5 key tools and tips to find the cheapest airfare
With inflation rocking the travel world, flight prices soaring, masses of flight cancellations and airlines dropping flight routes, finding cheap airfare to your desired destination at your preferred time is more challenging than ever.
For people with flexible schedules looking for some great deals and inspiration, the array of available planning tools can be confusing and intimidating.
Fortunately, TPG is here to help by sharing some of our best tools, tips and tricks for finding the cheapest and best airfares. We've covered the topic of cheap airfare extensively, featuring many tried-and-true methods that our staff uses to book travel that can work for you.
TPG also regularly posts deal alerts on some of the best airfares to make it even easier for you to find finding affordable flights.
Read on for our favorite tools, tips and tricks for getting yourself cheap airfare deals, and be sure to click on the related links for more details.
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Google Flights is perhaps the most intuitive, straightforward and useful flight search tool on the internet. Its many features and functionalities help you identify the best flight prices and options for both specific flight times and flexible itineraries.
You can also search based on what TPG recommends as the best times of day to book flights.
When you’re exploring Google Flights, examine the map search feature. It can show you the least expensive fares to various destinations, which can be a great source of inspiration.
You can also click on the Google Date Grid to see flight pricing for entire months at a time, as well as a price graph to see overall trends for pricing on your target itinerary.
Another useful feature is Google's embedded price tracker. The tracker appears on the search results page, allowing you to track overall prices on the route you’re searching.
Google's price tracker also works when selected for an individual flight (allowing you to track a specific itinerary’s price). If you sign in to your Google account, you can receive notifications for price changes, new offers and expiration dates of an itinerary you have saved.
You’ll then receive notifications of price changes directly to your inbox, preventing the need to manually search multiple times a day in the hopes of a price drop.
Note that while this tool includes nearly all airlines, it won’t show ticket prices on some carriers, like Southwest.
For more detailed information on how to use Google Flights, check out TPG's how-to guides to some features and tips:
- How to use Google Flights to maximize your next booking
- Four new Google Flights features and trip planning tools
- Nine awesome features you might not know about Google Flights
- How to use Google Flights to plan your next award trip
Airfare deal websites
Many independent travel websites promise to find you the cheapest deals available. Not all of these websites are worthwhile, however, and some are flat-out scams, directing you to travel agencies that may be selling more expensive tickets with hidden fees or extensive surcharges.
When looking for deals, TPG scans a few websites that generally have reliable airfare notifications and highlighted offerings. Many of these websites offer premium paid subscription services that could be worthwhile to you, depending on your appetite for travel and passion for deals.
Registering for regular email deal alerts from these websites and subscribing to their Twitter feeds provides regular travel inspiration and alerts for breaking deals to your favorite destinations.
Some of TPG's favorite airline deal websites:
Note that many of these deal websites provide links to "hacker fare" type itineraries involving multiple airlines, circuitous routings and extended layover and travel times. Discounted fares on these flights may not include mileage awards features or may not be eligible for status points. So read the fine print and itineraries closely on these deals.
Assuming the deal flight details work for you, scanning or subscribing to airfare deal websites can be a great way to find super-discounted flight prices that may not appear on Google Flights or other standard booking platforms.
Related: TPG's deals page
Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal
The only thing better than a cheap flight is a free one, which can be possible when you book flights through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.
Here, you’ll have the choice of paying for your flights with your credit card, your Ultimate Rewards points or any combination of the two. Using your points is especially advantageous when you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which lets you earn 3 points per dollar spent on airfare and then redeem points toward any purchase made through the Ultimate Rewards travel center.
TPG currently values Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents each, but your value can be lower or higher, depending on how you redeem your points.
The Chase Ultimate Rewards travel center is powered by Expedia, which provides some advantages and drawbacks. One issue is that you can’t book flights on discount carriers like Spirit, Frontier, Allegiant and Southwest. However, the travel portal has expanded to include activities and even airport transfers, so you have many options for using your points beyond airfare.
Related TPG guides on Chase Rewards and travel:
- How to earn Chase Rewards points
- How to redeem Chase points for maximum value.
- How to book travel through the Chase Rewards portal.
- Six of the best Chase Ultimate Rewards sweet spots.
Book directly with airline websites
In the effort to try to hack the system and find the best "secret" airfare deal, people often neglect to search the place where many of these deals originate: the specific airline itself.
Virtually every airline features a regular deals section on its website. While many of these so-called deals can be underwhelming, sometimes the airlines offer incredible, short-term deals that will likely be fully booked before even reaching some deal-consolidating websites.
For example, a recent deal on Alaska Airlines offered fares from $39, but the tickets had to be booked within two days on a specific deal page on the Alaska Airlines website.
You can find out the latest by regularly checking airline websites like the American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines deal pages. Many airlines also offer package deals combining hotels and rental cars, but you should price these out individually, as the value of these offers can vary widely.
Subscribing to airlines' newsletters about deal alerts can be another way to find out the latest offers, but you'll risk your email box being filled with destinations that might not interest you. Still, these push alerts may inspire you to take a last-minute vacation you didn't think was affordable.
Airline websites also sometimes have mileage or status promotions deals that you can use to maximize your rewards — but often you must book these deals directly on the airline's website.
Southwest Airlines is a special case for finding airfare deals because its fares are not generally available on third-party websites.
Google Flights will show Southwest itineraries on sample flight schedules but will not show the pricing. You can book Southwest flights on the Kayak for Business website but not on consumer searches. So it may be worth your while to double-check any fare deal you find with a similar itinerary mapped on the Southwest website.
Particularly when booked directly on an airline website, branded airline cards can be a good call for earning status and rewards specific to those airlines, including the United℠ Explorer Card, the Citi® AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card.
Related: Book travel via a portal or directly? How to decide
Optimize credit card usage
Booking tools can help ensure you’re finding the most economical flight option for your next trip, but it’s also important to use the right credit card to pay for the flight. There are a variety of top travel rewards cards that could fit this bill, but a few stand out:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: This card offers 5 points per dollar on flights booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel, a terrific return of 10% based on TPG’s most recent valuations.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: This card offers 3 points per dollar on all travel purchases, and while the resulting return (6%) is slightly lower than the Amex Platinum, it does provide some of the most comprehensive travel coverage out there.
- Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: This card is one of the simplest out there, offering 2 miles for every dollar you spend on all purchases. This isn’t spectacular, but it can still be a great option for buying airfare thanks to the way it allows you to redeem miles at a fixed value. It allows you to use miles to cover the cost of any travel purchase, though you also now have the option to transfer your Capital One miles to airline partners.
Related: The best credit cards for airfare purchases
Finding the lowest airfare can be more of an art than a science, but a number of strategies and tools can help you with this search.
While everyone's travel goals and circumstances differ, TPG recommends five main strategies to help you find the right price at the right time for your flight.
- Creating itineraries on Google Flights is a reliable, flexible and efficient way to start any search.
- Exploring offers on specialized airfare deal websites can reveal pricing good enough to make you want to take a last-minute trip.
- Using the Chase Rewards Travel Portal is a great planning and booking tool for Chase cardholders.
- Checking directly with airline websites can find their best deals and also fit with your mileage points program goals.
- Using the right credit card can help make your next trip cheaper or even free.
The strategies above represent just a small sample of the many websites and resources specifically designed to get you the lowest price for your next trip.
Featured photo by Westend61/Getty Images.