Now that many destinations have reopened for leisure travel and are loosening pandemic restrictions, it’s difficult to avoid the wanderlust taking hold given the exhilaration and enrichment that it seems only travel can provide. But if you’re short on funds, all of this vacation frenzy can leave you feeling a bit shut out of the adventure and fun. Even if you have ample savings for air travel, it’s understandable if you’re reluctant to shell out for high-priced tickets as a result of airline staffing shortages and pent-up demand. But before you resolve to drive 12 hours to visit an out-of-state friend, or decide to forego a much-needed escape, we recommend testing out these valuable tips for saving a bundle on airline tickets. Try these hacks from industry insiders, and you may find yourself thrilled about how far your travel dollars can take you as you plan your next trip:
Subscribe to airline newsletters
While few of us welcome the thought of more email to sort through on a daily basis, enrolling in an airline’s mailing list can pay off when you snap up special flight offers, promo codes for up to 50 percent off and deeply discounted last-minute deals. What’s more, you’ll learn about new airline routes before they’re launched. As Rachel Bowie points out in PureWow, airlines often introduce new routes with low, promotional prices. Matthew Kepnes of Nomadic Matt also notes that airline newsletters commonly offer frequent flyer bonuses, which you can use for free flights as well as upgrades.
Sign up for price alerts from travel sites and search engines
A few sites that draw major praise from experts for providing some of the best flight deals available include Secret Flying, The Flight Deal, HolidayPirates and Scott’s Cheap Flights. Search engines like Google Flights, Airfarewatchdog, Kayak and Skyscanner also get top marks for finding the lowest-priced options, and allow you to track flight fares.
In her video series “Travel Talks,” Maggie the Broke Girl Abroad divulges that she’s never paid more than $500 for an international flight since she began subscribing to Scott’s Cheap Flights, citing round-trip deals to places like Spain and France for $500 or less, and $300 round-trips to Germany, Austria and Switzerland. According to Maggie, ticket prices like these make the annual membership fee of $49 well worthwhile.
Watch for price blunders and use them to your advantage
Don’t rule out rock-bottom prices that seem too good to be true. They may have been published mistakenly, but airlines often honor these fares anyway. The financial news outlet Insider names Secret Flying as a popular site to watch for bargains based on fares published in error. But Insider advises that you jump on these deals, because they usually have a very short time window, and will be withdrawn once the airline gets word of their mistake.
Consider mixing it up with separate airlines
Nowadays, it’s a mistake to assume that round-trip tickets will get you the best prices in air travel. In many cases, you’ll actually come out ahead financially by booking two separate one-way trips, and possibly even using different airlines.
Stay open to alternative airports
Don’t forget about smaller airports when you set your travel itinerary. It’s not a given, but you may be able to put more back in your wallet by considering flying from or to an alternative airport (e.g., Oakland to Burbank instead of San Francisco to Los Angeles). But of course, you’ll want to factor in your method of ground transportation, and any hassles you might experience, to ensure that this makes sense for you.
Schedule a midweek departure if you can, and consider an early morning or red-eye flight
If you have the flexibility, you may be able to save significant money by steering clear of popular days for business travel, including Sunday and Monday. The cheapest days of the week for air travel tend to be Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by Saturday for domestic travel, and then Mondays and Thursdays. Just keep in mind that these are not hard-and-fast rules. In general, it’s a good idea to check the flexible dates option online before booking to alert you as to when you can find the lowest prices that fit your schedule. Also, note that certain routes on budget carriers with limited flight schedules won’t have fares that vary according to the day of the week.
When it comes to when you should purchase airline tickets, travel gurus like Nomadic Matt assert that it’s best to dispense with outdated notions that there are certain days of the week on which you’ll pay a premium. However, the old adage that you shouldn’t wait too long to book still applies. Plane tickets usually do not drop the closer you get to the departure date, and price insensitive, last-minute business travelers exert an upward pressure on fares. But because some variation exists on just how far in advance you should book your ticket, you might find it helpful to consult “The Best Time to Book a Flight for Domestic, International, and Holiday Travel” from Travel + Leisure.
Find out when flights will be lowest with predictive apps like Hopper
Free on iOS and Android, Hopper is a great tool for finding the best times to book a flight at the lowest possible price. To be clear, Hopper is not the only app that will advise you on whether a flight is a good deal according to potential travel dates, but it is touted for its 95 percent accuracy.
Just pick a destination, and Hopper shows you a color-coded calendar indicating predictions on when your flight will be cheapest for up to about ten or so months in advance. You’ll get a breakdown of dates according to four different price tiers (e.g., less than $240, $280+, $320+ and $360). The app will also tell you when you can expect prices to rise. Once you’ve selected potential travel dates for your flight, it will even provide a recommendation on whether you should purchase now, or wait, in which case they’ll send you an instant alert when the price drops.
Search for tickets using multiple sites and search engines
Travel insiders assert that it’s best to scour multiple sources to find the best bargains on plane tickets. As Nomadic Matt explains, many search engines exclude budget carriers and smaller foreign airlines that don’t pay booking commissions. In addition, they may omit booking sites that aren’t published in English. Some search engines also limit their listings to those that they receive directly from the airlines themselves.
According to Kepnes, there is no one ideal website to use when searching and booking flights, so it’s helpful to compare at least a few. He lists Skyscanner, Momondo and Google Flights among the best, and suggests starting with Skyscanner, since it’s one of the most comprehensive booking sites available. Maggie from Broke Girl Abroad also recommends Skyscanner as the go-to site when you need to book a last-minute flight. A she points out, the site will allow you to filter by lowest price tickets and fastest trips, and combines these variables to also show you the “best flights.”
Experiment with Skiplagged and point-beyond ticketing
There are times when you can reduce costs by purchasing a ticket to a location with one or more stops, with the intention of getting off at a layover city instead of the final destination. As Insider explains, fares to major airport hubs tend to be more expensive than those to the nearby connecting cities. For instance, if you wanted to fly to Houston, you might save by purchasing a ticket to Austin with a stopover in Houston. Then you would just get off in Houston, instead of continuing on to Austin. As Sean Levinson from Elite Daily reports, the airlines aren’t thrilled about this loophole, and it will only work on one-way trips when you don’t need to check bags. What’s more, it could put your rewards program in jeopardy, so it’s advisable not to use frequent flyer programs when booking flights with this strategy. There are plenty of caveats to be aware of, so before you start reserving “hidden city fares” using Skiplagged or other apps that specialize in point-beyond ticketing, be sure you know exactly how they work.
Don’t forget to leverage your credit card rewards!
Before you book your next flight, keep in mind that another excellent way to stretch your travel dollars further is to earn and use loyalty rewards offered by your credit card. The Police Credit Union Platinum Visa* has a generous CURewards program, which allows you to earn points for every dollar you spend, then redeem them for vacations, gift cards and brand-name merchandise. If you’re not yet enrolled, be sure to apply now, and start racking up points on your next trip! Our Platinum Visa* features competitive rates as low as 9.25% APR*, no cash advance fees, and secure online account access for payments and point redemption. Other benefits include price protection on purchases, identity theft coverage, travel accident insurance, lost luggage reimbursement and more. To learn more and to apply for a contactless card, visit our site here.
*APR = Annual Percentage Rate. All new applications are subject to terms, conditions and credit approval. You must be at least 18 years of age to apply, and show ability to repay future balances or apply with a co-signer if you are under the age of 21. Rates, fees and terms are subject to change at any time, for current rates or other information, call us at 800.222.1391 or visit our rates page. 9.25% APR is the best rate and not available to all cardholders. Your Platinum Visa variable rate: 9.25%--18.00% will be based on your creditworthiness and may adjust with the market based on the Prime Rate as published in the Wall Street Journal (“Index”). For complete disclosure, click here.