Last Updated on August 24, 2023
Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
By Jim Ferri
I always want to save money on flights. That’s because 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 travel 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 other sites that may also save you money.
Flights such as JustFly.com, 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 to Save Money on Flights
Discount airlines pick out-of-the-way airports to keep their landing fees down, which helps keep their ticket prices down. But that’s sometimes not good if you want to save money on flights. That’s because you need to look at teh entire cost, not just the seat on the plane.
In fact, some discount airlines can wind up costing you plenty. So if you’re booking a budget carrier double-check your arrival airport. This is especially important if you’re traveling to one of the smaller countries of the world.
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. In fact, that airport is closer to Luxembourg than to Frankfurt. That can result in an an unexpected road trip or a pricey taxi ride.
Check for Packages, And Not Just At OTA’s to Save Money on Flights
Many people looking to save money on flights 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. In fact, sometimes they provide 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 to save money on the entire flight package is Rome2Rio.com. Enter your starting city and your destination and it will near-instantly tell you how to get there. It will also show you the means of transport (car, bus, plane, etc.), the cost for each, and the travel time.
Rome2Rio is often used to help you sort out onward travel once you’ve arrived at a destination. But 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. 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 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. This provides an incredible savings on your flights since you’re actually getting two for the price of one.
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, othertimes quite a bit. Just be sure that the credit card you put it on doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees.
Avoid Flight Delays
When looking for savings on flight, remember that time is money. You are, after all, 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. You’ll also find 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 to Save the Most Money on Flights
Carefully choosing your travel dates can provide some savings on flights. 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 to Save a Bundle of Money on Flights
New carriers that have entered the American market are now offering substantial fare savings on flights to Europe. New low-cost carrier Norse Atlantic offers economy fares as low as $138 (one-way economy) to Europe.
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.
And finally, be aware that you may be taking a risk with some cut-rate discount carriers (such as the now defunct Wow and Norwegian) since they sometimes go out of business, possibly leaving you stranded.
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 saving on flights, 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 (goodbye savings) if you choose it at the airport.
When 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 help desk 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.
Save Money by Minimizing Your Luggage Fees on Flights
Another way to save money on flights is to check online ahead of time regarding your carrier’s checked baggage weight limitations since they sometimes differ between airlines. Norse Atlantic’s allowance is 70 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.