Cheap Flights

The “Cheap Flights” Guide to End All Cheap Flights Guides

These days, amid rising fuel prices, shrinking competition and a growing travel base, a lot of traditional wisdom has flown out the window when it comes to finding cheap tickets. Advice like “book early,” or “go through a third party” or, especially, “take a low-cost carrier” is redundant, obvious or, at times, even harmful.

So, since the health of my bank account depends upon being able to find cheap flights on a regular basis, I thought I’d compile my best airfare booking practices into a post. Apologies if some of this is redundant or obvious for you – but I know it won’t be harmful!

Check the ITA Matrix

The ITA Matrix might sound like something related to a sci-fi movie (or, worse, actual science), but it is in fact one of the most useful tools for finding cheap flights out there. Powered by Google, it allows you to search not only for a specific one-way, roundtrip or multi-city flight, but to specify parameters such as routing, airline and even more.

The ITA Matrix is also a dream for people who want to search using flexible terms. For example, you can not only search an entire month of airfares, but also a date range within that month (the only rule is that the minimum and maximum dates can be separated by no more than seven days, for example 9-16 days works, but not 9-17).

It’s important to note that you can’t book directly through the ITA Matrix and in fact, you won’t always be able to find fares you program into it published online. This doesn’t mean they don’t exist but rather, that you’ll need to call the airline and have the agent manually access the “Fare Basis” for you.

Consult Third-Generation Booking Sites

Sites like Orbitz and Expedia are about as useful as Myspace and Friendster these days, but a new generation of more powerful, user-friendly airfare booking tools has taken their place. Specifically, tools like Skyscanner, Kayak and Hipmunk allow you to search for cheap flights using an array of parameters similar to the ITA Matrix, and usually offer one-click pathways to booking directly with a particular airline. Sometimes, they even pull up fares you can’t find directly on the airline website!

Book With Airlines Directly

With this being said, the surest way to find a cheap flight these days is almost always to book with the airline itself. Doing so, of course, requires some advanced knowledge, whether you find out a fare exists using the Matrix or one of the third-generation booking sites, or using some of the other resources I list below.

When you book directly with an airline, you not only eliminate third-party booking fees (and, in many cases, additional fees for changes), but you unlock certain consumer protections, such as the ability to change/cancel free within 24 hours or be compensated (on certain airlines) for sudden fare drops, which are benefits unavailable to those who search for cheap flights through third parties.

Unless You Find a Cheaper Partner Fare

When searching for cheap airfares, it’s also helpful to have a grasp of airline alliances. For example, when traveling from Istanbul to Zürich a few years ago, I wasn’t satisfied with the fare I pulled up on Swiss, so I decided to search Turkish (a fellow Star Alliance members) instead. Well, not only did I pay around $200 instead of $350, but it was for a codeshare on the exact same flight. Yep – same plane as someone who paid almost double.

Or Unless You’re a Student

Another option that occasionally (although less frequently, over time) results in finding cheap flights is taking advantage of niche booking tools – notably, StudentUniverse for students. Although completing a booking on sites like this often requires you to prove your enrollment, fares can be dramatically cheaper here than elsewhere, although again this is a waning tendency over time.

Read Airfare Deal Blogs and Websites

I would love to believe that the only travel-related blog you read is Leave Your Daily Hell, but since this is certainly not the case, allow me to recommend some resource to you. First and foremost, the FlyerTalk website (and, specifically, this discussion forum) posts about cheap fares (many stupidly cheap!) before anyone else knows about them. Bookmark, subscribe, visit daily!

Secondly, the Airfare Watchdog blog presents some of the most incredible deals in cyberspace. Recently, for example, a Norwegian booking site was selling roundtrips to Europe for less than $500! Finally, if you’re not only looking for great fares but also for opportunities to easily upgrade and achieve elite status, Upgrd is a fantastic resource.

About The Author

is the author of 771 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!


informs, inspires, entertains and empowers travelers like you. My name is Robert and I'm happy you're here!


Get Email Updates

Like what you're reading? Sign up to receive my weekly email newsletter – it's like a trip around the world to end every week!

Upcoming Trips

  • Ireland July 19-30
  • Mae Sot, Thailand August 18-22
  • Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand September 1-4

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

StudentUniverse July 21, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Thanks for the shout-out!!

Robert Schrader July 21, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Thanks for the comment! Let me know if there are any other ways we might work together.

Claudia Salzmann August 1, 2014 at 9:58 am

Another tip (especially if you’re in europe): always look for last minute places for charter flights. You are sometimes able to make some awesome bargains! I flew to Kenya last year for christmas and only paid about 500 Euros, whereas normal tickets where about twice as much, and not even direct flights.

Robert Schrader August 2, 2014 at 7:40 am

Great advice Claudia! Thanks for providing it to us!

xajn March 4, 2015 at 1:56 pm

Or just don’t pay the fuel surcharge at all 😉

Robert Schrader March 4, 2015 at 2:56 pm

How does that work? 😉

LuciieB March 5, 2015 at 5:15 pm

to be honest I’m not sure whether or not I got good deals for my trip this year because I haven’t flown since 2009 before now. I’ve booked flights; vienna-Istanbul, Istanbul- Bangkok, Bangkok-Johannesburg (1 stop) , cape town- Windhoek and then Windhoek- London (2 stops) for close to 1200 pounds

Robert Schrader March 9, 2015 at 9:39 am

You paid 1200 GBP for all that? I’d say that’s a pretty good deal!

Pablo April 23, 2015 at 10:16 am

instabul-zurich for 200$? it’s veeeery expensive and it’s nothing in common with cheap flying.

pablo April 23, 2015 at 10:19 am

last year i flew around the world for 790 pounds in 37 days and still I don’t it think was a best deal.

Cuthbert Algood January 22, 2016 at 4:13 pm

Follow your favourite airlines on social media. Your time on Facebook and Twitter will be well spent if you manage to pick up a deeply discounted flight. Alternatively you can check for updated cheap deals.

Mante Ka March 24, 2016 at 3:02 am

That is quite good advices for international cheap traveling. You know, if want to get fair price for a trip Asia – US, that is quite good place to start search, like skyscanner, mommondo, and so on. But what about domestic flight, like in Europe, or Asia. Skyscanner doesn’t find even big cities deals in Europe. And what about regional, like Baltic flights. There is some of them, like for flight search, but the prices are innormal. Really there is no big brand, that could get you all Europe domestic cheap flights in one place?

Leave a Comment

{ 7 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: