Here are some ways you can take advantage of any flexibility you have, sorted by which part of your itinerary you’re willing to change.
Both Your Flight Dates and Your Destination are Flexible
Often, you can only take advantage of special deals and promotions when you have complete flexibility.
If this is you, stay updated on what’s happening with airlines flying out of your local airport. Subscribe to their newsletters, like their Facebook pages and follow them on Twitter. Also sign up to get fare alerts of flights departing from your city on Airfare Watchdog.
This way, you’d be ready to pounce when there’s a good deal. The best deals can disappear within a matter of hours!
Only Your Flight Dates are Flexible
If you can travel any time within a one-month window…
No other website can beat the features of ITA Matrix if you have flexible dates. When you enter a search, the website shows you the prices over a period of one month.
Only Your Destination is Flexible
If you’ll be exploring an entire region…
Use ITA Matrix to search all nearby airports to see which airport is the cheapest entry point. ITA Matrix lets you set a city as your destination and search all airports within a 2,000-mile radius of that city — an entire region.
Once you enter the region, you can use local budget airlines (like RyanAir in Europe or Air Asia in Asia) and ground transportation options to get around.
If you have no idea where to go…
There’s a neat function on Skyscanner where you can just input your current location and dates of travel, leaving the “Destination” field blank. When you press the “Search” button, the website will show you the lowest prices for multiple possible destinations.
Kayak’s “Explore” feature does the same thing and presents the information on a map. This works well if you have a little flexibility with your dates as well because the system wouldn’t let you get more specific than “summer this year” or “May this year”.
You don’t need much comfort or convenience
If you don’t mind using ground / water transportation…
You can potentially save a lot of money this way. Traveling by trains and buses are often a lot cheaper than flying. I once saved $230 on a trip from Jakarta to Montreal by flying Jakarta-NYC and taking the Greyhound bus NYC-Montreal.
Use Rome2Rio to find the most cost-effective itinerary. Unlike most other similar websites that search only for flights, this website also looks into other options, such as trains, buses, ferries and cars.
If you don’t mind stopovers…
This one is a little tricky because of the amount of research involved, but you could potentially enjoy big savings.
With this trick, you would be booking two (or more) separate flights instead of one flight. For example, you’d reserve one flight from A to B and another flight from B to C. There are two reservations in this scenario. This is different from booking one reservation that has a stopover along the way.
You’ll have to do multiple searches to find the best itinerary. If you’re familiar with the route, you may already know the major hubs where you can stop and hop onto another flight. For example, I’ve flown between Canada and Indonesia a lot; I know that the major hubs are in East Asia, mainly China, Taiwan and Japan.
If you’re not familiar with the route, scan your original flight search results for possible stops. For example, if you’re flying from A to C, your search results would show you a few options with stopovers. Note where these stopovers are, then do another search from A to these stopovers; then another one from these stopovers to C.
If you manage to get yourself a cheaper itinerary, congrats! Give yourself plenty of time between the two flights to account for possible delays. Also, check that you’ll be flying into and out of the same airport — some cities have multiple airports that are hours apart. You wouldn’t be saving any money if you missed a flight!
I’ve written more details on booking your flights on separate tickets; you can read it here.
Image: Joshua Davis (CC BY-SA 2.0 License).