This Is How to Find the Best Airfare Every Time, According to a Flight Deal Expert (Video)

Trying to book a cheap flight can be demoralizing. You find a perfect nonstop flight that's miraculously in your price range, but while you take a day to think it over, the fare increases. Or, you book what seems to be a once-in-a-lifetime fare only to realize you arrive at your destination two days later after three layovers and an overnight in an airport.

It's all too easy to give up, book a significantly more expensive flight, and cut your losses. But as any seasoned traveler knows, when you give in, your wallet takes a hit.

There are people who've made it their career to find cheap flights and beat the system, and Scott Keyes, co-owner of Scott's Cheap Flights, is one of them. Keyes' team of flight experts spend their days deal hunting so you don't have to. Whenever they find a killer deal (think an average of $550 in savings per ticket booked), they send their newsletter subscribers an email.

Keyes, who got hooked on deal hunting after once finding a $130 roundtrip ticket to Milan, is all about saving money on airfare. Here are his personal tips for planning travel.

Airplane in flight
Silas Stein/AFP/Getty Images

He makes cheap flights the true priority.

Everyone says they want cheap flights, but Keyes says that considering the way most people go about planning their trip, "it's not surprising that it ends up resulting in not very good fares."

A typical person's booking process, he says, is: Figure out where you want to go, come up with travel dates, and then look at tickets. Keyes turns this strategy on its head by first looking at what destinations are offering cheap tickets and picking dates based on when there are low fares. "By doing that, rather than trying to pigeonhole the exact city and dates, you're much more likely to get a deal," he said.

He doesn’t fall for advertised fares.

Keyes says if there's one thing the travel industry doesn't want you to know, it's that, "Almost all advertised fares are frankly pretty garbage and you can do yourself a service by ignoring them." Why? Because the truly good fares sell and market themselves.

For example, Keyes says airlines will advertise flights to Europe for $600 to $800, but the real deals are the $400 fares that his team sees pop up fairly regularly.

He knows cheap, last-minute fares don’t exist.

When Keyes knows he wants to go to a certain destination, he'll start watching flights early, monitor prices, and purchase when the ticket price drops. He says that the theory that you should wait until the last minute to book flights because airlines will drop prices to fill the plane, is completely untrue. With business travelers booking last minute, airlines will actually boost fares when the departure date looms.

He books Scott’s Cheap Flights finds, too.

When his team found a ticket from the U.S. to Japan for $170 roundtrip, Keyes – and practically everyone on the Scott's Cheap Flights team – jumped on it.

This sort of deal is what Keyes calls "the holy grail of the cheap flight world" – they're mistake fares, or prices that airlines publish on accident. Finds like this are only sent to Scott's Cheap Flights' premium members. Premium members pay $39 a year for access to these mistake fares, deals for peak seasons and holidays, coveted flights to Hawaii and Alaska, and early review of the deals regular members see.

On April 18 the premium membership fee is increasing from $39 to $49 a year, but since Keyes says, "Members never see a price increase," deal hunters can sign up at the lower price and maintain the $39 a year cost until they cancel their membership.

He books first, thinks later.

Keyes takes full advantage of the 24-hour free cancellation window when booking flights. Thanks to strict regulations by the Department of Transportation, any flight brought to or from the U.S. (on either domestic or foreign airlines) can be canceled without penalty, for at least 24 hours after the reservation is made as long as the ticket is booked at least one week prior to the flight's departure.

"So let's say that the $130 flight to Milan pops up and I'm trying to get ahold of my wife. Because it's a mistake fare there's a good chance that the flight won't be around for three hours," he explained. So rather than waiting around and hoping the airline doesn't correct their mistake, he'll book "a few different travel dates with the understanding that you've bought yourself 24 hours of time to make a decision."

Keyes warns the 24-hour rule only applies to flights booked directly with the airline or with certain booking engines – like Priceline.

He isn’t loyal to certain airlines, but does save miles.

"I don't have a favorite airline and purposely so," Keyes said, since his true loyalty is to cheap flights, no matter what airline they're on.

But that doesn't mean he doesn't get into frequent flier miles. In fact, this summer, he plans to travel domestically to take full advantage of his wife's Southwest Companion Pass. Anytime she has a ticket on Southwest, he can fly for free along with his daughter, who's still a lap child.

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