10 Tricks for Finding Cheap Flights

Finding cheap airline tickets sometimes feels like a matter of luck. Ticket prices often jump for no obvious reason, and can fluctuate widely over the course of just a few days. Fortunately, there are a number of techniques you can use to find the best possible airfare.

KNOW YOUR TRAVEL DATE

Timing is important when looking for the best deals on airfare. According to a post by the travel editor at CBS News, tickets for domestic flights are at their lowest price 45 days before departure, while international tickets are at a low 60 days before. Tickets purchased outside those windows will likely be more expensive, since the airlines' computers have not yet been fed discount information for upcoming flights. An exception to this rule is peak travel dates such as Christmas.

COMPARE PRICES ON MULTIPLE SEARCH ENGINES

Once you're within the proper ticketing window, use travel search engines to see all the flights on your given dates. Skyscanner and Momondo are two good options for multiple flight listings, which make it easy to compare prices.

CHECK AIRLINE SITES

After you find the lowest prices listed on travel search engines, check airline websites directly. Airlines sometimes provide discounts if you purchase directly through them rather than through third-party sites.

SIGN UP FOR TRAVEL ALERTS

If your travel dates are flexible, use online travel alerts. Sites such as Airfarewatchdog allow you to define your travel destination and range of travel dates. When prices for your desired flight drop, you receive an email with the details.

USE VIRTUAL LOCATIONS

A clever way to find cheaper ticket prices is by making airlines think you are in a different country. You can do this fairly easily by using a virtual personal network (VPN) that tricks airline websites into thinking you are searching from another location. (A number of browser-based VPNs for Firefox and Google Chrome can help you do this.) By making it appear that you are in another country, you will be offered tickets in that country's currency, which may translate into a lower price, sometimes significantly so.

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CHECK KAYAK'S HACKER FARES

Another high-tech workaround is Kayak's Hacker Fares feature. Sometimes two one-way tickets end up costing less than a single round-trip ticket. Kayak's Hacker Fares calculates the cost of putting together one-way flights and determines if that's a cheaper option.

CREATE YOUR OWN ONE-WAY ITINERARY

If you find that two one-way tickets are cheaper for your destination than a single round-trip, or if you are planning to fly into one airport and back home from another, you can always put together your own itinerary. The best way to see if two one-way tickets cost less than a round-trip is by visiting websites like Skyscanner and Expedia to check which airlines fly into which cities. Armed with that knowledge, you can buy tickets directly from the airlines.

STAY ON YOUR TOES FOR 24 HOURS

After you purchase your ticket, watch to see if the price drops within the first 24 hours. If the price does indeed drop within the period, you may be able to get a full refund and then purchase the same ticket at the lower price. Check with the airline to see if refunds are possible.

HIDDEN CITY TICKETING

Hidden city ticketing is frowned upon by airlines, but can offer substantial savings. The idea is to buy a one-way ticket that includes a layover, with the layover destination being your desired final stop. For example, for a trip from New York to Los Angeles, purchase a ticket to San Diego with a layover in L.A. This strategy does not always result in cheaper tickets, and it can take some time to check for hidden fees, but you can sometimes save some money doing this. However, it works only on one-way flights, and you are limited to carry-on luggage.

CLEAR COOKIES FROM YOUR COMPUTER

If all else fails, try clearing your browser history and the cookies from your computer. There is growing evidence that some airlines use cookies to track your spending habits. Although there is no conclusive proof, clearing your cookies can't hurt and may get you a better deal.