How to Find Cheap Flights For Your Next Trip Abroad

If there’s one thing that kills great travel plans before they even start it’s an expensive international flight. Fortunately, travelling abroad doesn’t always mean you need to spend like a Kardashian.

Learning how to find cheap flights is an art. It’s not unheard of to save hundreds of dollars on flights to the same destination just by spending the time to dig a little!

Below, I’ve compiled a guide with some of my best practical tips on how to find the cheapest flights for your next trip abroad. While the days of cheap standby flights appear to be all but gone, there’s no reason you should be able to use these tips to scoop up some awesome flight deals right away.

How to find cheap flights: An introduction

There’s no cut-and-dry approach to finding the best flight deals for your next trip. Much of it comes down to doing your homework, putting in the time, and exercising flexibility.

Always remember that the cheapest airfares are not often the most convenient. If you’re basing your decision solely on price, you’ll need to be prepared to endure:

What I outline here isn’t meant to be a clear-cut method, but a series of steps that will get you started on saving money on your next international flight.

1. Where to find cheap flights: The best flight search engines

Sorting through where to find cheap flights is a Herculean task on its own. Every other week, new-fangled flight search engines seem to pop up out of the blue.

That being said, there are a handful of flight search engines I rely upon for finding the best routes at the best prices. Just for fun, I’m going to test each out with a flexible standard return flight from Toronto to Sarajevo (one of my favourite cities in the Balkans!). Let’s see what these 4 flight metasearch engines come up with…


Overall, Kayak has been my favourite flight metasearch engine for many years running. That’s not to say that Kayak always finds the lowest prices possible, but its features and interface make it the easiest starting point for your flight search.

The two features I dig most on Kayak are Price Alerts and Explore. When I have an idea of where or when I want to travel, I’ll set up price alerts that send either push notifications to your phone or emails when other Kayak users uncover great deals.

As you’d expect, not all deals last long. If you find something spectacular, you need to be ready to pull the trigger! If I vaguely know my dates but am indifferent about the destination, I’ll pop up the Explore feature to see what deals I can find from my home airport.

  • Test Flight: YYZ (Toronto) to SJJ (Sarajevo), return
  • Dates: April 2017, Flex Month, 8-10 Days
  • Best Price: C$1056 on Turkish Airlines


For flights involving Europe, Skyscanner often uncovers better deals than Kayak. Skyscanner seems to search through—and consolidate—a wider selection of airlines in Europe.

Like any metasearch, you’ll need to make sure the layover times are adequate. I’ve heard of more than one mishap on Skyscanner with short layovers or not-so-obvious airport transfers (e.g. flight into London Heathrow and out of London Stansted an hour or two later—an impossible feat!)

  • Test Flight: YYZ (Toronto) to SJJ (Sarajevo), return
  • Dates: April 2017
  • Best Price: C$1006 on Turkish Airlines


A relative newcomer to the flight search engine scene, Kiwi is a Prague-based startup that combines flight connections like no other metasearch out there. The result is some pretty insane savings on international flights.

They’ve impressed me so much lately with the ridiculous flight deals I’ve uncovered that I’m hesitant to book anything now without double-checking my query with Kiwi.

(And I’m talking huge savings, like C$300 cheaper for a flight from Toronto to Sydney than I’ve EVER seen in 10 years of searching.)

  • Test Flight: YYZ (Toronto) to SJJ (Sarajevo), return
  • Dates: April 2017, 8-10 Nights
  • Best Price: C$944 on WestJet/Pegasus Air/Air Transat


Some travellers swear by Momondo. I’ve dug up some minor savings compared to Kayak on some flights, but often find the prices are similar to Skyscanner.

  • Test Flight: YYZ (Toronto) to SJJ (Sarajevo), return
  • Dates: April 2017
  • Best Price: C$1009 on Turkish Airlines

Conclusion: The best flight search engine

Judging from our test flight from Toronto to Sarajevo, hardly a popular vacation destination, Kiwi offers the cheapest flights with a C$112 savings compared to Kayak and a C$65 savings compared to Skyscanner and Momondo.

The Kiwi flights, however, were also the least inconvenient. There were two stops each way, both in London and Istanbul. Slap on the cost of a Turkish e-visa ($60) for the two 18-hour layovers in Istanbul and the savings for the more convenient Turkish Airlines flights from Momondo or Skyscanner are negated.

Too many variables are at play to conclude that any one flight search engine will consistently provide lower fares than the other. Your best bet is to start digging in with these four search engines and move onto the next step.

2. Compare fares with a travel agent.

Once you’ve uncovered the best fares from the search engine, write down all the information you can about the flights and search your exact flights on ITA Matrix. This won’t work for every flight. Any “hacked” fares, such as many of those found on Skyscanner or Kiwi, won’t show up since they are essentially a package of one-way fares rather than “official” codeshared flights.

The prices in ITA Matrix will rarely be as good as you’ll find on the more advanced search engines. What you’re looking for here instead is a fare construction at the bottom of the booking details screen that looks something like this:

“YTO TK X/IST 171.59UV3XPX TK SJJ 54.00TT2PXOW TK X/IST TK YTO 261.07PV3XPX NUC 486.66 END ROE 1.29081 XT 25.91CA 3.25RC 25.00SQ 27.30TR 25.70BA 14.60HV 406.60YR”

Call up your favourite travel agent and pass this information on to them. You’ll sometimes find that with the fare construction, travel agents can carve out deals on your exact desired flight that you wouldn’t otherwise find online. It might only shave $10-25 off, but for the small effort, it’s worth a try.

3. Go “international” before you go abroad.

The advice to go “incognito” for better airfares has long been debunked. But what does seem to make a difference in how to find cheap flights is where you’re searching from.

Let’s test this out. I’m using a service called Express VPN that lets you “change” your physical location with the push of a button. (Get 30 days of Express VPN free by clicking here.) Using the YYZ to SJJ Turkish Airlines test flight, here are the results:

  • United States: $761 (C$1026)
  • United Kingdom: £595 (C$998)
  • Netherlands: €698 (C$993)
  • Germany: €690 (C$982)
  • France: €690 (C$982)
  • Switzerland: CHF749 (C$993)
  • Hong Kong: HK$5,785 (C$1005)
  • Mexico: $15,275 (C$996)
  • Turkey: 2.480 TL (C$985)
  • Poland: 3 124 zł (C$1001)

You can see that the prices (in C$) vary quite a bit. Even within Europe, you’d save €8 simply by booking from Germany or France instead of the Netherlands!

Before you go ahead and pull the trigger on the lowest fare remember that the exchange rate you pay on your credit card might not be the same as the official rate used for conversions. Some credit cards charge higher foreign transactions fee than others. Make sure you dig into the terms of your payment method before moving on with any purchases in a foreign currency.

4. Don’t forget to check budget airlines.

One of the big disadvantages with doing all of your flight planning in one swoop is missing out on the discounts that smaller low-cost regional airlines can offer. Some, but not all, are represented on flight search engines like Skyscanner and Kiwi.

If you’re flying to lesser-known destinations, it may be cheaper to fly into a larger airline hub nearby and proceed by train, bus or with a discount airline. You’ll often find that the costs, when added together, yield major savings. (If you’re travelling around Europe by train, all the more reason to be flexible.)

For example, if you’re trying to fly to Bergen, Norway, you might find it cheaper to fly to London from North America with a cheaper airline like AirTransat and continue on a separate flight on Norwegian.

Here are few discount airlines around the world to try out:

Asia & Pacific

North America

Africa & Middle East


Discount airline caveats

While low-cost airlines can save you a ton of coin, here’s what to be weary of:

  • Baggage fees: Chances are, with that discount airlines you’ll need to shell out a little more to check your baggage. Discount airlines, unlike regular airlines, will rarely let you skirt the weight restriction. If you pack heavy, expect to pay extra. (Packing light and finding a good travel backpack that doubles as carry-on is your best bet to avoiding the fiasco)
  • Don’t be late: If you’ve ever flown RyanAir, for example, you’ll notice that the check-in attendant at the front also checks you into the plane. When check-in is closed, it’s closed for good. If you miss it, don’t expect any favours.
  • Don’t forget to eat: When you’re paying next to nothing for a flight, you should expect no-frills. That includes being fed. Bring along some water and your own snacks unless you want to pay premium prices for airplane food.
  • Check airport transfer fees: Many discount airlines are able to pass on savings by using small regional airports that are far removed from the city they claim to serve. (RyanAir is famous for this.) Verify how much transportation from the airport to the city is prior to booking. Sometimes, it might prove cheaper to find an airline flying to the airport closest to your destination rather than one that’s 1 to 2 hours away.

5. Be flexible.

About the best advice I can give for how to find cheap flights abroad is to be as flexible as a Romanian gymnast. Sticking headstrong to specific dates or routes rarely fetches the best airfare deals. Consider:

  • Flying in mid-week rather than on the weekends, Monday, or Friday
  • Avoiding local public holidays and school breaks
  • Early morning or late night flights
  • Postponing your trip until your destination’s low season
  • Avoiding booking your ticket last minute (60 days is generally a good window)
  • Signing up for airline deals lists or price alerts

6. Become a point-collecting, travel-hacking machine.

Even once you find the perfect airfares, that’s not to say you even need to use your hard-earned dollars to pay for your tickets! Enter the exciting world of travel hacking…

Truthfully, I’m not a huge fan of the term travel hacking. It somehow add an element of “dirtiness” to the whole thing, when, in reality, it’s all quite legit. There’s no possible way I would have been able to travel as much as I have in the past 12 years without the magic of travelling on points.

I’ve tried to collect travel points in nearly every way imaginable. So far, the best experiences I’ve had have been with my Capital One Aspire Travel World Elite Mastercard. The card is more a cash-back card that offers benefits specific to travel than a traditional travel points card.

What’s been great with the Aspire Travel MasterCard compared to others I’ve used is that it reimburses you (“erases” your travel, as they put it) for any travel-related purchase rather than requiring you to book your travel through them. That means you can pick any flight, on any airline, at any time!

How to choose a travel points credit card

The problem I’ve had with every other points card (e.g. Air Miles, Aeroplan, American Express etc.) is that the availability of flights (or hotels or cars) is limited to what they offer themselves. Nearly every time I would search for rewards, they would come up as unavailable or would require twice as many miles as originally quoted due to “low availability”—or some other lame excuse. This severely limits your ability to get a good deal on airfare! Add on top of that high season premium (which was ALWAYS when my teaching vacations fell), and it’s really hard to find consistently good value from most of these cards.

I would never suggest racking up a credit card for the purposes of free travel. Even using your card for everyday purchases, and paying off the balance at the end of every month, piles up some serious rewards points. When you add in the welcome bonuses and anniversary bonuses that many cards offer, you can find opportunities for free airfare more often.

When choosing a points card that’s right for you, look for a card that:

  • allows the flexibility of booking at anytime—and from any travel provider
  • gives you a nice chunk of introductory points
  • offers an annual “anniversary” bonus
  • offers free travel insurance and/or travel discounts

Don’t forget to claim your “real” miles

Most underused of all the tricks might be ensuring you’re claiming all the travelled miles from your actual flights. What many travellers don’t realize is that you don’t need to spread yourself thin by signing up for every frequent flier plan under the sun.

Members of the two major international airline alliances—Star Alliance and oneworld—have reciprocal agreements with each other. This means that even if you fly a partner airline, you can claim the miles for the program of your choice.

For example, I collect Miles & More from Lufthansa. Of course, I don’t always fly Lufthansa since they don’t cover every route to every place I want to visit. I have, however, added to my Miles & More account with flights from other Star Alliance members ANA, Air Canada, EVA Air, Swiss, and United. Normally, you simply have to put your Miles & More number into your reservation at time of booking.

QUICK TIP: Even if you forget to include your frequent flyer program when booking, be sure to hold onto all of your boarding passes. Most programs will let you request your miles after the fact.

Conclusion: How to find the cheapest airfares

There’s a simple solution to saving money on your international plane tickets: use all the tools available to you and never give up.

The best airfares won’t always magically materialize before your eyes. It takes some sleuthing and more than a little practice/experience to know what you’re looking for. I’m confident that once you master applying the information we’ve discussed, you’ll be on your way to travelling internationally cheaper—and more often!

Ryan O'Rourke

Ryan O'Rourke is a Canadian traveller, food & drink aficionado, and the founder & editor of Treksplorer. With over 20 years of extensive travel experience, Ryan has journeyed through over 50 countries, uncovering hidden gems and sharing firsthand, unsponsored insights on what to see & do and where to eat, drink & stay. Backed by his travel experience and in-depth research, Ryan’s travel advice and writing has been featured in publications like the Huffington Post and Matador Network. You can connect with Ryan on Twitter/X at @rtorourke.

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