THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO FINDING CHEAP FLIGHTS FROM PHILLY
1. What's considered a cheap flight?
2. Cross-the-Ocean Hack
One easy way to save on international flights (especially Europe) is to take advantage of what we call the Cross-the-Ocean Hack.
Basically, instead of booking a flight directly to your final destination, do this instead:
- Find the cheapest ticket you can to anywhere near your final destination
- Book a separate ticket on a budget regional carrier (like EasyJet or RyanAir)
- Save difference
Example: Instead of booking Philly-to-Paris for $700,
- Book Philly-to-London for $400
- Book London-to-Paris for $100
- Pocket the $200 saved.
This strategy can be used anywhere, but works particularly well in Europe due to many budget regional carriers and an extensive rail network.
A few things to keep in mind:
1. Since you'll be changing airlines, there's no way to check your luggage to the final destination. This means that you'll likely need to pass through immigration control to retrieve your checked bag, and then pass through security again for your second leg. Be familiar with entry/visa requirements for any country you'll be passing through.
2. You'll also want to make sure you have plenty of time between flights. Since your second flight is on a different airline, they'll be under no obligation to help you if your first flight is delayed, causing you to miss your final leg.
3. If you're a heavy packer, be sure to check baggage weight limits for each leg of your journey. Your luggage weight allowance will likely be smaller on shorter regional flights vs a trans-Atlantic international flights. The last thing you want is to pay excess baggage fees that could potentially negate any savings.
3. Be flexible with dates
This idea is simple, but often overlooked.
There are cases when changing your departure or arrival date by a single day can lead to savings of $100 or more per ticket. Flight search engines like Google Flights make it easy to play around with the calendar and see how slight changes will impact price.
Of course, it's up to you to balance potential savings, costs of additional lodging, pleasure gained/lost from the trip length changed, and total vacation days used. But this approach can lead to big savings, especially when booking flights for the whole family.
If you want to leave no stone unturned, you should compare prices for your trip on multiple flight booking engines and online travel agencies.
While Google Flights is great, some regional carriers aren't included in results, and sometimes online travel agencies will sell you a ticket for cheaper than it costs in order to win you as a longer term customer.
If the price is the same booking directly with the airline or through a travel agency, it's usually recommended to book directly with the airline. But in cases where there's significant savings, it's worth considering your options. Just be sure you understand any applicable change/cancelation policies that the online travel agency has, as these could differ from the direct airline policy.
Below are a few of the most common flight booking tools we recommend:
The most user-friendly flight search engine out there, which is great for exploring many possible destinations over a range of dates. For example, you can use their "explore destinations" feature to see a world map that highlights current "deals" around the world. It does this by constantly comparing current flight prices with historical data, so you can see how much of a discount vs standard fares you can expect.
Simply choose your travel month (or specific dates), the length of your trip (weekend, 1 week , or 2 weeks) and Google Flights will show you the best deals on a world map. You can also use Google Flights to search for deals to a specific destination and compare fares across major airlines.
This flight search engine has been around for 20 years and is one of the most well known fare aggregators. Similar to Google Flights, Skyscanner compares flight prices from many different airlines and spits out the best flights which you can then book directly with the airline or another online travel agency.
One benefit is that instead of selecting specific airports to fly in and out of, you can select countries. For example, if you're headed to Paris, and have flexibility in where you depart, instead of searching "Philly to Paris" you can search "United States to Paris" to return fares for many different U.S. departure airports (think: New York, Baltimore/DC, etc.) which will help you discover how much you could save.
Skyscanner also offers price alerts for specific destinations and dates, so if you have a particular trip in mind, you can set up alerts and be notified by email for sudden price changes on that route.
Momondo is another aggregator that looks at over 900 travel sites, including many smaller online travel agencies (OTA) that aren't picked up by Google Flights. One thing to note is that it may take a few moments for your search results to appear, as it takes their system some time to scrape hundreds of different sites.
Similar to the other booking engines, you won't book your ticket directly with Momondo, but will be redirected to book directly with the airline or another OTA. Momondo also offers an explore map, similar to Google Flights, that lets you browse a world map to visually spot deals.
This flight search engine is essentially the "back end technology" that runs Google Flights. It's not overly intuitive or user friendly, but offers special search functionality for those who have very specific criteria for flights.
For example, you can filter for:
- layovers in specific cities (or avoid specific layover cities)
- cost per mile
- time of day
- limit the overall duration of itinerary (e.g. whole trip should take less than 6 hours)
- Specific length of stay (show me the cheapest flights between 7-10 days in length)
Note: You can't book directly through ITA, so you would use this tool to find your specific flight, and then book directly with the airline on their website.
For domestic flights within the US, Southwest Airlines is not currently included in Google Flights results, so it's always worth double checking directly on their site once you determine your itinerary. They also run sales frequently, with flights sometimes as low as $49 per leg. If you're a domestic traveler, they're worth checking out.
These are some of the most well known Online Travel Agencies.
The main benefit of these sites comes from their ability to search for bundles (combined packages) of flights, hotels, and car rentals.
You may not always find the cheapest flights on these sites, but there are cases where prices could be cheaper than booking directly with the airline. For example, sometimes an OTAs will intentionally sell plane tickets at a loss in order to attract customers, knowing that they can then cross-sell lodging or car rentals.
Bottom line: If the convenience of booking your entire trip in one place is important to you, these sites are worth checking out.
The lowest published fares from airlines are often basic economy class tickets. The trick here is to pay attention to what exactly you're getting.
In basic economy class, you're often unable to choose your seat at the time of booking (meaning you and your companion traveler may not be seated next to each other). And there are often baggage fees that you'll need to pay separately. Also, there is usually less flexibility to change your flight.
While customers in main cabin class and above often have change fees waved, basic economy fliers are usually not offered the same courtesy. The exact breakdown of varies by airline, so be sure to review this when booking.
The truth is that deals can randomly pop up anytime, driven by flash sales, fare wars, and route changes. But in general, you should avoid booking flights last minute if possible.
Consensus among experts is that the best window to snag a cheap fare is around:
Domestic: 1-3 months ahead
International: 2-6 months ahead
Again, these are general estimate ranges and there are plenty of deals that pop up outside of these windows. But if you have very specific travel dates, or are traveling during peak season, you should start looking earlier than later.
Note: Most Google Flights results will include a fare graph that show historical prices over the past year, so you can easily see how the current price compares to averages.
Don't be caught booking last minute and paying a premium because you were waiting on a "miracle deal" that never came.
If your destination is within the US or Europe, the cheapest time to fly is usually January-May and September-early December.
Summer is peak season for many destinations, as students are out of school and more people are available to travel.
This doesn't mean that you're out of luck though -- great deals pop up for peak season all the time -- but all things equal, these months are a more expensive time to fly. So consider jumping on peak season flight deals quickly if you see one appear.
Again, it's worth noting that dates around popular events are generally higher, no matter when in the year they are (e.g. Ireland for St. Patrick's Day).
Unless you have no other choice, booking at the last minute is generally not recommended.
Fares tend to rise quickly in the weeks before departure, since airlines know business travelers will pay whatever it takes to get on a flight.
Years ago, airlines would often sell last minute fares for a discount to quickly get rid of remaining inventory, but this has largely gone away. Airlines are now more inclined to raise prices sharply for a few fliers, rather than pack a flight with last minute discounted fares.
NOTE: With COVID, things are a little different due to reduced business travel, and we have seen more cheap fares on last minute domestic flights, but it's unclear how long this will last.
In general, the booking sweet spot for cheap flights looks something like:
Domestic: 1-3 months out
International: 2-6 months out
In general, the better the fare, the sooner it sells out.
Great deals usually don't last more than a few days, and can sometimes disappear in minutes as word gets out. Earlier this year we sent a $222 fare to Hawaii that disappeared within 15 minutes after our subscribers got the alert and rushed to book.
The good news: in most cases you can take advantage of the Department of Transportation 24-Hour Rule to jump on great fares immediately, and then decide if it will work for you.
Finally, if you're not already one of our 7,500+ members, sign up for free to receive cheap flight alerts for Philly departure deals.
We're constantly monitoring hundreds of routes from PHL to destinations around the globe, and when a fare goes really cheap we send it straight to your inbox. The only thing you have to do is sit back, relax, and wait for that next cheap flight alert!