If you’re thinking of taking a domestic trip right now, here are tips on how to find cheap domestic flights from the experts at Scott’s Cheap Flights.
💸 The best deals right now are domestic.
In normal times, I’d argue that the best deals happen on international flights, which are typically expensive but occasionally get super duper cheap.
But during the pandemic, airlines have slashed the number of international flights, making deals rarer. With far more seats available on domestic routes—and far greater demand from leisure travelers—that’s where you’ll currently find the best deals.
📆 Cheap domestic flights are most likely to pop up 1 to 3 months in advance.
The Goldilocks Window for when cheap domestic flights are most likely to pop up is 1 to 3 months before a trip. (For international flights it’s more like 2 to 8 months out.)
One interesting quirk, though: during the pandemic, last-minute flights have gotten much cheaper. In the Before Times, airlines would jack up the price on last-minute flights to gouge business travelers. But with business travel currently on hiatus, last-minute deals are having a moment.
🔁 Many airlines are offering free date changes.
Delta, United, Alaska, and jetBlue have all joined Southwest in automatically waiving change fees on all new bookings made by July 31, though you’d still have to pay a fare difference if there is one. (American’s policy is slightly different, with waived change fees on all regular economy tickets; fees are waived on basic economy tickets only if you travel by September 30.)
Pre-pandemic it would cost $200+ to change your travel dates. While I wouldn’t expect this current perk to last much longer, there’s an opportunity now to lock in low fares and have flexibility to change your travel dates later if you don’t feel it’s safe to travel come trip time.
💻 Southwest’s prices don’t show up on flight search engines.
With open seating and no fees for bags/changes/cancellations, Southwest is a fan favorite. Be sure to account for these perks when comparing fares; all else equal, I’d gladly book a $150 Southwest ticket over a $130 United basic economy ticket.
But remember, Southwest fares don’t show up on Google Flights or any other search engine; you’ve gotta search separately on Southwest’s website to see the prices. (We include Southwest in SCF deals!)
🧐 Keep an eye out for fare matches.
Airlines are notorious for playing Follow the Leader; when American puts out a $100 roundtrip fare to Chicago, it’s quite common to see the same fare show up within hours on United, Southwest, et al.
So if you see a fare you like but are hoping for a different airline/routing/flight time, a little patience may pay off.
And if a better flight pops up after you booked, remember the 24-Hour Rule, a federal law that automatically gives travelers a 24-hour grace period after purchase to cancel for a full refund.
⏱ Domestic deals last longer.
There’s a rule of thumb with flights: the better the fare, the shorter it lasts. But while the cheapest international fares are often gone within hours, domestic deals tend to stick around longer, usually at least a few days.