Booking a flight is a tricky procedure. While you could just pull up any website, enter your desired dates and destination, and pick whichever flight looks best, you wouldn’t have a very wallet-friendly trip. There are already so many other travel expenses to worry about, such as booking your hotel, buying the latest travel accessories, and tickets to any events, attractions, and top museums at your destination.
You may already be familiar with some common tricks of the trade, such as flying at odd hours or on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which are generally the cheapest days to book a flight. However, there are quite a few other hacks for saving a buck or two (or a few hundred) that the average traveler isn’t aware of. To help you save as much as possible on airfare, we’ve compiled some of the best tips in one place. Some may be a bit unconventional, but they’re all fantastic tips and tricks for landing cheap flights.
If you’re open-minded enough regarding your destination, you could end up scoring an amazing deal. Consider the cheapest place to travel during the month you’re planning your vacation or go on Kayak Explore, enter your departure city, select a month or season to fly, and let the site do all the work. Your only job will be deciding which one of these cost-effective cities is the best for you.
Hidden city ticketing, or point beyond ticketing, refers to fares in which it is cheaper to book a flight so that your desired destination is your connection rather than your final destination. When you’re finally at your “layover,” you simply leave the airport and neglect to get on the second leg of your trip. The website Skiplagged in particular has made this a somewhat popular practice among savvy travelers. There are some risks with this tactic, however. This only works for one-way trips, as missing a flight causes all your other flights to get cancelled. If your airline is using the same plane for both legs of the trip, you might not be able to disembark the plane at all. You also can’t check in any luggage – and you’re out of luck if an airline employee decides to gate-check your bag. Some airlines can also keep track of this stuff, terminating your membership with them or even bumping you off flights.
One-way tickets can sometimes be cheaper than round-trip, so look through your options. You might end up on a different airline each way, but that can have the advantage of giving you arrival and departure times better suited to your needs. You can also book open-jaw tickets — tickets for different origin and/or destination cities.
Many travelers often make the mistake of fearing packages, thinking there might be a catch. However, if you do your research, you can really find some great packages in which you can book your flight with a cruise, hotel, or rental car. Hotels, in particular, promote this method, as it’s a way for them to hide deep discounts that they wouldn’t be offering alone by pairing them with a flight. Just make sure to check the price against purchasing everything separately.
You’ve probably heard that Saturdays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays are the cheapest days to fly, but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. If your dates are flexible, be sure to search for every possible combination of departure and return dates to find the absolute cheapest. Whereas most booking websites allow you to search in a three-day window each way, SkyScanner allows you to select whole month. Websites like Hopper are also great for price analyses and tracking fluctuations.
Budget airlines such as Frontier or Spirit may offer less legroom and no beverages or charge extra for features that are considered standard on other airlines, but they’ll still get you to where you need to go. Just make sure you read the fine print (particularly regarding luggage limitations), double-check the exact airport location, and look out for any extra fees.
Where possible, check to see if a foreign airline is taking your desired route. Many of the world’s best airlines are expanding business in North America, and a whole host of discount carriers are popping up too. Not only do they give you more variety, but you also can sometimes get better deals or better perks such as free blankets and pillows, newspapers, more food and drinks, and hot towels — even in coach.
Those sneaky travel websites often plant cookies on your computer that enable them to increase flight prices every time you come back to check on them. They don't all do this, but to avoid the possibility, turn on your incognito mode before browsing or clear your cache first.
If the length of your long-haul flight is negotiable, and you already have a layover, consider extending the in-between time and making it an extra destination. For instance, if you’re flying from New York City to Sydney, you’ll probably have a layover in Los Angeles. If you book both legs as separate one-way with a lengthy layover, you could not only save money on the flight, but you’ll now have time to explore California if you leave a day or more in between. You’d also be amazed at how many airports are destinations themselves.
Using points or miles when flying can help you in numerous ways, as with enough of them you can save a lot on your tickets if not get them for free. Airline memberships can also land you perks like select seating, priority boarding, free checked luggage, and more. Most major credit card companies also have a reward system that allows you to earn discounts and rewards towards flights, sometimes with specific airlines, depending on which card you have. Booking flights through your credit card company’s portal can also sometimes get you even more savings, either through a discount or a bonus that you can redeem for gift cards, cash, or future trips. Using the right cards while on vacation can also get you travel protection, free checked bags, good exchange rates, and, of course, more reward points. According to WalletHub, you can save up to 9 percent while traveling internationally — and domestically, your credit card could give you as much as another $625 to spend.
The best time to get a good deal during the holidays is on the actual day of the holiday. Consider traveling on Christmas Day during the winter or skipping the Memorial Day barbecue for your next weekend trip. If you need to be at your destination before then, however, the next best deal would be flying in the Sunday before and flying out the very next day after.
Even if you’re flying in a pair or a group, it can’t hurt to first search for fares as single seats. Since airlines often sell tickets in the same class at different prices, this can sometimes score you a deal. Booking more than one seat together will mean you get each seat at the same higher rate. You might not get to sit with your travel-mates with this technique (unless a nice passenger is willing to swap), but it might be worth the savings. If you really want to try to get seats together, you still might be able to if the site allows you to select your own seat by purchasing tickets separately and making sure they’re in seats next to each other.
Believe it or not, computer glitches that cause companies to temporarily offer airfares at extremely low rates are more common than you might think. If this happens and you manage to snatch up the tickets at the discounted price, your airline has to honor it. Sites like AirFare Watchdog, Secret Flying, or Skyscanner can help.
If you’re finding that all the rates for hotels and flights are outside your budget, don’t panic. Affordable rates might be available; you’re just not able to see them. Travel agencies often have access to information on hotel and flight rates that aren’t available to the public, and travel agents can really save you the headache of having to plan your whole trip. The best part is travel agencies are relatively cheap, if not free, for the traveler, as they make their money off of partnerships with the travel companies they work with.
When you take an overnight flight, that’s one night of accommodations you don’t have to pay for — two if you do it both ways, and even more if you’re hitting multiple cities. Plus, when you’re already rested from your trip, you can hit the ground running once you arrive. Just make sure you use the right strategies to help you get some good sleep on the plane.
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