Finding Good Prices on Flights

We in the waffle kingdom like to do a bit of traveling. In the last 18 months, we’ve been to Cambodia, South Africa, Cuba, and India along with several other places domestically.

And while, yes, you can travel based on travel reward points, and yes, we have acquired shit ton of the past two/three years. Sometimes it just makes sense to pay for the flights with cash. Especially, if it can be considered business travel.

Recently, when discussing our flight to India, people started asking how much the flight was.

Now, mind you, this is literallya flight to the other side of the planet. Our flight was 14 hours from LAX to Shanghai (Yes, it’s Pudong International Airport. Yes, this makes me giggle every time. Yes, I have the sense of humor of a 3rd grader). Then another 7 hours from Shanghai to Delhi. So yeah, it’s a long ass flight.

Fa – A long long way to go!

So, what did it cost us?

$425 round trip per person.

Now, could we have used points? Yes, but I don’t know that we would have been able to get that deal. And quite frankly, it cost us less to fly to the other side of the planet than it would to fly to the other side of the US.

But, the question comes up:

How did you get that?!?! Where did you find that?!?

So, with that I thought it might be a worth while exercise to walk through how we find pretty cheap flights without using miles.

Currently, we’re saving up our miles for other things, and are starting to use them to handle other trips.

The Waffle Way of Finding Cheap Flights

There’s a couple things that we need to establish before we move on to the actual actionable tips.

In order to make this work, you need to:

  • Be Flexible with your dates. You can have a rough idea of when you want to go, but if you have to leave on Friday and be back on Monday, you’re gonna have a rougher time finding cheap flights.
  • Be Flexible with airlines. Some people won’t fly certain airlines, because they’re weak. No, really, some folks won’t fly various airlines because of food or service, or what ever, you’re gonna have to get over that. But, when it comes to safety, I trust that the FAA has our back.
  • Be Flexible with your destination. You know where you need to get to, but you might have to go to a different place then get to your final destination by different means of transport.

Ok, with that out of the way, let’s walk through how I found these cheap flights to India.

When you decide on your trip (~3-6 months out)

The very first thing I do is go to Kayak and set up a price alert to come to me every day. I select rough dates around when I know we need to travel, and set up alerts. I also set up some alerts for other locations near where we want to go.

Go to Kayak, search for your flight, and select your best guess for dates. When you do this, a popup will show up and ask you if you want to set up a price alert. For the first time ever, click “Yes” on a popup.

The only acceptable popup I’ve ever found.

You should do this immediately when you think you want to go on your trip. This isn’t to find your exact flights. This is to get an idea of what a “good” price is for your trip. I usually set up a few different date/location combinations just to see what comes through.

You’ll start to see a price floor develop over the course of a few weeks. You’ll also get a gauge as to what airlines are the cheapest way to get where you’re trying to go.

Narrowing It Down (8-10 weeks out)

Now that we have an idea about what price is a “good” price, we need to start narrowing down the specific dates.

For international stuff, we’ll start this process 8-10 weeks from travel time, for anything domestic, we can start 4-6 weeks out. This obviously depends, if you are seeing something that is astronomically cheaper while scanning the prices, then jump on it. But this is a pretty good rule of thumb for when to start looking to book your flights.

I’ll start searching around for specific days. Does Tuesday work better, are the prices different? How about returning on Thursday? Maybe Saturday? Is there a price difference? What about different locations? Can I get a cheap connecting flight/bus to the actual destination? (BTW: A great place to see various transportation methods is rome2rio, I don’t use them for prices per say, but for options to get places).

Always, check the actual airline to see their direct prices. A lot of times kayak will have a price that is higher than the actual airline site.

Book With Your Best Card (8-10 weeks out)

You may or may not be a part of the miles program for what ever weird ass airline you just booked in step 2. But, I always make it a point to use a card that returns at least 3% on any Travel, namely our CSR’s.

This way we are always gathering up the points, whether we redeem them to travel this time or not.

One thing to keep in mind. Just because a flight is cheaper the day before or after, it might not be the best deal. If you can save $40 by flying in the day before, you have to pay for another night of lodging, so be sure to balance that out.

Another thing to keep in mind. You might be able to save $50 by having a 16 hour layover. But what is the value of your time? Is it worth the $50, or do you just want to get home on your trip back?

When you go to book it, you should be able to find something within the realm of your price floor that you established. When you find something that meets all your criteria, pull the trigger.

Kill the Price Alert (Immediately After Booking)

Most airlines won’t let you adjust your flights for a new price after you booked. (Southwest seems to be the main exception to this).

But, for me, once I book it, I consider it done. So, I kill all the price alerts. This just keeps me sane, and stops me from regretting anything. I trust that I did my research, and found the best deal that meets my requirements.

So I find comfort in that and roll with it.

And there you go. It’s not that hard, but it does take a little time and effort. It does seem to be worth while, considering after talking to most people they flew to India for about $800 round trip, and we found flights for half that.

Hope this was helpful, and if you have any further questions, just ask, I’ll be sure to chime in. And if you have any hints, just let me know cause I’m always game to learn.

***********************************************************************

As an added bonus to this, I’m working on a new app that will track your signups on cards and alert you to your minimum spend deadlines, annual fees among other things. It also will suggest the next card for you based on your preferences.

This is actually what I mentioned in the end of our What’s Up Next Podcast episode here: http://diversefi.com/2019/03/04/whats-up-next-podcast-episode-20/

It’s very, veeery rough right now, but if you are interested in being in an alpha testing group, shoot me an email. I’ll pick a few folks and get them accounts so they can provide feedback as I continue to work on it.

12 Comments

  • Gwen @ Fiery Millennials April 3, 2019 at 6:54 am

    Excellent advice. I hope you used this advice for booking the trip to Colorado next week! Can’t wait to see you two!! I’ll be bookmarking this article for my flight to Joshua Tree later this year (since I don’t have to fly to FinCon this year 😀 )

    Reply
    • Mr WoW April 3, 2019 at 8:01 am

      Nice hopefully it helps.

      It’s good to just keep an eye on things. Also… theflightdeal.com is handy.

      Reply
  • 5am Joel April 3, 2019 at 7:00 pm

    Didn’t know about that price alert… thanks for the tip!!

    Reply
  • Suzanne M April 4, 2019 at 12:09 am

    I’m just searching for flights now from LA to the east coast to visit family. I was in for a rude awakening. Unfortunately with a family of 4 I can’t always wait until the last minute as we need 4 seats with at least 2 and 2 together as the kiddos are still young. The prices were so painful that it makes your round trip to India look like chump change. :-(. Am using kayak, Southwest, Alaska airlines. But will set up the kayak price alert in hopes of something cheaper. We are hoping to go in June of this year. Thanks so much for the tips!

    Reply
    • Mr WoW April 4, 2019 at 10:01 pm

      Of course. Yeah, some of the flexibility can help. Unfortunately Kayak doesn’t get Southwest flights. With the, it’s probably helpful to look right about 6 months out because that’s when they typically release the schedules.

      I hope you find something. I think it’s a matter of how much it typically costs, then finding something that you feel is a good value.

      Reply
  • Mr. Tako April 4, 2019 at 12:42 am

    Great tips Mr. Wow. I’m always on the lookout for cheap flights!

    Would you say your success at getting cheap flights is more about persistence (continuously searching) rather than capturing sudden opportunities that appear?

    I’ve see amazing deals disappear in mere hours and it makes me think I need to be more opportunistic to capture good deals. (In other words, look for the deal not the destination)

    Just curious about your thoughts on the matter.

    Reply
    • Mr WoW April 4, 2019 at 9:58 pm

      I’ve seen the flash sales and pricing errors and stuff. But I feel like just constantly keeping an eye out lets me know what the going price is, then I can understand if different things are a good deal. We tend to go places for certain events… so we just keep an eye out.

      I love using theflightdeal.com as well. Just to get an idea, if what you are even looking at is a good price.

      Reply
  • Joe April 4, 2019 at 8:17 am

    I want to go to Thailand this summer, but haven’t started looking yet. Life has been too busy lately. I just put a price alert on so hopefully, I’ll find something. If not, then we’ll go in the fall.
    Good tip about killing the price alert after you booked.

    Reply
    • Mr WoW April 4, 2019 at 9:53 pm

      Thanks and good luck finding stuff. You’ll start seeing prices come through and it will give you a good idea of what the value is.

      Reply
  • Physician on FIRE April 6, 2019 at 9:46 am

    That’s an amazing fare. People pay that much or more to fly to Orlando.

    I can also recommend Scott’s Cheap Flights (free email alerts). Not long after signing up to go to the Ecuador Chataqua, I got an email alerting me to flights for under $400 to Quito, Ecuador. I booked 4 tickets to fly our family down there for a couple of months this fall.

    Cheers!
    -PoF

    Reply
    • Mr WoW April 9, 2019 at 10:12 pm

      I will have to sign up for that as well. I do use theflightdeal but again, that’s more to see what’s available and what the going rate is. I’ll have to start jumping on the error fares and specials once we have a little more freedom in our schedule.

      But yeah for the time being this is the way we operate and it tends to work fairly well.

      Reply

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