September 23, 2019

How to Find Cheap Flights from DC

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The truth is, District Flight Deals doesn’t cover all your travel needs.

If you're on our email list, we'll alert you when we see flight deals from DC, but unfortunately, we don't have enough time to help our subscribers plan their specific trips.

So, what should you do if you need to book a flight right now? If you don't have the luxury of flexibility in when you travel and where you travel to?

This article is a short guide to finding the cheapest flights available when you have specific travel needs. While there are dozens of online travel agencies (OTAs) and booking platforms, we're only covering the ones that give you the highest impact for your time searching.

Find Flight Deals from DC

Basically, this process has three parts:

  1. Determine your must-haves for your trip. Can you be flexible on your departure/arrival airport, seat class, layovers, airlines, baggage, etc.? Again, the more flexible you can be on any of these parameters, the more likely you’ll find a cheap flight.
  2. Find the cheapest flights from IAD, BWI, or DCA that are available now that fit those parameters (using Google Flights, Skiplagged, and Skyscanner) 
  3. See if the Hopper app thinks now is the best time to buy, or if you should wait a bit longer

It may be helpful to create a spreadsheet so you can track all your different flight options throughout this process.

You can think through part 1 on your own, and we’ll dive into exactly how to do part 2 in a second, but first let’s cover Hopper. 

Hopper is an app that uses “AI” to analyze millions of rows of data about past flights and project if your flight will increase or drop in price in the future.

Their website doesn’t have this functionality, so you’ll have to use a smartphone and get their app.

While even their model makes mistakes sometimes, predicting future flight prices is incredibly difficult to do, and their best guess is likely better than yours.

Finding the Cheapest Flights from DC

There are four kinds of trips you might want to plan, depending on your flexibility on destination and dates.

While there’s a spectrum of flexibility on both aspects, breaking trips into these four kinds helps determine the best way to search.

Flexible Dates, Specific Destination

Let’s say it’s on your bucket list to go to Lima, Peru, but you don’t particularly care when you go. Or, maybe you know you want to go in January, but you can be flexible about exactly what dates you leave and return, and about the duration of your trip.

In this case, Skyscanner is your best friend.

Skyscanner’s home page looks like any other flight search engine, but there’s one feature that makes it completely different. The ability to search by “Whole Month”, and then by “Cheapest Month”.

Hit the “Search flights” button and you’ll be taken to a calendar view of the month which is cheapest to travel in right now.

Choose your departure and return flights, put the route and dates into Hopper (as mentioned above) and book (or don’t).

Specific Dates, Specific Destination

Let’s say you know you need to go to a wedding in Cabo the second weekend in November. 

In this case, the tools we’ll use are Skiplagged and Google Flights. 

If you’re not familiar with Skiplagged, it’s a flight search engine that also finds hidden-city fares. What’s a hidden-city fare? 

Say you want to fly to Destination A. Because of the way airlines price their flights, it might be cheaper to buy a ticket to Destination B, with a layover in Destination A, and simply walk out of the airport during your “layover”.

This seems to be legal*, but airlines don’t like it, because they get less money. They can cancel your return flight, so it’s worth noting that it’s risky. If you’re really risk-averse, only do it on your return flight every once in a while with any given airline.

In addition to finding hidden city fares, Skiplagged also shows Southwest flights, something most search engines don’t do.

Pro Tip: If you’re ever looking for Southwest flights from all three Washington, DC area airports (DCA, BWI, and IAD), search on Skiplagged using WAS as your origin airport code. Skiplagged will return results for all three airports. On Southwest’s website, it’s only possible to search from one airport at a time.

I’d recommend searching for flights on both Skiplagged and Google Flights, as they each have features the other lacks. 

Skiplagged Advantages:

  • Hidden city (aka “Skiplagged”) rates
  • Loads Southwest flights (though it takes a few extra seconds)

Google Flights Advantages:

  • Allows you to filter by baggage allotments and/or seat class
  • Preview prices of routes in calendar view
  • Search multiple destination airport codes at a time (for instance, JFK and LGA together instead of one at a time)
  • Tells you if it thinks the price is relatively low or not (though not as accurate as other sources)

Using either tool, the process is the same.

  1. Set your destination and dates
  2. Set your other parameters (number of stops, time of departure, bags, etc.)
  3. Find your favorite flight(s)
  4. Compare current price to Hopper’s price prediction
  5. Book! (or don’t).

Specific Dates, Flexible Destination

Let’s say you know you want to go on vacation during the first week in June, but you'd be happy with cheap flights from DC to anywhere.

Again, Skyscanner is a good option for this scenario.

Set your destination to “Everywhere”, and input your specific dates. Then click “Search flights” and you’ll be taken to a page with flights to various destinations (ordered by price).

Keep this open in one tab, and start a search on Google Flights Explore Map page in another.

The Explore feature of Google Flights allows you to input your dates and get a map view of the various flights available (not sorted by price, but filterable).

These two engines, Skyscanner and Google Flights Explore will give you some great options for finding your next trip. Unfortunately, neither allow you to filter out certain airlines (Spirit, Frontier, etc.). That’s part of what District Flight Deals helps do (we review every flight and make sure it’s actually reasonable before sending it).

Again, after finding a flight (or flights) that might work for you, input the route info into the Hopper app, and make a decision about booking.

Conclusion

As you can see, different tools work better for different situations. To summarize, here are the platforms to use in different cases:

(Sizes of logos represent their helpfulness in each kind of flight search)

Finding flights can be a tedious process, but this article gives you somewhere to begin. If you have any questions about the various tools and platforms, send us an email. 

We wish we had the time to help you book your specific trip, but to be most helpful, we’ll keep our eyes peeled for crazy cheap deals and send them your way when we see them. 

Using our deals works best if you can be flexible about your destination and your dates, but we may just see something that works for your specific travel needs. Just sign up if you’re not on the list!

Want to help your friends find cheap flights? Share this article so they can sign up or use the tips!

*Not legal advice.

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