Wallet-Friendly Air Travel

Brown Wallet, Open with credit cards in pockets

The worldwide economic challenges most of us have been experiencing don’t mean you have to give up traveling by plane. It just means you need to travel smarter. I fly nearly every month, sometimes two or more trips, and I’ve learned some strategies to save a few bucks. While saving $2, $5, or $20 or more may not seem like much, you’ll be surprised how quickly it adds up and I’d rather put that money toward another plane ticket.

Here are three strategies I routinely use to help my bottom line:

Get the lowest airfare. One of the biggest costs these days is airfare and it’s unlikely ticket prices are going to drop significantly any time soon. Take the time to research the best fares online. Try expeditors like Orbitz, Expedia, Priceline, and Kayak to find the least expensive options. (Often, U.S. carriers like JetBlue, Southwest, and Alaska offer better deals than bigger carriers.)

For international flights, take a look at sites like (When you’re in-country, look to that country’s local carriers. They’re often much cheaper than airlines originating out of the country.) After checking out the expeditors, head straight for the cheapest airline’s websites. You may find the airlines offer even better fares when they don’t have to pay a middlemen. It may be only a few dollars difference, but it’s usually worth the effort.

You can also ask different expeditor services to put you on a price alert for the lowest fares as they come up. As prices drop over time, the services will alert you by email.

Also, if you’re not happy with the ticket prices, try flying at a less popular time or on a different day. Who cares if you take a red-eye coast-to-coast or on a longer international journey? You’ll arrive a little bleary (try to sleep on the plane), but you’ll have the whole day ahead of you to explore.

Flying into a different (and usually smaller, less busy) airport may make a big difference price-wise too. If you’re renting a car anyway, it may be less expensive to fly into a different airport and simply drive a little further to your destination. Once we opted to fly into a smaller city in Florida instead of busy Miami and the difference in the ticket price paid for half the cost of renting a car we had to rent anyway.

Bring your own. You can save plenty if you BYO – water, food, blanket, newspaper, headphones, DVD or other entertainment player. A small bottle of water at the airport costs an average of $1.75. Multiply that times several bottles and you’ve needlessly burned $10 or more and used up way too many plastic bottles. If you bring an empty refillable bottle, you can simply fill up at the water fountain (and some airports like my home airport of Portland, Oregon, has great tasting water). It’ll save you money and help save the planet.

I’m always surprised how few people bring food with them when they travel. They buy expensive (and often not very tasty) airport food or opt for onboard food that’s sold at outrageous prices. Instead, I usually pack a couple of bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon or bagels and peanut butter and jelly and keep them cool in a small lined refrigerator lunch sack. I lightly toast the bagels and they don’t fall apart or get soggy. I also bring along nuts, dried fruit, and some cereal-type bars. Not only does it saves me $20-50 per trip, I’m amazed at how often my little food stash helps when airport shops are closed.

Airplanes are often chilly and, some airlines charge coach passengers for blankets and pillows (if they’re available). I bring along an inflatable travel pillow and my pashmina (it’s also a great evening wrap) and find they make snoozing on the plane much more comfortable and less costly.

The same is true for entertainment from newspapers and books to headphones and electronic movie and music players. If you take the paper at home and have to put it on a vacation stop anyway, bring along that day’s paper. It’ll likely cost only a few pennies rather than the $1-2 you’ll pay for a paper at the airport. A book borrowed from the library costs nothing, while a book purchased at an airport shop will set up back $7.99 or more. And if you bring along your own electronics for listening to music or movies, you’ll save big. Airlines are charging as much as $8.99 for the privilege of watching TV reruns and movies.

Pack less, save more. If you think my advice about bringing your own stuff means you have to carry more luggage, you don’t. In fact, I carry a lot of camera and computer gear for my work and have to pack both casual and business clothing for every trip. I still only take one carry-on size rollaboard and a backpack. (Trust me, you don’t need all those clothes or all those shoes. Choose outfits that you can mix and match.) Packing less not only saves time and hassle waiting for luggage, it also saves baggage fees which are averaging $25-35 for the first bag. It also saves overweight charges (usually $50 for bags weighing 50 or more pounds.)

Don’t want to carry-on your rollaboard? Here’s a secret: most airlines are packing planes to the gills and don’t have nearly enough in-cabin room for all the luggage people bring on trying to avoid those luggage fees. Nine out of 10 times when I fly, the airline announces at the gate that they’ll check bags for free. I always opt for this option and avoid having to schlep my bigger bag and save at least $25 per flight.

— by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor and VERY frequent air traveler

Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

RFT co-founder Bobbie Hasselbring has been a travel junkie her entire life. An award-winning writer and editor for more than 25 years and author of the regional food-travel bestsellers, The Chocolate Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest and The Chocolate Lover’s Guide Cookbook, Bobbie is editor-in-chief at