In the past 6 years I’ve flown back and forth across the country at least 20 times. I hate to think of the thousands of dollars I’ve scraped together, only to be dumped backed into the greedy mouths of the head honchos at [Insert Evil Corporation] Airlines. Thinking of all the money I’ve spent helps me go the extra mile to save more and more each time I travel so that I can take a few extra mini-trips throughout the year. And the best way to start saving some sweet getaway cash is at the airport. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way:
1. Be a night owl, get cheaper tickets.
First, if you can handle it, go for a red-eye flight. Overnight flights are the cheapest, and they’re great because there won’t be any kids kicking your seat, and most of the people around you will be quiet, if not asleep. There’s something very Zen about a quiet night-flight.
I always use a website like Kayak.com to buy a ticket, and I give it a few test-runs throughout the week. I’ll price-check once around 5pm and again late at night, usually right before I go to bed. For me, that’s around 1:30 or 2 am, and the airfare is always cheapest at the witching hour. If it’s a Monday or Tuesday night, regular schmoes are already in bed, which means no one with a hint of a normal schedule is buying airfare. Is that logical? Is that a fact? That’s not for me to declare, but knowing I’ve saved between $30 and $60 every time I fly is enough to make me believe it is.
2. Don’t buy food…or anything!
I mean, this seems like it should be a no-brainer yet I still see people shelling out ridiculous amounts of money all over the airport food courts. Sure, treat yourself to a Dunkin’ Donuts or a coffee, but don’t rely on the airport to provide you with a full meal. There are plenty of easy things you can bring that will keep you full. If you’re thinking, “Oh please, who has the time?” I can assure you that, well, you do.
A few things I’ve brought in the past include a hearty soup or a leftover pasta dish in a disposable container, heated just before leaving for the airport. A great go-to is a peanut butter, banana, and honey sandwich, or if it’s an early morning flight, I like granola with yogurt and fruit stashed in my carry-on in an insulated lunch bag. Breakfast bars, granola bars, and sandwich baggies filled with pretzels, chips, dried fruit, cookies or crackers make great plane snacks and won’t take up too much space either. Don’t forget to pack things like gum, earplugs, advil, headphones, tissues and contact solution – you’ll spend upwards of $5 on everything but the gum.
3. Don’t check that bag yet.
One of the most ridiculous money-hungry schemes airlines have come up with in recent years is tacking on that baggage check fee. Some of the “nicer” companies allow you to check your first bag for free, but most airlines will charge at least $25 for your first bag, raising the price anywhere from $30-$75 for additional bags, and those prices can be even higher if you’re flying International. Standard regulations allow passengers one carry-on and one “personal item” such as a backpack, purse or a laptop. This money-saving tip does not come without careful preparation.
- Pack basic, interchangeable clothing items. Ladies, I promise it can be done – this is where basics are your best friend: a solid skirt, a few tanks, a bright dress, a nice pair of pants. Wear your heaviest/bulkiest items on the plane (boots or sneakers, hoodie, etc) and you’ll free up space in your luggage.
- Bring a backpack. You can fit snacks, a laptop, magazine, small purse, and so much more in one.
- Stand at the end of the line. Most airlines overbook their flights these days, and most people bring too much stuff, so they’ll usually ask for volunteers to check their bags for free about halfway into the boarding process. You’ll save yourself at least $25. I realized this on my last trip back home, and I’m going to try it every time.
- Pack an extra bag. If you think you’ll end up coming home with more than you brought, just line the bottom of your duffel with a big tote bag. You’ll end up checking your duffel on the way home, and now you’ve got a tote as your second carry-on. Spending $25 once to check a bag is still better than twice.
Try these tips the next time you fly. I can’t guarantee much, but I can guarantee this: you won’t complain about terrible airline food, you’ll be free to run passionately from gate to gate, rom-com style, and most importantly, you’ll save some hard-earned cash for your next trip.
Erin Lampart is a comedian and story-teller living in Los Angeles with her cool dog, Jan. Part-time waitress and full-time dork, you can follow her on Twitter @ThatsSoLampy.