How to Save Money on International Flights

Curtis SprungJuly 18, 2019

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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 a better deal 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.

Travel from one of these 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. Los Angeles

  3. Boston

  4. San Francisco

  5. Newark

  6. Chicago-O'Hare

  7. Miami

  8. Washington-Dulles

  9. Orlando

  10. Fort Lauderdale

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.

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. Both the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve® offer large sign-up bonuses, and the latter of the two offers 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 2020, including those best for:

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