5 reliable tips on how to find cheap flights in 2023

This article is a part of CNN Underscored’s Guide to Summer Travel, a weeklong focus on how you can travel better, smarter and more stress-free on your summer trip.

If you’ve been putting off booking your summer travel, don’t wait any longer. This summer, travel demand is expected to skyrocket. And, experts aren’t expecting it to slow down. Unfortunately for customers, rising demand also means booming costs to travel.

Airfare, hotel stays, car rental costs and more are at some of the highest points they’ve been in years. Ultimately, you want to act sooner rather than later if you’re planning to travel for the summer travel period. But before making any decisions, make sure you know the best tips and tricks so you’re not stuck paying a small fortune to fly around the summer season.

Whether you’re planning to travel to the state over, across the pond to Europe or across the country, there are tips to secure more affordable flights. We’ve put together a list of the five best methods for finding cheap summer flights — here’s what you need to know.

Traditionally, flights are most expensive on the days that everyone wants to travel. While there is no best day to book your flights, there are better days to travel than others. During most of the year, traveling on days earlier in the week or in the middle of the week tends to be cheaper than traveling on Fridays or weekend days.

Ultimately, if you’ve got the flexibility to work remotely, consider traveling a couple of days before your vacation starts. For example, if you’re planning to vacation on a long weekend from Friday until Monday, consider traveling to your destination on Wednesday evening, work remotely on Thursday and fly back home on Tuesday. While you’ll have to pay for accommodation while you’re there, if you can save a significant amount on your flights, it could be worth it to jump right into vacation mode.

For example, if you’re looking to travel from New York to Cancun for a long weekend in July, a Friday to Monday nonstop itinerary will cost you $556 round trip with Delta and JetBlue.

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However, if you’re able to work remotely — or have extra time to take off — and could travel from Wednesday to Monday on the same weekend, you could snag nonstop flights with United and JetBlue for just $433 — $123 less than the peak days itinerary.

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Of course, not everyone will have the flexibility that allows them to travel on the cheapest days. There are plenty of business travelers who can only be away from the office during the “traditional” summer travel dates. But, if you’re someone who’s able to work remotely, it’s certainly worth considering extending — or shortening — your trip to potentially save several hundred dollars on flights.

Many major metropolitan areas have multiple airports for flyers to choose from. New York has LaGuardia (LGA), Kennedy (JFK) and Newark (EWR) airports; Chicago has O’Hare (ORD) and Midway (MDW); Houston has George Bush-Intercontinental (IAH) and Hobby (HOU); and the list goes on.

When you’re searching for flights, check to see whether your destination has a secondary airport that serves the area. Many times, it can be cheaper to fly to those smaller airports instead of the principal airport serving a given region.

For example, if you wanted to travel from the Boston area to Orlando for a week-long vacation, you could do so for $217 round trip if you were to fly from Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) with Frontier.

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Or you could fly from nearby Hartford (BDL) for a more reasonable $156 round trip on the same dates with Frontier.

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If you’re not dead set on one particular destination for your summer vacation but just know that you want to get away, you should use Google Flights’ Explore function. The free service allows you to see which destination has the cheapest airfare.

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The Explore function allows you to search with specific dates or with flexible dates within a given month. You can choose your origin city and let Google do the work for you. From there, you can simply click the destination that appeals to you and fits in your budget and proceed to book your flights.

Google Flights also allows you to set fare alerts, and it will email you if and when the cost of a given ticket increases or decreases. This is especially helpful if you set alerts months in advance of when you intend to travel so you can jump on a good deal if it comes around.

Alternatively, there are services out there that help you to find cheap flights. Thrifty Traveler Premium and Going are two of our favorite membership-based tools that help you to pinpoint cheap deals. With each of the services, you can subscribe to get flight deals sent to your inbox every day.

Many budget airlines have made strides in recent years to improve both their operations and customer experience. However, while they may offer cheap fares, they are notorious for charging significant fees for any extras you may want like checked luggage, seat selection, carry-on bags and, in some cases, even water.

And while “legacy” carriers like American, Delta and United have emulated the low-cost experience with basic economy fares, you can avoid them simply by purchasing a “normal” economy ticket. But if you choose to fly a low-cost carrier, you run a greater risk of getting delayed or even stuck if weather or other factors hinder your flights.

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Legacy carriers typically have larger fleets and greater flight frequencies, meaning you have a better chance of still getting to your final destination should something go wrong on the day of travel.

Put your travel rewards to use

If you’re not having much luck finding flights that fit in your budget, you can turn to any travel rewards you have from flying or from spending on a travel rewards credit card.

All of the major US airlines have their own loyalty programs. If you’ve taken a flight with American, Delta, United, Southwest or JetBlue, for example, in the past and added your frequent flyer number to the reservation, you will have been rewarded with points and miles in return for your business.

And if you’ve gotten enough points and miles saved up in your accounts that have been resting dormant throughout the pandemic, summer may be the best time to put them to use.

For example, you could put your United Airlines MileagePlus miles to use on a flight from San Francisco to New York this summer. A round-trip nonstop flight from July to early August will cost you 38,600 miles and just $11.20 in taxes and fees rather than $445 for the same flights.

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While you may not always be getting the best value from your miles, if you’re interested in saving money, it’s a no-brainer.

Keep in mind, too, that if you don’t have enough United miles in your account right now, you can also transfer them in from Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program. If you have a Chase Sapphire card and earn Ultimate Rewards, those points transfer at a 1-to-1 rate to United Airlines instantly.

In general, using travel rewards to book flights around popular travel times is easier when you’re booking far in advance, but as the above example shows, if you have some flexibility and points and miles saved up, you can find good deals even at this stage of the game.

The summer travel season is here, and millions of Americans are getting away to celebrate. If you haven’t nailed down your travel plans yet, now’s the time to do so. While the summer season is typically an expensive time to travel, it’s still possible to find affordable airfare for this year.

Looking for a new travel credit card? Check out CNN Underscored’s list of the best credit cards currently available.