Traveling on the cheap: The flights.

I get asked nearly daily about finding/booking trips.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I don't have access to some top secret travel booking cult, or anything like that. What I do have is a lot of time invested into what I like to call "the hunt".

Now, there are two types of 'deal hunting' I've mastered. The wanderer and the determined.

If you're like me most of the time; have minimal obligations, a boatload of Paid Time Off, and an aching wanderlust... here's my best advice:

Let someone else do the hard work for you!
As I've mentioned before on the blog, I have a separate GMail account just for shopping and email blasts (it's always fun to watch the doubt in sales associates' eyes when you tell them Chelsea Likes To Shop at GMail is your address of choice). This is optional, but it's my own sense of sanity having things organized and separate.

My 'fun' email account regularly looks like this:

You know how I got the wild idea that I wanted should go to Dublin? Hostelworld.

There are a TON of sites that will send you email blasts with a list of great deals, notifications on locations you've requested, cheap flights from your home airport, whatever you want I can almost guarantee there is a site for it.

Some of my favorites:
Airfare Watch Dog, CheapAir, OneTravel, Kayak.

I get emails from them saying "Hey you can fly from Indy to Las Vegas for $250rt in March" and I go 'oh, perfect, let's go visit Vegas!'

Which brings me to the second line of defense: 
IPhone Apps.

I especially enjoy Kayak. I have the app on my phone and have set up notifications for places I'd like to visit, and it tells me when prices drop:
Since I have no specific time I want to travel, and no specific destination I need to go, it's fun to see where I can get on the cheap.

Another app I love is SkyScanner (which I've praised before on the blog, so I won't repeat myself)

Use flexibility to your advantage!
(This applies to everyone, even if you NEED to be somewhere on specific days, for a wedding or work trip, or Spring Break, or whatever)
Don't always try to do Saturday to Saturday weeks, or Thursday to Sunday long weekends... you're going to pay more! Do a Friday night to a Monday night, or a Tuesday to Tuesday trip. Sure it might not always be ideal. But having more cash in my pocket is ALWAYS ideal in my mind!

I've noticed it's over $200 cheaper to fly to Dublin in the middle of the week, rather than weekends.

I use both SkyScanner and Kayak to peruse whole months for the lowest prices. Southwest has the Calendar, almost every airline has a "flexible dates" option that will let you browse +/- 3 days from the dates you input.

Check frequently. 
Airfare seems to change ALL THE TIME. Sure, there are tons of rumors about booking at 2pm on Tuesdays, or 7 weeks out, or clearing your internet cache before searching, etc, etc.

I haven't really found ANY of these to be true.

I never ever ever book airfare when I first search. I search multiple sites.  I search different combinations of days. I search surrounding airports (mostly for cities like New York, I wouldnt recommend flying into like San Francisco if you're visiting a cousin in San Diego or something).

Two words: Hacker Fares
One way trips are becoming more prevalent. Termed 'hacker fares' in the airline industry, don't feel obligated to fly round-trip with a specific airline. Sometimes a different airline just offers a return flight more accommodating to your schedule, sometimes the price is just WAY better. Unfortunately, almost every airline except southwest seems to be a tad more expensive on one-way fares, but that doesn't mean you still can't score a great deal, or a better flight. I've bailed on round-trips that had long layovers, or wacky connections, and paid nearly the same cost to book two one-ways with reasonable times and routes.

Be creative.
I'm in the process of planning a trip to Thailand. You know which airport I'm looking to fly out of? Anything but Indianapolis pretty much.
Because airlines have affiliates. No airline flies direct from Indy to Bangkok. So if I flight search, it's guaranteed I'll have a connecting flight (typically JFK, ORD, LAX, etc). If American Airlines flies me to JFK than booking it in one fell swoop will put me on an American (or one of their affiliate airlines) flight to Bangkok. And that isn't always the cheapest option. Same thing with my hairbrained idea to go to Dublin.

When booking our Australia airfare, we found that flying out of LAX was always the cheapest route to Sydney (it was around $1300 at the time). If I looked at IND>SYD it would connect me in LAX, but it would be like $1800. And I knew I could find flights for MUCH cheaper than $500rt to LAX. So we booked our LAX>SYD airfare with Qantas, and I found $150 one-way's on another airline a few months later. Saving myself a few hundred dollars.  (If you are doing this, make sure to give yourself plenty of time between flights to ensure you can accommodate customs, minor delays, etc, without stressing!)

When you finally decide to book, the choice is yours. Book directly through the airline, or book through the third-party site (Kayak, Travelocity, wherever). I generally go directly with the airline, I've had to change and cancel flights before, and it seems a tad easier when dealing directly with the airline instead of a third party. But that's just my own two cents.

Good luck, and happy travels! I'd love to hear any other tips/insight you've got! 

(I figured I should mention that I am not affiliated/sponsored by any of the aforementioned companies, I simply love their services! )

To read up on my other Traveling on the Cheap tips, click here!


Chelsea said...

I'm so glad you wrote this! My wanderlust has been at an all time high lately but I keep putting off trips for one reason or another (mainly because I always feel like I'm the only one who's ready to just GO!) but now I have some added tips, thanks to you!

Now I'm curious... any tricks/tips for saving up for these larger international trips? I've got my travel fund going but I always wonder if people have other ideas :)

Brooke said...

Ahh you're a genius! I have such a hard time finding the "best" ticket deals and this post totally helped!

PS— I also just created an email address pretty similar to yours! I'm SO sick of my main email address getting clogged up with "fun" emails. :)

Jen said...

These are all great tips!!

Annessa @ Seeking Sunshine said...

I totally agree with booking directly through an airline rather than a third party site. I've had to switch flight plans around and they are not flexible at all - I think I paid around $500 to switch my flight? Many airlines will match the prices you find on these sites, and are much easier to deal with if you have to make changes to you itinerary. I'm also an advocate for trip insurance - you never know when you'll need it.

Mindy said...

I'll be in Dublin March 21st-26th! Just missing St. Patrick's Day :(

Monica L said...

If you want any advice on to dos in Thailand let me know, I lived there for 3 months in 2012 and returned for a month in 2013.

Carolyn said...

OMG. Will you be my travel agent? HAHAHAHA

Crystal said...

Getting creative definitely helps! If you know you're going to have a layover anyway, sometimes booking a flight to the layover city, and then a separate flight from there to your destination can be cheaper. (Makes no sense, but true! A few years ago I saved over $100 by booking a flight into a middle-of-nowhere Quebec ski resort town, and from there to Montreal, vs. booking straight to Montreal.)