For many of us, airfare is one of the largest expenses for that perfect vacation. But there are plenty of ways you can save money on your next flight. Here are some tips from veteran travel experts:
Use Frequent Flier Miles– If you’re lucky enough to fly frequently enough, you might have enough frequent flier miles to trade them for flights. But flying isn’t the only way to earn frequent flier miles. I know a travel writer and her husband who live in New York and travel every winter to warmer locales like Southeast Asia where they spend several months. These snowbirds pay for most of their flights with miles credits that they earn by making purchases using credit cards that offer mile rewards.
Get the Best Mileage Reward Program– Check with various credit card companies to see which offers the best frequent flier mile rewards program. One I like, in particular, is Capital One. They not only offer miles for each purchase, they are one of the few credit cards that doesn’t charge big international fees when you use your card internationally.
During flights, crew often offer passengers credit card deals that add several thousand miles just for signing up. These credit card mile offers are often enough to purchase a round-trip domestic flight. However, after the first free year, most of these ‘deals’ cost $75 or so for the ‘privilege’ of carrying one of these airline-sponsored credit cards. If you do use one of these cards, it’s often free for the first year before the fees kick in. So, if your credit score can tolerate cancelling the card before the second year, it’s a way to score big before paying a bunch for the card.
Use Miles Carefully-Be careful ‘spending’ your accrued miles. Not all airlines offer good deals on all flights. Some limit which flights you can purchase with miles; others jack up the price of allowed flights purchased with miles so much that you’re not getting any kind of bargain by using miles to pay for your flight.
A general rule is to use frequent flier miles to make air purchases only if your fight costs at least $450. If you have to make an unexpected, last-minute flight, frequent fliers can be a lifesaver, because these flights can cost $1,000 or more.
Try a Package– You can save plenty of money by booking a flight-hotel package or a fight-hotel-auto package. Sometimes the cost savings is so great, you can even skip staying at the package hotel and still save money.
If you’re open to a group guided vacation, some companies offer terrific deals that include fights, meals, ground transportation, and guides at bargain rates. Check out travel aggregate companies like TravelZoo for deals.
Consider Alternative Airports– Sometimes flying into a nearby regional airport can save plenty over flying into your desired airport. When searching for flights, check the box that will search flights at nearby airports.
Fly Part Way– It may be cheaper to land a distance from your desired destination and take ground transportation, especially if you have some flexibility in your schedule. Once in route to a professional conference our fights out of Dallas to Miami were grounded. We ended up catching a flight part way to Miami and renting a car to drive the rest of the way. We ended up save several hundred dollars, even after paying for the flight. And we enjoyed seeing part of the country we’d have otherwise not experienced.
Opt for One-way Tickets– Sometimes a one-way ticket is less expensive than round-trip. You may find one way tickets, perhaps on different airlines for different legs, will save you hundreds.
Use Bargain Airfare Websites– There are a number of websites such as Kayak, Expedia, Google.com/flights and others that will do the flight fare search for you. Use as many as you can to compare tickets.
Check Airline Websites– the airlines themselves sometimes offer even better deals than bargain flight-comparing sites. Once you’ve got an idea of what the flight comparison sites are offering, go and check with the airlines directly. However, don’t call the airline’s reservation line. Many airlines now charge an extra fee for the ‘privilege’ of booking with their reservation agents. You can do the work online for no extra cost.
Set Up Price Alerts– Sign up with sites like airwatchdog.com that will alert you to flight deals. It’s a free service and you can put in your destination and desired dates to fly and be alerted when good deals come up.
Fly Off-Season– You won’t get a flight deal if you want to fly right before a major holiday or on a busy day like Sunday. Consider flying to your destination in the off-season when tourist traffic is lite. For instance, flights to Europe before the busy summer season will be cheaper.
Fly on the Slower Days– Airport experts say Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays are the slowest flight days, which means air tickets are less expensive on those days. You might even save enough money by booking on these days to stay over in a hotel an extra night in order to fly on these less busy times.
Plan Ahead– Avoid booking expensive last-minute flights. Buying airline tickets in advance can save you money. Book at least three weeks out and, if possible, try to book a couple of months out. And look for price guarantee programs that will lower your ticket price if the airfare is lower than what you paid.
Fly Smaller Airlines– In the U.S., regional airlines like Spirit, Frontier, and Southwest offer deals that beat out larger carriers like Delta and United. In Canada, the inexpensive airlines include Porter and Airtransat. In Europe, carriers like RyanAir and Wizz Air offer some good deals; in New Zealand, check with Air New Zealand and Jetstar; in Asia, check out airlines like AirAsia and Jetset.
When you’re flying internationally, it’s often less expensive to book regional flights once you get to the destination country rather than booking all your flights beforehand from your country of origin.
Carry on Your Luggage– Airlines are charging more and more for checking bags. You can save $25-100 or more by carrying on your luggage. Most U.S. airlines still allow a 22” roll-aboard as a carryon and a ‘personal item,’ which an be a reasonably-sized backpack. Instead of schlepping and checking big bags, pack less and simply purchase what you need when you get there. As my mother-in-law, a veteran traveler always said, “Take half as many clothes and twice as much money as you think you need.”