Some of what I’m about to talk about may sound basic or redundant, but you wouldn’t believe the amount of mail that I receive from novice travelers asking for help with some of the more basic strategies of saving money when purchasing airfare.
But then again, there may be some tips that you’ve never heard of until now!
I suggest booking your airfare as soon as you possibly can. I paid an extra $100 on a flight from Columbus, Ohio to Los Angeles, California by waiting a mere two weeks because of my own laziness. It really does pay to be the early bird. The earlier you can decide on your travel dates, the better. Book up to three months in advance to take advantage of the best airfare prices. However, you can still receive some of the industries best prices if you can book within a 6-9 week window prior to your flight.
Travel light and simple
Airlines have noticed a dramatic decrease in sales over the past few years and are making adjustments to make up for their losses. The current strategy for most airlines is to increase the amount of customers by lowering airfare prices. They are making up for the difference by adding fees to additional services and hiking up the prices of other previously-established fees. The most common service effected by the increase is to your baggage. So if you can manage traveling with just your carry-on bag or backpack and one personal item (purse, small camera bag or laptop case), then you can save by avoiding the extra fees.
Be flexible with dates and destination
By being flexible with your dates and destination, you can save a ton of money. The simple change of the time, day or port can be the difference in saving you hundreds, even thousands of dollars. Use Kayak.com’s flexible dates and explore tools for a starting basis, and to find the best possible places to fly and when. For example, it may cost over $1300 to fly to the city of Alexandria in Egypt from the states, but you can find flights to Cairo for under $900 (which is only 135 miles away).
Fly into alternative airports or use alternative routes
Most low-cost airlines fly into secondary airports to keep costs down. Look for low-cost airlines like Frontier, JetBlue, RyanAir, Air Asia, and Aer Lingus. While these carriers may not be the most luxurious or most highly recommended, they can however save you a bundle of cash. By checking alternative airports in and around most major cities, you can save with cheaper airlines or by rerouting your flight. Sometimes flying to a larger city relatively close to your desired destination and then buying a local low-cost ticket can save you, rather than just taking a direct flight to the destination.
Fly on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday
It’s common knowledge that you can save money on airfare by flying on a Tuesday or a Wednesday. But you can also money by traveling on a Saturday, as a lot of commuters (especially with domestic flights) are traveling for the weekend (typically Thursdays and Sundays).
The best time to buy an airline ticket is midday on Tuesdays
It’s less commonly known that there’s a golden window to finding the best price when buying an airline ticket. On Monday nights, larger airlines tend to announce their weekly fares. By waiting until 3pm EST or 12-noon PST on Tuesday, other airlines have caught wind of the sales and have matched their competitors prices and sometimes have dropped them even lower.
Check your reward miles
There are many resources online teaching you how to take advantage of the flight mile reward system. By watching for special offers, shopping at affiliate stores, joining member programs and signing up for reward credit cards, you can save money traveling. It’s possible to finagle your way into a free flight if you work the system correctly. To find out more, check out Nomadic Matt’s articles here and here.
Are you a student? Discounts are available!
There are tons of travel discounts for students, so be sure to check out the STA Travel website. STA Travel offers a sort of one-stop shop for discounted student travel. If you’re a student, use STA as a basis to start with as it might be worth it to spend some time double checking other resources for even better prices too.
Notable airline search engines
Some airfare search engines are owned by airline companies and don’t offer some of the same discounts that others can. Plus, they tend to skip mentioning the smaller, foreign and more obscure airlines. I suggest using these websites to start: Kayak, Skyscanner, Airfarewatchdog, Travelocity, and Yapta.
Sign up for mailing lists and frequent flier programs
I hate junk mail in my inbox just as much as the next guy, but some companies only share certain specials and last-minute deals through their mailing list. You don’t have to stay loyal to one frequent flier program – so by signing up to multiple, you’re sort of ‘in the club’ and are more likely to hear of additional specials and deals.