Every time I board a plane, I’m probably the one who paid the least for his ticket. Not because of luck, but thanks to careful planning and booking.
Last year, I flew from Amsterdam to Tokyo and back for only $370.
Shocked? Jealous? Don’t be — I’m going to show you exactly how to do it, too.
Airfare might seem like a complex system, regulated by algorithms designed to make sure you’re always paying the optimal price. Part of that is true — airlines are definitely trying to squeeze as many dollars out of you as possible.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to beat the system. You just have to be flexible, smart and invest a little bit of time to make sure you’re getting the best seats for the best price.
One of the most important rules to cheap airfare is to be very, very flexible.
If you want to go to Spain in the middle of summer to catch some sun, yeah, you’re going to pay a higher price. That doesn’t mean you can’t go to warm places — you just have to let go of set dates.
Not having a specific time in mind, means you’re able to jump on whatever great deal you may find. That takes us to the next point, being:
Wait for the best deal
Flight prices fluctuate constantly, so the best deals pop up randomly. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye out for the really good stuff.
These ‘super deals’ can happen for a plethora of reasons – temporary promotions, a new flight path from a particular airport, a dip in visits to a certain destination.
For example: When Chinese airline Xiamen Air started flying to Schiphol airport here in Amsterdam, the flights from their home country were packed. However, as no one knew of the airline in the Netherlands, the flights back were sold on their website at an extreme discount.
Use the right tools
If you want to book flights like a pro, you’re going to need the very best tools.
Luckily there are a lot of services that can help you in your quest. The most important is Google Flights – my favorite way to find and compare flight prices.
It’s extremely easy to use. Start off by filling in your home airport and destination, and then browse around to see what’s available. If you already know when and where you want to go, just fill in everything to check for the best price. Even when you’ve found a great deal though, it’s good idea to double check if you’re paying the best price.
Also, make sure to use the price alert option to stay on top of the best deals at all times.
Regardless where you find the deal, it’s always better to book directly through the airline’s website, not through a third party. They’ll gladly add something like a $20-30 ‘booking fee’, that you won’t get charged otherwise.
Sign up for a frequent flyer program
This is where the game gets (semi-)professional, but the rewards get bigger too.
Every time you book a flight, you’re earning miles that can be redeemed for free flights or upgrades. At the same time, you’re gaining status that give you extra perks like faster boarding and check-in.
It’s important to pick a program that serves your home airport and has great connections to destinations you often visit. These connections can also be made through the airline’s partners in the same alliance. There are three global alliances: SkyTeam, OneWorld and Star Alliance.
As long as you’re taking flights with airlines from the same alliance as your frequent flyer alliance, you’re earning miles.
Loyalty matters. If you’re not flying with the airlines in the alliance a lot, you’re not earning miles or status.
Not sure which program to pick? Check out Flyertalk forums for advice.
Sign up for an airline credit card
After you’ve started earning miles, it’s easy to get a bit greedy.
The quickest way to more miles (read: Free flights) is to get a co-branded credit card. Most frequent flyer programs offer one, making you earn miles with every dollar you spend.
The one I’m using is the AMEX Flying Blue Gold Card, as it’s tied to my KLM Flying Blue account. If you’re a member of Flying Blue it’s the best choice — otherwise, check out the options with your own program.
And there you go: You’re now booking and flying like a true digital nomad, using the best tools at your disposal.
Now go explore, work or live anywhere.
Do you use different tricks or strategies when planning your flights? Let us know in the comments.