People with the extra cash to fly First Class in their fancy chair/beds with glorious plasma TV’s gently glowing them to sleep, have the option to choose whatever flight they want, but those of us who don’t sit on toilets carved from a single, fabled pearl have to go for “economical”. Thus, I, one of those nameless faces in the hoard sitting in the back of the plane, view blocked by the fabled first class curtain, have compiled these six tried and true tips to get you where you need to go on a budget.
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Try Multiple Web Sites
I chose this first because most people are going to know it already. However I know a couple of people who only use Orbitz.com or Expedia.com and miss out on some great deals. That said, I have used both of those sites dozens of times, so I’m certainly not saying to avoid them. However there are other fantastic sites I have bought tickets from like JustFly.com, Kayak.com, and AirGorilla.com (although AirGorilla will trick you by not telling you the taxes right off the bat). Currently my favorite has been SkyScanner.com. Their app is fantastic and if you sign up you can get price updates on your different flights. I personally have found them to be really nice when I am not in a rush to buy tickets. I can wait for a price drop and then purchase.
Consider a Frequent Flyer Program
Here is the deal with frequent flyer programs. They lock you in to certain airlines, which can be frustrating because they usually aren’t the cheapest. When you buy on a website like Orbitz.com, they will mix and match airlines to give you the cheapest airfare, which means you can’t maximize your miles unless you get lucky. However, if you stick with the airlines in your program, the extra you pay on a solid frequent flyer program pays off in the end. Just considering the amount of free flights you can get makes it worth it. A good friend of mine earned free flights to Australia and Hawaii in the past couple of years on the same program I use. That is easily $3,000 in savings. Always check the sites themselves like Virgin-atlantic.com before resorting to external ticketing prices!
I personally am part of the United Airlines (Star Alliance) program, I even (finally) got approved for the Chase United Explorer Card, which is one of the best things to ever happen to me in travel. With that card I have so many stinking perks it’s amazing. Double miles when I buy United tickets with it, priority boarding, use of the executive lounge twice a year (until I rack up enough miles to be Platinum or whatever it is called, then it’s more), and so on.
The other benefit to being part of some kind of program, is that if you need to change your flights or have something happen, even without paying the extra for insurance they will often change you no charge. If you buy from a discount web site, you end up with a situation I just went through just this very morning of writing this article. I bought the ticket, needed to change it, but because I bought through Expedia I can’t without basically buying and entirely new ticket. If I had bought directly from the airline, which is part of the Star Alliance, I could have changed it for free.
Take a Bus to Another Airport.
Most people dread the idea of taking a long bus ride, but on a budget it can mean the difference of being able to go on vacation or not. I live in Panama, and if my wife and kids and I decide to visit my family in Texas, flying out of our nearest airport, David, it costs the four of us over $2,000. However, if we hop on a bus and go six hours to San Jose, Costa Rica, which is what we always do, we can fly for about $1,300. With the extra money we can stay in a nice hotel (try something like booking.com to get a good rate!), eat great food, and still save $500.
Fly Into One City, Out Another.
If you plan on exploring the country you are visiting extensively, and it has multiple major airports, flying out of a different airport from where you arrived can be cheaper. For example if you fly into Hong Kong, and then travel by land through China to Beijing (to see the Great Wall of course!), you can often fly out of Beijing cheaper. Plus you save time and money by not having to travel all the way back to Hong Kong.
Flying in a Group, Use a Travel Agent.
I won’t spend much time on this, because is more commonly known. I only bring it up just in case you don’t know! If you are flying individually you can usually book your own flights easily and cheaply, but if you are in a large enough group going through a travel agent can often get you discounts.
Flying for Religious or Humanitarian Purposes?
Here is a little know fact! Did you know that there are many airlines that give great discounts to people flying for religious or humanitarian purposes? Not all of them do, and their policies vary widely and seem to change fairly often, probably because of people abusing them, but if you make a few calls, or talk to your travel agent and ask, you may be surprised at the deals you can get. You will be required to prove you are traveling for these purposes of course, usually through a letter from the NGO you will be with. However, if you find the right airline and have your paperwork in order, you might just build a long lasting relationship with that airline and have multiple cheap fares coming your way.
Have you found any ways to save on air travel? Share with us in the comments!
PS: after you save on your flights, check out how to pack your child’s carry on bag to keep them entertained the whole flight here: