We all crave new places and experiences. It’s good for the heart and mind. But the costs can detract from the joy of travel—and airfare is usually one of the costliest elements. Here are some ways to help you crack the airfare code.
If you want to fly when everyone else wants to, i.e., winter vacation, spring break, etc. you are going to run into high costs. It is unreasonable to think otherwise. So see how you can wiggle some time to travel outside of those times. And think about counter-programming (off-season). Don’t think Paris in summer, think Paris in spring or fall. After all you don’t go to the City of Light for sun and surf, so what does it matter if it is only 55 degrees. Keep in mind it also usually cheaper to fly mid-week, rather than take off on a weekend. Another way to search for flights is to check out the very early flights and late eve ones—not always possible for your lifestyle, but certainly a way to reduce costs.
Another way to cut costs is by using multiple carriers, especially to Europe. For instance, first check out your final destination—perhaps it is Barcelona. Then compare flights to hubs like London or Paris and then add on the cost of a very inexpensive inter-European flight. Some of the flights within Europe are as low as $40.
One cool tool is Google Flights, which allows you to put in your home airport location and travel dates—and see the many travel options (and prices) out there. In this way, you can imagine many more locations than the one you have in mind, which can drastically reduce your flight expense. So be flexible with location, too. Kayak has an explore tool, which functions similarly. Airwander describes itself as “a flight metasearch engine that automates a flight combination hack to add cheap stopovers to any flight.” So you can check budget options for multi-day stopovers and well as navigate flight combinations that may reduce your cost.
You get what you pay for. But I’m willing to put up with a little discomfort to save hundreds. For instance, you can save literally hundreds on some flights by not checking a bag and only taking a carry on. In the U.S. some of the big-budget carriers that are convenient for New Mexicans include Southwest, Jet Blue (for traveling to East Coast and the Caribbean), Frontier (out of Denver), and Allegiant Air (only between ABQ and Las Vegas, NV or Austin, TX). At the time of this writing, I scored a $36 flight to Las Vegas in August on Allegiant. Crazy!
There are a few budget carriers that serve long-haul routes, making it possible to fly to the other side of the globe for significant savings. For instance, you can drive to Denver and catch budget airlines Norwegian Air to Europe. I just found a $231 flight from Denver to London in October on this carrier. The Spanish budget carrier Level offers direct flights from San Francisco to Barcelona at significant savings (like round-trip for under $400). And the big news is that starting October 2019 Level will now be servicing a route out of Las Vegas. (Be forewarned that routes are limited and the airline only offers flights on select days of the week.) Some of the inter-European discounters to check out include Ryanair and EasyJet.
Clear your cookies
No not the Oreos or chocolate chip ones; the cookies on your computers that store the details of your web browsing. Apparently, refreshing a window won’t make a flight cheaper, but it can make them go up based on changes in demand. So, delete your recent searches when you are cruising the internet for flight deals.
Sign up for alerts, newsletters, and social media
Websites like Airfare Watchdog and Cheapoair can let you know about super savers. Follow your preferred airlines on social media (and sign up for their newsletters) –they are more apt to announce special fares and last-minute deals for their loyal followers. Some other sites to put on your travel rotation research include Scott’s Cheap Flights (for deals in the US), and Holiday Pirates (European flight deals).
Avoid booking over the phone
Did you know that booking over the phone with an airline is often the most expensive way to book flights? Ask if there is an additional fee for booking this way. Better yet, avoid it altogether.
Bundle for discounts
A study by Expedia and the Airline Reporting Corp. revealed that travelers who book flights with car rentals or hotel stays (from the same company such as Expedia – no surprise) can save quite a bit of green. However, this isn’t always the case. So you need to do your homework and check bundling costs versus booking travel items separately.
Student discounts can be significant such as up to 30% off standard airfares.
- Student Universe—offers special rates on airfare, hotels, and tours for students 18-25 (it is likely you will need to show proof of education). There also are deals for young people ages 18-25 that don’t have education requirements.
- STA Travel—look for the travel discounts only available for full-time students and travelers under 26.
- Cheapoair—check out the student travel page
Use points and miles
Although in recent years airline mileage programs have gotten to be more frustrating (i.e., black-out periods and more significant miles to earn awards), it is still a great way to save. Always sign up for frequent flyer programs when you fly. It is also a great way to earn miles on partner flights. For instance, Air France will earn you miles on your Delta rewards account. Another option is mileage programs tied to credit cards—however, make certain that you aren’t going to spend too much on the interest rate since that would defeat the whole purpose of saving money.
Search as a single
Industry insiders say that you need to search for ticket prices as one person. Why? Because when you search as a family or group, the airlines will always show the highest ticket price. Airlines typically limit the number of seats per flight that is the lowest rate, so you want to avoid pricing yourself out of a good deal. This may mean that you won’t all sit together—so not ideal for a family with young ones.
Sweet spot for booking time
The best advice is to not book too many months ahead but also not to book to close to travel date. A good compromise is around 6-8 weeks before departure. This time period extends to around three months if you are travelling during a location’s peak tourist time.
The bottom line is that there are ways to score airfare deals, but it takes time, dedication, and patience. Flexibility is the key—whether it is time to travel, routes to ultimately get to your destination, or even the destination choice itself. It’s an amazing world out there, so find a way to expand your world view and see something new!