Cheap Flights Galore: How to Snag Airline Deals and Fly on a Budget
Cheap Flights Galore: How to Snag Airline Deals and Fly on a Budget - Be Flexible with Travel Dates and Destinations
One of the best ways to score a cheap flight is to remain flexible with your travel dates and destinations. While it's tempting to lock in plans months in advance, staying open to different options can lead to big savings.
Aim to book 1-3 months before your trip if possible. This strikes a balance between advance planning and capitalizing on last-minute deals. Airfares are typically highest 6+ months out and spike again 1-2 weeks before departure. But sweet spots exist in between.
Don't get married to specific travel dates either. Shift your dates back or forth a few days or weeks and monitor how prices change. School holidays, big events, and peak season crowds can drive up fares. But traveling just before or after these prime windows can yield discounts.
For example, airfare to Europe drops sharply in the fall after summer vacations end. You'll find better deals and smaller crowds if you visit in late September vs. mid-August. Similarly, flying the week before Christmas is cheaper than leaving on Dec 23rd.
Staying flexible with destinations also opens up money-saving possibilities. Rather than fixating on one location, look at a wider geographic area. Europe has dozens of amazing and affordable cities beyond the main tourist hubs. Central America, Southeast Asia, and Africa also offer superb budget options.
Don't assume you must fly into a major international airport either. Search prices from nearby smaller airports, which often have lower demand. Flying into London Stansted rather than Heathrow could chop $100+ off your ticket. Alternative airports ring most major cities worldwide.
Finally, don't limit yourself to nonstop itineraries. Adding one quick stopover can significantly reduce the fare. This does increase total travel time, but may be worth it if you save hundreds. Stopovers also provide a chance to briefly visit two destinations for the price of one trip.
What else is in this post?
- Cheap Flights Galore: How to Snag Airline Deals and Fly on a Budget - Be Flexible with Travel Dates and Destinations
- Cheap Flights Galore: How to Snag Airline Deals and Fly on a Budget - Use Flight Search Engines for Best Fare Comparison
- Cheap Flights Galore: How to Snag Airline Deals and Fly on a Budget - Check Airline Sales and Promotions
- Cheap Flights Galore: How to Snag Airline Deals and Fly on a Budget - Fly Budget Airlines When Possible
- Cheap Flights Galore: How to Snag Airline Deals and Fly on a Budget - Pack Light to Avoid Baggage Fees
- Cheap Flights Galore: How to Snag Airline Deals and Fly on a Budget - Use Miles and Points for Free Flights
- Cheap Flights Galore: How to Snag Airline Deals and Fly on a Budget - Get Refundable Fares for Potential Cancellations
Cheap Flights Galore: How to Snag Airline Deals and Fly on a Budget - Use Flight Search Engines for Best Fare Comparison
Flight search engines are your ticket to scoring the cheapest possible airfare. While airline and online travel agency websites have their place, search engines cast the widest net and provide an at-a-glance overview of all your options. I rely on them to find the lowest fares and maximize my travel budget.
My go-to is Google Flights. Its simple interface makes it a breeze to quickly search exact dates and routes. The calendar view lets you visualize prices across an entire month and pinpoint the cheapest travel windows. The map tool is ideal for exploring destinations within a region. Just enter length of stay and budget and Google Flights will map out potential options.
Beyond Google Flights, Momondo and Skyscanner are excellent alternatives. Both have powerful filters to narrow your search. I use these sites to compare fares across multiple airlines and ensure I didn't miss any deals. Signing up for fare alerts on all three gives me the best shot at snagging a discount.
Expand your search to include metasearch engines like Kayak as well. Their proprietary tech combs additional sources beyond the major booking sites. Kayak's Explore tool also lets you easily see flight prices for an entire country or region.
While tempting, don't limit yourself to just one search engine. I scanned sites individually for years before realizing I was missing out on better deals. Now I always cross-check options. Taking a few extra minutes to compare has saved me hundreds on flights.
Pro tip: search engines sometimes surface airlines or online travel agencies you may not know. Never book through unfamiliar third parties. Verify the fare directly on the airline's website first. Flight search engines work wonders for initial research but always book directly if possible.
Cheap Flights Galore: How to Snag Airline Deals and Fly on a Budget - Check Airline Sales and Promotions
Airlines run sales and promotions throughout the year, making it crucial to monitor them when flight shopping. Major holidays, like Christmas and Mother’s Day, are prime times for deals. I also watch for airline anniversary and birthday sales. These celebrate the carrier’s founding and offer deep discounts. Signing up for email alerts gives you an edge for snagging promo fares quickly before they sell out.
Southwest Airlines is known for its fare sales, especially on Tuesdays. These can knock $100 or more off flights across the country. Sign up at Southwest.com and check your email on Tuesday mornings for the latest deals. American and Delta also discount routes broadly once or twice per quarter. Scope out their deals pages under the “deals” or “special offers” tabs on their sites.
Don’t forget about budget carriers either. Allegiant regularly promotes one-way fares under $50 when you bundle air and a hotel. Frontier and Spirit are also generous with promo codes that slice 10-30% off airfare. Look for codes on social media and major coupon sites.
International carriers like British Airways, Air France, and Lufthansa run sales too. BA is good for last-minute hot deals on flights to London posted Tuesday afternoons. Air France discounts biz class fares to Paris in the winter. Sign up on their sites for emails alerting you to lower fares.
The major alliances between international airlines open up additional possibilities. Oneworld, SkyTeam, and Star Alliance all have dedicated deals pages highlighting discounted alliance fares. These provide roundtrip deals allowing you to mix and match airlines within the alliance. It’s a great way to travel internationally and fly on multiple top-ranked carriers.
Packaged promotions that bundle airfare and hotel together often offer the steepest discounts. Sites like Expedia, Priceline, and Travelocity regularly advertise these under their deals tabs. Sort by percentage savings to surface the biggest bargains. I’ve scored weeks-long international trips with airfare and hotels included for under $1000 this way.
Keep an eye out for error fares too. These are incorrectly priced ticket sales made in error that get honored if booked before fixed. The flight deal forums and communities excel at identifying error fares before airlines pull them. Signing up for their alerts has helped me catch a few of these unicorn-rare deals for weekend getaways under $150 roundtrip.
Cheap Flights Galore: How to Snag Airline Deals and Fly on a Budget - Fly Budget Airlines When Possible
Flying budget airlines like Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant can unlock huge savings, especially on domestic U.S. routes. While stripping out amenities, these ultra low-cost carriers (ULCCs) slash fares to fill their planes. I regularly compare their prices when booking flights within the country.
Just last month I needed to book Orlando to Los Angeles. Roundtrip flights on American and Delta were hovering around $350 with advance purchase. But Allegiant had nonstops from Sanford Airport (near Orlando) to LA for only $150 roundtrip - less than half!
The trade off was flying a budget airline and from a smaller airport farther from the city. However, those minor inconveniences were worth saving over $200. I gladly would drive an extra 30 minutes to the airport and bring my own snacks on board.
When flying Allegiant, Spirit, or Frontier, however, it's vital to read the fine print. Their rock bottom base fares only allow a personal item onboard for free. Adding a carry on bag or checking luggage costs extra. Seat assignments also aren't free. This lets you tailor your flight to just what you need, but fees can add up quickly.
My strategy is to travel ultralight with just a backpack that fits under the seat. I skip seat assignments and board last to grab any open seat. This avoids all add-on fees while still capitalizing on the base fare savings.
One pro tip when flying basic economy is pre-purchasing checked bags if needed. Add them during booking rather than paying at the airport. This saves around $10-$15 per checked bag. I also pack a lunchbox with snacks and drinks since budget airlines offer nothing complimentary onboard. A small sacrifice for big airfare discounts.
While flying bare bones on Spirit or Frontier may not suit everyone, the savings are undeniable if you pack smartly. On routes I frequently fly for getaways like Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale or Chicago to Denver, I automatically check budget airline prices first. Chances are I can get where I need to go for at least 1/3 off regular economy just by strategic packing and skipping extras I don't really need.
Cheap Flights Galore: How to Snag Airline Deals and Fly on a Budget - Pack Light to Avoid Baggage Fees
Checked bag fees are the bane of budget travelers' existence. Most major U.S. airlines charge $30-$35 for the first checked suitcase and $40-$45 for the second. On international trips, those fees can swell to $100+ per bag each way. Airlines raked in $5.8 billion dollars in baggage fees in 2021 alone. But savvy travelers have devised clever packing strategies to avoid these pesky fees and keep more cash in their wallets.
The most obvious solution is simply to avoid checking bags altogether. Packing light and only taking carry-on luggage sidesteps fees and cuts down on wait times. My personal checklist for carry-on only travel includes:
By carefully choosing select versatile pieces, you truly can travel for 1-2 weeks or more with just a carry-on backpack or wheeled suitcase. I manage extended trips all over the world with only my Osprey Farpoint 40L backpack. The key is relentlessly minimizing and making intentional choices about every item you pack.
If you must check a bag, try creatively distributing weight across bags. Pack all your heavy stuff like shoes and toiletries in a checked suitcase. Then fill your carry-on with only light clothing and tech. This avoids paying for two checked bags. I've done this on trips to Europe and Asia, checking just one bag with all my bulky shoes and liquids. My carry-on backpack had clothes and laptop but stayed underweight.
Watch bag dimensions and stick to airline size restrictions too. On certain airlines like Spirit, even carry-on "personal items" are limited to 18"x14"x8". So choose backpacks or totes that squeeze into these constraints with no bulging. Every inch matters when maximizing carry-on space.
Finally, consider alternative luggage entirely. Some travelers opt for lightweight duffel bags with shoulder straps that squash down small. Others pack everything in a backpack/suitcase hybrid that complies with carry-on size limits despite generous packing capacity. There's a spectrum of creative luggage choices beyond boxy roller bags.
Cheap Flights Galore: How to Snag Airline Deals and Fly on a Budget - Use Miles and Points for Free Flights
Among savvy jetsetters, miles and points have become a secret weapon for scoring free flights and heavily discounted travel. While earning miles may seem complicated to a newbie, a few simple strategies can have you well on your way to booking gratis getaways and vacations.
Miles accummulate from everyday spending on designated credit cards, online shopping portals, and other everyday purchases. The key is choosing cards that offer bonus miles on categories where you already spend money, like groceries, dining, or gas. Charging these routine expenses to the right card helps miles add up quickly without going out of your way.
Many travelers focus first on opening a co-branded airline credit card like the Delta SkyMiles or American AAdvantage cards. These offer 25,000-75,000 bonus miles just for meeting a minimum spend threshold when you first get the card. That alone may score you a free one-way domestic flight. Then you'll continue earning miles on all card purchases.
Transferable points from cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred and American Express Membership Rewards are another fasttrack to boosting your balance. These points can be transferred to various airline and hotel partners. The Chase Sapphire Preferred sign-up bonus alone nets 60,000 points, enough for a roundtrip domestic ticket if transferred to United MileagePlus. Additional Chase cards like the Freedom Flex and Freedom Unlimited help you earn Ultimate Rewards points daily.
Once you've built up a healthy mileage balance, the fun starts - redeeming for award flights. Most airlines have online award charts that spell out how many miles are needed for a given destination. Set price alerts and grab seats when award availability opens up. Being flexible with dates and airports broadens options. Consider traveling off-peak too - awards to Europe cost just 30,000 miles roundtrip in the winter vs. 60,000+ during summer.
Cheap Flights Galore: How to Snag Airline Deals and Fly on a Budget - Get Refundable Fares for Potential Cancellations
While scoring rock bottom airfares feels great, nonrefundable budget tickets come with risk. If your plans change last minute, you're out the cash with no recourse if the fare rules are ultra-restrictive. I learned this lesson the hard way after a family emergency required me to reschedule a trip to Costa Rica. The $200 roundtrip tickets went to waste.
Ever since, I've been diligent about uncovering refundable flight options, even if they cost a bit more upfront. The extra peace of mind is worth it, especially for big bucket list trips or important events. Refundable fares let you recoup the full value as travel credit if plans unexpectedly shift.
How do you find these elusive flexible tickets? Google Flights makes it easy with a simple filter to see only refundable options. Toggle this on and notice how much more expensive these fares typically run. refundable tickets usually cost $100+ over basic economy.
But here's a clever trick: book two one-way flights instead of a roundtrip when flying refundable. This cuts the upfront cost nearly in half. Say New York to LA roundtrips are $600+ for refundable economy. Grab two one-ways for $300 each instead. If you later need to cancel just one leg, you recoup $300 rather than $0 on a basic fare.
Refundable business class awards can offer protection too. Search for "Business Flex" fares on United, which are refundable for a year with no change fees. On American search for "AAnytime" business awards. While pricey at 75,000+ miles, you get an upgrade plus the flexibility to change dates and routes.
Travel insurance provides another hedge if you prefer sticking with budget fares. "Cancel for any reason" policies let you cancel for reasons not traditionally covered and recover 50-75% of your trip costs. These policies run about 40-60% more than basic trip insurance but offer a buffer when life happens. Just be sure to read the fine print.