Not every cheap flight is a good deal. Here's what you need to know about online flight deals and how to make them work for you.
I have this one friend, Mackie, who always asks: "Can you find me one of those flight deals? I want to go to Miami next weekend."
Because ever since I told Mackie that I flew to South Africa on a $58 ticket (using frequent flyer miles). He thinks I'm an airfare whisperer.
Mackie, bless his heart, tells his friends, "You need to talk to my girl Charlise. She knows how to get flights to Africa for $58."
If only it were that simple.
I don't know any tricks to conjure up a flight deal on demand. Sure, you can fake your IP address or use an airfare search engine like Skiplagged to find cheap flights, but the savvy travelers I know, who regularly snag envy-inducing flight deals, have one thing in common: flexibility.
If you're not picky about where you travel, or when you travel, you can always find a good deal. Mackie may not find a cheap flight to Miami next weekend, but if his dates are flexible, he can use Google Flights to search for dates when flights to Miami are cheaper. Or if he's open to other destinations, he can use Google Flights to find cheaper destinations on his travel dates. Who knows? Maybe he'll find a great deal to Cartagena, Colombia instead.
The good news is there are plenty of sites that do the leg work of finding flight deals for domestic and international travel, like Secret Flying, FareCompare, and my personal favorite, The Flight Deal. Follow these sites on social media to receive regular alerts on flight deals.
Pro tip: When you see an irresistible flight deal that works for your budget and timing, do not wait—not until you get home, not until you get paid, not until you find a friend to go with you. Pull out your credit card, or tap into your travel fund, and book it, because flight deals wait for no man. If you change your mind, most airlines allow you to cancel within 24 hours.
When booking a flight deal, keep in mind that not every cheap flight is a good deal A flight from New York to London might be $500, but is it really a good deal if you have to pay an extra $200 for your carry-on, checked bag, and seat assignment? I like The Flight Deal because it only shares deals that meet its 6 cents per mile or less criteria, and it also considers things like hidden fees and mileage accrual for frequent flyer programs, which can make a good fare a not-so-good deal.
Every now and then, you'll come across a unicorn fare, like New York to Hawaii for $25. This is not a sale fare, this is a mistake fare due to human error, a glitch in the matrix, or simply a gift from God. Just like any other great deal, when you see a mistake fare, book it immediately. Then sit back, relax, and wait for your flight confirmation. But do not, under any circumstances, contact the airline. You'll risk them amending the fare before you receive a confirmation. If the fare is amended, your ticket is cancelled and refunded, and your dreams of getting lei'd on a beach in Hawaii are over.
Now that I've shared everything I know about flight deals: go forth and book it!
Charlise is a travel writer and former editor at ESSENCE.com. Follow her travel diary on Instagram at @chartastical.