The Student’s Guide to Finding Cheap Airfare

How to Find the Best Deals and Discounts on Flights

Students at the airport
Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty Images

I've been travelling continually for five years and I have to admit that a significant amount of this time has been dedicated to finding the cheapest airfare, especially when it comes to long-haul flights.

I've flown from Bangkok to Amsterdam via Cairo for $302, from Ho Chi Minh City to Brisbane for $329 and from Istanbul to Bali for just $423 -- and all of these prices are half what my original searches brought up.

Just a couple of hours spent researching in the right places can easily save you hundreds of dollars on airfare, so here are some of my top tips for saving money on flights.

Flexibility is Key

Unfortunately, if your travel plans are fixed in terms of date and location you're going to have a much harder time finding cheap flights -- it's much easier if you're able to modify your dates or destination to fit with price fluctuations.

I wouldn't have been able to fly from Vietnam to Australia so cheaply if I hadn't been willing to alter my travel plans. I had originally wanted to fly to Sydney, but flights from Ho Chi Minh City were priced at over $500! After a quick search, I found a $300 flight to Brisbane, where I rented a car for $100 and drove down the east coast to Sydney. I got to see a lot more of Australia than I would have done in a plane and saved over $100 in the process.

If you keep your travel options open, you have so many more options available to you that you'll definitely be able to score a cheaper flight. Many airline search engines have the option of searching for dates over an entire month, so if you can keep your options open, you'll be able to easily see which date is the perfect one to fly on.

Keeping your location flexible is another way to score cheaper flights. I prefer to search by country instead of city -- the "United States" to "Thailand", for example -- because it opens you up to so many more flights. If you were planning on starting your travels in Bangkok, but discover it's $200 cheaper to fly to Chiang Mai, it most likely won't make all that much difference to your trip. 

Check Multiple Websites

You should never book any flights you find on your initial search -- there are plenty of flight aggregators you should check first to make sure it's not cheaper anywhere else. Here are the sites I recommend checking:

STA Travel

As a student, it's always worth checking STA Travel first to see if they have any sales or special offers on. STA Travel is the best website for student travelers and is consistently cheaper than going to the airlines directly. 

The only downside is the limited search options. You can only search by city instead of country, and you're only allowed to search for three days either side of your specified date. This isn't great if you're not sure of your future plans.

If you're a student, though, it's worth the extra hassle as you'll be able to save tons of money on the flights. 

Skyscanner

Skyscanner is my favorite flight comparison website if I can't find anything on STA Travel. When it comes to flights for non-students, it nearly always ends up finding the cheapest fares. I love the fact that you can search by country instead of city and across an entire month instead of a few days.

One of Skyscanner's most useful features is the ability to search for "Everywhere" as a destination -- great for if you're not sure where to go next or are desperate to set off somewhere affordable for a quick trip.

Adioso

One of the easiest flight comparison websites to use, Adioso is a natural language search engine that I love. Try typing in "Sydney to Bangkok in mid-August" or "New York to Mexico City for 14 to 20 days" to bring up a list of flights that you can sort by "best" or "cheapest." You can even search for "Chicago to somewhere warm in December" if you're craving a bit of sunshine!

The $423 Istanbul to Bali flight I mentioned above was found through Adioso and I couldn't find it for under $700 anywhere else.

Low-Cost Airlines

If you're not having much luck with any the sites listed above then it's worth checking the websites of some of the country's low-cost airlines, as a few of these aren't included in flight aggregators' results. A good place to start is our list of low-cost airlines, organized by country.

FlightFox

If you're planning on a round-the-world trip or have a complicated route with multiple stops then I highly recommend taking a look at FlightFox. FlightFox is a human-powered service where flight experts compete to find the cheapest flights for you, based on an award price that you set. I've met several people who have saved over $500 on long-haul flights using FlightFox!

Bonus Tip: Search in an Incognito Browser

When searching for airline tickets online, always clear your browser's cookies before making a purchase -- or use your web browser in "incognito mode." Many airline and travel websites use cookies to track your searches and if you keep looking at the same flights, they'll increase the price of your tickets. This has the effect of making you think tickets are selling out and the price is going up, increasing the odds of you purchasing right now. Incognito mode allows you to browse privately and see the unmodified price.