The Thrifty Traveler: How to Save Hundreds on Airfare

This month, I’m introducing a new blog series entitled The Thrifty Traveler. Each post will tackle a different travel subject—from booking cheap flights, to saving on lodging, to finding deals on food and drinks. If you’re looking to travel more without breaking the bank, this series is for you!

I’ve been traveling for as long as I can remember. My mom would take my brother and me on several trips each year. It was always something adventurous… a five-day kayaking and camping tour of Lake Powell (at age 10!)… a weeklong boat trip on the Netherland canals… a three-day stay in a yurt in the Redwoods… the list goes on.

As I got older, my passion for travel grew. I’ve been to five of the seven continents (still missing Antarctica and Australia) and have visited 32 of the 50 states. But since I’ve grown up and Mom is no longer footing the bills, I’ve had to come up with creative ways to travel on a budget. And now, I want to share everything I’ve learned with you!

I’ll start with one of my favorite budget travel topics—how to find and book cheap flights. I’m always looking for deals on plane tickets… because every dollar saved on airfare can be put towards fun things—like food (my personal favorite!), lodging, excursions, and souvenirs.

Here are some tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years.

Fly with a Budget Airline

Flying with a budget airline like Spirit, Frontier, or Allegiant is one of the easiest ways to save money on airfare. But beware of added fees. Carry-on baggage charges are around $30 if you purchase online and can cost upwards of $50 if you wait to purchase at the gate. And if you want to ensure a seat next to your travel partner, you’ll have to pay for that, too.

Bottom line—budget airlines can be much cheaper than traditional ones. Just make sure you’re clear on the airline’s fee structure before you purchase a ticket. I’ve flown Allegiant and Spirit many times without any major issues and find them to be perfectly comfortable for the price.

Step up Your Search Game

Don’t limit yourself to big-name travel search engines like Expedia and Travelocity. These days, there are a ton of sites and tools that make searching for flights easier than ever.

Two of my favorites are Skiplagged and Momondo. Skiplagged uses a unique algorithm to expose loopholes in airfare pricing to find you rock bottom prices. You may experience strange stopovers and multiple airlines, but if your concern is cost and not convenience, it may be worth it.

Momondo is a travel search engine that scans hundreds of sites to find the best deals. The service is completely free, which means they never add booking fees or use cookies to inflate prices (more on that later).

You can also use tools like Airfarewatchdog which will alert you when fares drop on routes you’ve flagged.

Beware of Cookies

Websites use cookies (the digital kind, not the kind you eat) to keep track of your visits and activities. You can thank cookies for saving your login information on certain websites, serving up targeted ads, keeping track of items in your online shopping cart, and more.

But you can also thank cookies for hiking up airfares on flights you’ve recently searched. I experienced this firsthand last month when researching flights to Phoenix. On Sunday, the cost of a round-trip ticket from Peoria to Phoenix was around $380. When I looked again on Monday, it had shot up to $460. I switched internet browsers, and, to my surprise, the fare went down to $400.

Don’t let travel websites take advantage of you. After researching flights, you have a few options once you are prepared to buy your ticket:

  1. Switch internet browsers. For example, if you used Google Chrome for your research, use Firefox to purchase.
  2. Use an alternate device. You could use your phone or tablet for research and your laptop to purchase, for instance.
  3. Clear your cookies. Here’s how to do it on Google Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.

Consider Nearby Airports

I live 15 minutes from the Peoria International Airport which can get me anywhere I need to go. But because it’s not a major travel hub, airfare is often pricey.

Instead, I often fly out of Chicago or St. Louis where tickets can be hundreds of dollars less. The 2.5-hour drive can be brutal after a long trip, but for me, the cost savings are usually worth the inconvenience.

Book Midweek Flights

Typically, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are the cheapest days to fly domestically. The reason for this is simple—there’s less demand due to travel patterns of business travelers and vacationers.

Business travelers usually head to their destination on Sunday or Monday to get a jumpstart on their work week. And they’ll head home on Friday when their workweek has ended.

Similarly, vacationers will often fly out on Friday or Saturday to take advantage of two full weekends at their destination. And they’ll typically fly home on Sunday to prepare for work on Monday.

So, skip the crowds and book a midweek flight instead. Your pocketbook will thank you.

You’ve Got This

Don’t let a limited budget stop you from getting out and exploring the world. Use these tips to save on one of the biggest travel expenses—airfare. And keep in mind this isn’t a comprehensive list—I’ve just noted my favorites. There are other ways to save too, like using travel rewards credit cards or airline rewards programs.

Do you have any insights into saving on airfare? Let us know in the comments!

Stay tuned for more budget travel tips coming your way soon.

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