HopperSometimes people raise their eyebrows when they hear we’re going on another trip, or wonder how we can afford to travel often. I’m a travel bargain hunter, and while we want to splurge now and then we are always looking for ways to cut our travel expenses. Saving on airfare is the first thing we look at, so here are our top 3 secrets for saving money on flights.
Flexibility, Research and Points
The way I’ve saved the most money on flights is simply by being flexible:
- Flexible travel dates I know that’s not always possible, but flying outside of peak periods can save you 50% or more. That could be June instead of July for Europe, and January instead of Christmas week for a beach getaway.
- Flexible location If your vacation dates are fixed but you can be flexible with your destination you have a better shot at finding a deal. Maybe your beach vacation could be in Hawaii or the Caribbean or Mexico?
- Acting fast When you hear about extreme deals (like those we hear about through sites like Ydeals.com below) making a quick decision is vital as these are snapped up quickly or only offered for a short time.
Beyond the big websites such as Expedia and Travelocity, there are more tools than ever to research flights. Whatever site you use, check at least one other to compare and make sure you are paying a fair price. if you have narrowed it down to a specific flight, check it on the airline’s own website as well.
- Google Flights can help you find the cheapest flights with exact dates, flexible dates, or with a calendar option. You can the cheapest dates to fly within a given period, and potentially save hundreds by adjusting you dates by a day or two. Once you select your flight, use the booking info provided to contact the airline direct, or travel agent, or another booking service to purchase tickets. I use these when first starting to plan a vacation just to see what options are out there. The Explore destinations map is also fun to use if you are flexible with your destination.
- Follow someone who monitors flight deals from your area – If you find someone that is monitoring flights deals from your location, you can really find some amazing deals. For me in Canada that’s Chris Myden at Ydeals.com. You just go to ‘Y’ deals for your city, and signup to be notified by email whenever there’s a really hot deal. For these type of deals you need to act fast or they will be gone. We got flights Calgary to Tokyo return for less than $500 return including taxes and fees. I don’t have info on sites like this outside of Canada but they’re probably out there for you too.
- Kayak Kayak is a great tool well known for comparing multiple sites. Your can search +-3 days for the best flight deals, which can save a lot if you are flexible. I like its price trend feature, with a recommendation to BUY or WAIT for a better price. There is also has a fun explore feature, where you enter your origin and month, and it shows you a map with the price of airfares to get you to destinations all over the world. Warning: exploring this feature could lead to a spontanious vacation when you see that flight to Hawaii is only $479!
- Hopper can help you save money by predicting when to fly and when to buy your ticket. The Hopper Flight Explorer lets you discover flight deals with flexible dates and destinations. For example, try New York City to Europe or San Francisco to Anywhere. You can also set up deal notifications to be alerted to great deals as they happen.
- Follow you favorites If you frequently travel on a specific airline, follow them on Facebook or Twitter to be the first to hear about deals.
- Check the discount airlines Sometimes we take a long haul flight on a major airline to a hub like London or Paris, then use a discount regional airline to get to our final destination. They can also be good for short hops within a region. You can get these great deals on airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet in Europe, but be sure to compare both flight costs and added fees. These fees can be significant or even ridiculous. Carefully check their carry-on baggage dimensions to be sure yours qualifies. You can save a lot of money on these airlines, but don’t expect the level of service as the major airlines. Also note that these airlines often fly to smaller airports that are some distance from the major city you may be trying to reach. Great deals are possible, but do your research.
3. Reward Points
There are websites that specialize on this topic and it can get pretty complicated. But basically, the fastest way to earn reward flights is through credit card bonuses. By getting several cards with high signup bonuses, you can earn enough points to be on your first reward flight in a few months. To do this you need an excellent credit rating, and you need to be diligent about tracking your cards and paying them in full each month. Obviously if you are carrying a balance, the interest will defeat the purpose of saving money on flights. I use a spreadsheet to keep track of it all. You can build up your points further by putting all your expenses on your cards as well as earning points by actually flying. By remembering to show your member card and taking advantage of bonus offers with purchase you can multiply your points. For example, Safeway (in the airmiles program) regularly gives large bonuses for both dollars spent and specific purchases. When it comes to using your points it helps to research how to get the most bang for your points. Here are a some resources I’ve used for more info on travel hacking and using points for travel: