How to Save Money on International Flights

Finding good deals on international flights has a lot to do with where you're flying from.
Curtis Sprung
By Curtis Sprung 
Updated
Edited by Mary M. Flory

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Nerdy takeaways
  • Find a cheap positioning flight to a major hub and book your international trip from there.

  • Tools like Google Flights or Skyscanner allow you to browse multiple destinations and price points at once.

  • Join the airline's loyalty program to earn miles on your trip and redeem them for future flights.

Not everyone has the luxury of shopping among airports for the best deals on international flights. For many of us, there’s one airport nearby and then it’s a layover at a major hub before heading on to your international destination.

But if you're lucky enough to be able to travel from certain airports, your chances of scoring cheap international flights could be higher.

Here’s where you'll find some of those cheap airports, and tips on how to save no matter where you're traveling from.

Best tips to save money on international flights

Travel from strategic airports

The website Scott’s Cheap Flights has compiled a list of the U.S. airports that are most likely to offer deals on international flights.

If you can travel from one of these airports — or perhaps take a cheap connecting flight to reach them — you're off to a good start. Those airports are:

  1. New York-JFK.

  2. Newark.

  3. Chicago.

  4. Los Angeles.

  5. Washington Dulles.

  6. Miami.

  7. San Francisco.

  8. Boston.

  9. Philadelphia.

  10. Dallas-Fort Worth.

Look at all your options

Generally speaking, travel to Europe from the East Coast will be cheaper — and you'll have many more options in terms of airlines and routes to fly. Conversely, travel to places like Asia and Australia will be less expensive from the West Coast, and nonstop options will open up considerably.

Wherever your home airport, use sites like Google Flights or Skyscanner to explore prices for a few different destinations that interest you. If you can, travel outside of heavy peak season at your destination. You could save hundreds of dollars that way.

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Don't forget to earn miles

The savings don't stop when you find that cheap flight: You can earn travel rewards to make the effective cost of a ticket even cheaper.

One of the easiest ways to do this is by joining an airline’s loyalty rewards program, such as United MileagePlus or Delta SkyMiles.

In addition to earning miles when you fly with those specific airlines, you can also sometimes earn miles on partner airlines. (For example, you can earn American AAdvantage miles when you fly on alliance partner British Airways.) Check each program’s site to see current eligible partners.

To earn points no matter what airline you’re flying on, use a travel rewards credit card to buy your ticket. Some cards are tied to specific airlines, but those points tend to be less flexible.

There are a number of programs to choose from, many of which offer bonus rewards when used to purchase travel, regardless of the destination or airline. The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offer large sign-up bonuses and a $300 annual travel credit.

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is a perennial favorite, and both Bank of America and Wells Fargo offer travel-focused cards you can use to earn points. Just be mindful of annual fees, which can eat away at the value of any sign-up bonuses.

Frequently asked questions

Flight prices fluctuate widely. According to Skyscanner, the cheapest day to book a flight is Saturday, but the price difference between Saturday and the other days is negligible. Domestic flights only varied by a few dollars each day, and international flights varied by less than $20. Instead of choosing a specific day to book, the best practice is set a price alert so you can book as soon as the fare drops.

You can use airline miles, credit card points or a companion pass to fly for almost free. Even with these types of tickets, you usually still have to pay some minimal taxes and fees. To get started, join an airline loyalty program or get a travel credit card to start earning travel rewards for a free flight.

To find the cheapest flights, you’ll want to start your search early and research your various options. Flying in or out of a different airport or adjusting your travel dates to less popular times might help you snag better deals. Your flight search engine’s map view or calendar view are helpful in finding those, or you can let the search engine do the work and set a price alert so you can get notified as soon as the price drops.

Data from Hopper suggests the cheapest day to fly internationally is Wednesday, both for departing flights and return flights. However, there is no one day of the week that will guarantee a cheaper flight, especially with international flights, because some destinations are not even on the same side of the international dateline. Your best bet to find a cheap international flight is to look at a calendar of prices and compare different travel dates. Then set a price alert so you can get notified to book when the fares are low.

Airlines say the prices fluctuate as inventory rises and falls, and fares generally do get more expensive as it gets closer to the departure date, even from the time you checked a few hours earlier. The evidence is mixed about who is actually seeing higher prices than other people searching, but the takeaway is it is good to check the cost both logged in and completely incognito with your browser to shop around for the best price.


How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2024, including those best for:

Travel Cards from Our Partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x-5x

5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.

Points

Intro offer

60,000

Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Points
Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1.5%-6.5%

Enjoy 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and 3% on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year). After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

Cashback

Intro offer

$300

Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
4.7
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

2x-5x

Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options.

Miles

Intro offer

75,000

Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

Miles
See more travel cards
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