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How to Get A Super Cheap (or free) Flight

At Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok they have the best art of any airport. Here men play tug of war with a Naga.
At Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok they have the best art of any airport. Here men play tug of war with a Naga.

Traveling around the world this way and that sometimes requires that I take a plane. I prefer to travel by land, to see the cities, the people, and the environments on the way, but sometimes I just don’t have the time to spend a few weeks or months crossing over land. In that case I do take planes. In the course of these flights, I have learned a few tricks. I have learned how to maximize my flexibility to lower my price, to use buddy passes, to make small regional hops and to hitchhike flights.

  • Flexibility

When I travel, I have a lot of flexibility, so much that on my last trip from Europe to the USA, I was able to get a flight, including all fees, taxes and Insurance for $200. Pretty cheap, right? Well this is how I did it. I used two different websites and, both of which allow me to search whole months or even whole years. I use both because sometimes they give me different results. I knew I wanted to fly in October or November so I searched those months. Next I didn’t really care which country I left from. I was hitchhiking Europe, so as long as I gave myself at least a week’s advance notice, I could have any city be my final destination. After that I didn’t really care where I ended up in the Americas. Ok, yes I wanted to be in North America and preferably NOT in northern Canada at the end of November. But generally I was open to any city or country. Luckily with these sites you can search whole countries. Unfortunately you cannot search whole continents.

I made it just in time to see the US 2012 Election go down
I made it just in time to see the US 2012 Election go down

So I did a bit of searching, an hour into my research I was finding cheaper and cheaper flights, all the way down to $280. Which I thought was cheap, but then I searched France and the USA. Paris to New York came up, on November 5 with a ticket price less than $200. As soon as I saw I clicked it and bought it. I had my ticket.

I did the same from Mumbai, India to Yerevan, Armenia, leaving from India within a 2 week period, and arriving anywhere in the northern half of the Mideast. Turns out my cheapest flight was 81$. I did this again with my flight from Las Vegas to Hong Kong, and I’ve helped friends find cheap flights around the world with this method. It worked and got me to where I wanted to go, now if you find yourself with so much flexibility, maximize your budget and get a cheap flight. Because every dollar saved is another fruit shake you can share with me.

  • Buddy Passes

Buddy passes are great, they allow airlines employees, their family and sometimes their friends to save nearly the entire cost of the flight. Even if you have a buddy pass you fly standby, which means that you can only get on the flight if there is a seat available for you, which is almost always. Of course if there are no coach seats they will have to put you in first class, which has happened to me several times. To get a buddy pass you need friends, anyone in the airline industry will do, from pilots, to flight attendants to checkout counter employees. Being a friendly person really is a requirement for traveling. An Airline Mechanic helped me get a ticket from Charlotte to Queretaro, Mexico, it cost me about $50. I met an airline attendant in Mexico, after we became friends he gave me a buddy pass from Charlotte to DC for $25 (so I could attend an Anti-War rally).  Buddy passes just keep on helping me, they are awesome. Another friend of mine, an airline attendant who smiles from ear to ear, she tells me that if I want to keep getting buddy passes and traveling for cheap, then I need to start dating airline attendants. Of course, I guess that is a pretty bad reason to date someone.

A friend of mine who has had more buddy passes then most trees have leaves, tells me that most of the time he gets to fly first class. But, and this is an important but, on many airlines first class has a dress code. If you are not up to the code no first class and maybe no flight for you.

  • Regional flights

Long ago, in the year 2005 I was headed to Ukraine. Flights from the USA to the Ukraine were $1500! That was about half a year’s salary for the average Ukrainian, and for a college student, too much to imagine. I wasn’t about to pay that much. I was lucky enough to get a buddy pass to get me to the Ukraine. The cost there had been almost nothing, but I didn’t have a ticket back. Remember this was long ago when awesome websites didn’t exist. But there were older, cruder websites that could do simple searches of major and regional airlines. I started searching and realized that regional flights were a lot cheaper, a lot cheaper. So I booked my flights. I flew from the Ukraine to Turkey for $80, then after a bit of a layover I was off to Germany for $50. I dashed to my next flight to Paris which was only 30$. In Paris I slept most of my 8 hour layover then headed to New York for $300. My planning here slipped up a bit, I forgot that NYC had multiple airports. It worked out well. While trying to figure out what I had done wrong I met an airline employee who had to go to the other airport to catch a flight. She took me along and paid for it all, we remained friends and later she helped me with a few buddy passes. I took my final flight to Charlotte, NC for $40.

Yes it was a lot of flights, and about 36 hours of flying and waiting. But in taking the flights I did I saved a lot of money. My total cost for the way back was $500, which was $1000 less than what a direct or semi-direct flight would have cost me.  So when you’re buying tickets for a long way away, consider smaller flights.

  • Hitchhiking
Airplanes have Auto-Pilots...the the real Pilots can just chill out while the machines do all the work.
Airplanes have Auto-Pilots…the the real Pilots can just chill out while the machines do all the work.

Hitchhiking a plane is easy; you just have to know a pilot, which is the hard part. I don’t know how you are going to go about meeting one. In the west pilots blend in pretty well with most of the population. Only in the most outlandish places will you be able to identify a pilot, who I assume will be wearing fairly worn out World War II flight gear. So assume you know a pilot the next trick is to ask them. It works. It worked for me, multiple times with multiple pilots. I’ve ridden in the cockpit of an airbus from Belgium to Turkey, taken flights across Turkey, and enjoyed a VIP meal while chilling in an empty first class seat on a flight to Germany. Overall I’ve gotten about 10 free flights this way, and hopefully I’ll figure out some other way soon.

  • Last Minute Tickets

Last minute tickets. Did you know that some airlines will give you a discount on tickets that will be boarding ASAP? Yep if they have seats they will want to fill them. However, many airlines like to try and screw you by increasing their prices 300% at the last minute.  I’ve not done this, but I have some friends who swear by it. They talk of flying from Berlin to Madrid, and London to Rome for half the cost. Just stick to the low cost budget airlines they tell me.

Hey, I’m Eric, is my travel blog. I write this website to show you how easy it is to live, work and travel all around the world. I’ve been traveling almost 8 years now. I’m just about to publish my new book Where the Wind Blows: Traveling around the World on $5 a day

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  1. This is unbelievable. I just found a flight from Zurich to New York for 133 EUR 25 of February and from Madrid to Mexico for the same price. This is just WOW!!! Thank you Eric for the tips 🙂

  2. i tried both websites you mentioned and cheapest fare I found for any month within a year from Mumbai to Yerevan was not less then 400 usd.
    What am I missing?

    • So the trick was that when I was looking for a flight I was ok with leaving from any airport in western India and landing anywhere in the region. Because I was so flexible with locations I was able to choose the cheapest which happened to be my indirect flight.

  3. I was wondering if you ever considered changing the layout of your website?
    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the
    way of content so people could connect with it better.
    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or two pictures.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

  4. Karabakh is not a recognized country and it never won a war on Azerbaijan, Russia did. Read some history before writing about something.

    • Hey Vusal, well I cant disagree with you, with stepanakert rendered to ashes, the locals would have lost without Russian support. But still it was they who benefited from the help, so by definitions, they won (the US likely would not have gained independence from Briton without French support, but the US still “won” the war)
      Also while its not a recognized country, and I do mention that, it is a country, there are 20-30 unrecognized countries around the world, but no matter how much we don’t recognize something, it doesn’t make it nonexistent.
      My experience with Karabah is somewhat based on reading, but it is mostly based in speaking with locals and NGOs who support healing the wounds on both sides of the conflicts.

      • Glorious! Will be perving your site for a while. Planning on eurotrip next year. Would love to hear some words of wisdom from the great Eric Gonzalez!:)

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