Tempted by thoughts of a sun-drenched respite from the everyday? Many of us find ourselves often lost in wanderlust (wanderlost?), and too many seldom turn those reveries into realities. That’s because most people believe that you need a trust fund—or a hefty savings account—to travel the world.
But, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need an impressive number in the bank to traverse the globe. You can see the world for next to nothing if you know where and how to look for the flights and airfare deals that most people don’t even know exist.
If you play your cards right, you could save yourself thousands of dollars. You could travel the world for the cost of that coffee you’ve been mindlessly sipping on, while staring off into space thinking about far off destinations this whole time. From digging up error fares to using hidden-city ticketing, there are a number of cheap flight hacks that make it easy enough to be your own stealthy travel agent.
As long as you know what you’re doing.
1. Search for Error Fares First
Error fares are an avid traveler’s best friend, and Scott’s Cheap Flights is probably the most well known resource to find them. That’s because it offers up some of the best flight deals. We’ll get to that, but first you should know what an error fare exactly is—and it’s exactly what it sounds like: incorrect.
Here’s the thing: People make typos like typing in wrong numbers, and forget to add charges like taxes charges and fees to flights. Computers can also glitch. The result: a usually valid flight deal that never intended to be a flight deal.
Of course, there’s a catch. Some airlines won’t honor the deal but, instead, will cancel your flights and refund you. Others, however, will bite the bullet, honor their mistake, and allow you to keep your flight ticket for whatever little money you paid for it. You could score some seriously cheap international flights this way.
There are a few other sites that source error fares and are updated frequently, too, if not daily. These are some of my favorites:
2. Use a VPN to Connect to Another Network
Certain online retailers charge different prices according to your geographic location. It’s called “dynamic pricing.” It means that, if you are based in a zip code with a higher average income, retailers might charge you more for the same service or product than they would someone based in a zip code with a lower average income.
The same goes for airlines. Airline flights are sometimes sold for less in certain cities. So someone who is in New York City might book a flight for double the price someone in Cleveland paid.
When you use a VPN, however, you can connect to a remote network that will allow you to change your location and surf the web as if you were in another, cheaper city or country. It will take some hunting, but you might find great savings on flights that might not have otherwise been offered to you.
Skiplagged is a great website that also lets you maximize layovers—it exposes loopholes in airfare pricing by finding cheaper routes where the layover is actually your destination.
Through Skiplagged, you can actually find and hop on the first leg of the trip and abandon the last leg. Major site aggregators wouldn’t offer you these as individual flights.
Be careful of doing it too often, however. Some airlines may pick up on the fact that you keep conveniently missing the other leg of your trips—and they may fine you for doing so.
Keep in mind, because you’re not taking the entire route and are exiting at the layover, you won’t be able to check a bag.
4. Stay Flexible
In order to successfully find cheap flights, you have to keep an open mind (and schedule). It’s not always easy to be flexible about where you’re going or when. But you can be flexible about how you get there.
For example, if you’re planning to visit multiple destinations, do so in the cheapest possible order. Exhaust all possible combinations of the places you plan on visiting (eg. Bangkok to Bali to Siem Reap or Bali to Siem Reap to Bangkok and so on), and compare flights.
If you can be flexible about when you go, flying when most people opt to stay home is usually more cost-effective. This means booking flights outside of the United States during major American holidays.
Also, according to airfare expert and FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney, the cheapest days to fly for U.S. domestic flights are usually Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays; avoid flying on Fridays and Sundays at all costs (pun intended). June tends to be the cheapest month to travel in Europe.
5. Learn the Best Airfare Sites
While there are certainly resourceful big-name sites out there, there are some lesser-known flight aggregators that prove invaluable to avid travelers in lieu of the mainstream.
Plan on hitting multiple cities? The multi-city option allows you to swap destinations in and out to determine the cheapest routes available to you, too. Or, if you aren’t sure where to start or finish your journey, you can check out the “take me anywhere” search option. That’ll allow you to check out airfare in the cheapest cities given your specified dates.
If you don’t know where or when you want to go, the Trip Finder section will help you narrow down your search. Select the type of experience you’re seeking, the continent to which you’d like to visit (or anywhere), the month in which you’d like to travel (or anytime) and your general budget. Momondo will then curate a list of destinations and deals. And they’ll all be sorted by popularity, cost or weather, or the most social, fancy, cultural, family-oriented, local or romantic places.
Skyscanner is another travel metasearch engine through which you can book flights without fees. Its flexible airfare search engine is by far its most distinguishing feature. You can search “everywhere” as your flight destination if you’re unsure where to go but open to taking a trip anywhere.
You can also search specific dates, entire months or the “cheapest month.” This way you can find the cheapest possible destination for the cheapest possible timeframe. Skyscanner will show you a list of all cities in ascending order of cost.
Google Flights is, perhaps not shockingly, a super reliable option for finding airfare. When you plug in your dates and departure and arrival cities, it’ll pull up your options almost instantaneously. Its simple user interface features a drop-down calendar function. It allows you to see the cheapest days to fly most routes. And it’s simple to use when it comes to flight ticket booking, too.
Google Flights uses the OTA Matrix—one of the most sophisticated pieces of software for finding cheap flights. It was once reserved only for airfare geeks who knew special codes and routes. But Google has turned it into a web app that’s an actual pleasure to use.
Furthermore, if you don’t see what you like, Google Flights will keep an eye on your selected dates, routes and any other parameters you’ve plugged in. And it’ll email you whenever there’s a price change.
You can’t actually book airfare with Rome2Rio but it will tell you if air travel is your best, cheapest route—and that’s why it’s a notable addition to this list. Its simple interface will determine the fastest or cheapest routes and modes of transportation—flights, trains, buses, ferries and driving options (rideshares and rentals included)—for getting from Point A to Point B from over 4,800 transport operators in over 158 countries.
The Rome2Rio app also works offline, in the event that you are traveling without data or WiFi.
6. Search in Incognito Browsing Mode
Airfare websites actually track your visits and increase prices the more you return to check them (sneaky buggers). Because of this, you want to search under the radar, and pretend like every search is your first. When you search for a flight in an incognito window, they’ll never know that you’re a returning visitor so cheap air tickets will still be available to you.
To open an incognito window in Chrome, open a regular Chrome window, go to “File” and select “New Incognito Window.” Now you won’t leave any trace of your flight search online. It’s that easy.
The window will warn you that your activity may still be visible to the websites you visit, your employer, your school or your internet service provider. But it’s actually impossible for airlines to track your visits and inflate prices accordingly. And you can rest assured that Chrome won’t save your browsing history, cookies or any information entered in forms.
7. Use a Travel Credit Card
A travel credit card could be your saving grace. When you sign up for a card, you often get a miles bonus, totally free. Couple that with the points you earn by actually spending money with that card, and you’re looking at some seriously cheap airline tickets.
There are a few favorites among travelers that all come with different perks, and if you use these cards (and, ideally, solely these cards), you could end up not paying a dime for your next flight.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred card will give you 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first four months after opening your account. So it gives you a little bit more time. And that’s $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
You’ll also get two times the points on travel from purchases like airfare, hotels, taxis, trains and other travel items, and one point per each dollar spent on all other purchases. Again, the card is free for the first year and charges a $95 fee every year thereafter, and there are no foreign transaction fees about which you have to worry.
Capital One Venture Rewards
The Capital One Venture Rewards card will grant you 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. You will also get two miles for every dollar spent on travel-related purchases. That includes cabs, ride shares, subway tickets, flights, hotels and more. And that will get you a rewards rate of two percent if you choose to redeem flight miles (or hotels). The card is free for the first year and charges a $95 fee every year thereafter.
8. Take Advantage of Layovers
Think of layovers as free rides you can hitch to new places; try to book international travel with layovers that offer enough time to explore those places. Not only are they free rides to check out another destination, they’re also usually cheaper than direct flights.
Typically, six hours is enough time to at least get through customs. Then you could leave the airport. Grab a meal in the city’s center. Head back to the airport. And still make it through security and catch your connection without having to rush.
Sometimes you don’t even need six hours, and sometimes you need far more than that. It’s helpful to look up the best commuting options from the airport to the center of the connection city. Figure out just how much time you’ll need to give yourself ahead of your travels.
If you can find an overnight layover and are not in a rush, those are almost always worth it!
As you can see, you don’t need six digits in your bank account to traverse the globe. After-all, the richest people in the world aren’t those with money, but those with the experiences of a lifetime.