I hope you’re ready to get comfy and learn how to save a bunch of money on your airfare using Google Flights!

Anybody can use Google Flights as a simple cost comparison tool, but this is a lot more in-depth.

I have a few tactics that will help you discover alternate routes, and get the cheapest possible airfare anywhere that you want to go.

Then I will also chip in a few tips about saving money on your luggage and other fees.

Why Should You Listen to Me? 

While it’s true that I am not a travel agent, I am a hardcore airfare nerd!

Whether I have the ability to travel or not, I am constantly searching for the best flight deals and filing away the information for a rainy (or richer) day. We have flown internationally many times, both before we had kids, and since.

What you really need to know though, is that I refuse to plunk in some details and pay sticker price…EVER. Here is how I get the best flight deals, and how you can too!

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Best Website or App For Cheap Flights

For my searches and this guide, I use Google Flights almost exclusively.

Yes, there are a LOT of other websites and apps that promise to find the cheapest flights. I have subscribed to them, read about them, compared them, and used them, but each and every time I have booked airfare in the last several years, I found the best deal on good ol’ Google. (Actually once on Expedia, but that was a headache in its own way.)


Why Google Flights vs Skyscanner or Kayak and Other Apps

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A graphic of a plane flying over a map with the Google logo printed on it's side. A red tag hangs from the wing and says "SALE"

It’s just so dang good

Google Flights just keeps learning from all of the other services, adds in people’s search preferences (hello! Of course they would know!) and updates their tool regularly to give the best experience. 

If it wasn’t the best a few years ago, I am pretty confident that it is now.

I have seen a lot of other guides for getting cheap flights (it’s a popular topic!) but something that I’ve noticed is that these guides often subtly contain affiliate links to apps like Skyscanner or even paid services for travel alerts. 

I’m not saying that these aren’t good tools, but I really don’t think they’re the best. They often have the same airfare results as Google, and feel free to compare if you want to, but I have never once found a fare with these sites that I couldn’t also find through Google Flights.

(Okay once, that Expedia flight I mentioned – about 5 years ago.)

The view out of an airplane window of part of the wing and bubbly white clouds below.

It is the pioneer of the industry

Did you know that the now public “Google Flights” (previously Google Flights Explorer) was originally a tool available only to travel agents?

It used to be known as Matrix ITA software and it worked pretty much the same as now, except that it wasn’t for the little people.

Now that it’s no longer a secret, we are #blessed to find the cheapest flights out there from our dusty home computers (or phones – more likely.)


Google Flights doesn’t get a cut

As of early 2020 Google no longer even charges to promote any flight in search results over others. So you can be confident that the results are unbiased.

A spokesperson said “The results within Google Flights will continue to be ranked by relevance to the user, based on factors like price and convenience.” 

You see they were already showing the best results whether an airline paid for a link or not, because they care about user experience more than earning a small fee to skew the results.

Google is in the business of being a search engine, and as such they care about providing the best possible results for any query.

They are on our team when it comes to finding the best flights for the money. 

A child's hands rest on an in flight magazine. The left hand holds a piece of tinfoil up to a picture of an airplane, comparing the two.

Exceptions to the best price rule: 

All inclusives or other vacation packages are not served by Google Flights.

If you are looking for a vacation package, and not just a flight deal, then try Expedia, Travelocity, or the major airlines for vacation packages.

When it comes to pre-packaged vacations, this is the one area where you may still find the best prices through the website of a travel agent. 

Some small airlines do not come up on the results for Google Flights.

I don’t know whether that is an issue with translating sites that aren’t in English, or what exactly the reason is/was.

This has actually gotten a million times better in the last couple of years, but it’s still worth double checking. If you notice that a smaller carrier is missing from the results, take a manual look on their website to make sure that you are seeing the cheapest and best flights within Europe, etc. and not missing out.

For example, Bulgaria Air used to never come up on Google Flights or the other flight deals tools, but it often does now.

The view over the wing from an airplane window onto the city below.

All this to say that obviously I am a pretty big Google Flights fan. I just wanted to take the time to explain why, so that you know it really is a great and complete tool, and I’m not just lazy!

(Also there is no “Google Flights affiliate” program, this is my unsponsored and unbiased praise. If you want to help me out whilst I am not getting paid for this guide, take a browse through my other posts! I would really appreciate it.)

Google Flights Basics

For all of the following examples, I am going to use the desktop version of Google Flights. It’s not necessary unless you are performing flexible searches.

If you are on mobile the fares will be the same, but some of the search tools are limited.

So if you are a completely flexible traveller (open dates and open destination) switch to a computer or just the desktop version on mobile so that you can access everything.

A screenshot of the search page for Google Flights

The obvious features are all there, choose destination, dates, number of people, etc.

When you are just browsing for the best fare you can leave your search set to one passenger, but when you decide to click through to book, make sure you change it to the correct number of passengers because the website you are redirected to will not usually let you change it. (Then you will have to go back and it’s a pain.)

Here is what an initial search looks like for a full week in Bulgaria:

A screenshot of search results from Edmonton to Sofia from Sep 4 to 14.

Remember the Google spokesperson saying that it ranks based on “price and convenience”?

Google prioritizes the cheapest and shortest flights at the top of the search for you.

Scrolling down you will see “Other Departing Flights” which is either more options for the same route, or longer and more expensive flights.

Scrolling down to show more search results for Edmonton to Sofia from September 4-14

Pay attention to “duration” because sometimes it is worth an extra $10 – $15 to choose a slightly more expensive flight that doesn’t leave you with long layovers.

Let’s remember the lowest price for this search: $1450

By clicking the down arrow on the cheapest result, we can see the route and layovers:

Expanded view into one of the searches and it's layovers

Make sure you are considering time to get to your destination (if it’s not the airport you are flying into.) We live in Western Canada so a flight outside of the Americas will almost always arrive a day later (with time change.) With layovers, anything further than London we count two days as travel days.

You will want to think about that when you choose dates, because a week long trip can turn into a few days FAST.

Sometimes Google will give tips above the results for better fares if you can travel on slightly different dates.

It may be worth it to extend your trip by an extra day or two if hotels and meals will be less than the higher airfare that leaves sooner. 

On popular routes, Google adds a bar indicating how these prices compare to typical. You will be alerted if prices are high, low, or average. You can click into this box to see details.

A screenshot of search results for an unrelated query to show the alert indicating prices are low.
An expanded view of the low price notification, showing a graph of low to high prices for the route.

(I had to perform a different search to get this alert, that’s why the price is different in these screenshots from the first search we did. I just wanted to show what it looks like.)

Booking Flights Through A Third Party

You might notice when you select a particular flight from your search results, that there will be more than one option at the bottom to book it.

Sometimes you can book the same flight through different airlines because they are partners.

Some of the results will be for third parties like Flight Network, Flight Hub, etc.

A screenshot of a list of booking options on Google Flights.

I’m sure there are differing opinions on this, but I never book through a third party.

There are a couple of reasons for this:

The first reason, is that you may have a very difficult time if you need to cancel your flights.

It can be next to impossible to actually speak to a representative with these companies, and once you do, they may tell you that you have to contact the airline.

The airline in turn sends you back to the business that you purchased the flights from.

Even if you do finally get them to agree to issue a credit or refund, there’s a chance you will never receive it. Of course after all of this headache you could try getting a charge back from your credit card company, but that’s yet another hoop to jump through.

The second reason I won’t book third party is because you may not be able to check in online for your flights.

That is a huge con when it comes to choosing seats!

You will only get to pick from whatever is left once you actually arrive at the airport.

You will also most likely have to queue for the check in desk instead of using the kiosks.

This may not always be the case, but once was enough for me. I think it is an issue with the airline system not recognizing the booking reference from the third party.

Third party sites are usually only slightly cheaper than booking through the airline. For me I don’t think it’s worth the problems if things don’t go smoothly.

Google Flights Tools

When you are first choosing dates for search, you will see that the prices changes for specific days.

A screenshot of the calendar during an initial google flights search.

This is one way to quickly pick cheaper dates by adjusting slightly.

Under the search box are the “date grid” and “price graph” tools. By clicking on either it will open a pop up where you can switch between the tools. 

A screenshot indicating in a red box the position of the date grid and price graph Google Flights tools.

The date grid tool shows you every date combination for approximately a two week period. You can click the arrows on the side to scroll up or down and see more date combos:

A screenshot of the Google flights date grid, showing all date combinations from Sep 1 to 17

The price graph shows a bar graph of prices for a 3 month period, for your selected trip duration:

A screenshot of the price graph showing the price of a 10 day trip over certain months.

See how the little box says 10 day trip? You can use the +- to see if the duration affects the prices at all. 

Here you can see that an 8 day trip is less than a 12 day trip:

A screenshot of the price graph for an 8 day trip
a screenshot of the price graph for a 12 day trip.

In this example the fluctuation isn’t much, but it can be significant!

By checking the price graph you can save $264 if you travelled at the end of October instead of early to mid September.

A screenshot of the price graph showing the cheapest dates over the next 3 months

These are the standard Google tools that you can use to save, and now I’m going to show you how to do a little more work to get the best flight deals!

Building Your Own Flights

After looking at these simple ways to find flights directly from your local airport to your destination, I will now say that I almost NEVER book these results.

If you are serious about saving on travel, never ever book a result from point A to point B without doing some more shopping!

Here are all the searches to try in order to save the most on your flights.

Search Based on Layovers

You can see what airlines operate your flights by looking under the departure and arrival times. This is also where you can see what airports you connect through.

A screenshot of the expanded view of a flight result from Edmonton to Sofia, including layovers in Toronto and Istanbul.

For our example flight we connect through Toronto and Istanbul. So that gives us an idea of what routes to check ourselves.

We could try putting our own flights together if we can find cheaper flights from Edmonton or Toronto to Istanbul. Then we would add the final flight to Sofia through a low cost carrier in Europe.

Sometimes you can find deals this way, sometimes you won’t. In this case I checked and the flights would be more expensive if purchased individually. 

For the top Edmonton to Sofia flight that was $1502, it makes two stops and routes through Calgary and then Amsterdam.

A screenshot of the search results from Edmonton to Sofia including a flight through Calgary and Amsterdam.

I can find my own non-stop flight to Amsterdam for $1037, and a connection to Sofia for $223.

That saves $242 compared to booking this route straight through, and $190 from our cheapest option ($1450.)

If you’re wondering why this is, Google Flights often only shows you flights that you can book together, it won’t automatically tack a low-cost connection onto your long flight. 

Occasionally there will be an EasyJet or similar flight taking you to your destination, but often it’s another major airline taking you all the way through (thus, more expensive.)

If you happen to see a result that does include a low cost carrier, DO NOT book the “major airline plus EasyJet” option. It is almost always cheaper to find the connecting flight yourself.

I don’t know why these results sometimes show up and not other times. Maybe they are put together by Google if Easy Jet has a partnership with the other airline?

Regardless, we can do better!

What you might have noticed scrolling through the original results, is that there are actually very few connecting cities listed.

That can’t be all possible combos, can it? No! So let’s go find our own! 

London is Your Best Friend

Hands down, my best money saver for flights to Europe is to search for a flight to London and book a connection separately.

Once you are in Europe (or the UK) you now have access to many budget inter-European airlines. London is a hub, and a regular route from most major airports, so it is usually one of the cheaper places to fly to. 

We have flown through London so many times that we are pretty sick of connecting there, but we save soooo much money that we keep doing it. 

If you have the choice, connecting at Gatwick is a little faster and easier than Heathrow. They also have a Premier Inn right at the airport now (very affordable, with a restaurant!) Our preferred system is to sleep in London and depart in the morning instead of sitting in the airport for hours. I would always rather sleep and head back to the airport two hours before the next flight, than wait six. Heathrow also has a number of hotels near the airport, and an affordable bus connecting all of them.

Here is the same result, but flying through London and taking a low cost inter Europe flight from there:

A screenshot of Google Flights search results from Edmonton to London on the same dates as before.

The first flight is $860, which is actually not as cheap as I would like. I can usually find flights for about $700, but for the integrity of the example it is what it is.

Here is the connecting flight:

A screenshot of Google flights results from London to Sofia on September 5 - 14.
A continuation of results from London to Sofia on September 5 - 14.

Make sure you change the date like I did here. With the time difference we will arrive in London the next day. 

Just to make this illustration as frustrating as possible, Google tells me that the prices are high right now, at about $200. When we view what is typical, we could normally get flights between $65 and $120.

A screenshot of the Google Flights alert showing the low, average, and high price for the London to Sofia route.

So the total doing it ourselves is $1060. Compare that to the original flights, we save $390.

Now some of the savings may be eaten away by extra fees which I will talk about a little further down when I cover low cost airlines.

Unfortunately because I am trying to illustrate this in the time of Corona, a lot of the results just aren’t what they would typically be. I will go back and update once travel resumes a little more normally.

Now assuming things were normal, and we could get a cheap flight to London for $700, and the typical low cost price of a flight to Sofia at $90, well now we are saving a bundle: about $660!

Find Your Affordable Gateway

Where I live, London is the cheapest place to fly to in the UK or Europe, 99% of the time. London may not be your most affordable gateway.

To find your cheap layover airport, enter your departure airport and type “Europe” (or another broad search) in the destination box.

This will automatically switch you to the “Explore” view in Google Flights, where you can see a map.

A screenshot of the Explore tool in Google flights. Results bar on the left for a search from Edmonton to Europe Sep 4 to 14. Right side is a map with prices above each city.

Use the slider tool to reduce the price to make sure that only the cheapest flights show up, otherwise the top results will be a random selection of destinations.

A screenshot of the Explore tool in Google flights. Results bar on the left for a search from Edmonton to Europe Sep 4 to 14 - but under $1000. Right side is a map with prices above each city.

Try a few different date combos to see which route or routes are always the cheapest.

These can shuffle slightly, so it doesn’t hurt to check this every time to see the cheapest places for the first leg of your journey.

Major cities to look at, in my experience: London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt (sometimes Rome.)

For some reason right now Barcelona is the cheapest by a lot, but again that isn’t normal for here.

Once you know:

  1. where you can consistently fly to for cheap, and
  2. where you can get good, affordable, connections from

You can really purchase a flight whenever it’s a great deal, and worry about your destination later!

Add a Budget Flight to Your Main Service

Once you have found the cheapest cities for you to fly through, file that into your memory bank, and repeat the process I did earlier to add a budget flight.

For a quick example, I will use the cheapest flights from the “Explore” search (Barcelona) to get to Bulgaria.

A screenshot of flights from Edmonton to Barcelona Sep 4 -14.

Now I will find a cheap flight from Barcelona to Sofia:

A screenshot of flights from Barcelona to Sofia Sep 5 -13.

See the tip from Google under the date grid? We could save almost $100 by changing our dates slightly, but I will pretend they are firm.

[Now if you are detail oriented, you might have noticed that the times in my screenshot leave too early to connect with my first flight, but there were several more times available for the same price.]

So at $765 and $191, our flights will be $956. By doing this ourselves we save $494! That’s significant, especially when you are flying as a family. For our family of three, we would have saved $1482!

This strategy is the easiest and most reliable, but read on for more ideas if you haven’t found a great deal yet.

Reverse Search To Find Cheap Flights

If you know where you want to end up, and where you are coming from, but don’t know where to search in the middle, here is your answer!

Exactly like the tip for finding your affordable gateway, you are going to use an open search in Google Flights.

However this time, search from your destination to “Europe” or “Asia” etc. (wherever makes sense.) Then click the map, and adjust the price slider if there are a lot of results.

Another screenshot of the Explore tool - but from Sofia to Europe under $300.

The results will show you which cities are regular routes for your destination and which ones are the cheapest. This tells you where to search as a midway point.

The fare doesn’t always cost the same each direction, but it’s an avenue worth investigating.

Next you can search for flights from your own city to one of these cheap in-between ones, and see if any of them are also cheap destinations from your airport.

Building Your Own Flights With Kids

I mentioned it briefly regarding London airports, but if you are travelling with kids, use the opportunity to make layovers work for you.

We usually stay overnight after our long flight, wherever that lands. We like to give ourselves a longer layover so that we can sleep immediately after our flight and get a little used to the time difference before we keep going.

This means that we always try to book flights that land around 1:00 pm or later. That is the earliest possible time to land, clear passport control and customs, and have a hotel room ready for you to sleep!

A small girl stands on an arrivals ramp, looking through the glass onto the planes and airport equipment below. Vienna, Austria.

Three or four hours in an airport after a 7 – 9 hour flight, to then fly another two or three hours, is torture if you ask me!

You will be so exhausted when you land that you might forget things AND be super cranky.

In my opinion, flying all the way through in one go, doesn’t save any time. You will have to sleep when you arrive at your destination anyway, so I think it’s actually more efficient to sleep immediately after the first flight instead of sitting for hours.

Of course this doesn’t work if you land in the morning, because you won’t be able to check into a hotel until the afternoon, but it’s worth choosing flights accordingly if you want to go this route.

All of this goes out the window if you and your family are those blessed people who can actually get a good sleep on an airplane. Then do you boo! I never sleep, so staying awake through a layover after is awful.

Additional Ways to Save on Flights

Change Departure City 

We live only 2.5 hours (driving) from another major airport with different routes and airlines than ours offers.

Sometimes we can save a lot of money by booking at this other airport instead. I wouldn’t make the drive to save only $30 per ticket, but for the price of a tank of gas we have saved hundreds!

It can be very worth it! Especially if you are travelling as a family, then the savings are exponential.

Gas and parking will cost the same no matter how many people are in the car. (Even luckier, if we pay for gas and lunch, someone in our extended family will usually drive us!)

Screenshot of Explore tool results from Calgary to Europe Sep 4 -14 under $1000.

See in this search how the flight to London is only $670?

Now I probably wouldn’t book that one because it has a stop and takes 26 hours, but the results did have non-stop flights for $730.

Search results for Calgary to London

So if we hadn’t found cheaper flights from our home airport than the $860 to London we could book this and save $130 per person.

For our family of three, that would save almost $400, so at that point it is definitely worth the drive.

(Or if we wanted to take the cheaper long flight and spend a day in Halifax, then we could have saved $60 more per person – or $570 total.)

We have also done this before to get a reasonably priced fare on our ideal airline. We are in the plane for a long time, so it’s worth being comfortable if the price difference is negligible. 

(That’s code for “I really like flying British Airways.”)

Another time to consider a drive, is when flights from your city connect through the nearby airport anyways.

This is actually the case with the shortest cheapest flight to London that we found earlier:

Another screenshot of search results for Edmonton to London, but with the flight duration and layovers in a red box.

This happens quite a lot here, where the prices are almost the same, but the flight departing from our local airport has a layover at the airport just 2.5 hours away!

Not only would I rather drive than spend several hours at the airport waiting for departure, on the way home I would DEFINITELY prefer to leave the airport and drive (as opposed to waiting around for a flight when we are only a couple hours from home.)

Obviously I am still talking about when it saves money to do so. It just takes less money to be worth it if a nearby connection is inconvenient.

Change Destination City

Try performing an open search for the country instead of choosing a city and see if there is a nearby location that is cheaper to fly into. If you are comfortable driving or you can find good transit links, then fly there instead!

This works great if you are open to shuffling your itinerary slightly. Maybe you can start on the opposite side of the country and reverse your planned route.

If your dates are flexible this is definitely worth investigating, because seasonal routes pop up all the time. This is probably the one “pro” to summer travel vs. off season!

Screenshot of Explore tool for London to Bulgaria July 6 - 16.

E.g. This seasonal route from London to Burgas is cheaper in July than flying to Sofia.

Try a Multi-City Google Flights Search

Similar to what we have already been doing, and piecing our own flights together, you can prompt Google Flights to do the same by performing a “Multi-City” search.

Screenshot of Google Flights home page - Round trip drop down is open and "Multi-city" is circled in red.

Try searching from “Your Location” to “Cheap Secondary Location”, then a second flight from “Cheap Secondary” to “Destination”, and finally from “Destination” back to “Your Location.” at the end of your dates Sometimes this works properly and saves you some time. Sometimes it doesn’t.

An example multi city search inputted from Edmonton to London Sep 4, London to Sofia Sep 5, Sofia to Edmonton Sep 14.

You can also use multi city searches to see if one-way fares might be cheaper in and out of your city.

For example, flying from our airport to London on a one-way ticket is cheap, but sometimes it costs less to come back through Dublin.

So for that search I would try:

Multi city search inputted, Edmonton to London Sep 4,  Dublin to Edmonton Sep 14.

It doesn’t often cost less than booking the cheapest return ticket through a major city, but occasionally it is, or at least the same price, which allows you more flexibility and novelty in your trip.

If you were to book two one-ways like this, then just remember to book one-way tickets to your final destination and back out.

With all of the cheap flights available within Europe, this is easy enough to do.

(I’ll have a bit more to say about one-way flights in a minute.)

Cheap Flights to Anywhere for Any Dates

This is actually the easiest search to perform!

Using the Explore Function

Head to Google Flights (desktop version) and select “Explore” from the left hand menu instead of entering any information. 

Screenshot of the Explore function with a red arrow indicating the price slider tool.

Here you will find an amazing tool that lets you specify your starting point, but leave the destination open broadly to a continent or country.

Inputting an Explore search for Edmonton to Asia

Then in the calendar, click over to “Flexible dates” on the right.

Here you can choose the length of trip you want to go on (e.g. one or two weeks) and how soon (next six months, in July, etc.) 

Explore tool, calendar expanded view, with "Flexible Dates" selected.

For example I can search from my city to Asia, for a two week trip in the next six months.

I used the slider tool to specify that I want to spend less than $1000 and see what comes up!

Explore search results with map for Edmonton to Asia for under $1000 - 2 week trip in the next 6 months has been selected for dates.

If there are lots of results, just adjust the slider more until you have the few cheapest results.

Every blue dot on the map fits your search criteria, not just the white bubbles! To see all the results, either zoom in more, or hover over each dot. Alternatively, all search results appear on the left side for you to scroll through.

Don’t forget about the filters above the map if you want to narrow down flight duration or number of stops.

You can do the same search and quickly cover every continent if you want to!

To find more ideas using the “Explore” feature:

Click into some of the flexible search results to check out the route. Is there a city on the route that you can fly to for cheap? Try searching from that city.

Remember finding your affordable gateway earlier? Try an “Explore” search from that city.

If you have a nearby alternate airport, try a flexible search from there.

An "AFRIQIYAH" Aircraft on the tarmac at an airport. A Ryan Air plan is in the background.

Set Price Alerts on Google Flights

If there is a specific place that you want to go, set up price change alerts with Google Flights.

You can do this by selecting a set of flights, and on the total price page there is a switch to track prices. You just need to be signed into your Google account.

The final price page in Google flights for a flight from Edmonton to Denpasar. Under the price of $978, a red box indicate where one can switch on the "Track prices" option.

You could set them up for a few date ranges, maybe a week or two, in different months.

Typically when prices change, an airline is offering a deal for flights within a certain broad time frame.

If you cast a wide enough net, the price change should alert you to a deal going on, and it wouldn’t necessarily have to be for the dates you saved.

Of course this works if you are not flexible on date and destination too. If you haven’t booked because you are hoping for a deal, set an alert for the specific flights you want.

I wouldn’t wait any longer than 6 weeks beforehand. Last minute deals are actually pretty hard to come by, and are completely unpredictable, so as soon as there is a good deal, book it!

You can also set up alerts for a few different cities that are affordable gateways for you. Then if the price of one of them drops to a screaming deal, you already know that you can get a cheap connection from there!

Follow Flight Deal Blogs

Here in Canada there is a great flight deals blog for every airport code.

For example, ours is YEG Deals. Calgary’s is YYC Deals – you get the picture.

Find a blog like that for your airport or area and sign up for email alerts.

This is a good way to find short term and error flight deals, because we can’t be searching Google Flights at all times! You will need to act fast if you see something interesting, because often these deals will be over in 24 -48 hours.

The blogs I follow also have associated facebook pages, so if you are having trouble finding a blog, try searching on facebook for a page or even a group.

Pack Light

When it comes to saving, don’t overlook the small things that will save you money!

Many regular airlines have started charging for checked bags just like low cost carriers do. Do your best to bring only things that you can stow in the cabin.

There are actually a lot of other reasons to pack light, so once you are a convert, you won’t go back!

How To Book Flights With Long Layovers

On Google Flights long layovers usually aren’t shown in the top results.

To find a flight with a long layover, click at the bottom where it says “more flights.” That is where the longest and more expensive flights are hidden.

A screenshot of flight search results with a red circle at the bottom of the page highlighting the "25 more flights" option.

Scroll through the results to find the longest flight durations. Ideally find a super long duration with only one stop, because that guarantees it’s one long stop and not two 7 hour stops.

The additional search results with a flight indicated in red that has a 20 hour stop in Warsaw.

Maybe it depends on the part of the world, but if you are looking for a long layover in Europe, one-way flights are so cheap that you can probably create a layover for yourself, cheaper than finding a flight with one included. (Especially if you are flexible on destinations!)

You can find some flights from North America to Europe with long layovers (usually less than 24 hours) but I prefer to actually visit somewhere for a couple days, and not for hours (8 of which I want to sleep for.)

But hey, that’s why this is a slow travel blog!

Two hands with palms facing up over a white background. Left palm holds a change purse and the right, a figuring of an airplane.

Consider One Way Flights

When adding a budget fare, keep in mind that two one-way flights can often be less than a return flight.

There is no reason to book a return ticket through an airline unless it saves you money, so book wherever it works best for you.

We often choose one way flights because it allows us more freedom at our destination. We can drive from Sofia to Burgas and not worry about having to make our way back to Sofia.

Double Check Dates and Times

Because this is a DIY operation, there is no room for mistakes. Any mistakes that you do make will be on you and not the airline.

When you are finding a cheap flight through a second airline and booking a separate ticket, make EXTRA sure that you have selected a date and time that work with your main flight.

Triple check that you have accounted for time changes both there and on the way back (as that can change the date,) and that AMs and PMs are all what they should be!

An EasyJet orange and white plane in the air against a blue sky.

Be Cautious With Shorter Layovers

We have definitely missed a connection before due to booking separate tickets.

The circumstances were that first airline was delayed, so our hour and a half connection at Frankfurt evaporated into 45 minutes.

We weren’t checked in because they didn’t offer online check in, and after a very long run through the airport, we arrived after the desk was closed.

We were lucky and the British Airways desk (the airline with the delay) actually did book us on another flight, which they didn’t have to do.

We haven’t been in that exact situation since, so I don’t know how often you are actually out of luck, but I can tell you that you don’t want to find out. 

Do a little digging to see how long you actually need to connect through a particular airport (and probably add some time to that.) Go with answers from fellow travellers and not the airport or airline’s website.

A picture of a departures board in the airport.

A good rule of thumb, if you need to clear customs and passport control, is to give yourselves two hours. Even if it’s longer than you need, boarding starts so early that you will clear customs, grab a coffee, and head to your next gate. 

Double Check the Airport

When you book your low cost flight from a major centre, make SURE you are flying in and out of the same airport. Or if you are not, make sure you have plenty of time and some idea of how to transport between the airports.

We have switched airports during our layovers a few times, but normally I would say that it isn’t worth it.

You probably won’t save a significant amount of money and now you have to take extra time as well as purchase bus/train tickets or cab fare.

Of course if you intentionally plan a long layover (more on that in a minute) so that you can go into the city and look around, then it doesn’t really matter what airport you have to make your way to later.

In that case you may want to choose whichever one has cheaper and easier transit links to it (or cheaper flights of course!)

A woman with long brown hair walks on a moving walkway in the airport, wearing a backpack and pulling a small suitcase.

Don’t forget to collect your luggage! 

If you are on separate tickets you will have to go through the whole process just like you would if you were leaving the airport.

That means passport control, customs, baggage claim, and then back up to departures to do baggage drop for your next flight.

This is one of the big reasons that we travel carry-on only. There are way more reasons than just saving on a checked bag! (although that is nice too.)

Even if you aren’t bringing a checked bag, be mindful of this possibility because if you are ever required to gate-check a bag, it may actually end up on the carousel.

A Note About Strollers

If you aren’t aware, strollers are always free!

A woman's reflection in a close airport shop window. She is wearing a backpack and pushing a stroller.

I highly HIGHLY recommend bringing a stroller for as long as your kids fit in one. They aren’t much of a pain to bring if you have a good one. So if you don’t end up using it, it’s okay!

It is HORRIBLE to be missing a stroller when you want one. They are also a handy backpack cart at the airport, or heading to your accommodation, if your kids don’t want to be in it.

We’ve taken several different strollers on international vacations and this is the best one.

You should know that different airlines and airports handle strollers differently.

Here in North America (I think on every airline?) if you gate check a stroller, it will be right outside the aircraft door when you land.

Not so everywhere.

Sometimes it will be where you expect, sometimes you will have to wait at a different spot on the ramp, and sometimes they will come out at oversized luggage in the baggage claim area!

All this to say, that even if you pack light and don’t check any luggage, make sure that you have time to run down and grab your stroller from baggage claim if you need to!

(Also, you can ask at your departure gate, but they are often wrong when they tell you the stroller will come back to the same spot!) 

A RyanAir plane with wheels down comes in for a landing.

The Catch

Sneaky things to note about Ryan Air, EasyJet, and other low cost airlines:

They are ZERO frills. 

Cheap Flights And Baggage

The sticker price does not include checked baggage, and sometimes not even a carry on bag in the overhead bin.

(Although even more airlines have started offering a bare bones fare like this, not necessarily just low-cost companies like Ryan Air) 

There are a couple ways around overpaying for bags. 

Take only a carry on, bearing in mind there is a chance you will have to gate check it if you are not one of the first on the plane.

Overhead bins fill fast when nobody wants to pay for checked bags!

Gate-checking is of course free, as it is the airline saying “we don’t have room” and there is nothing you can do about it.

As with the stroller advice above, be warned that your bag may come out on the carousel even if you do check it at the gate. I cannot stress enough that the representatives at the departure gate DO NOT KNOW where your bag will come out, no matter what they say.

I think when we have asked they have been wrong every time, so just assume the worst, and ask someone on the ground when you land. (You can usually find an airport employee waiting with a wheelchair when you deplane. Ask them.)

Make sure your carry-on bag fits their guide. Low cost airlines are usually stingier than other airlines but the size limits are easy to find online. Do check ahead of time!

A screenshot of the different fares on RyanAir – prices change depending on the flight – copyright Ryanair.com

Another option is to pay for only one of you to check a bag if you are travelling as a couple or family.

This is a good option in those cases where an overhead bag is not included, or when you simply need to check certain restricted items.

To do this, you may need to book one fare separately. Otherwise your fare selection applies to everyone in your group, and you don’t need to overpay for one person to check a bag.

Just make sure you all have seat selection so that this one adult doesn’t end up seated on their own.

As soon as you travel with kids, the junk and liquids abound so you may want to check a bag.

On some airlines you pre-pay based on weight brackets, so make sure you are in the correct weight range when you pack. If not, you can always shift some weight to carry on bags for that one flight (provided you haven’t overfilled those!) 

We have gotten better and better at packing light even with kids, so we don’t check bags these days.

Seat Selection On Cheap Flights

Budget airlines will also charge for seat selection.

Inside of a RyanAir aircraft, everything is in their colours of yellow and navy.

If you don’t pay to select a seat, unfortunately it is often a race to the gate, a mad crush up the ramp, and a scurry for seats.

If you feel stuck choosing a low cost carrier, I would at least pay for seat selection or priority boarding. I have anxiety, so to avoid tears I really need to know that I have a seat with my travel buddies.

Ryan Air – and possibly other airlines to follow – even charge a fee to check in at the airport and print a boarding pass!

Make sure that you read the fine print!

Although it is always advisable to do the online check in as soon as it is open.

There are a number of other little fees that you may or may not encounter, and they seem to change all the time. My advice would be to click through from Google Flights to each carrier’s “cheap” flight on offer, as though you are making a purchase. That way you can get a true idea of the final cost before you make any decisions.

The sticker price is attractive, but that is highly unlikely to be the price that you pay.

Refreshments

Again, read the fine print and do a bit of Google searching. Many low cost airlines only provide water on your flights, and the rest is a charge.

a small water bottle sits on a tray table in a window seat of an aircraft.

This is fine if you are prepared, because you can purchase something on your flight, buy something at the airport, or even pack food you made yourself.

Just make sure that whatever fresh food you bring (i.e. not packaged,) you eat or leave on the aircraft, because you don’t want to get in trouble at customs.

In flight you will only be able to use credit – usually Visa or Mastercard – so do make sure you have a reliable card if you plan to make a purchase (although it’s probably a good idea regardless.)

Decide if the Savings are Worth it

I will be completely honest here, and say that I will pay slightly more to fly with a regular airline.

Once you factor in the extra fees for:

  • Bags
  • Seats
  • Refreshments
  • Misc overweight fees, priority boarding, etc.

you can often find a competitive fare with British Airways, Bulgaria Air, LOT, or a number of other airlines. 

A jet in flight banking to the left over fluffy white clouds.

While all airlines like to nickel and dime you, a standard carrier will allow you to have a decent sized carry on bag AND a personal item such as a purse, laptop bag, or a small backpack, included in your fare.

They will also allow you to choose a seat at check-in for free.

They will provide free snacks and drinks.

Most – if not all – discount airlines, also have different seat maps than regular airlines. They actually squish more seats into the aircraft, so the reduced legroom isn’t just in your head!

On our most recent trip, we had a comfortable flight on British Airways (my favourite airline) from London to Venice for only $63 per person – total.

So when I say competitive, I do mean it. We probably paid a maximum of $30 more, total, for the three of us, and got all of the perks I mentioned earlier.


Seat Selection – Should You Pay For It?

Seat Selection on Budget Airlines

I mentioned earlier under the low-cost airline portion of this post that I would pay for seat selection or priority boarding on these flights.

The first reason is because I find the whole gate queuing and boarding process pretty stressful. If I don’t KNOW that I have a seat, I can easily become overwhelmed by the throng.

I would also pay for priority boarding or seat selection on budget airlines because I want to make sure that I get to fly with my companions, and on a “free-for-all boarding” airline this is in no way guaranteed.

(Unless you are travelling with kids, when by regulation one parent has to be seated with them.)

Rows of airline seats

This post has been all business about getting the cheapest possible flights, but at the end of the day, we are slow travellers through and through. Part of that is enjoying the journey beside my family.

I hate not being able to sit together (it has happened) even if the flight is only a few hours.

Now if you don’t care because you’re popping a sleep aid and closing your eyes, then save a few bucks! That decision is totally up to you.

Seat Selection on Regular Airlines

Now when it comes to regular airlines we NEVER pay for advanced seat selection. It is such an unnecessary cash grab, and totally not worth doing.

Especially because you will pay for every leg of the journey, so $22 here… $17 there, and before you know it you have spent an extra $80 per person for nothing.

Now let me tell you why it’s nothing.

They will try to scare you during your purchase by saying that you might not be seated together if you don’t pay in advance.

I assure you that for every person who pays for seat selection, at LEAST one other person refuses (probably more like 3 or 4 people but who am I to say.)

A graphic of rows of airline seats.

As long as we all stick together, and refuse to pay, there is no reason to pay because seats will stay open. 

Pretty much every airline offers online check-in 24 hours before the flight (sometimes 48!) At that time seat selection is always free.

Just don’t forget to change your airline assigned seats, which by the way, will always be beside each other. 

I always set a reminder in my phone for the time that check-in will be open and do it the very second that I can. This will give you the best choice of seats.

If you have booked a second flight, don’t forget to factor in the time difference from where you live.

If check in is open for your connecting flight at 8:00 am in Europe, then you can check in 8 hours before that at home, so midnight.

Sometimes this can mean check-in for your next flight opens while you’re in the air. In that case just make sure you stop and do it as soon as you land.

Seat Selection For Families

If you have kids you have even less incentive to choose seats, because the airline is required to seat your kids with you.

A little girls sits in an airline seat wearing a British Airways flight attendant's hat.

Technically only one parent, but they won’t split you up unless there are really no seats together.

(Again, make sure you check in as soon as you can and it shouldn’t be an issue!)

On our most recent trip, the airline actually notified us by email (after booking) that because we had a child they had already assigned us seats

Two things to unpack here:

 1.) These seats will always be crappy, so don’t forget to change them

and 

2.) They would have taken our money at the time of purchase to “choose seats,” knowing that they would assign some together anyways. 

We could have let nerves take over and paid an extra $240 to sit together, when they would do it for free. How annoying is that?

“Oh but you could pick from the whole plane!” Yes, but I don’t care about picking from the whole plane Mildred. The warning said we might not be together. Erg.

(A note about travelling with kids: If you have to do the awkward splitting up thing, sitting one row in front of the other works much better (in my opinion) than across the aisle. In big planes the centre aisle is staggered from the sides, so it is more difficult to see what is going on then sitting directly behind. You can also chat more easily and share items.)

Airline Seating 101

I mentioned bad seats a couple of times, but what seats are bad? 

The Dreaded Back Row

If they aren’t already occupied, the airline will often automatically assign you to an undesirable row, because those seats are harder to fill.

The very last row in an aircraft is always a bad one because the seats recline very little or not at all.

Same goes for the last row of a section that is in front of the bathroom (or a wall.)

The sun beams off the wing of an airplane in flight.

Over The Wing

Over the wing is another common spot to be assigned to automatically, and I might hate it even more than the last row.

Over the wing is much louder and more rattley than other parts of the plane, and often has a completely obstructed view.

I actually forget to make sure we aren’t over the wing quite often, so try to remember, unlike me.

How to Know Where a Seat is

If you want to know where a seat is, do NOT trust the airline’s seat map, and instead turn to Seat Guru.

With Seat Guru you will find an accurate seat map, based on your actual flight number.

An aircraft seating map from Seat Guru
An airline seat map from Seat Guru – copyright seatguru.com

I don’t pay too much attention to what seats are flagged as “worse” on Seat Guru. I use it to figure out what number the last row is, and where the wing is.

Seat Guru marks seats near the bathrooms as being less desirable because people can gather in the aisle.

While that is true, I don’t think being close to the facilities is necessarily a drawback.

The Best Airline Seats (according to me)

You should probably know that despite loving to travel, I don’t love flying.

I get a lot of nerves, and on multiple occasions have thought it was the end (only a few times was the feeling justified.)

So I of course, would want to know where we are the most likely to survive

I can tell you that we always sit in the back.

While officially there is no safer seat on a flight, multiple studies have shown that the back section of the plane has the best crash survival rates, nearly 70%.

This alone is enough for me to book the back! Because of the dreaded last row having no recline, we usually select seats in the back 3-4 rows.

A little boy studies the aircraft safety card in the plane.

There are other perks to being in the back section of the plane too! :

You have close access to two bathrooms, one in the rear and one by the emergency exits. People seated in the middle cabin often can’t use the one in the front of the plane because it is reserved for premium classes, so they really only have one.

You are also not blocked from accessing the bathroom by the flight attendant’s beverage and meal carts for more than a few minutes. Sitting in the middle of the plane is pretty annoying when you need to use the restroom but the aisles are clogged.

Another really nice thing about being in the back, is that often you will board first (after priority boarding) because airlines typically load from the back forward. While this does mean that you are in the plane a little longer and deplane last, the overhead bins are not usually full yet, so you stand a better chance of staying with your belongings.

Most people do not want to sit in the back of the plane because they don’t want to wait to get off, so usually our preferred seats are available.

Remember that lots of times the airline will load you into a bus to take you to the terminal anyways, so deplaning quickly often just means spending a longer time in the bus on the tarmac.

Also, on the buses it is a “last in, first out” situation, so the longer you take to get on, the closer to the exit you will be.

How to Get Free Leg Room

A second favourite spot to sit during long-haul flights, is much harder to get.

The very first centre row of each economy section has an extra roomy area in front of it, both for people to walk through, and because there is a bassinet.

Another seat map from Seat Guru
The green centre row is sometimes free! – copyright seatguru.com

Some airlines charge extra for the leg room, some consider it a standard seat.

If you check in early on an airline that doesn’t charge for it, you can scoop these seats for free!

I believe the airline can move you if someone with a baby wants to use the bassinet (fair enough,) but I have never once seen anybody use it.

The only downside to these seats is that there is no under seat storage, so you have to use the overhead bin for all of your items.

The area in front of you also does tend to be where people line up for the toilets, but it’s a small price to pay in order to stretch your legs.

To summarize, here are all the ways that you can save on flights! :

  • Be flexible when possible (both with dates and destination)
  • Piece together your own flights
  • Use Google Flights
    • Price Graph
    • Date Grid
    • Explore function
    • Multi-City search
    • Set up Price Alerts
    • Find long layovers
  • Find your cheapest (consistent) places to fly to
  • Leave from a different airport (either driving or by a cheap flight)
  • Consider one-way flights
  • Find and follow flight deal blogs, pages, and groups (airport specific if possible)
  • Fly low cost when the total price is worth it
  • Pack light
  • Skip seat selection (on regular airlines)

Cheap Flights Anywhere – Your Complete Guide to Get the Best Travel Deals