If you’ve tried to book a flight lately, you might have noticed a couple of things: The prices are looking high, and the options are looking limited.
This isn’t particularly surprising. The Transportation Security Administration says it screened 2,167,380 passengers at airport security checkpoints, the highest volume since the pandemic’s beginning.
Meanwhile, airlines have not yet resumed offering as many flights as they did pre-pandemic after making schedule reductions over the past 15 months. The result is higher demand and lower supply ― ergo, expensive tickets.
“As of June 2021, it seems flights have rebounded back to their pre-pandemic pricing,” said Rocky Trifari, travel blogger at The Rocky Safari. “In some cases, I’m noticing flight costs are even higher than they were during the summer of 2019. I believe prices are costly at the moment because of all the last-minute travelers who are looking to take advantage of the summer to travel now that many domestic and even international destinations have reopened.”
Although air travel is generally pricier now compared to a year ago, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a deal. Below, Trifari and other experts share their advice for securing cheap flights.
Prioritize cost over date and destination.
“To book cheap flights, you must make cheap flights a priority,” said Darci Valiente, a senior member operations specialist at Scott’s Cheap Flights.
“All too often when people think about booking a vacation, they first sit down and think about where and when they want to go,” she explained. “Imagine you and some friends are planning to take a trip together, and it is decided, ‘Let’s go to Greece for the last two weeks of August.’ As a result, when you go to book your flight, you’ll likely end up paying $1,200 roundtrip for one ticket to Athens for your dates.”
It’s common to prioritize destination and dates over cost, particularly for families limited by school holiday schedules. But if you’re able to take another approach, Valiente advises beginning your search by asking, for example, “Where are there cheap flights to out of our airport?” and “Are there any destinations that are cheap in August?”
“In [this] scenario, you might find that there are $480 roundtrip fares to Rome available for the first two weeks of August,” she said. “You and your friends book these tickets instead, have a great time in Italy, and save $720 per person on airfare.”
Use flight search engines.
“If you’re looking to find affordable flights, you should always use a source that aggregates flights from numerous airlines so you can compare the rates,” Trifari said.
This can be useful for search purposes even if you intend to book through the official carrier ― though you may change your mind.
“You may find certain websites can shave a bit off from the bottom price, scoring you an even better deal than had you booked directly through an airline’s website,” Trifari said.
He advised checking out websites like Skyscanner, Expedia, Google Flights, and CheapOair to score good deals. Brian Kelly, CEO and founder of The Points Guy told HuffPost he recommends Orbitz, Travelocity, Hotwire, and CheapTickets.
In addition to comparison-based search engines, there are other tools aimed at helping travelers find affordable options.
If you’re willing to give up “some of the comforts of travel such as taking direct flights, you can use booking tools like Skiplagged to discover connecting flights that have layovers to secure a better deal,” Trifari suggested. “The trade-off is that it will take you longer to arrive at your destination since you may have to stop at one or two other airports along the way.”