Finding cheap flights is an art. In the good ol’ days, we could open up almost any airline website at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday, pop in our destination and buy tickets for the first available route with plenty of confidence that we were getting the best deal out there. Now, however, things are a little more complicated. With the rise of Kayak, Google Flights, Skyscanner and tons more fare-compare sites, the hunt for the most affordable airfare can be overwhelming, yet highly effective in saving you some money. This is especially useful for college students looking to study abroad on a tight budget, seeing as airfare is one of the most expensive parts of the experience. Finding cheap flights takes some time and patience, but it’s totally worth it.
First of all, it’s important to note that there’s no magic time, website or formula guaranteed to find you the cheapest airfare. However, there are steps you can take and resources you can use to find what works best for you and your budget, and if you get a little lucky, you can snag a crazy good deal without too much trouble. With that said, here are our tips for finding the most affordable airfare regardless of where in the world you’re off to next!
- Start searching as soon as possible. Seriously. Don’t put this one off until the last minute — your shower flip flops can wait, your plane tickets can’t. You should start looking for flights at least 3 months before your trip and booking 6-8 weeks before departure. However, this might not be possible in the case of studying abroad, because you will have to wait for an official email from International Programs giving you the green light to go ahead and book your flight. So although you may not be able to buy your tickets right away, it’s a good idea to start browsing and comparing ahead of time so you can check out what prices you’re working with. Makes sense, right? If it helps, set a limit or price range for yourself, that way you have a point of reference when looking at all of your options once you’re ready to book.
- Fly at unpopular times. We’re talking middle of the night, didn’t sleep at all because you were up late packing anyway times. Otherwise known as red-eye flights, these typically depart really late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. They’re not too too awful if you’re one of those people who falls asleep before the plane even takes off, but if you’re incapable of sleeping on flights you might have to schedule some nap time once you arrive at your destination (or before you fly). Either way, you can typically save a good amount of cash on these flights, especially if they’re also on a weekday. Flying after big holiday blocks (like winter break) can also get you some great deals, since people have typically done all their traveling by this point and airlines need to get customers back on-board. This could come in clutch for spring semester study abroad programs, which start up a couple of weeks after the holidays.
- Be flexible so you can compare prices. Flexibility in both travel dates and locations is one of the most effective travel “secrets.” Use fare-compare sites like Google Flights, Momondo, ITA Matrix, Skyscanner and Kayak to look at different prices over periods of time, and even play around with different tools to gauge price changes from one airport to another one nearby. Google Flights is particularly helpful in doing this, as it offers flight tracking, email alerts and even tips on how to adjust your travels to get a better deal. Check out your options, but don’t drive yourself crazy — if no one option looks significantly better than the others, it probably isn’t going to magically appear if you spend more time on the site. Keep in mind that if you find a cheap flight arriving a few days before your study abroad housing opens, you’ll have to find your own accomodation during that time — FSU will give you set move-in and move-out dates (and yes, they’re strict about them), so your flexibility on that end is a little limited. But if you find a flight that’s significantly cheaper, it might be worth it to book an Airbnb, Couchsurf or crash with a friend or family member for those days and extend your travels a bit. Saving money and spending more time abroad? We’re into it.
- Fly budget airlines. This isn’t to say you can’t find amazing travel deals flying the more “mainstream” airlines, but budget airlines like Spirit and Southwest tend to have much lower fares most of the time. If free in-flight WiFi, food and entertainment is a deal-breaker for you, then this option might not be realistic. But if you’re cool with chillin’ with a good book or bringing your own devices locked and loaded with movies and TV shows, definitely go for it.
- Sign up for email lists. Although these can get eventually get annoying, they can also save your life when it comes to getting discounts on flights. Aside from signing up for emails directly from the airlines themselves, some of the best email lists to subscribe to are Travel Zoo, Airfarewatchdog, The Flight Deal, Holiday Pirates, and Scott’s Cheap Flights. PS, check out Fare Skies for flights directly out of Tallahassee. Email deals almost never last more than a day or two, so if you see something good, don’t overthink it! Just book it.
- Clear your cookies, browse in incognito mode & try out a few different browsers. Apparently, there’s actually no real research that proves this theory, but it’s something travelers have been swearing by for years. The theory is that since websites track your recent web searches, airline websites will see that you’ve been looking for flights and will raise their prices every time you refresh the page. If you ask us, it makes sense. So if all else fails, clear your history and try again!
Questions? Comments? Leave us a message below and we’ll get back to you.