Americans want to travel this summer, but they’re stressed out about money. Luckily, experts say there are ways to find cheap flights — but it may require a bit of detective work.
“All estimates show that it’s going to really be a busy summer,” Ben Ayers, a senior economist at Nationwide Economics, told MarketWatch.
The number of passengers going through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints is back at prepandemic levels, and data from booking websites show “record levels of interest in travel,” he said.
In April, booking website Expedia said flight searches were up 25% for travel from June through August as compared with last year.
A new poll by Generali Global Assistance, a travel-insurance company, found that 63% of Americans plan to travel between June and September this year. The poll surveyed more than 1,000 residents of 15 countries in March and April.
“In April, booking website Expedia said flight searches are up 25% for travel from June through August as compared with last year.”
But with the summer expected to be a period of high fares and travel volume, people looking to book summer travel now may be shocked by prices for hotels and flights.
Prices for flights to Asia and Europe this summer are already at the highest level in more than five years, according to travel app Hopper. As of the end of May, a typical flight from the U.S. to Asia this summer was $1,890, while a flight from the U.S. to Europe was around $1,188, the company said. “Both have increased more than $300 per ticket compared to last summer,” it added.
The biggest concern among the international travelers surveyed was inflation, according to Generali. For U.S. travelers, 61% indicated this was a top concern.
The poll also found that travelers were planning to spend $3,013 this summer, a 6% increase over last year. As a result, people are on the lookout for discounts or special offers. Only 39% said they’ve already booked their trips, a sign that they’re waiting longer to do so. Two-thirds of the Americans polled said they might look for last-minute deals.
About one-third of the respondents said they planned to travel abroad, while 37% said they were opting for a domestic trip. Domestic trips tend to be cheaper and don’t necessarily entail air travel.
For the stressed-out traveler, scoring a cheap ticket may sound like a pipe dream. Finding one is possible, but it may be time-consuming.
So let’s plan a trip from New York to London June 1-8. The cost of a direct round-trip ticket from JFK to Heathrow is currently $890 on American Airlines AAL,
To lower the cost of a trip, use Google Flights GOOGL,
1. Be flexible on dates and stopovers
While some people may not be able to adjust their dates or times, Ryan Horn, a government consultant in Washington, D.C., who runs the travel blog Profits and Points, suggested being as flexible as possible when booking flights.
“There are certain days of the week and certain points of the summer that tend to be cheaper than others — for example, late August and early September tends to be cheaper than July,” he told MarketWatch. “I like to use the flexible-date calendar tool on Google Flights to compare.”
Use the date grid or the price graph on Google Flights to see when flights are cheaper. By cutting our NYC-London trip a bit shorter and booking it a little later, from June 7 to June 13, we reduced the cost of the flight to $655.
And while flying direct may be the easiest, it can also be costly. So consider stopovers: The $655 flight from NYC to London entails a seven-hour layover in Reykjavik, Iceland, before a short flight to Heathrow.
Once you’ve got your dates locked in, try to book the flight directly with the airline.
2. Look at different airports
Horn also suggested being flexible about airports.
“Similarly with location, check out prices for not-as-popular destinations, or look for a close-by airport for the destination you want to go to and drive the remaining distance,” he said.
Fares do vary by departure city. People flying out of Midwestern cities to other places in the U.S. have seen the biggest increases in airfare, according to a separate report by CheapAir.com, with Flint, Mich. seeing the highest spike — up 35% over last year. Flint’s main airport is small and offers commercial service on just three airlines, the report noted.
The CheapAir.com report analyzed 128 million airfares for 74 departure cities across the country. Akron and Dayton, Ohio, had the second- and third-biggest increases over last year, at 32% and 30%, respectively.
Is Newark cheaper than JFK? Is Gatwick cheaper than Heathrow? If you’re leaving from or visiting a big city with multiple airports, check fares for all of them. If an airport ends up being really far from your final destination, however, don’t forget to factor in the cost of traveling there via rideshare or cab, public transit or rental car.
3. Use a VPN to book your flight
On TikTok, some suggest choosing a different location on an airline’s website or using a virtual private network, or VPN, based in a different country. Those hacks may end up giving you a lower price — but use them at your own risk.
Sometimes looking for a flight using a VPN from a different country can lower the cost of a ticket, but the reverse can also be true, according to the travel blog Thrifty Traveler.
Why might using a VPN result in a different price? “Airlines and travel booking sites use a pricing model called dynamic pricing,” according to the travel website BarefootNomad.com. “This means that prices can change depending on factors like your IP address, your purchase history, browsing habits, your ZIP code, demand and supply, and even which Wi-Fi you’re connected to, among other factors.”
4. Look for industry newsletters that keep track of cheap flights
Horn also suggested signing up for newsletters that track cheap flights. Aside from getting Google alerts or alerts from travel websites and airlines about price drops, consider subscribing to newsletters from Thrifty Traveler, Going and others.
“These services have teams that are constantly searching for cheap flights and sending them out as soon as they see them,” Horn said. “Taking advantage of these deals does require flexibility, though.”
5. Act fast, cancel later
And if you do happen to stumble across a cheap flight, Horn — along with most travel websites — said you should book first and figure out the details later.
U.S. Department of Transportation regulations require airlines to offer you the chance to hold your fare or to get a cash refund within 24 hours of booking. So you can book and then decide if you want to change your mind. But make sure you book directly with the airline, and at least a week in advance.
And take advantage of those credit-card offers if your finances allow for it, as booking travel with points is one of the best ways to score a good deal. Many banks offer rewards or points for new accounts — but as always, don’t open accounts and spend money that you won’t be able to pay back.