Given that my passions include travel and personal finance, it should be no surprise that I love searching for cheap plane tickets.
A key to finding cheaper plane tickets for an international trip is to start your search early and set up a price alert. This gives you a baseline price and then allows you to strike and make a purchase when you see a good deal.
Setting Up Price Alerts for Plane Tickets
Here are my seven best tips for setting up a price alert and finding cheap plane tickets.
1. Get a Baseline Price Today
The first step to finding a cheap plane ticket and setting up a price alert is to know the baseline price for the itinerary you are traveling.
What tool you use doesn’t matter, but I do recommend trying a flexible search option where you can set your dates and then add time around them.
Some tools to try include Kayak.com, Momondo, Google Flights, or Skyscanner.com. My favorite is the “travel insights” feature on Momondo.
2. Consider Nearby Airports
When considering where to fly from for an international flight, ensure you think about all airports within a two or three-hour drive from your house and two or three hours from your destination.
This may not be worthwhile for a short trip, but for most people, an international trip will be at least a week long.
For instance, if you are in Seattle, would you drive to Portland to save $1,000/ticket on a flight to Shanghai? On a recent search I ran, flying to Shanghai was $1,000 per ticket cheaper from Portland than flying out of Seattle.
Sometimes flight pricing makes no sense, so to get the best deal, consider alternate airports.
3. Consider Using Miles Instead of Dollars
If you travel a lot for work, have a credit card that earns you miles, or you otherwise have many miles built up in your frequent flier account, it’s worth looking at spending them on an international plane ticket.
When you have so many miles that you can never hope to possibly use them all, you can spend them on your flight without worrying too much about the exchange.
But if you just have enough miles for a ticket or a few tickets, it’s worth doing the calculations to see if you are getting a good value.
Many people who specialize in this say that getting 1.5-2 cents or more for your miles is a good deal.
An example is, say a flight from New York to London is 50,000 miles or $1,000. If you do the math (1,000/50,000), this is 2 cents a mile and is a good deal. But if the same flight was $500, it would be a better deal to buy it with money.
4. Set Up Price Alerts for Certain Airlines
Some airlines prevent their flight pricing from showing up on the aggregators. For instance, Delta and Southwest Airlines typically require you to search using only their tools.
However, even smaller airlines, like Sun Country, also don’t show up on the large aggregators.
So if you use one of these airlines frequently or have a local bargain airline that flies to your airport, ensure you set up a separate price alert through them or put a reminder on your phone to run a search on their site daily.
5. Set Up Your Searches
Now is the time when you actually set up your price alerts.
Here is how to set up a price alert for each of the top travel tools:
- Google Flights: Setting up Price Alerts
- Kayak: Setting Up Price Alerts
- Expedia: Use the Watchlist feature when you set up an account
- Orbitz: Set up a price alert in your account
- Travelocity: Setting up Price Alerts
- Momondo: Setting Up Fare Alerts
- Skyscanner: Setting up Price Alerts
- Delta: Delta allows you to subscribe to their emails but not set specific price alerts within their system. Delta does show up on some of the aggregators, including Skyscanner and Google Flights, so if you live near a major Delta hub, ensure the flight aggregator you use searches Delta.
- Southwest: Like Delta Airlines, Southwest doesn’t offer an easy-to-follow price alert system. However, The Points Guy has a great article about how to view price changes (and get a refund) after you’ve already booked.
I don’t recommend doing this for all 10, but do set up two or three if you are looking for flights for a significant trip
6. Buy When the Price Seems Right
This is the hardest step in the whole process. While some tools (like Kayak trends, Momondo, and Airhints) can help you with this process, it’s a bit of a guessing game.
Your research will help guide you here, and it’s a bit of intuition. My rule for purchasing is that if there are still many months until my flight, suddenly the price drops, it appears to be a sale, and I feel like I’m getting a good deal, then it’s the right time to buy.
7. Know When You Deserve a Refund
Perhaps you just dropped several thousand dollars on the international plane trip of your dreams, and the next day the price drops by another $400. What should you do?
You don’t have to just get angry. Instead, you can rebook at the cheaper price.
Here are a few good things to know about when you deserve a refund for your flight:
- Within 24 hours of purchasing your tickets, you are allowed to cancel your tickets and re-book without any penalty. I personally have done this on several occasions, and it’s never a problem.
- Make sure to know the refund policy for the airline you are booking with. Again, this will allow you to get a refund and then rebook depending on the refund policy.
- Take the time to understand your airline’s change fee amount. Then, if the price change is so significant, you will still get something. For example, if the fee to change your flight is $100 and the price drop is $300 (which is realistic for an international flight), then you will still get $200 back per ticket.
The Bottom Line
Flights can be some of the most expensive part of a trip. But when you set up a price alert, this will help ensure you are getting the best price possible.
This post is part of our Sabbatical Sundays series. To read more, click here.