How to Save Money on Flights

by  Tim Johnson | May 1, 2023
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The world is open, and airports and planes are again jam-packed as everyone — and their mother and their dog — is back to flying the friendly skies. The upside is that you can now take that long-awaited vacation. But, with demand driving dynamic pricing (way) up, you'll almost certainly be paying a premium for flying during busy times, like this upcoming summer season. Fortunately, there are some ways you can save, and we've rounded up our top tips below. 

Read more: What It Means to "Fly Standby" and How to Do It

Be flexible

It matters when you fly. Business travelers generally fly at the beginning and end of the week, seats are scarcer, and prices are higher. Add in the fact that many vacationers travel from Monday to Monday. 

So, when's the best day to book flights? It helps to search a series of slightly different dates so you can quickly compare costs. Also, consider that flights at unfortunate times of the day—including the dreaded overnight "red eye"—tend to be cheaper. 

Book early

While it's not always true, people who book weeks or even months beforehand tend to get the best deals. So, if you can, try to plan your trips at least a few weeks in advance to (hopefully) snag better savings on airfare.

Consider low-cost carriers

From Frontier and Spirit in the US and EasyJet and Ryanair in Europe, so-called "low-cost carriers" (LCC) are now flying more passengers than ever. They provide a (very) no-frills experience, often at a (very) steep discount.

But, consider a few factors before purchasing a ticket with an LCC. While the base price may be low, the extras add up quickly. For example: In Europe, a "legacy carrier" (like Lufthansa or British Airways) will often include a piece of checked luggage, perhaps some flexibility on changing your ticket, a complimentary beverage and snack, and a little extra legroom — all things you'll pay more for on a LCC. (Also noteworthy: In an attempt to compete, many of the latter are now offering basic fares that essentially shave their services down to that of an LCC, so watch for the word word "basic" or phrase "no luggage" when you're booking.)

If you're fine with a cramped ride, you're not checking any bags (or carrying anything even the slightest bit heavy on board), and you don't need to make any date changes, an LCC may just be your best choice. 

Routing

You'll almost always pay more for convenience (i.e., the fastest, easiest, most pain-free way to get to your destination). Moreover, when searching for flights, you will find that direct, nonstop flights are generally priced the highest. But scroll down into the less desirable routes, and consider what you can handle. Keep in mind that while it may seem counter-intuitive, flying more usually costs less — and that's because you'll be routed via less-popular flights to get there.

Use Points

Even if you think you'll never fly a given airline again, it's worth it to sign up for their free loyalty plan. You'll earn reward miles that can come in handy later. Also, be aware that miles earned on one airline can be redeemed on another within an airline alliance. For example, miles you fly on United and Lufthansa could be redeemed on a Turkish flight to Istanbul because they're all part of Star Alliance.

Read more: Underrated Europe Summer Travel Destinations

The Bottom Line

Yes — flights are very expensive right now. But, if you're on the fence about whether to book or not, just do it. Studies have shown that spending money on experiences like vacations generally creates happy memories that won't tarnish over time: even if it means spending a few extra dollars for that long-awaited summer vacation. 

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