Sep 5, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

If you are planning to travel to or study in a far-off location, you have many exciting things ahead of you. One less than thrilling prospect, however, is paying for your trip. Because the reality is that unless you are sitting on millions of free miles, buying an airline ticket can seriously set you back. The good news? Following these six rules can help you get the best deal. 

1. Start your international flight search early.

Think if you wait longer you will find cheaper prices? Think again. Rather than slashing prices to entice consumers as the date approaches, airlines actually increase prices to make up the difference for the remaining supply. Plus, international fares are more vulnerable to seasonal variations. Robert Mann, president of airline industry analysis firm R.W. Mann & Company, told NerdWallet, “Buying the lowest fare in high season as soon as dates are firm is generally a wise course of action.”

After analyzing millions of international airfares, CheapAir.com recommends the following as the optimal advance purchase days for best airfare prices: Canada: 66; the US, Mexico and Central America: 70; South America: 110; Asia: 120; Europe: 160; South Pacific: 197; Africa and the Middle East: 199; and the Caribbean: 207.

2. Book directly through the airline, whenever possible.

Sure, there is an abundance of online search engines out there with the explicit purpose of helping you find the best prices. However, booking directly through the airline typically means better service and security. There is one solution that gives you a “best of both worlds” outcome: use a travel booking website to find the cheapest flights, then book directly through the airline. Many will match (or even beat) the lowest price you find online.

3. Remember: flexibility = affordability. 

Depending on demand, the cost of airline tickets does not just vary depending on the time of year, but also changes from day to day. The best way to get the best price? Be flexible.

Nomadic Matt explains, “It’s always cheaper to fly during the middle of the week than on a weekend because most people travel on the weekends and airlines hike their prices then. Prices are also cheaper if you fly after a major holiday. Early-morning or late-night flights are cheaper because fewer people want to travel then. The difference of one day can mean hundreds of dollars in savings.”

Flexibility between destinations is also important. Using alternate airports (such as Providence instead of Boston) can yield cheaper -- and possibly more convenient -- flights and lower fees.

4. Seek out student discounts.

While finding student fares can be a complex process, it’s worthwhile to track them down. Check out TripSavvy’s roundup of the six best student airfare websites for travel discounts, including STA Travel, Student Universe, Travel Cuts, CheapOair Student Fares, Go with Generation Fly, and Secret Flying.

5. Book on a Sunday.

When hunting for the best prices, most people focus on the best days of the week to fly. However, in doing so they overlook another opportunity to save based on the best days of the week to book. According to the 2018 Air Travel Outlook Report from Expedia and Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), Sunday is usually the best day to book cheap international and domestic economy tickets, while Saturday and Sunday come out ahead for premium flights. There are some exceptions so be sure to check out the full report for more insider information.

Also, this does not mean that Sunday bookings always come out ahead so be sure to do your due diligence before clicking 'buy now.'

6. Use a VPN.

Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, do not just protect your privacy; they may also give you an edge when it comes to finding cheap fares. Mashable says, “A VPN's ability to virtually slingshot you to another location has numerous perks to trick the system, and one that comes in handy for this topic is the possibility to get better plane ticket deals by spoofing your location. According to Pete Zaborszky, founder of BestVPN.com, this works best when your journey has multiple international destinations. He says, "Theoretically, you could use a VPN to purchase plane (or train, or bus) tickets in each of the countries that you'll be visiting instead of getting US prices, potentially helping you save big time.”

While this is a relatively intensive process, many people swear by it. According to Trip Composer founder Oleksandr Nikolaienko, VPN spoofing can save you 10 percent or more depending on the flight. He explains, "I used India and Mexico for the US-UK international fights. Change the location to a low-income country. Your location must not be the city of departure or arrival.”

One last thing to keep in mind? While finding the best deals can take some effort, there is no better time to be a global traveler. Not only is it easier than ever before to get where you want to go, but the evolving industry also means a general trend toward more affordable travel for all. 




Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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