I’ve traveled the world and finding cheap airfare is not easy. But cheap airfares are out there. For years I used to get Travelocity’s email alerts and have found that it isn’t that good for me anymore. Like many of the cheap travel locator websites, you would click on a cheap airfare email link and the airfare would be nothing like what they said.

Recently I’ve been using Kayak and have found some great deals. I think they are one of the most relevant and accurate travel search engines out there. But how do you find good fares? Take out a little time each day and search. You can’t always rely on emails to alert you to super fares. For whatever reason, airlines occasionally offer super cheap deals that they do not widely publish. The deals can be to destinations, for dates and on routes that are not normally cheap.

For example:
At the time of this original posting you can travel from Lima, Peru (LIM) to Raleigh, NC (RDU) for the Thanksgiving holidays for an incredible airfare of only $295 round trip including all taxes and fees. I just booked this flight via Kayak:

Lima, Peru (LIM) to Raleigh, NC (RDU) Nov 16, 2012 to Nov 28, 2012 via American Airlines for $295! Now this isn’t bound to last long but here is the Kayak link in case you read this soon.

Look here is the proof:

Proof of a long gone deal

See how real deals are out there. Always book immediately!

The point of this article is not to advertise any airline, Kayak or this particular deal–it is to shed some light on how I found it and give hope to those searching.

How I Find Good Deals
I’ve tried many methods over the years and there are some things that never change.
1). Plan your travel as long in advance as possible. This gives you more time to find deals.

2). Sometimes the deals don’t come. But when they do you have got to book immediately. I mean now! The above deal was so good that I only triple checked the dates and clicked on the first fare and paid for it. Not more than 5 minutes passed from the time I saw the fare to the time I was entering my credit card number. The first thing I did was get the fare into a shopping cart and get to the page where you pay. Nothing changed. The fare didn’t get more expensive. It was a true unadvertised deal. It could not last.

3). Don’t sit down and expect to find a great deal immediately, but do search. Search often and at different times. This deal had been hanging on Kayak for 5 hours. Then it was gone.

4). Pick a wide range of ravel dates. Early on, use the travel engines to compare and play around with travel dates. Even though the fares may be high, compare different itineraries taking note of which dates are comparably cheaper. Save those dates and narrow your search to a handful of likely cheaper travel dates. I use both travel “Matrix” and “+/- 3 days” buttons available on many sites. Setup fare watches for those dates. I usually hone in on 3 travel dates (but sometimes I just sit there and play with dates for a half an hour–taking notes of the cheaper dates).

5). Plan a wide path of airports and stops and keep checking the options. This is key. For this itinerary I was seeing this flight as about $1220 or more! And I was finding alternate routes only to Miami for about $800. Ideally I was looking to go to Wilmington, NC (ILM), and I started the morning searching for that. Wilmington was $1231 and I know that as there are only two airlines in and out of there so fares are unlikely to be cheap (little competition). But I always try. I know what the local regional and international airports around Wilmington are (I’ve learned by Googling) and went to check Charlotte, NC (CLT) $387! Wow that is cheap. Do I book now? Yes, but I briefly hesitate open a second browser window and check out a closer airport Raleigh, NC (RDU). Bingo $295. I click. I buy and I don’t wait. I would have bought the Charlotte route if I didn’t find something else in 5 minutes. I had chosen 10 airports to regularly check for this trip and I never made it to Miami ($639 plus likely $100 to get close to Wilmington), Greensboro, NC $668 (not bad but not great), Myrtle Beach, $1490,  Washington, DC $254 (excellent plus cost to get to Wilmington about $100). And so on.

6). Don’t get too disappointed. I start searching early because sometimes I find fares 8 months in advance. But along the way I search every few weeks, sometimes weekly and sometimes the fares are scary expensive. I see scary expensive as a bubble. I know if I keep my options for routes and dates open the natural competition and hunger to fill seats will probably get me a decent faire. I was disappointed every time I checked. Flights were reasonable going round trip from Miami to Lima ($599) and pretty good to Bogota ($398) but not the other way. They were $695-1280+. I know that LAN airlines has recently merged with TAM and they were not offering any real deals. The merger was (temporarily) driving up prices. Last year there were cheap flights on LAN and TAM for $399-$499 to many destinations in the US (Miami and NYC). I was looking like I could not visit my family for Thanksgiving, and I was starting to break the news to them. But I didn’t give up. I never do. Airlines do all they can to dive up fares. Eventually the high fares cause very low fares or lots of really decent fares. Usually I start thinking, “Maybe all the good airfares are gone for good, the airlines have figured out how to keep airfares high without risk of price-fixing charges”. But I think back to the super cheap and nearly free fares I’ve gotten and I keep trying.

7). Know what is a good deal and try not to travel when it is not good. Be open minded about travel. While I have a great deal of interest in seeing family in Wilmington, I know that if that is not possible I’ve got family in California. And the Galapagos would be nice (I check often), I’d go to Easter Island (been there for $98 RT from Lima), I’d go to many places in South America (going to Ecuador next month and I’m paying $293 RT from Lima on Orbitz–not a good deal–but I had to travel on certain dates and had to go).

8). Don’t rely too much on email notices to tell you about a deal. It has been hours since I booked the ticket and decided to launch my blog (hey this is my first post!) and I have all kinds of fare-watches set up. Not one email has come in saying anything about the great deals out there right now. Why?  I don’t know. But I often click on the deals that come into my email box in search of better.

9). Don’t get comfortable. Wait for your trip to relax and get lazy. What I mean here is don’t rely on one way to fid a great flight. Sure, try things that worked in the past but don’t rely on them exclusively.  Don’t think that you can go to the airline website and book the cheapest fight. Yes, sometimes you can, but the deal above is nowhere to be found on AA.com. Why? I don’t know. I guess that it isn’t profitable to do that. If it were they would stck it on the front page. But searching the above deal yields a whopping $1,066.84 for the seat next to what I just booked. Right now I can still get the deal on Kayak (4 hours later) but not on AA Peru sight of USA site. Try many places often. Try places that were good and new places. Don’t get into a rut. Try fresh things.

10). Don’t believe everything. Or don’t believe anything until you have verified it, uhhh, all the way to the payment window. Many emails, links, and fare result listings are not accurate. I mean on every site. Yes some places are more accurate and some places are outright out to scam you but you can’t tell if it is the same price (it could be higher it could be lower) until you click and add the fare to your cart a proceed to checkout. At that point low fares can triple (the scammer sites), extra fees can accumulate, or the fare could be completely wrong. Some engines offer fares from different sources side by side (click on each source as the fare could be–and likely is different). Click, and make notes of good result, remember the scammers and stay away forever.

Updates:
–Four hours and 25 minutes later all the Lima to Washington DC flights are gone and what was a great deal for $254 is now acceptably high at $864. Had I had breakfast first or the phone rung maybe I’d had missed this deal!

–Travelocity never showed this fare to me. All of routes above were sky high. I used to feel good when I clicked on Travelocity, but those days are long gone! All along the above deal I got hasn’t gotten any cheaper than $966.43 on Travelocity. I still check wiuth them, but less and less frequently. And I’ve stopped their emails. Outrageously inaccurate and a waste of my time.

–Orbitz has been showing my great deal at a slightly higher $305.63 but the links to add the fare to my cart aren’t working. I click, it says “Standby… Completing your request” and it throes me bak to the search results. This has happened to me before on Orbitz and other engines. It means you can’t book it. Though it is a great sign that the fare can be had elsewhere. When the links don’t work (or are suddenly for a higher fare) scramble and check the other engines. The fare might be still available elsewhere. I occasionally book on Orbitz.

–Expedia like Travelocity never showed this great deal. I have booked on Expedia before, but that was years ago. I still search when desperate and to not get stuck in a rut.

–Lowfares.com is a place I rarely check out. They tout me with $49 Lima to Raleigh ads and every once in a while for pure amusement I click. So I did today, to see what they had. They told me there were 6 sites to compare and the results were unimpressive. One result BookingBuddy (offered a link to Kayak that said $950 lowest fare which was inaccurate) and Orbitz with the $305.63 fair (that can’t be booked). The whole experience tied up one whole computer opening a litany of comparison windows and crashed my browser twice. I gotta say I do not trust these comparison engines. I consistently get lower fares going to the real booking engines directly. The fares that open up in comparison engine are not what they claim. They often mislead the true lower fare that is really on the site. Stay away from comparison engines.

–Priceline never showed my good deal. Though I did not try to bid for fear they would book the seat next to mine. Truthfully, I’ve booked a few reverse bids with them that were acceptable. Sometime I sit for 30 minutes and lowball my best ticket offer on Priceline to see if I get a better deal. It has been years since I have. I don’t trust the non-bid fares they show so I don’t like the site.

–Despegar.com (in Spanish only) has yet to impress me with the high prices they quote. Also found several deals that end up costing triple with the fees. The name to me is like DesprateAir I click when I’m desperate and want to blow off steam and chuckle at the offerings.

–TrpAdvisor never advised me of this deal. I like the owl logo but never the clicking.

–Five hours later Kayak  no longer provided the results via a regular search. But they could still be found via the original URL I posted however the rate was no good by then and yielded a $955.44 normal price (actually lower than previous weeks).