Money Saver | Travel
How to Save Money on Flights: A Travel Blogger’s Top Secrets for Finding Cheap Flights
In 2017, I flew from the United Kingdom to Morocco on British Airways for less than £40 GBP (around $56). I didn’t apply any of my Avios Points and I didn’t use a sketchy third-party website. I booked directly on British Airways at the right time thanks to my years of experience in the travel industry as a blogger and travel tech professional.
There are better, more affordable ways to fly if you know what you’re looking for. Let me show you how. In this article, I’m going to cover:
- How destination and date flexibility can save you hundreds
- Why certain flight paths are cheaper and how to find them
- An introduction into credit card travel points hacking
As the world begins to open up, I am challenging you to do more with less — and following my top tips on how to find cheap flights and better deals is a great start! We have essentially lost a full year of our lives to Zoom and Netflix, so now it’s the time to stretch our passports as far as our budgets will allow.
Happy reading — and happy traveling!
Be Open to Everywhere
Being flexible in your destination choice and dates will save you more money than you can imagine. Certain parts of the world become more or less expensive during the course of the year due to fluctuating supply and demand. This is partially a result of more and more travel providers turning to dynamic pricing; or, the process of tailoring prices based on real-time customer preferences and market demand.
Your best bet is to search for flights going ‘Everywhere’ on a travel aggregator website like Skyscanner, Momondo or Google Flights. A travel aggregator is a website that searches for deals across multiple websites to give you the very best price. Just plug in your starting city and search for deals across multiple locations and websites.
On Skyscanner, you can actually search for the ‘Cheapest Month’ for your times of departure and return (example below). You can also compare the popular destinations that Skyscanner recommends as there are regular flights to pick from.
After you’ve chosen the cheapest time of the year to fly to the cheapest location from your specific starting point, you’ll see different country options. You’ll need to go into each country to evaluate if the different major cities are of interest to you, how long it’ll take to get there, and if there are any hidden connections.
Remember, you’ll need to do your own cost-benefit analysis about what you’re willing to put up with for the absolute lowest price. Sometimes saving $100 by taking three connections to London just isn’t worth it in the long-run. You’ll basically spend half of your holiday just in transit!
Certain Routes are Cheaper Than Others
Airlines tend to play favorites. Specific destinations attract a certain type of traveler, so airlines compete heavily for that business based on their business model. For example, the Spanish island of Mallorca is near and dear to budget travelers from the United Kingdom and Germany so flights tend to be more frequent and low cost. Likewise, flights from New York to Cancun typically are much more frequent and low cost because Americans love the Yucatan Peninsula.
When you’re searching for affordable flights, change your departure and arrival airport slightly to see if it makes a substantial difference in the price. For example, if you want to go to London and you live in New York, changing your departure airport can save you almost $300 in costs!
Sometimes you’ll need to take a connecting flight in order to reap the rewards of a cheaper flight path. For example, I currently live in Munich, Germany, and it is significantly cheaper to fly to London and then to Los Angeles (where my family is from) versus flying directly from Munich to Los Angeles (example below).
If you want to save even more money, you can unbundle the connecting flight and book through a budget carrier. For example, I could fly the budget airline EasyJet from Munich to London - don’t forget a return ticket - and then fly British Airways from London to Los Angeles round trip. This saves me around $200 to $300 typically.
Plan Ahead for Seasonal Sales
There are three specific dates in the year that I typically purchase long-haul flights: Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and Black Friday. Travel companies spend months preparing marketing materials, influencer campaigns, and sales funnels in preparation for these dates because people are in a festive mood to spend. There’s no better way to get through winter than with a beach holiday just on the horizon either.
Here are a few tips in order to prepare for these massive sales. First, you should subscribe to the email mailer that’s put out by your favorite airlines. This will ensure that you’re the first to know whenever there’s a sale one (as seats may be limited) — AND they will likely send you a birthday voucher to say thanks for being a customer.
Next, you should do some research on which airlines gave the most generous deals in recent history. For example, Air New Zealand has consistently offered flights from Los Angeles to London (UK) or Wellington (New Zealand) for under $250 on Black Friday for the last three years. Presumably, a similar discount will be announced, but there are limited seats and these offers often sell-out in under an hour. Do your homework so you can strike when the iron’s hot!
Take Advantage of Upgrades with Credit Card and Airline Points
Lowering the cost of flights by redeeming credit card or airline loyalty points is quite popular in the travel hacking space. With a quick Google search, you can find hundreds of articles written by travel bloggers that pour over credit card fine-print so you don’t have to. However, the whole process is really quite simple if you can remember the steps that we just discussed above.
When searching for discounted flights, remember to…
- Be open to everywhere. Your points might take you farther and for longer depending on your location.
- Be on the lookout for seasonal deals which will make your points more valuable for a limited amount of time or specific destinations
Now let’s dive into the nitty gritty.
When it comes to gathering as many points as possible — in as little time as possible — you want to focus on hitting the sign-up bonus first and foremost. A travel rewards card sign-up bonus (typically called a ‘New Card Member Offer’) is used to incentivize the consumer with additional points if they’re able to spend X amount of money in a limited amount of time.
For example, American Express is offering ‘60,000 Membership Rewards Points after you spend $4,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.’ If you start using the card to pay for your everyday purchases like groceries, gas, utilities and possibly even rent, then you’re more likely to hit the required threshold in order to claim the sign-up bonus. This sign-up bonus is often generous enough to lower or even completely erase the cost of a return flight.
Nevertheless, if you don’t have enough cash on-hand to pay off the credit card balance immediately, then you should think twice about opening a travel rewards credit card immediately. Wait until you have enough money in your bank account, so you don’t waste the sign-up bonus opportunity or go into debt chasing points.
The key to using travel hacking credit cards properly and responsibly is to use it for all of your standard purchases that you would have made regardless of an incentive. This way, that money is already baked into your budget and you’re not overspending in the name of points.
Take to the Skies
Now that you understand the most important principles when it comes to saving money on flights, you’re ready to put your new found knowledge into practice! Take your time and do your research. However, if you find an offer that is of great interest, don’t wait to potentially find something better just around the corner; jump on it! Dynamic pricing might price you out of that incredible deal in the future and a bird in hand is worth two in a bush. Happy flying!