I started writing an FAQ post, but there was just way too much to say regarding how I find and book airfare, so I decided it deserves its own space.
First things first: stay flexible. You are much less likely to find a great deal if you have a specific city and date range in mind than if you’re willing to fly to different places and explore. People say it’s best to book on a Tuesday and fly on Wednesday, but who knows if that’s actually true. Play with your dates, click the “nearby airports” box, look into taking a train between cities, things like that. Also, look into vacationing over an American holiday like July 4th or Labor Day. You’ll get more vacation time for less PTO days and since the country you’re going to doesn’t celebrate that holiday, you won’t have to worry about shops or restaurants closing.
I use the websites The Flight Deal, Fare Deal Alert, and The Points Guy if I’m traveling from the States. Follow them on Facebook or sign up for their emails and check their sites throughout the day so you don’t miss anything. Each website does deals from only a few specific cities, but don’t discount flying elsewhere on your own. For example: there’s a great deal from Los Angeles to Tokyo, but you live in Dallas. You can get to LA pretty easily and at a good price, so you could book the DFW-LAX leg on your own and utilize a killer price to Japan.
If I’m looking for non-US domestic flights (i.e. Australia to Australia, France to France), I’ll use that country’s travel site. For example, many of the Asian travel sites will only show you cheap regional airlines if you use an Asian web address (expedia.co.jp for their Japanese site) and your browser should translate to English. Also, EasyJet, RyanAir and WOW air are great places to search for flights within Europe. JetStar, TigerAir, Air Asia, and Firefly are solid within Australia/Oceanana and Southeast Asia.
When it comes time to actually book, I usually use Expedia, since I earn their points. If I’m just looking, I use the Kayak app on my iPad, it’s super smooth. And I am “just looking” a lot. It’s mega beneficial to have a general idea of what average prices are for airfare. I know the fares between random cities all over the world, just from playing around on my Kayak app. Once you’re familiar with an average price, you’ll know immediately when you see a fab deal.
Don’t get caught up worrying about a long flight or a layover or whatever else bugs you. I’ll tell you this: I’ve been on lots of those dreaded double digit flights (hello, 16 hours from Dallas to Abu Dhabi), and I’ve sat in the middle seat of the middle group of the very back row of a full plane, sweating my face off with a broken TV for 10 hours, and I barely remember it. You’ll get through the flight and when you do, you’re on the other side of the world and it’s all so worth it.
But my biggest piece of advice is this: when you find a good deal, jump on it. I can’t say it enough: DO NOT hesitate. You may miss an opportunity that won’t come around again and you’ll be kicking yourself that you’re not on a beach in Barbados for $208 or sipping limoncello in Florence for $730. It also pays to know that according to FAA regulations you have 24 hours to cancel flights originating in the United States, as long as your departure date is more than one week away. Book the flight, take a bit to finalize your schedule, and cancel only if you can’t make it happen. More often than not, your plans will work out just perfectly!
(Disclaimer: don’t come after me if any of the FAA rules change. I trust you’re all smart enough to check for updates if you’re reading this post long after I published it.)