Congratulations! You’ve been accepted to your dream study abroad program, and you feel the happiness and giddiness bubbling inside … until you start the search for plane tickets. It turns out, it’s not too cheap to fly to the other end of the world. But fear not! Here are a few handy tips that are sure to keep your costs down when booking your international flight:
1. Cut out the middleman. There’s an art to buying cheap international flights, but it’s not so mysterious that you can’t learn it yourself. It’s very similar to crafting the perfect class schedule in college or finding cheap textbooks online. There’s no need to pay somebody for something that you can do armed only with your laptop and a little patience.
2. Search during the low period. It’s the basic law of supply and demand: the prices rise when more people fly. In order to outsmart the system, you have to fly during all of the low periods. That means not only avoid the general summer and winter holiday periods, but also do some research on the national and religious festivities. For example, do not schedule your flight into Latin America during the Catholic Holy Week during Easter or to China around their New Year’s. As a general rule prefer weekdays for departure and return dates (ideally Tuesday or Wednesday), since prices spike during the weekend. Finally, if you already have time to spare and are comfortable around airports, don’t hesitate to schedule layovers or flights that come in at odd hours, since that might save you a few hundred dollars.
There’s an art to buying cheap international flights, but it’s not so mysterious that you can’t learn it yourself.
3. Plan ahead! Contrary to popular belief, earlier is not always better in terms of buying plane tickets. There’s actually a sweet spot of ideal prices three to four months before the departure date, depending on your destination. Prices vary wildly over time, so buying 8 months or 8 days prior can quickly bust your bank account.
4. Fly into cheap gateway airports. People mistakenly assume that prices correlate perfectly with distance, so that flying anywhere into Europe from the United States will cost relatively the same. That truth is that the cost varies greatly between airports. Major international hubs, such as CDG in Paris or LHR in London, tend to cost more than smaller regional airports. Dublin, Athens, and Istambul are great gateways into Europe and are amazing places to explore if you have some time before your program begins. Once you’re in the continent, it’s really easy to get around with cheap internal flights. Check out this great article for more cheap gateway ideas!
5. Check out discount travel websites. You wouldn’t buy really nice shoes or a new laptop without shopping around first for comparison… the same thing goes for plane tickets! Shop around before you buy, because there’s always a great deal waiting for you. Prices vary greatly between airlines, and there are some websites designed to compare the prices and find the best deal available on the web. Kayak, Skyscanner, and Studentuniverse are all great places to start.
6. Limit your browsing to keep the prices low. While you may want to browse in advance to get an idea of the price range and recognize a deal when you see it, searching for the same flights too often can increase the prices. Airlines and websites measure online traffic and adjust prices accordingly.
7. Know the 24h free cancellation policy. This is a great secret that the airline industry definitely does not want you to know; by U.S. law, major airline carriers are mandated to a full refund within 24 hours of purchase. That means that you should book a deal as soon as you see it, and you still have a day to search around for better deals.
Hopefully you found these little tips helpful; good luck on your search, and bon voyage!