way of finding mismatches in prices for the same flights leading to even more cost saving potential. Consider signing up to a travel reward scheme or frequent flyer program to make both your airfare and regular spending contribute to future flight discounts.

Instead of getting pulled by the nose by expensive airfares, follow good practice to save when booking flights. That way, rather than focusing on the drain on your wallet, you can focus on the wonder of flying. As Leonardo Da Vinci put it: “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”