There are under-the-radar tools you can take advantage of too
These days, you can travel the world for a lot less than you may think. After all, it’s easier than ever to find great deals on everything from luxury hotel rooms to international flights.
By now, you probably know how to set up price alerts on KAYAK or find cheap airline fares via Hopper, but there are also some lesser-known sites that can help you save a ton of money on flights.
In addition to the three best websites you should use to find cheap flights, here are three under-the-radar tools that you should take advantage of:
First, ITA Matrix is a simple but powerful search engine that helps you find the cheapest flights.
The basics: at first glance, ITA Matrix is kind of underwhelming, but what the site lacks in flash, it makes up for in efficiency. Developed by a group of MIT computer scientists and acquired by Google in 2010, ITA Matrix is the same software that powers travel search engines like KAYAK and Google Flights.
To search for flights, just enter your origin, destination and desired length of stay. Also, make sure you select See calendar of lowest fares instead of Search exact dates, so you can easily see and compare itineraries. For example, if you have some wiggle room in your travel dates, you might be able to save a ton of money just by leaving on a Wednesday instead of a Friday.
When you find a price you like, just click on it and you’ll be given detailed information that you can use to book the flight via the airline, a travel agent or another booking service.
Helpful tips: if you have some time to spare and you’re dedicated to finding the cheapest flight possible, you should try playing around with ITA Matrix’s advanced routing and extension codes. These codes help you narrow down your search and make it easy to find cheap but complex itineraries.
To use these codes, click Advanced controls and then click the blue question mark icon. A yellow glossary will pop up that shows you examples of routing and extension codes you can use to filter your search. For example, if you type in X: NYC, your search will only show you flights with a connection point in New York City.
In addition, since booking multiple one-way flights can be cheaper than booking a round-trip ticket, don’t forget to try ITA Matrix’s multi-city search option. Just click the tab that says Multi-city at the top of the page and enter your travel details.
Second, The Flight Deal is a curated collection of the best deals currently available.
The basics: The Flight Deal’s team only publishes fares that are $0.06 per mile or less, which means a “nonstop round-trip from New York to Barcelona should never be more than $425”. Just browse through the site and click on a deal when you find one you are interested in. In addition to details about fare availability, you will also see detailed instructions for how to find the flight on ITA Matrix.
Helpful tip: The Flight Deal also specialises in finding mistake fares or price glitches, that you can book for a short time before airlines fix the error. Perfect for adventurous travellers, these deals let you see the world and take spontaneous trips for a lot less. Just make sure you follow The Flight Deal on Facebook and Twitter to hear about these mistake fares right away.
Finally, Skiplagged helps you take advantage of loopholes in airline pricing.
The basics: typically, flights to popular destinations such as New York City are more expensive than those to less popular destinations such as Hoboken, New Jersey. A throwaway ticket – also known as hidden city ticketing – is a flight you book to an unpopular destination with a layover in a popular destination. Then, instead of getting back on the plane after your layover, you just stay in that city.
It’s worth mentioning, however, that Skiplagged was sued by United Airlines and Orbitz in 2014 for helping customers find these loopholes in airline pricing. Although the case was thrown out and exploiting hidden city ticketing is not technically illegal, you may still face some consequences if you are caught abusing throwaway tickets by a major airline. While you will avoid a fraud charge by coming clean, you may still “receive a written warning [...] be denied boarding, have [your] ticket confiscated,” or be fined for the difference between what you paid and the “lowest applicable fare”.
Helpful tip: make sure you don’t book round-trip flights in an attempt to exploit hidden city ticketing. When you skip a leg of a round-trip itinerary, the airline cancels the rest of your trip. You also won’t be able to check any bags since they will arrive in the throwaway city and not your desired destination.
Bonus: Scott’s Cheap Flights sends you a newsletter of the best international deals, curated by an expert at finding cheap flights.
The basics: Scott Keyes is a travel expert who once booked a world trip that spanned 13 countries, all for free. His website, Scott’s Cheap Flights, helps you find the cheapest international flights available. All you have to do is enter your email and let Mr Keyes and his team do the heavy lifting. Once you receive the newsletter, you can use the information provided to find the same deals on Google Flights.
Helpful tip: while Mr Keyes’s Cheap Flights is pretty straightforward, you can also upgrade to a premium newsletter for $39 (£28) a year. The subscription service gives you access to more deals and lets you customise your newsletter so you only see flights from select airports.
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