How to Travel Cheap
We’re all looking for great deals wherever we can find them, especially when it comes to travel. Given the many unexpected expenses that can come up when we leave on a vacation, finding ways to cheapen planned expenses is a priority. Here are four easy ways to limit your travel expenses from the outset.
#1. Choosing the Right Ticket
Usually buying tickets is where we shell out the most money when traveling. Most people consider tickets being expensive a given, especially when we’re looking to travel internationally or if our trip is planned for a holiday/vacation season. In truth, with a little research, it is possible to considerably bring down the cost of airline travel. The first way is to be judicious in choosing the right time and ticket.
There’s a sweet spot to buying the perfect ticket. Most airlines raise and lower ticket prices depending on how soon a flight is scheduled for, hoping to cash in on the desperation of last-minute travelers. Based on extensive studies, the best time to look for a ticket for a domestic, U.S. flight is between three months and thirty days before you trip, with the absolute best time being exactly seventy days before you want to leave. If you’re looking to fly abroad, try to buy between five and a half months and one and a half months before. Research also show that if you’re planning to fly during a holiday or popular season, say Spring Break or Christmas, try to buy two months in advance, regardless of your destination.
Planning and buying ahead can reduce ticket costs considerably, sometimes by hundreds of dollars. But we can’t always plan so far in advance; unexpected travel that denies you the opportunity of taking advantage of early-bird specials.
In those cases, be aware that there are days that are considered “cheaper” days to buy tickets, and if possible, try to book flights on those days. Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are thought to be the best times to book domestic flights as these are the days when most airlines release prices, and then adjust them in hopes of providing cheaper tickets than their competitors. Fridays and Sundays, on the other hand, are generally more expensive times to book. If you’re flying overseas or across country borders, weekdays are almost always better times to book flights than weekends.
These days are also helpful in terms of when to fly: flights that leave on Tuesdays and Wednesdays are almost always cheaper than flights leaving on any other day of the week, so if you don’t have to be at your destination on any other specific day, try to look for flights that leave in the middle of the week. On average, that can save you roughly $76!
You can also get cheaper flights if you’re not picky about what time of day you fly. Most people don’t like getting up early or flying through the night. You’ll have a better chance at snagging a good deal if you are willing to fly at midnight or daybreak.
Another way to reduce the cost of a ticket is to be flexible with stopovers. Direct flights are tempting in their convenience, but that convenience often comes with a price tag. Being okay with one, two or even three stops will open you up to a world of cheaper tickets.
#2. Utilizing Credit Card Points
Today, using credit cards is an inescapable reality. So if you’re going to have a card, why not have it work for you? Many credit card companies offer rewards for use, with one of the most offered being travel points or miles. Though how to earn and redeem these points might vary from card to card, the basic idea is the same. Every time you use a card that partners with an airline, you accumulate points that can then be transferred to the airline, translating into miles. Based on how far you want to travel, you can earn entirely free or severely reduced price tickets. You can even use your bank’s travel portal to look up flights directly through the bank’s website.
Note: Most low-fare, no-frills airlines don’t have partnerships with banks, so they won’t accept credit card points. Southwest and JetBlue are exceptions to this rule. Before booking a flight with the intent to use points, make sure the airline is accepts them.
Because points can do so much for travelers, it is worth actively looking for cards that give generous travel bonuses when you’re signing up for them. For example, if you spend $3,000 within three months of signing up, you’ll earn 50,000 points, which--to put the number into perspective--can translate into a round trip ticket to Paris, France. If you know you’re going to be making a significant purchase or purchases soon, signing up for a credit card like this one right before could end up being a windfall.
There are also cards that can get you hotel points and other travel perks. So consider how you travel and what kinds of amenities you need when you travel when looking at a credit card to sign up for. Just be sure to read all the fine print. Some companies expect you to regularly use their cards, and if you simply sign up and use the benefits for a one time vacation, you could get charged with a carrying fee or penalty for the months you let the card sit at the bottom of that drawer in your kitchen. If you’re getting a card expressly to help you get tickets, look for one that gives you a year for free, and then call to cancel the card before that year is up. This way you won’t get charged the next year.
Other fine print to look for is for bonus expirations. Depending on the card, you might have a finite amount of time to wrack up points and then to use those points. You also want to make sure you’re not ruining your credit score, so don’t get too many cards at once. And of course, make sure you pay any bills and payments on time. You don’t want to have saved big on your trip to Miami, only to have to tighten your belt for months afterwards because you’re being charged with interest and late fees.
#3. Travel on Miles
Similar to other rewards programs, most airlines these days have frequent-flier programs that, depending on how often you fly and where you fly to, can translate into thousands of dollars in tickets. Check when booking a ticket if they have a frequent-flier program, and if they do, make sure you sign up--sign up is free, so there’s really no downside to this option. You can sign up for each airline you travel, allowing you earn miles on every flight you go on, without worrying that you are restricted to one particular company.
Accumulating miles is relatively simple, though you might want to check how each program works. Some will require you to log a flight while others automatically process flights for you. You can often also buy miles from airlines, which, depending where you want to go, can be cheaper than buying a ticket outright.
Once you’ve accumulated enough miles to fly, you can purchase miles by logging onto your account with the airline and searching for a ticket. Once you’ve found one, you can use your miles to purchase it.
When it comes to using miles, keep three things in mind. First, most airlines won’t let you use miles until you’ve accumulated enough to cover the ticket cost. Second, you’ll still need to pay for taxes and any other fees. So make sure you have money to cover those costs. Finally, be aware of different airline policies regarding mile expirations. Some airlines will let miles roll over while others will expect you to use them within a specified amount of time.
#4. Deal Websites
Deal websites like this one can also help you find great tickets at low prices. Mikesflights.com, for example, will give you tips on when airlines are having sales, as well as advice on booking tickets to a variety of locations.
For free, subscribers to Mikesflights.com can expect to save roughly $250 per ticket. Those who subscribe can tap into further even greater savings and deals. For just $3 a month, Plus Members can get personalized travel advice and savings, tailored to their home airports, and projected ticket savings between three and six hundred dollars. Plus Members also get direct access to Mike, who has years of travel experience and know-how to share. While you might be able to find deals on your own, using a travel deal website like this one can ultimately save you even more in time and money, as you’ll have an advisor who not only knows the ins and outs of tickets sales and deals intimately, but also spends most of his time invested in getting you the deals you desperately need.