Every year I try to fly back home to Canada from Germany…in July – aka high season, and one of the worst possible times to find a cheap flight. I used to spend hours trying to search for any kind of deal, then weighing the cons, Is it worth flying an extra 8 hours with 2 extra stops to save $300?
I’ve wised up over the years and with these 9 travel tips, I’ve saved thousands on airfare, often saving as much as $500 on a single flight! Check them out:
1)Sign-up for a Flight Price Alert
Once you know where you want to go, sign up for a price alert. You will get emails telling you the prices of a particular flight, so that you can decide when is the best time to book your flight. There are numerous different price alert services that you can use, but I use the one from Skyscanner shown in the photo below. Once you enter your departure and arrival airport and the dates of travel, you simply click the blue Get Price Alerts bottom to monitor the fares. You can even check fares on the go with the handy app!
2)Book Airfare 8 Weeks in Advance for Domestic Travel and 24 Weeks in Advance for International Travel or Last Minute
When to book your flight is a highly debated topic and for every result you find in Google, you’ll find a different answer. However, according to the Airlines Reporting Corporation, travellers save an average of 19% when booking flights 8 weeks before a domestic departure (U.S.) and an incredible 27% when booking an international flight 24 weeks before departure. Alternatively, you may also be able to score a great deal with a last minute booking. Last minute bookings are great when it might be nice to get away for a weekend, but it’s not essential that you go. You don’t want the stress of hoping for a last minute deal which may never come, so if it’s essential travel, stick on the safe side and book in advance.
3)Travel at Off-Peak Hours and on the Cheapest Days
Don’t worry, you don’t have to figure this out for yourself. That’s why I love, love Skyscanner’s Find Cheapest Month and Whole Month search feature. This saves me hours of time researching flights. It works best if you can be a little bit flexible with your dates.
For example,today is Dec. 22nd and if I decided I wanted to catch a last minute flight from Munich, Germany (where I live) to Calgary, Canada (where I’m from), I could use Skyscanner’s Whole Month search feature and find I could get the best price by flying on December 25th and returning on January 8th. The return flight with one stop would be $866 – pretty good considering that it’s an international flight only 3 days before AND at Christmas time.
Now if those dates didn’t work for me and I really wanted to be home at Christmas and had to be back in Munich earlier, I could alternatively fly on December 24th and return on January 2nd – for a cost of $1377.
With that information, I can decide whether it’s more important for me to save $511, or travel on those exact dates! You can also limit the duration of the flight and number of stopovers and even the time of day, but I recommend searching first without these limitations for the cheapest prices. You can then add them after your initial search.
4) Check Baggage Restrictions Before You Head to the Airport
According to the U.S Bureau of Transportation Statistics, airlines collected over $3.5 billion in baggage fees in 2014! Your money could be much better spent on something that would enhance your travels. To avoid paying for excess baggage, check the baggage restrictions with your airline before you leave the house. Weigh your luggage if in doubt. Also be aware that when some airlines like Easyjet, a British low cost airline, say they have a 1 item carry on, they literally mean one item. That means if you have a purse and a laptop, that’s two items. Both have to fit in the same bag – otherwise you’ll pay – no exceptions. Typically the discount carriers are stricter on this, but as you can see from the stats, the major airlines are also charging passengers.
5) Fly From an Alternate Airport
This typically only works if you are flying to or from a larger city, but can save you a ton of money. When I fly to London, I almost always find the best deals by flying into Gatwick, or Stansted, and rarely Heathrow, the main airport. You do need to weigh the pros and cons though, as the airport may be so far away, it may not be worth the savings, or the train ticket from the airport may end up eating into your savings. That was the case when I scored my great deal to Luton Airport, just outside of London. By the time I had paid for the return train journey, my savings amounted to less than $10, and it took me much longer to get where I was going than had I flown into another airport. That’s not saying that you shouldn’t fly into Luton, it just wasn’t convenient for where I was going to in London, so be sure to check how convenient the airport is for where you’re going – especially for big cities.
6) Be Flexible With Your Destination
If you’ve ever spent winter in Canada, you’ll understand why so many Canadians flee winter for a week or two every year to escape the cold. Often it doesn’t matter where it is, just as long as there’s a beach and it’s warm. This is where I use Skyscanner’s Everywhere search tool.
Enter your departure point, then choose Everywhere as your destination:
You’ll get a list of flight prices by location and can then search from there. I love this feature for making me consider destinations that I may have over looked or may not have been on my radar!
7) Be Loyal to One Airline Alliance
When you are loyal to one airline alliance, it makes it easier to collect reward points. The major ones are Star Alliance with 27 members, SkyTeam with 20 members and OneWorld with 15 members. It’s worth taking a look at the members in each one to see which carriers you fly with most often, then trying to use the carriers in that alliance whenever possible. You can find a list of the members in each alliance here.
Some discount carriers and other airlines also have their own reward programs but you have to fly with that particular airline. Still, if you fly one particular route frequently, it may make sense to join their reward program.
8) The 24 Hour Flight Booking Rule
This only applies to flights booked from the U.S., but it’s a handy rule that few people know about. Passengers will be able to hold a reservation without payment, or cancel a booking without penalty, for 24 hours after the reservation is made, if they make the reservation one week or more prior to a flight’s departure date. (Source: U.S. Department of Transportion: https://www.transportation.gov/affairs/2012/dot0812.html#sthash.irheRbZA.dpuf.
That means that if a fare drops, you can cancel and rebook the fare at the cheaper price, so it’s worth checking the fare prices again with 24 hours of booking. After that, there will be a fee to change your ticket in most cases.
9) Research How to Get from the Airport to Your Destination Before You Arrive
There’s nothing worse than arriving at the airport to find the information desk is closed, and overpaying since you have no other choice for a taxi. Do your research prior to arrival and be sure to avoid these other travel mistakes.
Now that you’ve booked your flight in minutes and saved hundreds, you can put your new-found time and extra money into planning your adventures upon arrival!
If you have tips on how to score a cheap flight, I’d love to hear them. Share them below.
Note: This post was made possible by Skyscanner, my preferred online flight search engine. As always, all opinions are my own.