- Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Flights often gets reader questions about how to save money on travel.
- Most people make it impossible to save significant amounts of money on airfare by being rigid about their destination and dates.
- The only truly effective way to find cheap airfare is to be flexible.
Everyone wants to travel for cheap.
And there are endless ways to save money: hours spent researching hotels, scouting out local grocery stores, cobbling together free self-tours, packing snacks for the airport.
But if you’re looking to save significantly more than the cost of mixed nuts, you have to make a decision well in advance – you have to choose to be flexible.
“If you’ve picked out your destination, picked out your dates, and don’t have flexibility, 95% of what you can do to bring down the cost of airfare is already out the window,” writes Scott Keyes on his airfare deal-finding site, Scott’s Cheap Flights. “Flexibility is king.”
Most people approach buying a flight in three steps, he writes:
1. They pick where they want to go
2. They pick the dates for their trip
3. They look up available flights for that destination on those dates.
"Typically this results in high prices," writes Keyes. "Instead, if getting a cheap flight is your priority, flip that approach: (1) see what prices are available via Google Flights, Momondo, etc. to various places are around the world; (2) decide which of the cheap destinations appeal to you; and (3) select the dates you like that have the cheap fares available."
Searching "backwards" can cut hundreds of dollars at a time from your airfare, which is generally already one of the highest costs of a trip.
Matt Kepnes, the traveler behind Nomadic Matt who's been traveling the world for a decade, has similar advice: To save money on airfare, inconvenience yourself. "If you fly midweek or early or really late at night, or add a few connections, then you will find cheaper flights because most people don't want to do that," Kepnes explained to Farnoosh Torabi on an episode of her "So Money" podcast.
Once you've found your flight, you can use other strategies to winnow down the cost even more - Keyes recommends that Americans in particular look for the cheapest flight across the ocean on international flights, then grab cheap local flights to their destination from wherever they end up.
And sure, fine. You can pack some snacks.