Weeks of planning and budgeting commonly goes into any trip to assure everything goes as smoothly and inexpensive as possible. Airfare usually fetches the highest chunk out of a budget and for many, is the biggest detractor to taking an overseas trip.
Airfare does not always have to expensive, however, and there are several tips and tricks that you can use to try and trim back on flight costs and spend money on what you really want to do.
Credit Card Airline Miles
Stockpiling airline points and miles through credit cards use to be far and away one of the most surefire ways to save money on airlines or straight up travel for free. The return is not as great as it use to be as airlines and although cards cut back on rewards, it is still a good way to save money on flights just by doing your normal annual transactions.
Use Multiple Flight Tools
Looking for flights directly on airline websites is not usually the best way to get a deal. Several online platforms allow you to search flights using various toggles for days, times, duration, location, airline, temperature and even interactive maps.
Google Flights, Momondo and Skyscanner are just a few, but there are several more, and it is worth checking each one. Often one will have a deal that others do not, a similar flight for a couple bucks cheaper or offer coupons and additional deals for hotels or car rentals.
If you travel a lot, several websites and booking services offer newsletter subscriptions for free (although some may have premium subscriptions for a nominal fee). These updates keep you in the loop for special deals. Most are time sensitive so it is sometimes worth it to wait it out until a good deal comes around. Popular newsletters are Scott’s Cheap Flights and Airfare Watch Dog. Booking services and airlines themselves can also be subscribed to. They will send you an email with any special deals, usually targeted to your previous searches.
Search In Incognito Mode
Big brother is always watching — and they don’t want you to get cheap tickets. Well, no, not exactly, but your google and airline searches are tracked by the websites you use. Airlines remember what you searched and for which days and if you return to the site a few days later, they’ll jack up the prices to scare you into buying right away. A sleazy internet marketing tactic but you can bypass it by searching in incognito mode. All your searches will not be saved or tracked, allowing you to bounce between sites and come back later without a much steeper price.
Choose The Best Time To Leave
Although trips are likely dependant on any events, festivals or meetings you are attending, flights just hours apart may vary by hundreds of dollars. Air travel over the weekends (especially Friday and Sunday) is usually the most busiest so they are generally more expensive to snag a seat. Leaving on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday (the best days) could save you hundreds of dollars as airlines hate empty seats. Also consider red eyes — flights scheduled overnight — to save money. Few in business want to (or need to) fly overnight and families rarely want to add the stress of an overnight trip to their vacation (read: no crying babies). Redeyes will usually be cheaper, less crowded and quieter, if that’s your thing.
To further trim your air travel budget, consider going during the region’s down season. Although it varies for just about every country, peaks in tourism usually always correlates with a hike in tickets. Holidays, celebrations and common vacationing times (like Spring Break or the week after Christmas) will also dig into your wallet a bit more.
Book In The Sweet Spot
There is no single best time to book tickets that works universally. Most industry specialists peg three to six weeks before your desired departure as the sweet spot for booking. Not too early or too late, start to look around fifty days out and give yourself a few days to search and get the best deal.
Consider Indirect And Alternative Airports
A stop-over can be a big annoyance but if you’re saving money and not losing too much time, an indirect flight may be worth it over a flight straight to your targeted destination. Stop-overs of under four hours generally means you can’t leave the airport (have to be rechecked) but if you’re stuck for half a day and have the proper credentials, you can venture out for a bit. It’s one way to get an extra “free” destination, even if for only a few hours. Just don’t miss your next flight.
Another trick to try and save money is to also compare prices with alternative airports for both departure and arrivals. Many large airports have smaller, regional airports in the next city over (or even down the road in some places). Although the volume of air travel is likely a lot less, they sometimes sell cheaper tickets in order to fill up seats on some flights. If the added cost of a bus or taxi to that airport is still cheaper than the bigger port, you can have some more cash to spend on what you really want to.
Hidden City Tickets
A risky maneuver you can attempt, the hidden city trick is to book a ticket with a connecting flight or layover in your desired destination. Say you desire to fly from Boston to Chicago, however, you discover that a flight from Boston to Los Angeles with a connection in Chicago is cheaper than any direct flights to the windy city. One trick is to book the flight and, in Chicago, simply leave the airport and never board the flight to Los Angeles.
The hidden city method is generally against airline rules and companies are attempting to ax the loophole. If you’re figured out, you could be slapped with a fine in the following weeks for missing your flight.
Bounce Between Airlines
The majority of the time people book flights, they go straight to searching round trips. While round trips have traditionally (and still usually are) been a better deal, that isn’t always the case. Booking separate, one-way flights with different airlines can actually be cheaper. Mess around with the different flight tools and toggles available to you to get the lowest cost you can.
Bring Your Own Food
Although you will not trim the cost of your ticket, bringing your own food on the flight can keep you from being sucked into paying for marked up airplane food. Restrictions on what you can bring vary by airline, but as long as it’s not liquid (sorry, but no soup), you can likely bring it on board with you.
Use Your 24 Hour Leeway
It’s a predicament a lot of travelers find themselves in — they found a good deal but are worried to click purchase because a better deal may show up. At the same time, they know that the following day the price could jump. Buyers are always given a 24-hour period after booking in which they can cancel their flight. Should a cheaper deal pop up in the day after you buy, you can cancel and rebook without accruing any extra fees.