How to Find Flight Deals, Part I

Finding flight deals is an essential part of value travel. Where to begin? Let's start with Hopper.

Transportation will account for a good chunk of your travel budget when traveling internationally.  Knowing how to find flight deals is an essential part of value travel.

Since flexibility is the travel superpower, let’s assume we’re flexible on both destination and timing.  Where to begin the search for flight deals?

Hop to it.

Let’s start with an app called Hopper (No relation to Dennis). There’s no website, so you’ll need to download the app onto your phone. 

Hopper is a travel booking site like Kayak and google flights (which we’ll look at later).  Each has its advantages, but Hopper is a bit easier to use because it color-codes airfare using a calendar view.  Each calendar day is a color. Red is expensive, yellow and orange are in the middle, and green is cheap.  Pretty intuitive.

We’ll depart from Atlanta, so let’s enter Atlanta as our origin.  We’re flexible on destination, but since we’ve heard about Paris in springtime, we’ll start with Paris.  When given the choice, always select all airports (Paris has three) to maximize the chance of finding a great deal. 

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France.
That which needs no caption

Awesome!  Hopper’s calendar shows “green” fares throughout much of January through April 2021 (Fares change rapidly and may be long gone when you read this).

From Hopper

Start clicking on dates to see what flight deals we can find.  Since we’re flexible on timing—pretend for a minute we’re not in a pandemic and that travel in spring 2021 will be normal—we’ll start clicking the “green” dates in April (because April is warmer than March) to see what the fares look like.  Click around….

Delta don’t play with the Hop.

Hopper’s chief drawback is that Delta and Southwest don’t share data with it (Southwest doesn’t share fares with any booking sites). So Delta fares will not show up on Hopper. This is not a big deal with international travel, however. Delta cross-books international flights with codeshare partners like Air France, KLM, and Alitalia. Hopper shows those partner fares.

Green, good. Red, bad. Kinda.

Hopper’s color-coding lets you easily find potential flight deals.  Unfortunately, the colors are not always accurate, and the dollar figures attributed to the colors even less so.  (See above: green means $540 to $550 and red means $570 or more…  Huh??).  Trust me… think of the colors as a guide, not gospel.  Let your clicking finger do the work.

Say we want to spend 11 nights in Europe.  We’ll select dates in late April—April 22 to May 3.  Here’s what we see:

Hopper advice
Hopper offers advice about when to book, helping you get a good deal.

Woohoo!  The dancing bunny brings glad tidings, but let’s not get too excited just yet. Select “View Flights.”  Turns out there are two cheap deals.  The first: $499 on Frontier and TAP (economy basic… more on that later), with two stops (Newark and Lisbon).  And it takes 25 hours to get to Paris.  I’m exhausted already.  No thanks!

Now this looks promising….

Door number two is a $540 flight (including taxes/fees) on United (economy, which is better than economy basic), with one short stop in Toronto, eh?  Total flight time is 10 hours, 55 minutes.  Much better! 

We’ll select the United flight departing Atlanta on April 22 at 3:35 p.m. as the outbound flight.  Then we’ll check out the return options.  Sometimes, flights home will be expensive, and we want to avoid that.  We see lots of options on United and its partner Lufthansa for $540 to $554, all with one stop. 

Let’s choose the flight departing Paris on May 3 at 9:45 a.m., connecting through Newark, and arriving in Atlanta at 4:02 p.m.  Touching down in Atlanta at 4:00 rather than 7:00 will let us relax a little before bedtime.  That’s probably worth paying an extra $7… the price of a latte (I would never pay $7 for a latte, but don’t get me started on teenagers and their Frappuccini). 

Keep clicking.

So with a few minutes of searching, we found a $547 flight from Atlanta to Paris on United in economy class (which includes seat assignments but no checked bags).  That sounds like a good price, but let’s keep clicking to see….

Remember to take Hopper’s color-coding with a grain of salt.  If we keep clicking, we’ll find the same $540 fare on United a week later—departing April 29 and returning May 10—even though May 10 was red.  Hopper makes things easy, but finding a great deal requires a little effort.

By the way, Hopper can filter search results to a limited extent.  Clicking on “filter” will give us the option to exclude basic fares (which usually do not include free seat assignments or check-in bags and often have bad change/cancellation policies).  We can also filter out longer layovers if we choose.

Rinse and repeat.

If we’re sold on Paris as our destination, maybe we stop here (though I recommend some additional searching on kayak and google flights to make sure we’re not overlooking a better deal).   More on those resources later.  And we might look at different departure airports—maybe Chattanooga and Birmingham—to see if a drive could save money. 

But since we’re totally flexible on our destination, let’s repeat the process above using other destination cities…. Barcelona, Rome, Amsterdam, wherever.  $540 is our benchmark to beat.  If we can find a better flight deal to another city, maybe Paris can wait.

All of this sounds complicated, but you can search Hopper in pretty short order while watching The Queen’s Gambit or Law and Order reruns.  Trust me.  When you find and book a great flight deal, celebrate! The time invested will have been well worth it.

Yes, this is me.
The takeaway.
  • Use the Hopper app to find flight deals.
  • Enter your departure and destination, and then start clicking.
  • Cheap fares are green.  Expensive are red.  But click around because Hopper’s colors are not always accurate. 
  • When you see a low price, investigate further.  Avoid multiple stops, sketchy airlines, and air travel marathons. 
  • If you’re flexible on destination, repeat with other destinations until you find a fantastic flight deal.