Air travel is by far the most expensive part of any trip – and the cost is sometimes the thing that prevents us from traveling. Lately, I’ve been (aggressively) scouring the web to save money on flights to Bolivia. There’s so many tips and strategies out, how’s a traveller supposed to keep track?! (Especially if you’re only travelling once or twice a year!)
After scouring the web for the best tips (and including some of my own!), here’s a round-up of some of the best ways to help you save money on flights. I hope these tips make your next trip more affordable.
Recognize a good deal when you see one.
It all starts here. How can you recognize a good deal if you don’t know where you’re starting from? Do your research, check out what the average flight price is. If something is $1,200 and then suddenly drops to $800, it might be time to press “BUY NOW”! There are websites out there that will compare deals from several sites like Kayak, Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, Google Flights, etc.
Stay on top of things
Cliff Hsia of LiveFamilyTravel.com recommends following updates from Airfare Watchdog, Thrifty Travelers and Secret Flight. These sites share updates (via their website, Facebook, and Twitter) on flash sales, deals and error fares. Remember, “a lot of the deals are time sensitive and require some flexibility in timing and routing, but if a deal works for you, book it immediately”.
This also means singing up for airline newsletters or price alerts from discount sites. I’ve scored $8 one-way flights from Bangkok, Thailand to Siem Reap, Cambodia (Hurray for Angkor Wat!) through the Cambodian Angkor Air newsletter.
Be flexible with your dates, if you can
Airlines are all about supply and demand and their prices reflect this. Certain days of the week are more expensive to fly than others. I live in a city that’s all about long-distance commuting (Montreal-Ottawa and Toronto-Ottawa). Flights on Mondays or Fridays is suicide for your wallet because there are key travel days for business travellers. If you can, travel on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday – prices are usually a bit cheaper.
Fly off-peak hours too
There’s a reason why 5:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. flights are cheaper. No one likes to get up at the crack of dawn and they don’t want to get to their hotel after midnight. But, if you’re willing to sacrifice some sleep, you’ll score a cheaper deal.
Move to another country…virtually
Thrillist of Thrillist.com talks about where you buy your ticket can affect its price. Tickets bought from a point-of-sale in a country with a lower cost of living are usually cheaper. Essentially, you need to trick the airline into letting you use their regional website (usually by masking your IP address which tricks the website into thinking you live in that region) so that you can purchase your flight in a foreign currency. For example, the Canadian dollar is stronger than the Thai Baht. So, you would log onto the regional website of a Thai airline (or use a VPN to get a Thai IP address) and buy the flight in Baht. (P.S.: Make sure you’re credit card doesn’t charge foreign currency conversion or transaction fees – otherwise all the money you saved will go to credit card fees). There is one potential issue (which you need to read the fine print of a ticket sale to avoid: “Some fares are “resident-only” and can’t be used by a foreign national. Although she notes that once you have the ticket, rarely does anyone check”. So… good luck and try at your own risk.
Shop for and book one-way flights
In this article from MoneyCrashers, Jason Steele talks about buying one way tickets instead of round trip tickets. My experience is that this works 50% of the time, especially if you don’t care what days/dates you are travelling. As crazy as it sounds, sometimes buying two one-way tickets is cheaper than one-round trip ticket because you can mix and match different airlines. So it’s worth pricing it out.
Consider different airports
This about different airports near your destination city AND your point-of-departure city. I live in a big city that is a few hours away from two larger cities and I consistently find flights that are $200-$400 cheaper than if I flew out of my own city. In my case, Montreal is only two hours away from Ottawa and I can score cheap train tickets that bring me right to the airport in Montreal for under $60.
Now, let’s talk about the destination city. Most major cities (and even small ones) around the world have at least two airports that you can consider. For example, Bangkok has two airports and on occasion, it was cheaper for me to flight in/out of Bangkok through Don Mueang airport (and take the train into Bangkok) rather than Suvarnabhumi airport. Other times, it’s been cheaper for me to rent a car (you can score deals of $25/day) and drive to an airport in the USA that’s 3 hours away like Syracuse where I can return the car (and avoid paying long-term parking fees) and saving on a flight (sometimes up to $300). As long as you’re willing to put in a little bit more effort (which isn’t really all that hard), you can score some deals.
Make free stop-overs your new BFF
Most people see a long layover as the worst kind of flight – but what this really means is an opportunity for adventure. Matt Wilson from Under30experience.com talks about his exciting adventures of riding camels and indoor skiing while on a long layover in Dubai. In fact, some airlines have structured their business lines around the stopover. Icelander offers up to seven days free stopover as long as you connect through Reykjavik. Wow Air also offers a free stopover in Reykjavik on your way to your destination. Just make sure you check their extra fees – to fares low, you may have to pay for bringing a carry-on item.
Do you care where you’re going?
If you don’t have your heart set on a particular destination, why not let the price guide you? NomadicMatt suggests using the explore tools from places like Kayak or Google Flights. You enter your continent of interest or type of activity you enjoy or even just the dates, and tools like Google Flights (my personal favourite) will show you a number of interesting travel options and you can choose the flight/destination that suits your budget.
Buy solo, even if you’re travelling with the family
Shivaji Vora from the NY Times suggests that “reservation systems at airlines and travel sites sell tickets at the same price to all the fliers on one reservation. If you’re buying airfare for your family of four, for example, it does not matter if the airline has three seats for sale in a lower price category and the fourth at a higher one”. So, let’s say Ticket A is $200, Ticket B is $400 and Ticket C is $500, all three tickets will be sold to you for $500/each. Most of the time we don’t even know that a cheaper ticket is available because we assume the airline would give us the cheapest option for both tickets. In the example above, you end up paying $1,500 instead of $1,100. Try searching for one traveler at a time to see if there are savings available to save cash on airfare. Don’t worry, you can always ask the airline to seat you and party together when you check in for your flight.
Consider hidden city ticketing
Sometimes a flight that connects in a city you want to go is cheaper than flying directly to it. I’ve experienced this where my flight Ottawa-Toronto-Winnipeg was cheaper than Ottawa-Toronto. Basically, you book the cheap flights which connects through your destination city (in the example of above, Toronto) and get off in Toronto without continuing on to Winnipeg. In this article, Jen Avery of Thriftynomads.com points out a few risks with this approach. There’s website called Skiplagged that helps you find these hidden city tickets. You should know that they are currently being sued by United Airlines and Orbitz so use this hack at your own risk and discretion. Fox News wrote this article in 2015 about the pros and cons of using Skiplagged and the whole hidden city ticketing concept.