A lot of people in the blogging world and in my personal life have asked how I manage to travel on a budget. One of the biggest costs when it comes to traveling tends to be flights. Flights and accommodation can take out a big portion of your travel budget, and what’s nicer than getting cheap flights and knowing you can now spend more during your trip (or even save more toward another trip)?
Here are the tips and tricks I use in order to book my flights as cheaply as possible and to avoid spending much money when I’m at the airport.
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Of course, booking a flight to Spain or Greece in summer is going to be super expensive…why? Because everyone, and their mother, is going there to soak up the sun!
You should use this time to go on a road less traveled, OR if you’re really set on going to a specific place then try to be as flexible as you can with your dates and flight times.
Usually, early morning or late flights are the cheapest. So if you can wake up a few hours earlier, or are willing to land somewhere at night, or take a red-eye, I definitely recommend it.
It can save a bunch compared to flying when everyone else does – after a full or half-day at work. AND airports tend to be really relaxed at these hours as well.
Using the right search engines and booking tools
Now there are many search engines and trip-planners out there, but are you using the right one? I guess there is no right or wrong one, but there are better ones. My favorite search engine to start with is Skyscanner.
The ‘Everywhere’ feature is perfect if you’re trying to go anywhere or want to find inspiration for your next trip.
The ‘Whole Month’ search option is my most-used feature because you get to see prices for the entire month at one glance.
When you’re flexible on dates and want to save money, this is the best way to search. Just look at this example here:
You can easily see the most expensive and the cheapest flights from any London airport to San Francisco all at once.
Of course you have to click on an individual date to check the flight times and trajectories, however, this is the cheapest flight you can find on that specific date.
Other flight resources
Although I absolutely love Skyscanner, sometimes I have to check other sites just to see if I can get a better deal elsewhere (even though 9 times out of 10, Skyscanner usually is the best). Here are some other sites I like to use to check flights:
When booking, you can also see if you can get cash back with Ebates. I know Ebates gives 10% cash back with Expedia, for example. (And if you sign up through this link, you’ll get $10 extra after your first “shopping trip.”)
This one is huge for a lot of people and I can say that I believe it works. I clear all my cookies and search through a Google Incognito tab.
This stops sites from seeing what you’re searching for, that way they can’t mark up prices in the middle of your search.
My boyfriend and I experienced this exact thing last night. I was looking at all these flights (in a normal Chrome session) to get screenshots for the blog, and I saw the cheapest flight from London to Oakland was 185 GBP. Maybe an hour later, Scott was going to buy the tickets and they went up to 245 GBP.
We kept refreshing and checking, next thing you know it was 1,385 GBP!! I kid you not!
So we gave it a break. Went to sleep. And this morning (IN INCOGNITO) I found the same exact flight we originally wanted, back at the 185 GBP price!
So search in incognito when you can. If not, at least clear your cookies.
Plan the route that’s best for you
We all know that flying can be very expensive and time-consuming, so sometimes you just have to sacrifice one for the other and do what’s best for you.
Fly to nearby airports
Sometimes flying to and from major cities can be too expensive. Let’s look at London Heathrow to San Francisco (two major cities/airports):
For the month of February, we can see that a direct flight from LHR to SFO ranges from $706 to $1,865. That’s super expensive (and what people usually think they have to pay in order to fly that far)…BUUUUTTTT… drumroll, please…
If you look at nearby airports you can get a much better deal. Let’s look at London Gatwick and Oakland International (both a ~ 30-minute metro ride from the city centers):
Same month; direct trips; cheap flights.
Now, you might be thinking it would cost more to get to the city center from these alternative airports, however that is not necessarily the case.
For example, getting to the city center of both, London and San Francisco, from these two airports take about 30 minutes on a metro, costing around $10-$15 in SF and 15-20 GBP in London.
AND if we really think about it… the main airports aren’t really that close to the city centers either.
The San Francisco main airport takes the same amount of time on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to get to the city center than it does from Oakland’s airport.
AND going from Gatwick to Victoria station in London takes 15 minutes LESS than going to Victoria station from Heathrow.
So next time you book flights, think about flying to and/or from nearby (lesser known) airports.
Book with a layover
Sometimes flying direct can be too expensive. As some of you may know, my boyfriend and I are going to Australia soon – so we have been looking at flights to Melbourne.
We have the option of flying from San Francisco or Los Angeles (as I have family in both places and we can stay in either city) however, we are really watching our wallets because Australia is SUPER EXPENSIVE.
So let’s take the Los Angeles (LAX) to Melbourne (MEL) example.
Here’s a screenshot of the prices for a direct flight in April:
Pay attention to April 20th: $869 CHEAPEST on that date.
However, if you can be flexible with the dates (and research time – because it does take a lot more time to try out different scenarios), then you could cut your costs in HALF.
Just for searching for a flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu and then another flight from Honolulu to Melbourne, we can literally pay half the price. IT’S INSANE! Tell me that isn’t good.
If you look at the times of the flights, then you can see that we’d have to spend a night in Hawaii, which of course costs money. However, after doing further research, a night in the nearest airport hotel costs $100 (split between my boyfriend and I would be $50 each).
Plus food, and a short ride to the hotel, it still does not equal out to the amount of the direct flight.
Yes, it is more time in transit, and yes, it could be tiring, but if you’re anything like me, you’d probably want to spend those extra $300 on food or actual activities in your final destination, than on an expensive direct trip.
PLUS, it’s nice to be able to stretch your legs out and get a bit more used to the time zone changes.
Just because you’re trying to find a cheaper flight, doesn’t mean you have to miss out on points and rewards systems with certain airlines or even with alliances.
Even budget airlines have rewards programs and are well worth signing up with. I’ve saved a lot of money flying between Barcelona and London using Vueling – not only are they cheap to begin with, but the points racked up!
(And a weird note: my Vueling flights were always the SAME EXACT flight as Iberia and British Airways but the Vueling prices were always the cheapest). You never know when you can use those points to get a discount or to get special perks.
Since we’re on the topic of budget airlines – don’t be scared of them!
They’re “budget” because they charge you for services as you need them. Normal airlines charge for everything wether you use it or not.
Budget airlines may charge for everyday things that come on normal flights – such as printing your ticket, checking in bags, or even for getting food on board.
They might not be the most comfortable either. But unless you’re flying first class on any airline, flying probably isn’t the most comfortable way to spend your time anyway. (However, I would definitely recommend flying with Norwegian if possible. I flew with them recently from Gatwick to Oakland and they were great for the cheap price!)
Save costs at the airport
Unless you’re moving to another country, you most likely can travel with only a carry-on.
A lot of people overpack because they think they need to take everything with them. But the reality is, we don’t use half the things we usually take!
AND if you really need something, you can most likely get it at your destination. A huge money saver (especially if you’re using a budget airline) is to just take a carry-on.
If you can’t travel solely with a carry-on and have to check your luggage, make sure you weigh it beforehand. Some airlines use this miscalculation as a way to royally rip people off.
Also, make sure to check-in online, if possible, and to already have your boarding passes printed. You can even bring your own food to the flight!
RELATED: Top Airport Tips: Travel like a Pro
Hopefully, this guide has helped you or provided you with new information for booking cheap flights. This is the process and the steps I take in order to get the most bang for my buck.