5 Steps to Booking a Cheap Flight Online

Booking a flight can be one of the most stressful parts of travel! Airfare is expensive and, with variation in prices, we often worry that if we buy right now, prices could drop and we’d be the person who paid the most money for the flight. “Maybe if I wait just a little longer, prices will drop,” we say to ourselves.

I used to spend hours upon hours searching for the right price. I’d search multiple websites, second-guess myself, and worry about what happens when the prices drop. I would hold off on buying, waiting for that perfect moment. It was like trying to time the market – it simply doesn’t work. 99 times out of 100, you lose out.

On a recent trip from Austin, a one-way ticket on American Airlines was $206 USD. The next day it was $149 USD and a BETTER route. When I checked a few hours later, it was back to $206 USD.  flight booking management

You can’t predict prices. The best day to book is usually today.

Last year, I went to visit the folks at Google Flights, and over lunch they told me about a study they did of thousands of flights. They found the average drop price is about $50 USD. That means if you wait, you’re most likely to save about $50 USD but might be stuck with a price that is hundreds higher. (This excludes sales and mistake fares.)

As someone who doesn’t go a day without searching for airfare to regions all over the world, I can tell you that you can’t second-guess yourself. If you’re comfortable with the price you paid, you need to accept it and move on, even if airfare drops.

For this article, I’m going to look for a round-trip flight from NYC to Barcelona in October for 8-10 days.

Step 1

First, I’ll look at deal websites like Scott’s Cheap Flights, Holiday Pirates, or The Flight Deal to see if there are any fare sales going on. Sometimes there are, most of the times there aren’t.

After that, I start with the ITA Matrix, an amazing tool that allows for complex searching and that every flight junkie I know uses. While it only searches major airlines (no budget carriers here), it has a calendar option so you can see prices over the course of the month and provides a solid baseline on prices.

Being flexible with your dates is key to booking cheap airfare, so getting an overview of an entire month is important. In fact, being flexible with your destination can yield even cheaper fares. If you aren’t set on somewhere in particular, use the “everywhere” option in flight search engines like Skyscanner or Google Flights and see what you can find.

But for the purposes of this article, I’m going to use concrete destinations. Let’s look at our example route from New York to Barcelona:

Screenshot of calendar view of flight prices from NYC to Barcelona on the ITA Matrix website.

You can see at a glance that the cheapest flight for this route is $425 USD. But click through to choose your dates and booking options, and you’ll get the full picture:

Screenshot of a list of flights from NYC to Barcelona on the ITA Matrix website, with durations, prices, and airlines.

As you can see, although the cheapest round-trip flight is indeed $425 USD, this TAP Portugal flight has a layover in Lisbon and returns to a different airport than you left from (leaving JFK, returning to EWR). For just $490 USD round-trip, you can fly direct with American or Finnair, leaving from and returning to JFK, a much better flight overall.

Step 2

Next, I go to Skyscanner and Momondo to compare prices and see if there are any budget carriers flying the route I need.

New York to Barcelona on Skyscanner:

Screenshot from Skyscanner searching flights from New York to Barcelona, with results from LEVEL and Vueling.

Skyscanner brought up flights with budget airlines LEVEL and Vueling. While the price differential isn’t huge ($474 USD on budget airlines vs $490 USD on major carriers), you can see that Skyscanner brings up different flights and results, making it worth checking.

New York to Barcelona on Momondo:

Screenshot from Momondo searching flights from New York to Barcelona, with results from TAP Air and Iberia.

You’ll also notice Momondo brought up the cheapest flight of all, for $333 USD round-trip. If you look at the details though, it has an incredibly long layover in Lisbon, so probably not worth booking. Still, that’s another reason to check multiple booking sites. You might find a cheaper price elsewhere!

Step 3

Next, I visit Google Flights to search regional fares. For example, if I’m flying to Barcelona, I’ll see what flights to nearby airports might be cheaper. It may be cheaper to fly into London, a major hub, and take a budget airline to Barcelona.

Though you’ll end up booking two different tickets on two different airlines, you can sometimes save hundreds of dollars. I once booked a flight to Dublin and then flew Ryanair to Paris, saving me $200 USD instead of taking a direct flight.

In Europe, there are plenty of options for doing this, since there are a lot of airports and budget carriers to choose from.

If you aren’t a junkie like me and know which budget airlines fly where, visit the airport’s website to get a list of airlines.

Or, simply put your departure airport into Google Flights and a larger region as the arrival airport. In this case, you can put in “Europe,” which will bring up a map view of the cheapest flights from New York to anywhere in Europe:


I see that leaving on the 17th there’s a $376 USD flight to Lisbon, one of the cheapest options for getting from New York to Europe. I then do a separate search for flights on those dates from Lisbon to Barcelona. I discover that it’s only a $57 USD round-trip flight on Ryanair, bringing the grand total to $433 USD round-trip. flight booking management