How to Fly Cheap in 2024: Elliott Explains

How to fly cheap in 2024

Fly Cheap: New strategies for Finding Affordable Airfares in 2024

Illustration by Aren Elliott

By Christopher Elliott

So you want to save money when you book a plane ticket? Well, you won’t if your airline has anything to say about it.How to get cheap airfare in 2024

Airlines will rake in a record $964 billion from passengers in 2024, up 7.5 percent from last year, according to an estimate by the International Air Transport Association.

And now more than ever, it’s a cat-and-mouse game, which I discovered when I tried to buy a ticket from São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro last week. 

It’s a one-hour flight and typically costs somewhere between $40 and $60 one way. But on the Friday I wanted to fly, the prices were fluctuating wildly by the minute. In the morning, they were coming in at around $230. By the evening, they dropped back down to $50.

How can you find a cheap airline ticket?

Airlines are using artificial intelligence to predict how much you’re willing to pay for a ticket. They’re also harvesting information you give away during an airfare search, like your browser, geographical location and type of computer, to show you the most expensive airfare. But there are some new strategies you can use to outsmart them.

“The price of an airline ticket depends on several factors,” explains Maria Atanasova, a manager of Flights365, an online agency that specializes in fare bargains. “They include availability, seasonality, and fare rules.”

In other words, you can get a deal on a flight if there’s lots of availability and fewer passengers. But if everyone wants to fly and there are few flights — well, then they gotcha.

And let’s be honest: Lately, it feels like they have you over a barrel. Airfares have already started to rise as the summer travel season comes into focus. The airlines are using powerful AIs and algorithms to squeeze more money from you. How do you fight back?

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Here are some proven strategies for finding a cheaper fare anytime in 2024

If you haven’t booked an airline ticket in a while, here are a few strategies that will help you find a lower price:

Be flexible

Flexibility is the key when you’re looking for a lower fare,” says Phyllis Stoller, president of The Women’s Travel Group, a tour operator. For example, she saves money by booking one of the legacy carriers across the Atlantic and then switching to a European discounter like Ryanair or Easyjet for intra-European flights. Pro tip: On some travel sites, like Google Flights, you can leave the destination field blank, and it will find an inexpensive destination. (On Google Flights, click the blue “explore” button.)

Track your flight prices  on Skyscanner

You do this for free using a site like Skyscanner. When you’re searching for flights, just look for the “Get Price Alerts” button. You can also set it so that you get notified in case there are even better deals on alternative routes.

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Consider bundles and packages

Online travel agencies and membership stores like Costco may offer package deals that — once you calculate the value of each component — save you lots of money. Airlines also offer bundled fares which include the cost of checked bags or give you extra flexibility for a lower price than if you bought everything separately “Bundled fares can offer a better overall value than the base fare,” says Charlie Neville, a marketing director of JayWay Travel, a tour operator that specializes in Europe.

The latest: Kayak PriceCheck

The latest airfare search tool is a new feature by Kayak introduced this week called PriceCheck. It allows you to take a screenshot of your itinerary and upload it to the airfare search app. Kayak will check the price against hundreds of sites and find a better one, if available. Kayak’s tool could tip the scales just a little in favor of the traveler.

 

What doesn’t work? Well, in my experience, there’s no day of the week when airfares are cheaper, and those pricey newsletters that promise to send you “deals” are a little overrated. And the least useful strategy is buying from a “discount” or “low-fare” airline. Those carriers are the opposite of what they claim. Everything is extra, so by the time you’ve finished paying for your flight, you’ve shelled out more than on Southwest Airlines or another legacy carrier.

What are some new tricks for finding a low airfare?

But there are also a few new — or newly popular — strategies for getting a low airline ticket price. They include:

Reverse planning

With airfares soaring into record territory, some airfare watchers have noticed that travelers are creating itineraries around cheap fares. “Travelers don’t focus on a destination,” explains Mercedes Zach, a travel expert at ASAP Tickets, “But rather, they build their trip around the cheapest flights available from their departure airport. And only after that, they decide on the travel dates and things to do in the country they’re visiting.”

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New Google Flights Hacks

Google Flights has quietly added a lot of helpful information on airfare searches, including airfare trend information, information about seasonality, and recommendations on the best time to visit. Tim Leffel, author of The World’s Cheapest Destinations, says many travelers are using it to find a place that offers cheaper airline tickets. Pro tip: Some airlines, such as Southwest and Allegiant, are not on Google Flights, “but they will probably follow similar trends for pricing,” says Leffel.

Clear your cookies and use a VPN

This year, I’ve been hearing from more regular travelers who routinely use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to change their geographic location, clear their cookies and use an “anonymous” tab to force airline sites to display the lowest airfare. “Comparing prices on different gadgets can be beneficial too,” says William Belov, CEO of Infatica.io, a web technology firm. “We’ve come across cases where a user searched for tickets to Bali and found the same flight priced at $1,600 on the computer but only $1,100 on the mobile device.

How I saved money on my ticket to Rio (sort of)

I admit, I felt like a fool when I saw the $230 airfare to Rio. A few weeks earlier, I’d found an abundance of cheap fares on the same route and decided to wait. If you’re ever in the same situation, don’t be like me. If you see a fare you like, buy it before it’s gone.

My next step: I used Google Flights to get a sense of how airfares were trending. If you click on the “price graph” button, it’ll show you which direction fares are headed. But Google Flights shows you fares by the day and not by the hour. If it did, then it would have revealed the quirky jumps in airfares that happen during the day.

I watched the pattern repeat itself every day. Fares were highest in the morning and lower in the evening. And at night and in the early morning, they sometimes went down into the green zone, which Google Flights classifies as “cheapest.”

When I spotted a low fare, I felt like I was fishing. I got a hit on a $120 fare, but when I went to book, it wasn’t available. The next morning, the price had risen again to $230. The next evening, fares didn’t fall at all. But the following morning, I saw a $150 ticket, and I booked it.

Did I pay too much? Probably. 

Oh, who am I kidding? Definitely.

But I consider the extra money to be tuition. I should have taken my own advice and bought a cheaper ticket when I first saw it.

Timing, as they say, is everything. And in a world where airlines are trying to squeeze every last penny from you, time is not on your side.

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