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Hey there, you’re reading an outdated post! The updated series from April 2015 can be found here.

This is the nineteenth post in a monthlong series. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flier miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

I prefer to fly for just the taxes in first class, but there is a place for buying tickets. Paid tickets earn you status and miles on an airline.

Furthermore sometimes paid tickets are so cheap that it would be a mistake to use miles instead of buying the ticket. So today’s post will be about kayak.com, the main website I use to check ticket prices, track ticket prices, and find cheap destinations.

Head on over to kayak.com, so you can see the features as I detail them. Your first option when doing a flight search is along the top, Roundtrip, One-way, or Multi-city. Multi-city is for itineraries like LAX to Honolulu to Kahului to LAX.

Next you’ll notice under the From and To boxes are checkboxes to include nearby airports. I usually check the box because all the LA area airports are equally convenient for me, and I want to see what my options are for my destination also. And on the results screen, you can uncheck specific airports you know you don’t want to use.

Next there is a link that says “My dates are flexible.” I always click this then set the dates to +/- 3 days for each leg, so I can get an idea what the best fares are to the destination. (The best fares are almost always Tues/Wed, so I want to know how much extra I’d be paying to fly Fri/Sun.)

Once you’ve clicked to search, your results show up. The results screen can be manipulated in a lot of ways. You can order results by price, duration, or number of stops.

You can choose to see only nonstops, only flights by certain carriers, and exclude certain connecting airports.

This screen gives you a great idea of the options and prices out there. Just remember that not all airlines allow their fares to be listed. So always go check southwest.com and virginamerica.com if those carriers fly the route you want.

Those are the basics of the search, but there are two other features of kayak I want to describe. The first is alerts. To sign up for an alert, you have to sign up for a free kayak account. Once you’ve done that, from the search results page, you can click the link in the top right that says “Price Alert.”

A price alert is an email you get every morning from kayak with the updated search results of any itinerary you’re interested in. If I know I want to go to a certain place at a certain future date, I set a price alert to track the price of the ticket and pounce when it dips.

Price alerts can save you hundreds. Years ago, I remember wanting to book a vacation to Argentina over Christmas break and finding nothing under $1200 for weeks. Eventually I got an email saying the fare was $800.

I booked instantly but forgot to delete the price alert. The next day the price alert told me the fare was back to $1200. I had saved $400!

The final feature to be aware of at kayak.com is explore, formerly buzz. Go to kayak.com/explore. Explore harnesses the results of the thousands of daily searches on kayak to show you the best deals others have found.

You can put in your home airport and your preferred dates (or not), and explore tells you the lowest fare to each region of the world. You can then click on the fares to find more information and perform the search the previous searcher did to see if the fare is still available.

Looks like someone found LAX to Medellin for $460 r/t and LAX to Madrid for $630 r/t in the last two days. I might have to hop on those!

Kayak explore is a great feature for the aimless wanderer just looking for a good deal. It’s the antithesis of the price alerts feature, which is for planners who know they need to go to a specific place at a specific time.

I hope this post has explained why kayak.com is such a great tool whether you’re buying airfare, trying to get a sense of what airfare is costing, planning a trip, or just have wanderlust.

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