If you’re anything like my family, you probably like to do at least a little bit of traveling.
For us, travel is kind of a necessary part of our lifestyle. My side of the family is up in New England while Casey’s side is down in Florida and Alabama, so no matter where we live we’ll be making regular flights to see family probably for the rest of our lives.
We love it, but there’s one small problem: plane tickets can be crazy expensive!
And it was bad enough when it was just Casey and I. Now that Aiden is 2 we have to buy him a ticket as well, and it won’t be long before we’ll be buying one for Nolan too. The increasing cost of travel is one of the downsides of a growing family.
I can’t completely solve that problem, but I did discover a pretty cool trick the other day while booking a flight to Boston. I stumbled onto it completely by accident, but it’s the simplest thing in the world, and it saved us a few hundred dollars.
So today I’d like to share with you the one small trick that can save you big bucks when buying plane tickets.
What’s the best way to find a cheap flight?
The best way to find a cheap flight is to be flexible with your travel dates. It’s pretty simple really. The more options you give yourself, the more likely you are to find a better price.
But what if your dates aren’t flexible? What if you need or want to travel on specific days? Are you out of luck?
It turns out that you’re not. All you have to do is pretend that your dates are flexible and you can find massively cheaper tickets.
Here’s how it works.
The wrong way to search for your flight (no tricks here)
The wrong way to search for your flight (and the way I’ve been doing it for years) is to search for the exact dates you want to travel.
Let’s say that my family and I wanted to take an extended trip from Pensacola to Boston to visit my family. And let’s say that we wanted to leave Pensacola on Friday, August 8 and return on Sunday, August 17.
Well, if I just search for flights on those exact days, here is the result (by the way, I use Kayak any time I’m booking a flight. From my experience it has the lowest prices and I also think it’s easy to use):
That screenshot was taken at 8:05 AM on 6/13/2014. According to this search, the cheapest flight I can get that leaves on 8/8 and returns on 8/17 is $465 per person. And since there are four of us, that would be $1,860 total.
The right way to search for your flight (time for the trick!)
But what if there was a way to trick the search engine into thinking your travel dates are flexible, even if they aren’t? Would that make a difference in the price?
YES! Yes it would. So instead of searching for the exact dates I want (8/8 – 8/17), I can make these two small changes:
- I tell Kayak my dates are flexible +/- 3 days on both ends, even though they aren’t.
- I ALSO tell Kayak that the main dates I’m searching for are Thursday, August 7 and Monday, August 18. The exact dates I enter aren’t important (I don’t think). What’s important is that they’re NOT the actual days I want to fly, but that the days I DO want to fly are included in the search results because I chose flexible dates (see Step 1).
Here’s what the search looks like:
And here are the results:
This last screenshot was taken at 8:06 AM on 6/13/2014, exactly 1 minute after the one above where I searched for the exact dates and found the cheapest flight to be $465. Just 1 minute!
But when I did the search this way, the cheapest flight it found me for the dates I actually want to travel is $399 per person, or $1,596 in total.
Which means that by making those two small changes in how I did my search, I found a flight on the exact dates I wanted for $264 less ($1,860 – $1,596). If you factor in the extra 5 seconds or so it took me to do the search this way instead of just searching the exact dates, that’s a rate of about $190,080 per hour of work.
Pretty crazy, right?
I got a question from Erica over at Map Happy about whether this was actually finding a cheaper price for the same flight, or whether it was just finding different flights that were cheaper. It’s a great question, since you might have not only a specific day you want to travel, but a specific flight you want.
The good news is that, believe it or not, it actually finds you a cheaper price for the exact same flight! I had to double-check to make sure, but sure enough it’s true. I did the exact same search as before, but I made sure to compare the same flight both ways.
The screenshots are below (you can click them to make them bigger), but the upshot is that the same flight was $527 per person when I searched exact dates, and $396 per person when I searched with flexible dates. It’s the exact same flight on the exact same day, but I can get it for $131 cheaper per person when I just do my search a little differently. You’re welcome!
So go! Find cheaper flights!
Just to make sure I’m not crazy, I’ve tried this trick multiple times on different days since I first discovered it and every single time I’ve been able to find a cheaper flight. Sometimes it’s a smaller difference than this example and sometimes it’s bigger. But it’s always cheaper.
This trick won’t totally eliminate the cost of your plane tickets. After all, even in the cheaper example it was still $1,596 for us all to fly to Boston. But it’s a pretty huge savings for a pretty small effort, which might make it just a little bit easier for you to take that trip.
I hope you make it a fun one!
Do you have any tips like this for making travel a little more affordable? Let me know in the comments!
Photo courtesy of Angelo DeSantis