The last couple of years we have had to get pretty creative when searching for airfare. Our family has grown to five and we have had some very fun travel opportunites come our way on a much smaller budget. We used to be frequent fliers who jetted around on airline miles but when I stopped working (and traveling for free) the airlines miles disappeared.
I thought I’d share with you a few tips we’ve learned along the way. While this post in no way includes every way to save on your airfare, these are a few tips that have been helpful to us recently. You also might disagree on a few, but we’d love to hear your opinion. These are just from my recent experience.
Check the big sites, but buy directly from the airline
- Sites like Expedia.com are great for tracking down what airlines have flights you are looking for and it’s easy to sort them by price. I also really like Kayak. However, as far as I know they are just pulling from the airline’s websites and you aren’t really getting a better deal, just a way to search lots of airlines.
- Anytime I find a great flight on a large airfare website, I can always find the same price or better on the airlines actual site. By purchasing directly you will avoid fees and it will be easier to refund the ticket if necessary. These sites charge fees for buying tickets through them. It’s minimal, sometimes just a few bucks but I don’t see any benefit to shopping through them.
- As far as I can tell, Southwest Airlines might be the only airline that doesn’t allow its flights to come up in the big airline websites searches. Go directly to their site to see the fares available. I often find the cheapest flights here and they run great sales.
Know the airlines that offer affordable prices from your airport
- I fly out of Seattle and almost everywhere we fly domestically is serviced by Southwest, Jet Blue and Alaska Airlines. For me, I almost never beat the price of these airlines based on our travel needs. This is nice for acquiring miles as well as knowing where to go first when looking for a deal.
- My parents and Melody are both near very small airports (Bellingham and Tri-Cities) that are serviced by a small (and sometimes controversial) airline called Allegiant Air. They have both had great experiences flying Allegiant and the prices are literally unbeatable from these airports to the cities they fly to (Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Los Angeles). If an airline has a focus on affordable flights from your airport or has a hub there, you can often find unbeatable prices.
Add-up all the extra costs
- With all the additional baggage costs and fees that airlines are charging these days, it is sometimes cheaper to get a more expensive ticket without the fees. Make sure you read all the fine print. We recently flew from Scotland to Ireland and by buying tickets that cost $25 more, I saved $45 in baggage fees.
- Southwest is one that still isn’t charging for bags and if you know that you will need to check bags, you can save by flying with them. However, I find that because they don’t assign seats, flying with a large family is stressful for me. If the price is the same, I’d rather pay to fly Alaska and only carry-on bags than deal with the hassle of checking in on time and having to race to get seats together.
- This might go without saying but the more flexible you are on dates, times & even locations, the more you can save. It’s worth pulling the kids out of school for a couple days for me to travel on less expensive days.
- The low-fare calendars on several major airlines sites and on the third-party sites are amazing. If we have any flexibility on when we travel, I try to look at a couple months of tickets prices and pick dates that have the cheapest fares to try and schedule our trip.
Subscribe to the airlines emails
- In my birthday month, I get % off coupon code from Alaska Airlines. It’s transferable, so myself or anybody I give it to can use it. It has restrictions but if it fits your needs, it’s awesome. Other airlines may do this as well.
- Some airlines run great sales, Southwest is one that does this often. I had recently planned a trip and didn’t buy tickets in time. They were slowly creeping up and I couldn’t bring myself to buy at that price. I gave up plans to go on this trip and then suddenly got an email saying the flight had been discount by 1/3, for just the next three days. I bought quick. Had I not been subscribed to their emails, I would have never seen it.
- Airlines will also occasionally send out coupon codes that are just for the recipient, and sometimes transferable. This might mean 10% off a flight you had planned to pay full price for anyway.
Know what a good price is
- I track flights with Yapta.com as soon as the idea of a trip is even in our head. This way I can get an idea of what the prices look like for a trip we are interested in. I set up the tracker and they just email me when prices go up or down. By knowing what the range is, you can be more prepared to buy low.
- There are places we always want to fly or do fly somewhat regularly and I can tell you off the top of my head what a good price is. This way, when I see it, I can jump on it. My cousin is in Albuquerque and I was hoping to visit her new baby soon. I knew that $99 for a direct is as low as it goes so as soon as I saw that price, I bought immediately.
Plan way in advance
- There was a time long ago, when flights weren’t always full. However, in the last few years, every single flight I have been on has been completely full. I think they have cut flights due to costs and thus they are selling most or all of the tickets. Those last-minute deals I used to see haven’t been popping up for me so I find buying in advance is usually to our benefit. The sweet spot for me seems to be that six months is too far out but by 2-3 months in advance the deals are hard to come by. People always tell me to “wait until the last minute” to save on a flight. In my recent experience, this is old advice.
- People I know swear by the Bing Price Predictor. I have used it a few times and it was right two out of three times. The one exception was when Southwest had a really crazy sale and the prices were 1/3 of what they had been the week before. It’s worth checking out though. They’ll tell you if they think prices will go up or down on a flight. Some people say it’s accurate, some don’t. What’s your experience?
Fly two different airlines
- Recently we went to Disneyland and it was significantly cheaper to fly in to Long Beach on the way there and to fly home from Orange County. If you are renting a car, sometimes the additional drop fee for returning it to another airport makes it not worth it, however. Make sure and look in to the rental car costs before you try this approach.
- Sometimes it’s cheaper to fly two different airlines. I recently did a trip where we flew on Southwest to get to our destination and Alaska to fly home. By buying one-way tickets from two different airlines we were able to save.
Know which airlines refund when the price goes down
- Many airlines will give you a credit if the price goes down. Most of these are issued in the form of an airline voucher that may or may not be transferable.
- Track the price of the ticket you bought after you purchase if it’s valid for a refund. I use the Yapta Price Tracker and get emails sent directly to my inbox if the flight I bought goes up or down. They do not track all airlines, however. Southwest is one that I know they do not track.
- Airfare WatchDog has a great chart to help you figure out what the policy is for the airline that you are flying on or considering buying a ticket from.
Thoughts on Priceline bidding
- I use Priceline bidding all the time for rental cars and hotels. It’s amazing and I’ve gotten jaw dropping deals while still having a lot of control on what I get. However, when it comes to flights, I am not that brave. Unless you have all the time in the world and don’t need any sleep, the money-saving on these tickets isn’t worth it to me. They are often horiffically long, overnight, and have a ton of legs. Beware!
We would love to hear some of your tips for saving on airfare and travel. Our readers always have the most creative money-saving ideas! Please share in the comments.
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