If you are like me you love to travel, exploring new places and revisiting old favorite haunts. In my 20s, it was harder to fulfill my wanderlust with a lighter wallet, so I learned a few tricks to maximize my trips while minimizing the cost. In fact, traveling almost anywhere in the world is easier and cheaper, thanks to the world wide web.
A few extra clicks and tricks can save you hundreds of dollars in up front and hidden fees. If you put in a little work and have a little flexibility, these travel tips and hacks can get you on your way. Where do you want to go first? Follow my advice and hit the skies.
1. Know How to Search...
There are a number of search engines, and I've tried them all. However, all are not equal. Here are some of my favorites:
2. ...But Search in Secret!
Have you ever done a flight search, and then minutes later you check again and the prices have gone up? Does it feel like they are watching you and raising prices just for you? Well, sad to say, that is partially true. Due to the cookies in your browser prices will increase when a route is searched repeatedly. These booking portals and airlines want to scare you into booking your flight quickly. There is a way around this: do your searches incognito.
Here's how to go incognito, and it's very simple:
This opens a new browser window where your information is not tracked, so your prices will not be inflated.
Each time you re-open an incognito window, your cookies will be reset. Then make sure you close your windows completely before doing a new search, so your previous searches aren't remembered.
3. Know When to Fly...
Planning ahead for a big trip? Certain times of the year are better than others. Generally, the cheapest times of year to fly are January through early May, and again in September through early December... generally, if kids are in school, it's cheaper and easier to fly. The most expensive times to fly are during peak summer, which is the middle of June through the middle of August. Also, Christmas and New Years are more expensive than other times.
Also, when looking at your desired location, keep in mind that during holidays and festivals travel will be more expensive. So if you are looking to save some money, don't fly to China during the Chinese New Year, to Rio during Carnival, to Dublin during St. Patrick's day, to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, for example.
4. ...And Be Flexible
You've probably heard that Tuesday is the best day to fly to save money. It used to be standard operating procedure for airlines to load their best fare at 2:00pm on a Tuesday, but now thanks to the internet fares are posted throughout the week, and at various times. Your best bet is to do a search for an entire month. The numbers won't lie: sometimes Tuesday is best, sometimes it's Thursday, sometime's it's Saturday.
To truly be flexible, log into your favorite travel website (like the ones I listed above) and enter your departure and arrival cities. Select "one-way" even if you are going round trip, as this will ensure the cheapest days. Then select "depart" and check "whole month." The cheapest option will be clear. Then do the same with your return flight as a "one-way" option.
5. Plan in Advance
Planning a spur of the moment trip to Paris? Wonderful for you, but don't expect any airline deals. If you really want a cheap flight, you need to plan ahead. Flying internationally? Anywhere from two to eight months will give you the best options. If you are flying in the continental United States, one to three months is the best time to book. If you are looking to travel during peak months, add one to two months to this timetable.
6. And Don't Wait until the Last Minute
Do last minute deals pop up? Of course? But you are more likely to be stranded at the airport without an option. Decades ago airlines would slash prices to fill empty seats in the final days before a flight. Now business travelers plan at the last minute and are willing to pay more, so those seats are held at full price (and usually claimed) at the last minute.
7. Go Out of Your Way (Just a bit)
Quick, what's the closest airport to Manhattan? Spoiler: it's LaGuardia. This Queens airport is a short cab ride from all the action in Manhattan. But maybe your travel is cheaper if you fly into JFK or Newark, both slightly further away. Or maybe if you expand outward you can get a cheaper deal. Fly into Stewart Airport (in Newburgh), or Hartford, or Philadelphia, and take a bus or train into New York. Most major cities in the United States and Europe have multiple airport options, so do your research.
If you are willing to make your journey longer, adding a couple of hours travel near your home could result in savings. For example, if you live in Washington D.C. and want to go to Berlin, you could save a lot of money by flying out of New York, Philadelphia, or Boston. A few extra hours on a train or a bus can make your flight time cheaper.
8. Pick a Cheap Airline
Every country has an inexpensive airline for travel. For example, Spirit Airlines in the United States or RyanAir in Europe are no frills airlines. Rates are cheaper, but they get you with additional charges. Checking bags, leg room that doesn't packed you like sardines, an aisle seat, early boarding, and any food options will all come with a mark up. It hasn't happened yet, but in the near future you might even be charged for using the bathroom while on a flight.
How long are you willing to travel? If you really have the time, adding one or two stops to your itinerary will make your trip much cheaper than flying non-stop. That said, this advice comes with a big warning: make sure your layover isn't too short. If your layover is under three hours, any number of factors (bad weather, different terminals, holiday season) could cause you to miss your connection. And if you book your travel through a travel website instead of directly through the airline's website, your chance of a full refund or exchange is much less likely.
10. Use a Travel Agent
While they seem like a service of olden days, travel agents can help you save money if you are flexible on time and can book in advance. Travel agents have special rates that are unaccessible to the general public. Your best bet is to do your own independent research and bring your findings to a travel agent. They can tell you if they can find you a better rate. Another advantage of travel agents: they can help you extend layovers so you can enjoy a day or more in a new city, rather than just hanging out at the airport. Plus, travel agents know a lot about many places, and can offer suggestions to places you may not know.
11. Get With the Program
All airlines have frequent flyer programs. Take two minutes and sign up. There is literally nothing to lose, as they don't charge for membership. If you travel multiple times a year, you are likely to earn miles at a variety of places. Many airlines allow you to go up to two years without travel before you lose miles. Other airlines allow for you to accrue miles without ever losing miles, no matter how long you go before flights. Open accounts before every flight on a new airline, and down the road your free flights await.
With a little bit of knowledge, patience, and flexibility, you can travel the world without breaking your bank account. There are deals, freebies, and incentives for those who have flexibility with dates, airlines, and destination (and departure) cities. As long as you plan enough in advance, you can find the trip at the budget you desire. This will allow you to travel more often. Soon enough, you can be a seasoned world traveler!