If you're the kind of person who, when looking for flights, spends the better part of your waking hours repetitively checking prices, scourging sites for cheap airfares, clearing your cache, and then repeating this process over, and over, and over again until you've realized you don’t even know who you are anymore or what day it is or what sunshine looks like, I am here for you.
I've quit being a normal person in my pursuit of cheap international flights, and in doing so, I've uncovered the hidden truth to finding cheap flights. Sure, you may have googled, "how to find cheap airfares," and gotten some really valuable advice. But they've never told you this:
Be a black mamba.
A black mamba is one of the most venomous and fastest snakes in the world. They're aggressive and they're precise. They know when to strike. You, my friend, must be a black mamba (or maybe a viper, or an anaconda, depending on what you're into) slithering around a chaotic jungle of booking sites and airfares, sly and camouflaged. You know your prey. You watch it -- almost too closely. You study it; you understand it. You wait for the most opportune time for the attack. And when you get the right feeling in your chilled veins, you go for the kill.
Now I think I've already mentioned that searching for flights has left me less than human, like kind of a mutant but less cool and less likely to pick up dates. But it’s gotten me good fares, and more importantly, it’s given me a solid understanding of my prey, how they work, and how they manipulate.
You need to be flexible. A snake has no bones. (Correction, a snake appears to have no bones. According to a certain scientist friend: "They actually have more ossified vertebrae and ribs than almost any other animal," meaning you must be a total badass who is just very limber and sort of elastic.) I recommend Kayak for searches – their simple search allows you to check all nearby airports, +/- 3 days. That's critical to getting a low fare.
There is no ideal, right time to buy. Sure, that whole Tuesday at 3pm or Wednesday at 1am thing might be true sometimes, but don't always count on it. You need to watch your prey. Check for flights and also fly on Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays. Checking for airfares then is when most airlines turn over their rates. Of course, flying early in the week puts you with the less popular crowd, those who aren't weekending it and probably in business. View this as a benefit, since your seatmate probably will smell better and won't poop in their pants and cry.
Start your search two months in advance of your estimated date of departure. Check airfares on a Friday morning, two months before you’d leave. Check airfares on a Monday night six weeks before you’d leave. We're not buying now -- no, we're just watching our prey. We're studying it. Understanding how it fluctuates. That ridiculously high price you saw Sunday night? That’s your ceiling, the limit for how much you should pay. Those Tuesday afternoon airfares? Those become your medium, and possibly the fare you’ll end up paying. We're learning.
You've been checking daily, getting a good understanding of your airfare's averages, getting a bit giddy -- or if you're a rattlesnake, maybe you're shaking that ass. When you see it drop (the airfares, not your rattlesnake ass); hold off. When it rises, stay firm. And YOU'RE STILL CLEARING YOUR CACHE AFTER EVERY SINGLE SEARCH. It’s tried and true advice. My black mamba jaw literally drops to the floor when I see that Kayak has increased the airfare when I do a second search for a flight, because I simply changed a date and they know I'm looking. I’ll clear my browsing history, do the search again, and the price has dropped back down. Reassure them who is boss and who's got the venom. You do, black mamba, now delete every cookie on your computer -- and between EVERY search. CAMOUFLAGE YOURSELF.
DO NOT EVER TRUST YOUR PREY. “Only one seat left at this price!” My black mamba ass there’s only one seat left at that price.
Now around one month pre-departure, you start gambling. You’re getting nervous. The viper version of you is slithering around, getting hungry. You’re thinking maybe you should go for the kill.
Here’s where we separate the garden snakes from the black mambas and anacondas.
Be the black mamba.
You’ll start seeing prices drop to all-time lows. Your airline prey is thinking, “Less seats filled up on this flight than I thought. Let’s drop it down a bit.” Now get critical. Start looking at these lower fares closely, investigating layovers and their duration's, the airports they’re flying in and out of, and dates/times of departure. An eight-hour layover in Jordan might be quite nice. Fourteen hours in Tokyo, overly full from expensive airport ramen, overly tired of seeing Asian honeymooners taking pictures of each other, and sprawled across four seats, probably not so nice. Get strategic.
Always click “Select this flight,” get redirected to the airline’s booking page, and review the flight and the cost there. Prices will undoubtedly change from what was quoted on Kayak. Upon doing this, I've found fares $200 cheaper than what I thought I’d pay, and $200 more when I clicked through. Again, black mamba jaw-dropping stuff happens.
Between one month and 20 days, you’ll see it – that opportune moment; your prey is weak, oblivious. If the fare is within $40 of the lowest you've seen, and the flight’s details/dates/layovers are satisfactory, you’re ready for the kill. But at this point, you’ll already know whether the airline you've been preying on charges an extra $50 for checked luggage -- because you’ve been reviewing their baggage policy, and you’ve clicked through to see the actual price, with taxes, carrier fees, international fees, fees for breathing their oxygen, fees for showing up in leggings, etc. -- and you know what's included in the rate you’ve been eyeing. The final fare that's getting charged to your account should not come as a surprise (you've checked this in the one-month gambling phase).
Once you've swallowed your meal and eaten your prey -- and hopefully you're satisfied -- look back once or twice. If a fare is significantly lower, you can call the aggregator/booking company (or even the credit card you bought the flight with) and potentially reclaim that price. Most airlines and booking sites offer a "lowest price guarantee" sort of bit. Take them up on it.
But you are an aggressive, precise and deadly venomous snake, and you should have gotten an airfare you’re happy with because you’ve done so incognito, strategically and stealthily.
Be the black mamba.
Note: I'm only talking about international flights here, and largely those to Bangkok. Searching within a country is another ballgame, which I will one day liken to another animal.