Finding cheap flights in the United States can sometimes be more of an art than a science. As someone who travels regularly, it seems like flights across the USA sometimes cost even more than flights to Europe, Asia, or South America! With unpredictable airline pricing algorithms and a plethora of airline options, there’s really no right or wrong way to buy a ticket. However, there are a few things you can do to maximize your chances of finding cheap flights in the USA. Here are 8 of our favorite tips for finding the cheapest flights in the United States.
How to Find Cheap Flights in the USA
1. Watch for Sales
Like any business, airlines often have sales, and these are some of the best opportunities to find cheap flights in the USA. These are usually limited by date or number of tickets, so once a sale is live, it’s important to act quickly. The best way to find out about airline sales is by signing up for the airline newsletters directly. Usually, you’ll be automatically signed up for these emails if you are part of the airline’s loyalty program. In the past, I’ve gotten deals on cheap flights in the United States from Southwest, JetBlue and United fare sales.
Another fantastic newsletter that gives me frequent updates on airline sales is The Points Guy (TPG). TPG is my go-to for flight deal announcements, points and miles (more on this later), and general travel hacking inspiration.
2. Buy as Early as Possible (Sometimes)
On certain airlines, namely Southwest, it’s best to book as early as possible. This is because Southwest’s cheapest fares are the first to get sold out. The good thing about booking early with Southwest is that you can change your flight or cancel it for no fee, and you can use that flight credit again for a later flight. Many other domestic airlines in the United States, such as United, Delta, American, and Alaska, also generally have cheap fares earlier on, but their pricing seems to be a bit more sporadic.
3. Travel Light in Basic Economy
One of the newest ways to travel for less in the United States is by flying in Basic Economy. If you’ve never heard of this before, Basic Economy is essentially a no-frills flight ticket (with a no-frills fare to go along with it). This means a cheap price tag, but no access to overhead bin space, lowest priority boarding, and no seat choice. If you’re just trying to go somewhere, especially for a weekend trip, and don’t need to carry a lot of stuff, Basic Economy is a fantastic option.
Delta, United, and American all offer some form of Basic Economy on domestic flights. Spirit Airlines doesn’t offer basic economy, but their full service is quite similar and priced in line with these fares.
4. Cross-Check Aggregators with Airline Websites
Many people, myself included, enjoy using flight aggregators to compare routes and prices across several different airlines. I highly recommend this strategy, with a few caveats. First, be sure to use more than one aggregator to search, as the algorithms are different and you’ll likely find different results with each one. Second, be sure to ALWAYS cross-check prices and routes with the actual airline’s website.
If you want to try this strategy, it’s very simple. Some commonly used flight aggregators include: CheapOAir, Expedia, Kayak, and Google Flights. Search your desired flight route on 2 or more of these to compare prices and times. Then, take note of the flight numbers and airlines, and look directly on the airline’s website at the same flights to compare pricing.
FYI: you’ll always have more control if you book directly with the airline. If you book directly with the airline, you’ll more easily be able to change your flight if needed, add amenities like checked bags or priority boarding, and resolve issues if your flight is delayed or cancelled.
Interested in other destinations around the United States? Here are a few of our recent posts:
5. Try Nearby Airports and Hub Cities
If you can’t find a flight directly to where you want to go, have a look at nearby airports and cities. For example, in Washington, DC, the most convenient airport to fly into is DCA, or Reagan National Airport. However, I always look at IAD (Dulles) and BWI (Baltimore) when booking flights because sometimes the cheapest flights are to one of those airports. As a DC flyer, sometimes I look as far out as New York or Philadelphia for potential deals, because if the flight price is cheap enough, it justifies the few hours spent in transit.
Similarly, if you live in San Francisco (SFO), you might have a look at Oakland’s (OAK) airport as well. Or in New York City, you can try JFK, LGA, EWR, and even PHL. You get the point!
6. Sign Up for Flight Notifications
If you know you want to buy a flight, and you’ve got some time to spare before buying, you can sign up for flight price drop notifications through a variety of providers. My favorites are Google Flights and AirfareWatchdog – they don’t spam me, but they do send an email alert whenever the flights I’m searching for drop in price. This method really only works if you have a lot of advance notice about your flight, or you’re completely flexible on when you plan your trip.
7. Subsidize with Points and Miles
This one should be a given, but if you aren’t signed up for the variety of FREE points and miles programs offered by airlines and credit cards, you’re really missing out. The airline loyalty programs don’t cost anything, but you earn valuable miles or points every time you fly. Similarly, if you use a points or miles credit card, you can earn travel credits for every dollar you spend. Does it sound too good to be true? Read on for more details.
The best part about stockpiling points and miles is that you can use them to subsidize or even fully cover the cost of your flights. My personal favorite way to do this is through my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. Every time I use it, I earn points that I can either transfer to airline/hotel partners or redeem as money for travel through their booking portal. No matter where I want to travel, I can use my Chase points to purchase hotels or cheap flights in the United States and around the world.
8. Be Flexible
Perhaps this is obvious, but the more flexibility you have, the cheaper your flight options will be. If you can fly during the week and work remotely, then that widens your spectrum of flight dates. Red eye flights can also be a cheap option for people hoping to travel across the country. Sometimes, it’s even cheaper to fly to a different city then rent a car to drive to your destination. The possibilities are endless.
Needless to say, the more flexible you are in your travel schedule, the easier it will be to find cheap flights in the United States. While some times of the year, like holidays, large festivals, or travel high seasons, are generally more expensive, if you look closely, you can still find great deals to almost anywhere in the United States.