Aside from lodging, flights will probably take up the bulk of your trip cost every time you travel. From the base rate, to taxes, to baggage fees and more, you’ll find your expenses just to get there and back adding up to a huge headache. Let’s look at a few ways to save money on air travel!
1: Plan In Advance
I plan most of my flights four to six weeks in advance of any trip I take—not only because it helps me prepare, but also because tickets tend to be a bit less expensive then. Many airlines announce sales during this period, which is when you’ll likely find the best rates.
2: Compare Prices
This should be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised! Even some of my well-traveled friends have been totally unfamiliar with Kayak, Hipmunk, and other flight comparison tools.
In addition to looking only at your usual carrier—such as Delta or American—check out the following, which aggregate flight times and prices around the world:
You might be able to find some less expensive options—and even more convenient ones if you mix and match your schedules, airports (for example, when I lived in Washington, D.C. I always compared prices for Dulles, National, and Baltimore), and even the airlines you choose for each leg of the trip.
To take it a step further, compare prices among those aggregators as well. Last summer I was booking a flight to Nicaragua. On Kayak, a TACA flight was listed as about $500 (including tax), while on Hipmunk the same flight was about $700. On TACA’s own website, that same flight came out to more than $1,000.
3: Set Up An Alert
Using your favorite carrier or one of the comparison tools listed above, set up an online alert for your preferred schedule. Alerts are highly customizable, with options ranging from specific airline, to travel dates and times, to even the airport you’ll fly out of. Alerts can be sent to your email, phone, or social network, and depending on how far in advance you plan your trip, they’ll allow you some leeway in comparing prices and finding the best one for your budget.
4: Don’t Book On The Weekend
When you’re home from work on the weekend, you have a bit more time to shop around without worrying about deadlines or your supervisor checking over your shoulder—and weekends are exactly when airlines expect you to book your ticket. So, prices usually go up on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
If you’ve set up an alert, pay close attention to it on Tuesday or Wednesday, when rates are more likely to drop—and if you have time and availability, try to book it that evening or later at night, when prices tend to drop yet again.
5: Book A Red-Eye Flight—Or An Early-Morning One
Red-eye flights are almost always the cheapest available—because come on, no one wants to travel then. But if you’re willing to take this option, bring along a water bottle to stay hydrated, some nice foam earplugs, and a comfortable sleep mask, and camp out till you land. Once you get to your destination, have some more water, get out into the sun, and enjoy your day! Not only will you help defeat jetlag more quickly, you’ll also have more time for fun than arriving later and sleeping as soon as you get to your hotel.
On the other hand, taking and early morning flight can save a bit of money in an unexpected way: later flights tend to be delayed more often due to late arrivals and departures from earlier that day. Booking an early flight helps ensure you’ll take off in time—rather than spending money on overpriced food and magazines as you await a delayed flight otherwise.
6: Pack Smart
Baggage fees can add up quickly, depending on which airline you take and how much luggage you take with you.
It’s almost commonplace for airlines to charge $15 to $40(!) for every checked bag, including your first. If you have the flexibility to look, you may find a carrier that’ll let you check your first one for free—or at least be aware of which airlines charge, so you can add this into your budget beforehand.
As well, overweight luggage can add unexpected and incredibly annoying costs to your travels. Learn what that weight limit is—often 50 pounds or more—and weigh your bags before you leave home so you have an idea if and how much you’ll pay at the gate. And finally, if you’re able to, consider only taking a carry-on to avoid baggage fees altogether. Depending on where you’re going, it may be cheap and simple to find toiletries and more as soon as you arrive at your destination!