J.R. Tolkien

"Not all those who wander are lost." - J.R. Tolkien

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Budget Travel Tips: Compare Airfare

Hello, my name is Thao and I'm a bit of a travel addict.  How do I cope? I find cheap ways to travel so I can do it more often.  Over the years, I’ve picked up some good travel practices that helped me plan trips without breaking the bank (too much).

I know there are a lot of articles on traveling cheap (definitely look into those), but these are tried and true techniques from my own experience.  There’s no one magical way to get a good deal, you just have to do research, plan and compare.  The key is flexibility and a lot of planning!

It’s a long article, so I’ve decided to break it down to different parts.  This week I’m focusing on airfare.

1.  Compare airfare
2.  Smart car rentals
3.  The hotel hustle

Like any big purchases, shop around and compare before you make the big move.

Start with an aggregate site
  • Start with Kayak.com (another friend swears by Priceline).  Kayak lists prices for several airlines at once, making it easier to compare.  The best thing about Kayak is that you can choose +-3 days before/after your travel date.  It then generates a table with several dates and prices.  Here’s an example.
  • Also, don’t forget to check “nearby airport”.  Some cities have multiple airports close by with cheaper prices (LAX and NYC are examples). From Louisville, try flying out of Lexington or Cincinnati.
  • Once you find a good price for your desired time, date and airline, don’t book yet.  Go to other aggregate sites like Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, Google Flights and compare prices again using the dates you just picked on Kayak.  Those sites sometime have better rates or more time options.
  • Keep in mind that rates for Southwest, Virgin America, Allegiant, Jet Blue,  Spirit and Frontier Airlines are not included on those sites, so check directly on the airline’s websites to see if they have better rates.
Book directly with the airline company
  • When you’re ready to book, go directly to the airline you like from your search and book through them.  If any issue arises, it’s better to deal directly with the airline rather than through a third party. 
  • If you see an airline that you’re unfamiliar with offering ridiculously low rate, do a quick Google search and read reviews.  I’ve heard horror stories about cheapoair.com for example. So always beware.
Try a budget airline
  • For Louisville travelers, check out Allegiant and Frontier airlines for amazing discounts to certain cities.  They are based out of Cincinnati and Lexington, so you do have to drive there first.  Click here for my detailed blog entry on these 2 airlines.

Be flexible
  • That means in when and where you go.  If you just want to get out of town, look up popular destinations and go with the cheapest one.   Google Flights now features a world map of popular destination and the prices.  Click on the city and it’ll show a bar graph of the prices for the upcoming months. Choose the cheapest one, pack your bag and just go. I’ve been on weekend trips to Puerto Rico, Cancun and Bahamas just because the tickets were cheap and enjoyed them all.

Travel light
  • Almost all airlines charge for check-in luggage now.  Simply travel light and do carry-on to save money on check-in luggage.   It’s also nice not to have to lug heavy luggage all over the place and no worries about lost luggage!  About 50% of the time though, the airline will do free curbside check-in at the boarding gate. 
  • Most European and Asian budget airlines are very strict on carry-on restrictions so read before you go to avoid unnecessary fees.  EasyJet in Europe, for example, will allow only ONE piece of luggage, no extra purses or small personal items.

    Keep these in mind when booking your flight:
  • You can cancel within 24 and get a full refund (it’s the law).  If you find cheaper fair the next day, just cancel your previous reservation.
  • Cheapest travel days: Tuesday & Wednesday; Medium: Thursday & Saturday.  Leaving on Thursday and coming back on Monday is usually 20% cheaper.  Here's a comprehensive study by Expedia on best days to travel.
  • Have a general idea of how much tickets cost to a certain destination so you can go ahead and book your tickets instead of waiting around for the price to fall to an unreasonable rate.
  • Don’t wait too long, tickets can go up and down VERY quickly.
  • I always book flights at least 3 weeks in advance, more during the holidays.  Don't wait to the last minute (a week prior) and don't book too far in advance (4 or 5 months).  Many sources say the best time to book is 54 days in advance.  Here's the logic.  
  • It might be cheaper to book regional flights abroad. I booked several flights to neighboring countries while in Asia and paid half as much as a fellow traveler booking the same flights while in the U.S.  It varies but worth a try, especially if you have a friend living abroad.
  • *I find that the frequent flyer miles don’t work as well for me because I just go for the cheapest rate and not necessarily have loyalty to any one company. I also don’t travel enough for those points to add up. I prefer using my credit card which offers great cash back rewards.
Have any good travel advice? Let me know yours! Come back for tips on car rental next week.