How to Find the Lowest Airfare: Be Flexible.

Untitled, 2010 - Photo by David Terrazas (

First, thank you so much to all of you who have been sharing your Scandinavia tips! I really appreciate it and am so excited for our trip this June. I’ve just added some follow-up questions to the thread if anyone wants to take a stab…

Second, I mentioned that we were fortunate enough to find some really good airfare deals and some of you asked for more details. It’s not the sexiest blog post (hello, screenshots), but here’s the story…

I love Kayak Explore.

If you have any flexibility with your destination wishlist and calendar, you should check out Kayak Explore. You simply enter your home airport and then see where you can go for how much—all over the world, by region, by season, or by month. It won’t show you every fare, just the least expensive. When I used Oakland as our home airport, I checked a box for nonstop flights only and spotted a $364 roundtrip ticket to Stockholm. When you hover on the price it tells you exactly when you’d need to travel to get that exact fare. It turned out we’d need to go for only four days in March for that price—which, though tempting, wouldn’t work. Still, it pointed me in the right direction: there were deals to be had on a roundtrip ticket from Oakland to Stockholm on Norwegian air. I didn’t even know that flight existed.

So I stuck with Oakland and Europe and searched month by month. June revealed some $600 tickets for two-week stays—still a bargain when $1400 is closer to the norm. Score!

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Here’s what the screen looked like yesterday: you can fly direct to London for $500 if you can leave Monday, October 17th, and return 11 days later. From there you can easily get anywhere in Europe!

Let’s say that you don’t want to leave on a Monday and waste that weekend. That’s when you switch to the flight screen: click on the fare in question, and select “Find Flights” (sometimes that fare does change slightly). Click on “Change” at the top of the screen, and ask to see flights 3 days before or after the date in question. Normal flight search stuff…

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If you don’t care about flying direct, here’s a look at what you can get to Europe out of Oakland on Kayak Explore.

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Right now there are a lot of good deals on fall fares to Europe—October, specifically. Hudson will be starting kindergarten in the fall, so we certainly wouldn’t want to pull him out of school those first months. (But if school or work weren’t a factor, I bet Barcelona would be beautiful in then!)

If you need to be more specific, you can get a sense of what’s available by limiting a search to a specific month and then searching by different home airports (we prefer to fly out of Sacramento, but can also use Oakland or San Francisco) and nonstop versus direct. This assumes you aren’t limited to a specific destination. Maybe you’re open to anywhere with warm water in April?

And Google Flights is possibly even better.

If your search is more narrow, I’d suggest Google Flights instead. (In fact, you could really do all the first bit on Google Flights as it has a wonderful map search tool, too, but the truth is: I’m just used to using Kayak.) Here’s a quick search for a week in August and the best fares to some popular destinations…

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From there you can treat it like most good search engines: check multiple airports to see if flying into another one near your destination would be cheaper, and even shows you how much you’ll save if your travel plans are flexible and you can fly later in the day, or even on another day close to your requested one. Of course Google goes a few steps further: You can narrow your search by flight time (big on my list of deciding factors), and once you’ve chosen a destination and you’re looking at that long list of fares, Google will calculate which flight it thinks is the best deal based on a combination of cost and speed. Nice!

Finally, Google’s Explore function has another interface worth mentioning:

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This shows the lowest fares in Europe for trips spanning 3-14 days (you can change that parameter). Look how much variability there is even within the month of May if you’re trying to get to, say, Helsinki! From $600 to $1600. And then you can scroll to the right and see that the price starts trending up in June and July and sloping back down at the end of August.

In other words, you can get a sense for where to go and when to go there, and and idea for what constitutes an average price or a steal.

The whole idea is that a little flexibility at the onset will yield the best results for any specific trip. And if your wanderlust list is long like mine, this can come in very handy!

Please share your favorite tips for scoring good deals! I’d love to hear!

P.S. This is also how we ended up in Ireland one June, and Costa Rica one February. Both just happened to have good fares and we jumped at the chance to plan a trip! There’s no shortage of places I’d like to see.

[Top Photo: Untitled, 2010 – Photo by David Terrazas (]

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