Last Updated on February 19, 2021 by Jim Ferri
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
By Jim Ferri
I’m an addict that’s been hooked on travel for years.
Pretty much it’s anywhere, anytime.
And it’s an expensive addiction. Add up the airfare, hotel and meal costs, taxis and a dozen other costs, after a few trips, to paraphrase the late Everett Dirksen, you’re talking real money.
If like me, you want to continue to feed your addiction, there are ways to economize without enduring a Scrooge-like vacation experience. And the best place to start is when you buy your airline ticket.
Just follow these simple tips.
Don’t Book the Way You Always Have
While third-party booking websites such as such as Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity are well-known and popular Online Travel Agencies (OTAs), don’t overlook newer sites that may also save you money.
One of the newer third-party sites is JustFly.com, which receives high ratings and offers savings on both flights and hotels. In a quick check of the four sites for an upcoming trip to Rome, JustFly provided the lowest rate. It also offers a “best purchase guarantee” and will alert you if the price of your ticket drops.
Double-Check Your Arrival Airport
Discount airlines pick out-of-the-way airports to keep their landing fees down, which helps keep their ticket prices down. But that can cost you plenty. So if you’re booking a budget carrier double-check your arrival airport.
Discount carrier Ryanair, for example, flies from London to Frankfurt, Germany, but it doesn’t land at the main Frankfurt airport. Instead, you’ll be brought to Hahn airport almost 80 miles away from Frankfurt, which is closer to Luxembourg than your intended destination. That can result in a pretty pricey taxi ride.
Check for Packages, And Not Just At OTA’s
Many people spend a lot of time looking for the best airfare deal at OTAs such as Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity. But you should also check the cost of an air and hotel package combination, which can save you a bundle – sometimes providing you the airfare and hotel for the price of the airfare alone. It can be quite a savings.
For even more values also look at the packages offered by the airlines themselves. Check Southwest Vacations, United Vacations, American Airlines Vacations, and others. Also check smaller online agencies such as Gate 1 Travel and Apple Vacations.
Make Use of Travel-Planning Sites
One incredibly useful site I use often is Rome2Rio.com. Enter your starting city and your destination and it will near-instantly tell you how to get there, as well as show you the means of transport (car, bus, plane, etc.), the cost for each, and the travel time.
While the site is often used to help you sort out onward travel once you’ve arrived at a destination, it also works well for planning how to get from your arrival airport into a city. For example, type in Paris CDG Airport to the Eiffel Tower and it will tell you that taking the RER, and then walking a bit, will cost you $13-14 and take 55 minutes. A taxi, on the other hand, will take about 30-minutes, and set you back $60 – 75. In addition to major tourist sites, you can also enter the names of some better-known hotels.
Get Two Destinations for the Price of One
Two-for-ones aren’t only offered in the supermarket. Some airlines give you the option of a free stopover in a hub city when you’re en route to another country. On British Airways, for example, you’re often allowed a free stopover in London on your way to another BA destination.
Buy Your Ticket Overseas
The price of all travel products, especially airfares, is constantly changing. Sometimes you’ll see the cost change as you’re booking a flight. To ensure that you do get the best price go to an international airline’s foreign site, preferably its home country. By changing your “home country” to that country, you’ll then see your flight listed in the local currency.
Then go online and find out the conversion rate and do the math. Sometimes the difference will be negligible, sometimes quite a bit – just be sure that the credit card you put it on doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees.
Avoid Flight Delays
Time is money, especially when you’re spending your hard-earned vacation dollars. Get stuck in an airport by a flight delay and you could miss your connecting flight to London or your cruise in Miami.
A wise thing to do is to check on which airports around the U.S. are most prone to flight delays and which have the best on-time records. A simple Google search “best worst US airport delays” will bring up some articles on the subject in publications such as Time and Travel & Leisure that will give you the stats.
Choose Your Dates Carefully
Carefully choosing your travel dates can provide some bargains. For example, late January and early February, a perennially low travel period, is usually a good time to travel if you want to snare a bargain. Likewise, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years days and eves.
You’ll also, of course, want to avoid school holiday periods to popular destinations, such as the heavily traveled summer season when places like Disney World are bursting at the seams. Also, consider the time of day – few people like to travel on a redeye or very early in the morning; that’s why you’ll usually find the greatest bargains at those times.
When you’re looking at flight options on an airline’s website check the same flight on different days of the week (and different months if your vacation schedule permits). Often you’ll see that traveling on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday will provide real savings.
Look To the Startups
New carriers that have entered the American market are now offering substantial fare savings on flights to Europe. These low-cost carriers include Norwegian and Wow, which have offered economy fares as low as $99 to Europe.
Norwegian provides a low-fare calendar on its site that shows the lowest fare available, in your date range. Click on your country of origin on Wow’s site and you’ll find a list of the company’s lowest fares to a variety of destinations. If you’d rather fly business class look to La Compagnie, which offers all-business-class flights between New York, Paris, and London, at fares well below those of other carriers.
While some rock-bottom fares on discount carriers can look awfully good, just be aware you have to pay for everything else. Always do the math ahead of time and add the cost of seat selection, fees for checked bags, the cost to travel to your final destination from a different airport, etc. and it may wind up being not such a bargain after all.
Put Your Airfare on Hold
You legally have the right to change or cancel your flight for free within 24 hours of booking. So when you find a good deal put it on hold and then continue searching. If you find that your on-hold fare has dropped within that 24-hour window, some carriers will either charge the lower fare or refund the difference (although it may be in the form of the credit to use at a future time). United will charge you $6.99 to keep your fare on hold for either 72 hours or seven days before you finalize the booking.
Know How Far in Advance to Book
To get the best bang for your buck, you need to know how far ahead to start searching for deals. And there’s no one answer – it all depends on your destination. According to Kayak, if you’re off to Europe start looking 26 weeks ahead, to Asia 5, Africa 9, the Caribbean 2-4, to Central and South America 3-6, and within North America 4-6 weeks in advance.
Choose Your Seat in Advance (or Finagle It)
As we all know, most carriers charge fees for premium seats. Others, especially the highly discounted carriers, charge extra for any seat you select. If you’re flying a discount carrier, make certain you reserve the seat online since some will charge you double if you choose it at the airport.
If you’re looking for a good seat but haven’t found one, courteously inquire at the boarding gate if one may be available. If there is one you’ll likely be given it for no additional fee. The same holds true in a carrier’s lounge such as American’s Admirals Club where the helpdesk will try to find you a desired seat at no additional cost.
Collect for Those Delays
We’ve all faced flight delays, but many of us aren’t aware as to whether or not we should be compensated for them. In the U.S. if you are involuntarily bumped from a flight you could be owed up to $1,300; in the European Union, the fee is $750 for a flight that is overbooked, canceled or delayed.
And then there’s Air Care, a Berkshire Hathaway company that provides a near-instant payment for flight delays, missed connections, lost or stolen luggage, etc. for a flat $25 fee. A tarmac delay of more than 2 hours nets you $1,000 with no forms to fill out.
Minimize Your Luggage Fees
It pays to check online ahead of time regarding your carrier’s checked baggage weight limitations since they sometimes differ between airlines. Norwegian’s allowance is 44 pounds, KLM’s 50 pounds. Some budget carriers will charge you additional fees at the airport – sometimes more than double their standard rate – if you didn’t prepay their luggage fee online when you purchased your ticket.
Considering the onerous baggage fees being charged by many airlines these days (Southwest is the only carrier that still allows two free check bags), if you have a lot of luggage, it may well make sense to ship your luggage ahead. Check airfarewatchdog.com to see a list of baggage and other fees now charged, and then pay a visit to UPS or FedEx.
Denver in August? It May Pay to Travel Only With a Carry-on
For a variety of reasons some bags just don’t make the flight. Many travelers don’t realize, however, that some bags are deliberately pulled from a flight because of weight restrictions. The restrictions are imposed at high altitudes on hot days, two conditions that make it difficult for a plane to take off. On very hot days in Denver, Mexico City or other high-altitude destinations you may find a carry-on is the best way to ensure you’ll land with your luggage.