How to Save BIG Using a VPN for Flight Searches

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This post was originally published in 2016. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. 

I’ve been using VPNs (virtual private networks) for a few years now, to protect my internet activity from malicious onlookers when I’m on anything other than the most private and secure of WiFi connections. (Which means, given my travel lifestyle, I use VPNs a lot).

(Confused already? For VPN basics and recommendations, see this post on Travel Security, which covers VPNs, backups, and a ton of other strategies to keep your finances and data safe while traveling. 

What I didn’t realize is how I could harness the power of my VPN for flight searches and save up to thousands of dollars. Thousands of dollars! Seriously!

I ran across this infographic on the ExpressVPN website, and felt like I’d stumbled on the holy grail of flight search techniques. Check it out:

How to use a VPN for flight searches

There’s Something to This

Years ago, I remember searching on an airline website, and I was amazed at how the price varied when I changed the country setting on the site itself. And although the countries that came up in the experiment above aren’t necessarily the categorically best and worst countries from which to make these bookings, it’s probably no coincidence that when I was in Malaysia years ago, all the flight searches I did turned up with horrific prices. (Mental note: leave Malaysia out of the equation when using my VPN for flight searches).

My VPN of Choice

I’ve used a few VPNs in all my years on the road. Some are good for certain operating systems and devices, and don’t work with others.

I’ve used a TON of VPN services over the years, with varying degrees of success. My #1 VPN service (and the one I currently use) is Nord VPN. It’s consistently one of the highest-rated VPN services, for good reason – many good reasons, actually. Here are a few: 

  • Access to 5,716 servers worldwide
  • Strict no logs policy
  • Connect 6 devices at the same time
  • 30-day money-back guarantee
  • DNS leak protection
  • Kill Switch (super important for security)
  • Auto Connect (also super important, and not super common in the VPN world)

Best of all? Their prices are competitive. In fact, if you buy the 3-year plan, NordVPN is the cheapest VPN service out there, at just a couple of  bucks a month.

If you purchase a discount plan through the link above, I will be paid a small commission. It doesn’t affect your price, but it does help me to keep The Professional Hobo as a free resource for all, so thank you for your support! 

Nord VPN - the Best VPN Service virtual private network

What Are You Prepared to Do to Find a Cheap Flight?

The next time I search for airfare, I’m going to give this a whirl. But I’m not sure I have it in me to search from 20 different countries to find the best price. I already find flight searches in general to be soul-destroying, especially when juggling different search engines, frequent flyer mile options, possible layover and creative routing strategies, etc etc.

Have you used a VPN for flight searches and saved money? Please share! Are there some typically good countries to search with?

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21 thoughts on “How to Save BIG Using a VPN for Flight Searches”

  1. Wow, thanks for this! I’ve never thought of using a VPN, but I always try to book on the US sites (I’m in New Zealand) as they are always cheaper – even when factoring exchange rates and currency conversion markups. I’m totally using a VPN from now – excellent tip!

    Reply
    • Glad you found this useful Emma! In the example search above, it appears that Europe is even cheaper than the US….so I’m going to give that a shot myself, the next time I’m searching for airfare.

      Reply
  2. The lesson to be learned from this story might actually be this one: don’t use Expedia…

    I would recommend Momondo or Skyscanner for booking a flight. There’s already enough discrimination in airline prices, no need to let silly OTAs get another share…

    If you can replicate any Cookie or IP related price discrimination on Skyscanner or Momondo, I would be very interested to hear about that. Won’t hold my breath though…

    Reply
    • Hey Florian,
      It’s not just Expedia! I’ve experienced price differences directly on airline websites that give you the option to change your “country of residence”.

      Quite possibly, if you change your IP address when performing searches with Momondo or Skyscanner, you might find price differences in your search results. If anybody has done this, let me know!

      And if there is no price difference, then it’s likely that they just perform searches that are US-centric.

      Reply
      • Sorry, I wasn’t specific enough.

        Skyscanner, Momondo, Kayak etc. aren’t Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) themselves. They are meta price engines comparing OTA prices.

        Since there is a competition between OTAs, the first OTA or airline website to pull any tricks would just drop down to the bottom of the price ranking.

        Besides, it is unlikely that Skyscanner and co even share IP or language settings when querying OTAs for prices. (not sure about that)

        That is not to say there aren’t any differences between skyscanner.de and skyscanner.fr. But they usually have to do with payment systems.

        Example: I have a German bank account and would be foolish to shop on skyscanner.com, cause I would pay a lower price on a German site just wiring the money for free, while American sites have credit card fees priced in already. But we are talking about differences of single or low double digit USDs there.

        To sum it up: Don’t shop with OTAs or airlines. Shop with meta sites.

        Reply
        • Hey Florian,
          You know what I would do to take your strategy one step further? I’d perform a search on Skyscanner or Momondo to find the airline offering the best prices. Then, I’d use the IP strategy in this post to determine the best price direct from the airline. Best of both worlds!

          Reply
  3. My experience has been somewhat different. I do use Skyscanner to look for flights. If a single airline can take me point to point all the way then it is often less expensive to fly that airline. Multiple airlines adds to the cost on international flights. Booking a month or more in advance allows choosing the lowest cost day which is not always Tuesday. Often a round trip flight is less expensive and easier to book than a one way flight to make the desired connections in one direction. So in those cases I get a round trip ticket going. and another round trip ticket returning that meets my connection requirements. On trips to China I find that using CTrip is often much less expensive.

    Reply
  4. I’m about to buy a VPN. I live in California, but about to start long term travel. Does anyone have a good recommendation? I was thinking of using “Private Internet Access.” Opinions???

    Reply
  5. I’ve been travelling for 2 years, mostly in Europe and Asia. I originally subscribed to a VPN service so I could access content outside the US such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc…but some of these now block VPN users. I still use ExpressVPN for both privacy and access to geo-restricted content and am happy with it. I plan to try “comparison shopping” to see if I get different rates for airfare and lodging.

    Reply
  6. Here are the results of my flight comparison test performed on 10/5/16:
    Criteria: SIN>KUL, one way on Dec 12 at 10:00 am on AirAsia, non-stop, 1 checked bag
    —————————————————————————————————————————-
    Expedia Singapore: SGD 59.00 (no add bag select) = USD 43.08 (w/o checked bag)
    Expedia US: USD 55.18
    Expedia Malaysia: MYR 228.49 = USD 55.21
    AirAsia.com: USD 59.01
    Expedia Spain: EUR 54.76 = USD 61.37
    Expedia UK: GBP 50.62 = USD 64.56

    Reply
    • Hey Linda,
      Thanks for providing this comparison search! Since this is a low-cost flight to begin with, the prices aren’t that different – but if you look at the percentage differential, it would be totally worthwhile to do some comparison shopping before booking a more expensive long-haul flight.
      How long did it take you to do these comparative searches?

      Reply
      • I was already searching this route so it didn’t take long at all – just a minute between changing VPN locations to reconnect. Probably took me 15 minutes to search all and convert local currencies to USD using xe.com.

        I anticipated maybe the departure country site (Singapore) and/or arrival country (Malaysia) might have the lowest fares, but I was really surprised the US was competitively priced, and that UK and European fares came up 10-15% higher.

        I’m going to try this on longer routes to see the price difference and will post results later.

        Reply
  7. Hey Nora,

    Great article! I’m always on the look out for new strategies to use while travelling so thank you!

    I’ve just started my world tour and I can happily say I’m living my dream 🙂 So far I’ve been travelling sustainably for ~8 months through Japan and soon flying to Canada for at least the next year.

    I’m excited to read more of your articles to help keep my dream alive 🙂

    Cheers,
    Max

    Reply
    • Hey Max,
      Thanks! Sounds like you’re on an awesome trip. Happy travels, and let me know if I can point you to some resources to keep your travels sustainable (and fun)! 🙂

      Reply
  8. My home is in the USA. When flying to places like Malaysia I have found that using skyscanner.com USA I can look up any flight to anywhere in the world in US $. I fly SFO to HKG (Hong Kong) United non stop, then HKG to KUL (Kuala Lumpur) non stop on Air Asia There is a British version if you want prices in Pounds. You can select the currency and see airlines and prices which can be filtered out. Most airlines always fly thru their home country, so Canada Air will take you thru Vancouver. Japan Air will take you thru NRT and so forth. There is a filter provision to select non-stop, 1 stop, 2 stops or more stops. Remember the more stops the higher the price. You can look down the list to see total time and times between stops before selecting. There is also a provision at a whole month for best price.

    Reply
  9. I know this post was a while back, but I thought I would say that you may also find that booking a flight using a Mac can sometimes be more expensive than using a windows-based laptop. Their rationale is that Mac users are apparently more affluent than non-Mac users.

    J

    Reply
  10. I would recommend Momondo or Skyscanner for booking a flight. There’s already enough discrimination in airline prices, no need to let silly OTAs get another share.
    If you can replicate any Cookie or IP related price discrimination on Skyscanner or Momondo, I would be very interested to hear about that?

    Reply
    • I’m with you on avoiding OTAs for the most part. In my opinion, it’s generally best to book directly with the airline. And if you see a better price through an OTA, it’s probably too good to be true.
      I booked a ticket once through an OTA that had a great connection and cost less than anything else I could find. Right after I booked, they completely changed my itinerary (like, drastically…flying on a different day entirely with a different connection and a 12-hour layover). Luckily I got my money back but it was a whole lot of useless stress.

      Reply
  11. I’ve tried this with NordVPN. It kind of worked when selecting a server in the destination country. Wasn’t a huge difference but still good to save some.

    Reply

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