10 Ways To Find Cheap Domestic Flights

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Frontier Airlines Airbus A319 in flight

Going across the pond to Europe for your next adventure sounds like a great idea – until you see the prices. Don’t even think about Asia. Even fares to Mexico and the Caribbean seem to have no sympathy for us vacation-seekers.

And since it’s out of the question to not go on vacation at all, many travelers have turned to domestic travel lately. To be fair, you don’t have to be put off by high prices to want to see our country. I’ve been to all 50 states, and I still have an impossible-to-finish list of things I want to do in America.

Finding cheap deals on a domestic flight is a bit easier these days, even if they have become rarer. If you’re wondering what you can do to find the cheapest flight possible, know that there are a few very important strategies to utilize at all times, as well as a few expert tricks that are amazing under the right circumstances.

Let’s take a look at some of my most successful methods below.

1. Sign Up for Fare-Finding Services

How Going Works in Steps
Going / Going

First, finding cheap domestic flights is easy when someone else does it for you. With fare-finding services, you simply sign up (for free), tell them which airports you fly out of, and wait for the deals to roll in. Real human beings scour the internet for deals from everywhere to everywhere in search of flight deals that are so great they have to tell their members.

Our favorite of these are Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) and Dollar Flight Club. Their travel experts search high and low for flights, whether they’re one-way, round-trip, domestic, international, last-minute, or long away. When a really good deal is found from your home airport, they simply send you an email to tell you about it – it’s then your call whether to take action or not.

They won’t bombard you, either, as they try to only notify you of the best deals. Domestic flights are specifically included in the free versions of these, although premium memberships will unlock additional savings, such as the elusive mistake fare.

See Related: How to Use Going.com (Formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights)

2. Use The Right Search Engine

Skyscanner available Los Angeles to London flights
Skyscanner / Skyscanner

If you’d rather find and book domestic flights on your own, make sure you’re using the right flight search engine. Long gone are the days when you needed to check each of your favorite airlines’ websites one by one – just try out one of the many aggregators that return every possible flight with one single search.

Our favorites are Skyscanner, Momondo, and Google Flights. They make it easy to visualize the cheapest dates, cheapest airports, most convenient routings, and much more, which we’ll cover later. You can also filter out anything you absolutely don’t want – like a certain number of layovers, departure or arrival times, and more, but try to keep your limitations to a minimum if you want the cheapest flights possible.

See Related: Best Skyscanner Alternatives to Book Travel

3. Choose Airports Strategically

Nearby Airports Search in Google Flights
Google Flights / Google Flights

This tip has two parts. First of all, if you haven’t settled on a destination yet, consider places with a lot of cheap domestic flights in general.

Some that come to mind for me include Las Vegas, Orlando, Dallas, and Denver, but there are more. Those are some of the most popular cities to visit for a weekend getaway, but even better is the ability to use them as starting points for nearby destinations.

The second part of this tip is to search with alternative airports at your destination. This is easily done by either checking the box for “Show Nearby Airports” on your flight search engine or by manually entering airports that you know are acceptable for your destination.

For example, if you’re headed to the Los Angeles area, there are many additional airport codes you could enter besides LAX: Long Beach (LGB), Burbank (BUR), Ontario (ONT), Santa Ana (SNA), and perhaps even more. The San Francisco Bay Area has Oakland (OAK), San Jose (SJC), and even Sacramento (SAC) besides SFO. You’ll be amazed by how much you can save sometimes when you avoid the mega-hubs.

See Related: Best Airports for Layovers Around the World

4. Consider Low-Cost Airlines (Carefully)

Frontier Airlines is offering an All You Can Fly Pass from destinations such as Las Vegas, pictured.
Kyo46 / Adobe Stock

America loves to hate them, but budget airlines fly some of the most popular routes in the country, and they can be serious money-savers – when used properly. You may have seen single-digit fares advertised by carriers like Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines, and if that’s truly what the trip will cost you, then go for it!

The problems arise when you need more than just the bare fare: a full-sized carry-on bag, checked luggage, a pre-booked seat, or flexibility to change the flight, for example. Low-cost airlines will charge you crazy amounts of money for things like these, and in some cases, your bag will cost more than your fare.

For travelers who need nothing more than a backpack, you will definitely save money on these flights, as long as you don’t mind the legroom. I recommend you literally do the math before booking.

Price out the cost of the budget airline in total and compare it to the total you’d pay on a full-service carrier, like United Airlines or Delta Air Lines. If the latter is cheaper or similar in price, you’ll probably be a heck of a lot more comfortable and more entertained on those planes.

See Related: How to Earn Airline Miles Without a Credit Card

5. Search On Southwest’s Website

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 airplanes at Atlanta Airport (ATL) in the United States.
Markus Mainka / Adobe Stock

There’s a very important exception to the tip about using flight search engines: Southwest Airlines. They have never allowed their flights to be displayed on third-party sites, so you need to go to Southwest’s website to see how their fares compare.

And it is strongly advised that you do – Southwest has some of the most popular domestic flights for many reasons. They’ve never, ever charged change fees for any fare, nor do they charge bag fees for two checked bags per passenger. Full-sized carry-on bags are more than welcome, and all passengers enjoy free wifi strong enough for texting and streaming Southwest’s in-flight entertainment.

Southwest probably flies to any of the domestic destinations that you’re dreaming of, including Hawaii as of recently. Plus, their fares are often the cheapest on the market. Factor in free flexibility, bags, and entertainment, and you may have your winning domestic flight.

See Related: Southwest vs Spirit: Which Airline is Better?

6. Keep Your Travel Dates as Flexible as Possible

Flexible Dates in Google Flights
Google Flights / Google Flights

As with any endeavor to find cheap flights, you should be as flexible as you can when it comes to your trip. Leaving or returning just a day before or after your ideal date can save you unbelievable amounts of money. While the best-case scenario is being totally flexible and being undecided on trip dates, you should consider a shorter but much cheaper trip if your dates are already determined.

Luckily, it’s easy to find out when the cheapest days to fly are with the Flexible Dates functions of sites like Skyscanner and Momondo. Use the color-coded calendar to get an immediate glimpse of low-, medium-, and high-fare dates. Or, use the grid of prices to determine what outbound and return combination in a particular week returns the lowest price.

See Related: Easy Ways to Book Cheap Round Trip Flights to Anywhere

7. Set Fare Alerts

Momondo Pop Up Price Alerts
Momondo / Momondo

This trick combines the concept of cheap fare-finding services with DIY flight-searching on your favorite site. All major flight search engines offer the option to set alerts for price drops on routes and dates. Simply select this option after you’ve chosen a departure airport, arrival airport, and dates, and wait for an email to let you know of a fare change.

Don’t turn these alerts off after you’ve booked your flight, either, and even consider setting them for flights that you booked in the past. The reason is that many airlines stopped charging change fees during the pandemic. If you get an alert that the price drops after you book, simply re-book the ticket – you won’t get a refund, but the fare difference will be credited to you for future use!

See Related: Best Ways to Get Cheap Flight Alerts

8. Book in Advance

Skyscanner available flight dates selection
Skyscanner / Skyscanner

Do not wait until the last minute to book your domestic flight. While booking on Tuesdays to get the cheapest price may be a myth, prime booking windows do have some truth behind them. That window is a bit closer for domestic flights than it is for international flights – three to five months before the trip is most often the cheapest time to book (rather than four to six months out for international).

Unfortunately, waiting until the last minute will all but guarantee a very high fare for you. Airlines know that people looking for flights at the last minute likely really need to fly, no matter the price.

Therefore, they charge a premium. Plus, waiting it out means seats will continue filling up, which naturally drives up prices for the ones that remain.

See Related: Ways to Book the Cheapest First-Class Flights

9. Fly for Free on Points or Miles

Woman holding credit cards
Farknot Architect / Adobe Stock

My personal favorite way to find cheap domestic flights is to find the ones you don’t have to pay for at all. That’s the magic of points and miles, which are easy to earn and very satisfying to redeem for free travel.

You don’t have to fly a hundred times a year to rack up the miles you need. Most airlines offer a co-branded credit card that will get you a nice, fat sign-up bonus just for spending within the first few months. That bonus alone is usually enough to earn you a trip, and you’ll continue earning points or miles for every dollar you spend on normal purchases.

See Related: Amex Points vs Chase Points: What is Better?

10. Consider Hidden City Ticketing

Skiplagged Ticketing Technique to get Cheap Flights
Skiplagged / Skiplagged

Finally, a controversial but fascinating way to get really cheap domestic flights: hidden city ticketing, also known as skiplagging. We should note up front that while this may not be illegal, it is technically prohibited by each airline’s contract of carriage, and there could be consequences.

These tickets involve a destination that you never plan on going to in order to take advantage of a cheap fare. For example, you’d book New York to Phoenix via a layover in Denver because you want to go to Denver, and this was cheaper than a nonstop flight. You simply abandon your connection in Denver, leave the airport, enjoy your vacation, and never speak of it again.

You can search for these types of connections on Skiplagged, a site dedicated to hidden city ticketing. Note that you can’t do this if you’re checking bags, and the airline is likely to cancel your return ticket if you book round-trip. Therefore, book one-way segments.

Related Resources

FAQs

How can I find budget airlines that offer affordable domestic flights?

In the United States, the big budget carriers to check are Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines, which operate the majority of low-cost flights across the country. In-between airlines, which operate with a somewhat low-cost business model, include Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, and Southwest. Be careful – when you choose a budget airline and add on any necessary fees for carry-on bags, checked bags, seat selection, meals, and more, your airfare may very well end up costing just as much as you would have spent on a legacy carrier like United Airlines or Delta Air Lines.

What are some strategies to save money when booking domestic flights?

An easy tip is to let an expert find cheap flights for you and simply tell you when there’s a good deal. Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights) and Dollar Flight Club do this for you. If you’d rather have the satisfaction of doing it yourself, use a travel search engine like Skyscanner or Momondo to make your life easier. Don’t forget to keep your travel dates as flexible as possible, choose the broadest selection of airports you can, and set price alerts – and don’t turn them off when you book your flight!

Can I find last-minute deals on domestic flights?

You should not expect to get cheap fares when booking at the last minute. The prime window to book domestic flights is between three and five months before flying. Airlines know that most people traveling on short notice probably need to go to their destination urgently, no matter the cost, and therefore, they can charge a premium.

Related Resources

Woodrow Matthews
WRITTEN BY

Woodrow Matthews

Woodrow is a travel writer who enjoys sharing experiences, tips, and tricks from his vacations. He’s been to 40+ countries, all 50 US states plus Puerto Rico and the USVI, and lived for several years in France, from which he explored many parts of Europe. Woodrow is an expert in travel hacking, finding bargain flights, and coined the term "upgrade engineering" referring to his talent to upgrade simple hotel room bookings into suite stays. Woodrow loves scuba diving, hiking, beaches, and all things aviation.

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