We all want to travel more. But we aren’t all willing to go broke while fulfilling our wanderlust, are we? Finding affordable airfare is a major source of stress for many travellers. The good news is, flights don’t always have to be expensive. There are a number of easy ways to reduce the cost of your trip, and your financial concerns. The holidays are around the corner and I know you’ll be flying around the world to reconnect with your loved ones. Here are some hacks I use to travel cheaper and more often.
A GOOD SEARCH ENGINE GOES A LONG WAY.
All search engines are not created equal. Some give you an extensive list of thousands of flights and others give you a mere few dozen flights while pushing the smaller carriers to the bottom of the barrel.
Read my post on the 25 Sites To Find The Cheapest Airfare Possible for a thorough list.
BOOK THE FARE, THE DESTINATION WILL FOLLOW
Many flight aggregators offer useful multi-search tools. IE: Skyscanner’s monthly calendar of flights, ITA Matrix Airfare Search’s calendar of lowest fares, and Kayak’s Explore tool (a global map showing the fares for each location). Use these among many others to find the cheapest airfare before you do anything else. Once the cheapest flight is secured, then read up on where you’re going.
Never book a flight without checking the price in at least one different currency (likely the one of the country you’re visiting). This is most effective when your credit card doesn’t charge fees for international transactions. I’ve done this a handful of times and I usually save anywhere from 5-10 dollars, which may seem like nothing, until you realize you can book hostels for 7 dollars a night in some parts of the world. Bingo.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Airlines have made a habit of creating deals that are exclusive to specific cities. I’m not saying to drastically change your itinerary to take advantage of a small deal, but if you’re heading to a certain airport that already has a deal, don’t leave money on the table. You may even be able to get a half deal if you have a connecting flight in a deal city.
FREQUENT FLYER PERKS
Since many airlines don’t fly all around the world, this works best for travellers who often fly in the same region of the globe. Gold, Platinum, VIP, Elite status with your favourite airline means points which lead to free travel, access to airport lounges (which often offer free food, drinks and wifi), first access to seat upgrades, skipping long lines and a bunch of other benefits.
If that’s not your style, grab yourself a travel Visa or MasterCard. Travel credit cards often reward shoppers by giving them additional insurance coverage, points, which can be converted into free or discounted airfare, gear, gadgets or gift cards. Collect as many Air Miles or Aeroplan rewards points as possible and fly for free!
See Canada’s Best Travel Credit Cards (2015)
See the Best Travel Credit Cards in the US (2015)
Read How To Rack Up Frequent Flyer Miles via Forbes
KEEP YOUR OPTIONS OPEN
Don’t be too rigid in terms of when you want to fly, I’ve personally saved hundreds of dollars on some of my most recent flights (Hong Kong & Trinidad), by changing my dates by just 2-3 days and avoiding peak travel days. A few days for a few hundred dollars of savings? You do the math.
LAST MINUTE SAVINGS
When seats aren’t filled, airlines roll back prices for the upcoming weekend. Sign up for alerts and you’ll be the first to know about weekend discounts. These emails usually go out on Tuesdays. Book a 3-4 day trip starting Friday and returning early the next week. You’d be surprised at how much traveling you can do in a few days.
MIX AND MATCH AIRLINES
It’s more work, but it may be worthwhile to fly with different airlines on different legs of your trip. Once upon a time, buying a one-way ticket was a sure way to pay the most money possible to arrive at a destination. Airlines have since changed their tune and now generally provide well-priced one way tickets. Sometimes combining different airlines and even airports is the cheapest way to fly.
PRICE TRACKING AND ALERTS
Nobody likes having an inbox full of useless junk and spam emails. But everyone likes saving money. Skyscanner and Airfare Watchdog to name a few, have great email alert systems that send notifications when price changes take place.
SEARCH MULTIPLE AIRFARE SITES
It seems like an obvious thing to do for some, but many people don’t shop around for cheaper airfares. I search a minimum of 5 sites and often more to make sure I’m never paying more than I should. Check a combination of big airfare companies and small ones alike. It’s almost an automatic reflex to look for flights with discount ticket sellers. But don’t forget about the little local guys. They often have savings available. Here’s a short list of some of the sites I use;
SEARCH THE OFFICIAL WEBSITE AIRLINE
You’d think this would be the first thing for someone to do when looking for the cheapest ticket, right?. Wrong. Almost no one I know utilizes this method to save hard-earned cash. Official airline websites have one big advantage over flight aggregators: private seat sales. You may lose the discount provided by the discount airline, but private sales could still be cheaper.
SOCIAL MEDIA DISCOUNTS
Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time. Pick a handful of your favourite airlines, follow their social media accounts (Twitter/Facebook), and keep an eye out for cheaper than usual fares. I suggest turning on notifications specifically for the airlines that you follow. These social media discount flights are on a timer, that doesn’t usually last more than a couple of hours. If you see them, book fast.
THE EARLY BIRD GETS THE FLIGHT
Flights are priced based on several factors, one being the time of departure. With that in mind, the cheapest flights naturally come at the worst times (unless you’re a morning person, like 99% of the world). You’ll usually see the most heavily discounted flights in the morning.
THE SKIPLAGGED EFFECT
Simply put, a flight can sometimes be cheaper if “connecting” in a city you’re heading to than if you book the original direct flight to the same city. Book the less expensive connecting flight to your destination of choice, dump the second leg of your trip and leave the airport. Be warned! This technique has some major drawbacks if not done correctly. First, every once in a while, flights will only connect in certain cities for oil refills, trapping you on the plane and forcing you to deplane in a city you don’t want to visit. Second, you can’t check any luggage. Luggage typically gets sent through to your final destination, if you get off before your luggage does … Well, you’re screwed. Only carry-ons when skip lagging. I’ve also heard rumours of some airlines blacklisting flyers who skip portions of their trip via hidden city travel.
THE SOONER YOU BOOK THE BETTER
If you know where and when you want to go, don’t wait. That doesn’t mean not to shop around. It means that airfare prices typically rise as the travel date approaches, so the sooner you book the more likely you are to get a good deal. Best practices;
- Europe: 8-10 months ahead
- South America: 6 months ahead
- Asia: 9-10 months ahead
- Caribbean: 2-3 weeks ahead
- Central America: 4-6 weeks ahead
- Africa: 3-5 weeks ahead
- Domestic: 3-7 weeks ahead
As part of their professional tool box, travel agents often get prices that are only available to them (and their clients … that’s you). However, never take a travel agent’s word as law. Do your own research to find a baseline for what you’ll likely be paying. Even with discounts, travel agents won’t always have the cheapest price for you. If they did, a lot of websites and bloggers would be out of business. They are still worth considering though.
This isn’t an exact science either, but if there’s a chance that you can save money, it’s worth a shot. I’ve read articles and reports that support the claim that buying tickets on Tuesdays, especially for local travel, is the cheapest time to do so.
24 HOUR CANCELLATION
Keep looking for flights up to 24 hours after you’ve booked. If you find something cheaper, you can cancel at no extra cost and buy the more affordable ticket. But be careful, not all airlines or flight aggregators offer this 24 hour window. Always read the cancellation policy details.
It’s not an exact science, but I, and many travel experts agree that flying on Wednesdays is usually a good thing for your bank account. People don’t typically fly midweek, which means more seats are available, and if those seats don’t sell, they’ll have to be discounted.
Did you find this post helpful? What trip hacks do you use to save money on flights? Share an intelligent opinion below! Hit me on Twitter [at]DriftAway2015 or like and comment on my Facebook page, Drift Away – Travel Blog.
Until next time,