One question I get asked frequently is how I am able to travel economically . To answer that I have put together a series of posts with some of my go-to strategies for saving money on a trip as well as strategies to avoid.
This is Part I, which focuses on air travel (Part II discusses accommodations and Part III discusses transportation). A flight is usually the largest percentage of a trip budget so getting a good price on that can go a long way to keeping overall costs down.
Flights are cheaper when there is a lower demand. Keep in mind that this will vary based on the destination. Generally when school is out (Spring break, Summer break, Thanksgiving, Christmas) and more families are traveling is when flights are more expensive. The least expensive days to fly are usually Monday-Thursday and sometimes Saturday. The least expensive times to fly are usually early morning and late evening.
Book in Advance.
Domestic flights are usually priced lowest about one to two months out. There are also more options available than waiting until the last minute. For international flights the best time to buy can be anywhere from three to nine months depending on the destination.
Check multiple airlines/dates/times to make sure you are getting the lowest fare that works with your schedule. Third-party sites (Kayak, Expedia, Travelocity) are great research tools although there are drawbacks. Booking through a third-party site can create headaches if changes need to be made to an itinerary in the future. I recommend Kayak because they will send you directly to the airline's website once you are ready to book. Airlines may have specials that are not listed on third-party sites and Southwest does not show up at all.
Look Into All Possible Airports.
Larger metropolitan areas (New York, Los Angeles, Bay Area, etc) have multiple airports. Check flight options at every airport near your origin and or destination to find the best price. Do not just assume one airport is the cheapest in an area because it was in the past.
Having a credit card that earns miles/points is a good way to get the occasional free flight. In addition to getting points for purchases, airline credit cards may offer perks such as a free checked bag and priority boarding. The exact perks vary based on the airline and card. There are also travel credit cards that are not co-branded with an airline. The main benefit being that you are able to redeem points at more places although they lack any airline-specific perks.
Many third-party sites allow you to sign up for price alerts on specific routes. This is especially helpful if you know you want to visit a certain destination, but are just waiting for an inexpensive opportunity to go. Some airlines also offer email or text notifications of special offers.
Book a Connection on Multiple Airlines.
That is flying one airline to a transfer city and then flying a different non-partner airline from the transfer city to your final destination. Sometimes you can get a seemingly good deal but the upside is not worth the downside. The biggest risk is that if your flight on the first airline is late, the second airline will not care and you will have to pay extra to change that flight. If that second flight is nonrefundable then you will have to eat the cost and book a new flight. Another downside is that if you have checked your bags you will have to get them at the baggage claim in the transfer city and recheck them to your final destination.
Fly Ultra-Low-Cost Carriers.
Certain airlines like Spirit or Allegiant may appear to offer unbeatable pricing but customer service is awful, on time performance is questionable and you will be charged fees for almost everything which offsets the low base fare.
Book a One-Way Flight.
Airlines discourage buying one-way tickets because it is a disruption for their scheduling systems. A one-way ticket, especially for an international route, can cost significantly more per leg than booking a round-trip. Some low-cost carriers such as Southwest and JetBlue price each leg separately so the cost per flight is the same for a one-way as a round trip.
Check a Bag.
Avoid having to pay an unnecessary fee and instead carry on your bag. You are allowed to bring on-board one suitcase and one personal item such as a purse or briefcase. In my experience, if there is no more room in the overhead bin then the airline will check the bag at the gate free of charge. Exceptions to this strategy are:
- The airline you are flying on does not charge for checked bags
- You are a member of a frequent flyer program or have an airline credit card that waives the checked bag fee
- Your bag is oversized
- You have multiple bags.
- There is content in your bag which is not allowed through a TSA checkpoint such as liquids or sharp objects