How to Find a Cheap Plane Ticket for Study Abroad

A line of people with carry-on luggage at the airport hoping for affordable airfare.

06photo /

There’s no way around it: If you plan to study abroad, you’ll have to shell out some cash for a flight to your host country. International flights aren’t cheap, so do your research well in advance.

Sitting in front of your computer and setting a bunch of airfare alerts to find cheap flights for study abroad programs isn’t fun, but you can use the money that you save on something that is: hang gliding, wine tasting, backpacking excursions, you name it. Think of it that way. If you save money upfront, there’s more of it that you can spend once you make it to your study abroad destination.

Here’s how to find a cheap plane ticket:

  • Book your flight early. Firm up your travel plans as soon as your study abroad application is accepted. The cost of an international flight rises steadily about 90 days out, so book your flight at least three months in advance. crunched the numbers based on destination. Here’s when to book your flight before prices skyrocket:
    • South America: at least 96 days in advance
    • Oceania: 244 days in advance
    • Europe: 276 days in advance
    • Asia: 318 days in advance
  • Fly on an unpopular day of the week. Fewer people fly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, according to several sources. Typically, this is because vacationers must keep their work schedules in mind, so they leave later in the week. Unlike nine-to-five workers, you might have the flexibility to fly on a less popular day. Play around with travel search engines.
  • student sleeping in an airport wondering how to find a cheap plane ticket for his return flight

    Alex Brylov /

    Be flexible with your travel plans, if possible. Have your calendar at your side as you scour the internet for travel deals. Flights are often cheapest if your travel dates are flexible, but keep in mind that you have a couple of limitations. Mark your calendar with two important dates. Date one is the first day that you can move into your dorm, apartment, or host family’s house. Date two is the first day of required orientation through your study abroad program or host university. Your best bet is to arrive sometime between the first date and the second. If you arrive any earlier than date one, you will have to make arrangements to stay in a hotel or hostel until your housing begins. Those accommodations can quickly add up and negate the costs you saved by booking a flight with flexible dates.
  • Consider round-trip and open-ended flights. If you intend to stay in your host country for an entire year, you might not be able to book your return flight so far in advance. That means that your flight to your host country will be open-ended. There are benefits and downsides to this. Round-trip airfare is usually less expensive than booking two one-way flights. At the same time, it’s difficult to foresee your plans so far into the future. Can you book a flight for a year from now? What if you decide to travel at the end of your program? What if one of your exams is scheduled late? Be aware of these issues, especially if you have decided to spend more than a semester abroad.
  • Weigh the benefits of a group flight. If you are studying abroad with a program, it may offer you the option to travel to the destination on a group flight. If you opt for the group flight, your program will make travel arrangements for you. All you have to do is cut a check. These arrangements ensure your on-time arrival in your host country and let you make the journey with other North American students. Group travel alleviates concerns about timing (the program can anticipate dates of final exams), and it’s a great option for inexperienced travelers who want support in the airport. Group flights, however, are more expensive and less flexible than flights you book yourself.
  • Compare prices. If you’ve mulled over your options and decided to book your own flight, hit up a travel search engine. StudentUniverse offers deals for students and youth ages 25 and younger. Always cross-reference prices from multiple agencies such as Cheapoair, Kayak, Expedia, and STA travel. Shop around to find the best deal.
  • Turn off your cookies. Some websites track how you use their sites. If you research flight deals with your cookies on, those sites can access your search information and raise their prices. Not all websites do this, but stay on the frugal side. For information on how to delete your cookies based on your browser, click here.
  • Register for a frequent-flyer program. You’re about to jet set halfway around the world, and at the end of the semester, you’ll be flying all of those miles back. If you haven’t already, register as a frequent flyer of the airline of your choice. Accumulate points every time you fly with that airline (or one of its partners) and then redeem your points for free and discounted flights later on.
    searching for cheap flights for study abroad programs

    Bacho /

  • Check luggage allowances. How many free bags does your airline let you check? What is the weight limit? Maybe you wrestled everything into your suitcase and used all of your strength to close the zipper, but you’re not ready to check that bag quite yet. Weigh it the old-fashioned way before you leave your house for the airport. Weigh yourself, then weigh yourself holding your bag. The difference between those values indicates the weight of your bag. Is it under the weight limit? If not, open it up and take out the things that, on second thought, you probably won’t wear.

Bon voyage! Happy (bargain) hunting!

About Gwen Elise

Gwen is an avid traveler who feels most at home in Kentucky and Argentina. Her closet is full of dark dresses, and her walls are papered in colorful maps. She likes to make puns, read, write, and translate to and from Spanish, and she misses Vassar College, her alma mater, which helped her get better at all of those things.

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