When a friend or family member reaches out to ask me about traveling they’re usually looking for two things, tips on what to do and tips on how to get there on the cheap.
I have developed a formula of how to get cheap flights by researching a lot of similar posts to this, reading travel books, and personal experience. Some of these tips may work for you, some of them may not, but all of them will help you buy cheaper tickets. This information is by no means exhaustive, it may not apply to when precisely you want to take your trip and it may not be the type of flying you are looking for. These are not first class flights we’re looking at people. These are middle of the aisle, back of the plane, reject seats. But if you can tough it out for the long trek across the pond affordable travel and fantastical adventure awaits you! Which brings me to my first tip.
1. Be flexible
The time you visit a given destination has a massive effect on how much it costs to fly. For example, if you’re looking to fly home for Christmas this is not the article for you. Airlines like any other business have peak seasons, usually centered around holidays, and school vacation time. But on a deeper level, different days of the week and times of day can have an effect on ticket prices. Look for “Redeye” flights, and Tuesday and Thursday flights. Everyone is willing to take a 3 day weekend but for a little sleep deprivation, you might be able to catch a Thursday red-eye for $100 less than a Friday early Morning. Additionally, middle aisle seats and rear seats are cheaper.
2. Discount airlines
In Europe and Asia discount or “commuter” airlines are a popular thing. There it’s possible to fly Ryanair, Skymark, or Jetstar Asia for less than $40 USD per person from London to Ireland or Hong Kong to Thailand for $150 per person or less (roughly the same distance as flying from San Francisco to LA or Portland to Phoenix). This makes international travel in the Eastern Hemisphere MUCH cheaper than the West. Unfortunately, the US has very few options when it comes to discount airlines. But the two consistently cheapest airlines that I have used for International Travel from the West Coast are Spirit Airlines and Norwegian Air. Spirit Airlines does not at this time fly to Europe. Where it becomes worth the $$ and time is it’s extreme discount programs. These super discounted prices allow you to fly large distances across North America for a fraction of the cost. So you could end up with a $200 flight from SeaTac to La Guardia on Spirit then catch a $300 flight from JFK to Copenhagen on Norwegian.
When it comes to traveling straight to the east from the west Norwegian air consistently has the cheapest flight deals I’ve found on any US airlines. Yes sometimes Alaska runs amazing deals, or United has a flash sale… those are great! And worth it if you can catch them, but if you’re looking for run O’ the Mill, safe to say, super cheap flights on the regular Norwegian is your go to. They regularly run tickets for less than $200- 300 each direction including tax from major West Coast hubs like SFO or LAX. Couple that with a cheap $50 flight from Portland to LAX from Spirit and there ya go! Europe on the cheap!
3. Hand Luggage Only
CHECKING LUGGAGE IS NOT WORTH YOUR MONEY!! … say it with me now. “Checking Luggage is not worth my money!” At an average of $30-75 per checked bag, per airline, PER FLIGHT, it is much more worth it to do hand luggage only. BUT keep an eye out, some airlines allow one carry on and one personal item, some allow just one carry on. The size of bags vary from airline to airline, and the fee’s at the gate can be upwards of $100 per bag if you are not paying attention. BUT if you are paying attention you could save a few hundred on your flight.
4. Airline tracking apps
I feel like everyone knows about these apps but then I tell someone about them and their minds are blown. Hopefully this blows your mind too. I am going to list a couple but I will tell you outright my favorite is Hopper. Others include SkySkanner, STA and Kayak- I love Kayak for finding discount flights but as far as a price predictor I find Hopper to be the best. What I like to do is track the trends with Hopper, because it’s easier to use. It pushes notifications for specific flights to your phone which is great if you know you when you want to vacation! You can just set your date range and destination and it will let you know when prices drop or raise dramatically. Then I check all the other major discount sites like Kayak, and Priceline and or Airline sites and snag the flights when they are cheapest, sometimes Hopper has the best deal, sometimes Priceline does, it just depends! This is how I got two round trip tickets to London Heathrow from Portland for $541 a piece.
5. Airline mile earning cards
So in some circles credit cards are a bad thing. But if you want to travel and travel cheap and often, you’re a moron if you don’t have a travel credit card. Most travel cards offer a sign up incentive. Here’s how I use travel cards. I look for cards that offer high sign up incentive- More than 1 point per $ spent, more than 20,000 miles, and a low spend requirement to obtain that incentive as well as a waived or no fee for the first year. I also will not get a card that will require more than $1500 per month spending to obtain the incentive. So for example, my husband and I just got the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. When we spend $4000 in the first 3 months. We pay all our bills through the card then pay them back to the card at the end of the month. When the year is up we cancel the card and get a new one.
50,000 Miles is enough for about $500-600 in flights! That’s all your airfare!
There are a lot of other cards out there Capital One and Amex have some great ones. However, if you’re interested in the Chase Sapphire card (which has been my favorite so far) click here to get your 50,000 rewards points!
As I said, this list isn’t all encompassing but if you take even some of these tools and save some money then it’s helped! I wish so much that the largest obstacle to travel wasn’t an expense. I think there are a lot of people who perceive that it has to be this massively expensive thing, and honestly, with some planning, determination, and research it can be the same cost as a weekend getaway.
If any readers out there know of some awesome flight predictors or great tips on how to save on flights I am ALLLL ears!