I’ve done my fare share of traveling (see what I did there? bazinga), and there are ways to get the most out of your vacation while not completely depleting yourself of funds, thus requiring you to live off Ramen Noodles upon your return.
So now to the most expensive, annoying, frustrating aspect of traveling: Flying.
If you are traveling internationally, this can be the most expensive aspect of your trip. Even if you are keeping your vacation domestic, between rising fuel costs and airlines hiking up miscellaneous fees, a round trip ticket within the Continental U.S. can still be costly (once American Airlines wanted $500 for a round trip ticket from Dallas to Houston – sorry AA, nobody from Dallas wants to go to Houston that badly).
I’m a big believer in using Kayak, Cheap Tickets, Cheapo Air and similar comparative search engines to find the cheapest flights. Too often we end up booking with U.S.-based airlines, when other international ones – like KLM Dutch or Air India – have cheaper tickets. These websites search a database of hundreds of airlines around the globe, so you know you’re getting the best deal.
Here are a few money-saving tips for booking that flight:
1. Flexibility: If you are planning your trip far enough in advance and your dates are flexible, click the “Flexible Dates” box and the sites will compare prices over a span of several departure dates to find the cheapest fare.
2. Weekends: Flying on Fridays and Sundays typically costs the most, so if you can schedule your flights mid-week, you can save some dough.
3. Fare Hikes: Ticket prices typically go up 21, 14, 7, and 3 days before the departure date, so try to book your ticket before these deadlines.
4. Fare Sales: Airlines usually launch sales on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so these are often the best days of the week to purchase a flight. I have seen fare differences of $60-$80 dollars from a Tuesday/Wednesday to Thursday.
5. Layovers: If you don’t mind them, flights with 1 or 2 stops can be cheaper, so select this option when searching on whatever site you use. This is an especially good option if you are traveling internationally and in for an 8+ hour trek anyway.
6. Price Alerts: Several months before your trip, set up a “Price Alert” on Kayak and other comparison sites, including specific airline websites. You’ll receive a daily or weekly email of price fluctuations for flights to your destination, and special notifications if the price drops.
7. Emails: Sign up for emails from Orbitz, Expedia, and the like, as they all send out regular emails with great flight deals to various destinations. It makes for a more crowded inbox, but on numerous occasions I have found the flight I needed in their “Daily Deals” and saved myself some serious cash.
8. Track Fares: Using Bing Fare’s “Price Predictor” you can plug in your anticipated travel dates and see whether flights should increase or decrease based on price trends, so you can plan when to book that ticket and try to do so during a predicted decrease.
9. Air Passes: If you are planning on doing a lot of traveling around one country or within a few countries (such as Australia or Europe), consider getting an Air Pass, which will offer discounts for air travel within one country or region.
10. Ask for a Refund: If you purchase your ticket and the price drops soon after, ask the airline for a refund! You may not get one, but refund policies vary between airlines and some simply don’t publicize that they offer refunds. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
11. Late Deals: For spontaneous trips, make sure you check out travel deals on Orbitz, Expedia, and various airlines. If they need to fill up seats, they will offer huge discounts for late ticket bookers, and will usually feature this option in a “Deals” or “Late Trips” section of their website.
12. Use Social Media: Follow airlines or services like Travel Zoo on Twitter and “Like” them on Facebook. They frequently post “Today Only” flight deals for various popular destinations, or offer discount promotion codes for booking your ticket. Virgin America is especially good about doing this.
13. Credit Cards: If you travel a lot, consider getting a credit card linked to an airline. You rack up miles for purchases you make on the card, and this can result in free tickets or a hefty number of frequent flier miles that you can put towards a ticket purchase.
14. Shop One Passenger at a Time: Airline ticket reservations systems aren’t budget-friendly when quoting prices for two or more passengers. If the cheapest price-point has one seat less than the requested number of passengers in your search, it bumps everyone up to the next price level that has enough seats, and continues until it finds a price point with enough seats to meet your request. This means that even though some of your party could actually fly at a cheaper price, you won’t get that opportunity. The solution: Shop for one seat at a time! It’s more annoying because you’ll have to split your transaction in two, but could save you hundreds.
The bottom line is that saving money on flying requires a little bit of patience and a lot of research, but if budget is your biggest motivator, that’s the name of the game.