How To Find Cheap Flights: When, How, & Where

by Isabelle Rizo

So you’re aching to study abroad in Thailand and ride elephants, or volunteer at a hospital in Africa, or conquer Europe by backpacking in between semesters abroad. But, something is holding you back, money! International flights are expensive, but there are secrets to help you find cheap flights, even on a student’s budget! This article is the first step to getting a seat on the next plane to your dream study abroad destination! 









View from the plane on a clear day.

View from the plane on a clear day. Photo by Isabelle Rizo

Flight Alerts

Make an AirfareWatchdog.com alert for specific flights and destinations, which will get you deals sent straight to your inbox, instead of spending hours looking for an affordable flight. AirfareWatchdog also has a fantastic search feature – use it! STA Travel is a full service travel agency for students that can help you through the process of finding good deals on airfare combined with study abroad programs. If you are new to the process STA Travel is a great source to actually speak with to find an expert that can help you find the ideal plane ticket for your study abroad trip.

Travel Cards

Are you using a credit card? Make sure you’re getting some kind of travel rewards. Check out Cards for Travel and talk to your bank about rewards cards. There are many credit card programs that will allow you to earn points that directly apply to future airfare purchases.

Frequent Flyer Programs

Star Alliance, OneWorld, and SkyTeam – names you probably have never heard of – but you need to know. These airline alliances are what will get you miles that you can use for cheap or even free tickets for your next adventure abroad. Sign up for a frequent flyer program under each alliance and research which airlines are part of which so you can start accruing miles. It can be a little difficult to be loyal to a particular airline, especially as a student. When you always just want the cheapest flight no matter who the provider, it is good to get a membership with each of the alliances even if you don’t typically fly the airlines they work with.

Surveys = Miles

There are more ways to get miles than actually flying or having credit cards. Doing online surveys from E-miles is another way to earn miles, it may take a little longer to get a big number of miles but spending just 15 minutes a week doing a few surveys can earn you miles to use for your next trip.

Girl looking at her flight details

Shopping Online

There are lots of shopping portals from different airlines that you can use to get miles for your next flight. Next time you have a big purchase check to see if the airline frequent flyer program you signed up for has a shopping portal. Usually it will include a downloadable plug in search that will be added to your browser. So instead of doing a Google search for your travel guide or backpack, you can use the MileagePlus Shopping Plug-In and get miles while you online shop!

Timing is Everything

Think of it this way, when are people most likely to be buying tickets? Avoid those times. People tend to shop in the morning before work, and in the evening after work. Many cheap deals will come up in the afternoon between noon and 3 p.m.

Many people wonder how far out to wait  to buy their ticket from their departure date. The consensus seems to be three months before your study abroad program begins. If you want to play the dangerous game of buying a week before you fly, you can try and maybe get lucky if the airline is trying to fill last minute seats.

In my experience, three months is a little much. There doesn’t usually seem to be much change between one to three months in advance of your trip so don’t discredit that last minute trip idea! 

Important Secret!

Your browser and the airline search engines can track what you have searched for in the past and raise the prices since they know you want it. How to be secret? Do additional searches in an incognito window to see fresh search results.

The Best Sites with the Best Deals

Kayak? Orbitz? There are some really cool websites that aggregate many different websites all together, so you have more to choose from. Check out skyscanner.com or cheapoair.com. These will be the best sites for you to find a cheap ticket. Some sites even offer special discounts for students too.

You CAN make travel a less expensive endeavor. If you really put your mind to it and focus on your dream adventure, it can and will happen.

Now it's time to put these tips to use and find a study abroad program that is perfect for you!