Sunday Reader Email Question: How Do I Find Cheap Airfares?

by on August 14, 2011 · 8 comments

in Mileage Runs, Sunday Reader Questions, United

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TPG reader David writes:

“The end of the year is fastly approaching and I am striving for Premier Executive status with United. I know this means I am going to have to do some mileage runs to make up about 10k EQM’s. What is the best way to search for low fares out of my home airport (SJC) without just searching for random cities on until a good price comes up?”

First off, I’m not an expert with constructing mileage runs and with cheap fares, so I’m hoping this post draws in some of the vast expertise of TPG readers. Also, I usually wait until October/November to really start thinking about runs since so many things can change day-t0-day. However, I do have some starter tools that can help you find the lowest fares without having to use a clunky site like Check out the following resources:

1) Farecompare FlyerTalk Tool. This tool allows you to filter flight searches by city, price, alliance and cost per mile. Most mileage runners want 3 cents per elite mile, but that’s been pretty hard to get these days. Every person has a different calculator for elite status and the value of having status to a frequent flyer largely depends on how often the benefits are used. Unfortunately, many people will do anything to attain status, but barely get any use out of it.

Farecompare interface

2) Travelocity Flexible Date Search. This allows you to search for the absolute lowest fares at any given time, so it often pays out. flex search - buggy at times, but good deals can be had

3) Some airline website have decent flexible date searches which can help you sniff out the low fares. Not that it’ll help for United, but for example, -> Planning tools -> Book a flight. They allow searching by flexible airports and flexible dates (including a nifty flexible weekend calendar search).

4) Flyertalk Mileage Run forum can help you identify many mistake fares and overall good economy and business/first fares as well. I usually get in on amazing mistake fares a couple times a year (like my 3 consecutive trips to Stockholm and Copenhagen in April). You need to act very quickly when you see these fares, especially since most airlines allow risk free 24 hour cancellations.

5) Check out and follow them on Twitter for breaking deals. They routinely post very good fares, so it’s a good idea to follow them.

6) Hipmunk is a new way to search a lot of different fares.


What other tools are out there?

Overall, if you want to go through a first-hand workshop on constructing mileage runs, I recommend coming to the Chicago Seminars in October. I’ll be there speaking about American Express points but other bloggers will be covering other topics, including Ben on constructing mileage runs.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Brendan is quite helpful for those with flexible destinations and timings. The Farecompare Flyertalk tool is pretty worthless for many international routes that include YQ surcharges.

  • Alex

    I always have the kayak alerts set up for my phone, just pick a bunch of your favorite destinations etc. Also having email alerts on price changes can occur a few weeks out of any trip. (That’s how I got my TUL-PHX on United for $169!) Like TPG said, late in the fall is when most airlines start churning out a lot of good offers too.

  • Max

    ITA Software month long calendar and weekend search.

  • Afasfasdfsdfa


  • Anonymous

    Great list but I agree with Afas… and Max that the ITA tool should be on there as well.

  • Paul

    I think Travelocity had a good idea when they built their flex tool search but I don’t find it very user friendle. If you do a search for example WAS -> BCN (Barcelona) between today and December. It will give you probalbly 100 fares. Starting with Air Europa 267+ but you click on it it will then say “no dates”.

    Then you scroll down to the next which is Air Europa again at 281+ which will then show you a calendar, but the calendar has no availability on any days.

    Finally you arrive at a decent but then there are 400 dollars in taxes added at the end. I don’t find it particularly easy to use.

    With Farecompare, it can be really odd. You do the same search and it will show you Roundtrip ticket departing on a certain day for 601 dollars. You select that day and you select a return date advertised at the same cost which is suppose to include taxes. But after selecting your two dates, it gives you the ticket price to be 1100 dollars. How did it jump from 600 to 1100 I am not sure.

  • Cccoccd

    ITA Matrix is fantastic, plus searching through fare codes can find you some good stuff (cheap Z fares for one…)

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