With the rise of the internet, the old-fashioned travel agent has all but disappeared. Now, we tend to make our own travel arrangements, navigating deftly from one bargain booking site to the next. The web has made planning a trip much easier, but all of that technology doesn’t guarantee the best deals. In fact, some of the technology is aligned against the idea of saving you money! (See point #5 for an example.)
Even if you’re flying one-way, look at round-trip prices.
Believe it or not, a return flight can often be cheaper than a one-way flight. This is probably some sort of economy-of-scale situation, but you can play it to your advantage. Just book the round-trip flight and cancel the return flight after you arrive. It can often save you hundreds of dollars.
2. Know the rules in the countries you’re visiting, not just your point of origin.
Different regions have different rules and tricks. Depending on whether you’re traveling through Europe, Africa, South America, or Asia, there will be different local/regional hacks that you can take advantage of.
3. Fly on Tuesdays.
Midweek flights are always the cheapest, and the most expensive flights are on Fridays and Sundays.
4. Buy international flights in local currencies.
Don’t let exchange rates get the best of you, especially when websites and third-party vendors often charge a premium to do the converting for you. Pay in the native currency with your credit/debit card, and you’ll likely save a good chunk of change.
5. Always clear the cookies on your browser before buying your tickets.
Websites are constantly tracking your behavior. The sites you browse in search of tickets will often track the flights you’ve been watching and adjust their prices based on your activity. For example, if you keep checking back on the same ticket, the site knows you’re interested and will often raise the price to either force you into a buying decision or take advantage of the fact that you’re clearly planning on going one way or another. By clearing your browser’s cookies or using a completely different device to place the order, you reduce the risk of being the victim of price inflation.
6. Don’t use a travel agent.
Most travel agents have their own agenda, so it’s tough to put your travel in their hands without taking on some worry. In pretty much every case, you’ll save time and money by booking your own flights. The exception is in South America, where travel agents are often able to beat the advertised online prices for airfare.
7. Book 6 weeks out.
Getting the best prices is all about timing. Thousands of travelers have “min-maxed” this concept to death, ultimately proving that the best time to book is roughly (but almost exactly) 47 days out for domestic flights. This formula changes a bit for international flights, but should remain within a 3-5 day window of that target date.
8. Plan your own layovers into a long-haul flight.
You can save big bucks by plotting out a flight plan that takes you through a few stopovers rather than straight to your destination. This can be a bit more time-consuming, but it all comes down to how much you’d like to save. You’re not really trying to find flights with layovers already built in, however — you’ll basically be stitching together one-way flights on your own schedule. The good news is that you can shoot for layovers in cities that you’re interested in visiting and add extra exploration fun to your journey.
9. Stick to carry on.
Not only do most airlines charge you per checked bag, but you’ll be wasting time and taking more risks with every bag you check. If you’re anything like me, you’ve had a bag lost in transit many, many times, ultimately forcing you to purchase new clothing and toiletries when you get to your destination. Now when I travel, I just assume this is going to happen and plan accordingly. My carry-on has everything I need to survive for a few days, and I just buy everything else once I’ve landed.
10. Double-check airport locations before booking.
Sometimes a cheap flight is cheap for a reason. The savings aren’t always worth it if you’re flying into an airport that’s so far on the outskirts of your destination city that you have to rent a mule and hire a guide to trek you to your hotel.
11. Be open-minded about your destinations.
If you’re open to where your next adventure will take you, you’re holding all the cards. It’s when you’re dead-set on a certain destination at a certain time that you’re at the mercy of the booking engine. There’s an easy way to explore your options. Use Skyscanner and simply type “Everywhere” into your desired destination.
12. Oh yeah! Use Skyscanner.
I almost forgot about this one…but hopefully you already know about it if you’re flying on a regular basis. Skyscanner is the absolutely best way to find cheap flights online. Give it a try!
13. Use the “same day change” option if it will save you some dough.
Depending on your status and the airline on which you’re booked, you can usually get a same-day change on your ticket for anywhere from free to $50. If you keep your eyes open on the day of your departure, you might find a flight leaving to your destination at a different time of day but hundreds of dollars cheaper. Take it!
14. Quit your job.
Okay, this one’s a bit extreme, but it’s true. The more flexible that you can be with your schedule, the more travel you’ll be able to enjoy on the cheap. As I mentioned before, the key to traveling on a budget is to be open in your travel times and destinations. That’s a lot harder to do when you have a specific window every year wherein you’re allowed to take a trip.
15. Check out the budget airlines.
If you’re willing to travel on budget airlines, WhichBudget is a great site for finding deals.