How We Save Thousands on Airfare

In Flight (Last Updated On: June 13, 2016)

Generally, people are shocked at how little we pay for airfare. As digital nomads, we travel differently than most people. Since we don’t have a “home base”, a lot of our trips are open-ended. This allows for a lot of flexibility to find inexpensive flights (as well as some challenges – not having a return ticket has gotten us into trouble), but even non-digital nomads can benefit from what we’ve learned over the years. We’ve compiled a list of our favorite tips, tricks, and tools to save money on airfare.

Frequent Flyer Programs

This is simple: Sign up for every program. Even if you aren’t particularly loyal to one airline, the miles can add up, although they add up more quickly if you stick to one. Use a tool like AwardWallet to track your various reward miles.

Have Flexible Dates

When you fly is probably the biggest factor in fare prices. Not necessarily the old wisdom of “flying on Tuesday” is cheapest — we haven’t consistently found that. First, the obvious: don’t visit a destination in the busy season. Want to go to New Orleans? Don’t go for Mardi Gras. Flexibility is key.

Don’t plan on departing and returning on specific days, before you’ve booked a flight. Most search engines allow you to search for flexible dates, so you can compare how the days differ. Flight search websites like Adioso allow you to search an entire month at a time. The full month view is our starting point for planning our next trip.

Pick a Different Airport

Low cost airlines realized long ago that they can avoid costly fees by flying into smaller airports, and these cost savings often result in cheaper tickets. Choose “search nearby airports” to when doing a flight engine search to see the differences.

Mix Big Carriers and Budget Carriers

Flying around Europe is cheap. Really cheap. You can find RyanAir or EasyJet flights that run 20 euros or less. So, when we’re heading to Europe, we often just look to get anywhere in Europe, knowing we can hop on a low cost airline to finish the trip. One of my current favorites is Norwegian Airlines. You can often fly NYC to Oslo for less than $300 US on Norwegian. Then, just it’s just a matter of finding a discount carrier to the final destination. Some flight search engines don’t include the discount carriers, so you may have to book the flights separately. Make sure you leave enough time for flight delays to catch your next flight. Or just plan a couple of days in Oslo before heading on.

When to Buy?

There’s lot of information out there on the “best day of the week to book a flight”, but not much of it seems to agree. We don’t stress over that. But, last minute flights are rarely the cheapest. We try to book at least two weeks ahead for domestic flights and four weeks for international.

Round Trip vs. One Way

For various reasons, many airlines charge less per leg for a round trip than a single one way trip. If you’re flying one-way (as we often do), you can book the round trip without planning on using the return trip. And, if you’re not planning on using that flight home, you can use the search engines to pick a horrendous, multi-stop, long layover return flight that often drops the price of the whole round trip. Hell, you’re not going to be on it, right? (note: there can be consequences for this, in terms of points, etc.)

Of course, check the particular airline on this. Discount airlines (Southwest, JetBlue, RyanAir, etc.), typically have different pricing models, and each leg is priced separately, so a one way flight on these airlines is often cheaper.

Skiplagging

This technique takes advantage of “hidden city” fares. Flights to less popular destinations are often routed through more popular hubs, and sometimes those flights to the final city is less expensive than a flight just to the hub. For example, if you want to fly go to Atlanta, and find a cheaper flight that connects in Atlanta to Charlotte, why not book that flight and just not board the last leg? Doing this, checking baggage is not an option. And, this technique definitely violates your contract with the carrier, so read the fine print about the consequences. The savings can be significant, thought, and there’s even a search engine that will find these flights for you: Skiplagged.com

Get Notified

Fares change all the time, and many flight search engines offer automatic notification via email when a trip fare drops. We’ve had success with Airfarewatchdog.

Leverage Social Media

Great deals get sold out quickly, so relying on luck on catching a sale, or getting an email notification on time, is a crapshoot. Following the search engines, or the airlines themselves, on Twitter can give you near real-time visibility into sales. Social Media is often the best way to find “mistake” fares (hey, even the airlines make mistakes, right?) – if you manage to book a super-cheap fare posted in error before it is fixed, the airlines will often honor the price.

Always fly Alone

No, we don’t really do this. We almost always fly together. But we shop for one traveller at a time. If you get a rate you want, the airlines will almost always honor it for more than one traveller, but if you plug multiple travelers into your initial search, and they are only offering up one “cheap seat”, you won’t see that rate.

Insure against Problems (or complain when they happen)

There are all sorts of regional rules and passenger “bills of rights” regarding delays and the airline’s responsibility, some identifying compensation amounts for delays and cancellations. Needless to say the airlines don’t advertise this, and the claim process can be problematic. Some companies offer cheap, easy insurance that takes care of the claims process for you. Even Warren Buffet has an offering.

Not into insurance? We’ve sent nicely worded “feedback” emails to airlines when we’ve had an extended delay, and have often received vouchers or credits. It can’t hurt to ask, right?

Pick your Search Tool

Beyond searching the individual airline sites (never our starting point), there are dozens (hundreds? more?) of flight search websites. Many use the same the underlying engines, and will yield the same results, so often it’s just a matter of person preference. Below are some of our favorites.

Adioso.com

Very simple interface, and allows you to search by cities, countries, and geographical regions. The site also lets you search an entire month at a time.

Google Flights

Google purchased one of the original flight aggregators ITA Matrix (which still can be searched), and this is Google’s entry into the flight search engine world. Fast results and lots of flexibility.

Kayak Explore

Visual person? Kayak Explore let’s you pick your origin, when you want to go, and gives you a map of how much it will cost to get to just about any destination in the world. This is a fun option if you’re in the “I just need to get away, I don’t care where” camp.

Momondo

One of the websites that doesn’t just use an existing engine, but “scrapes” airlines websites to get fares that aren’t submitted to the database.

Hipmunk

Want a good fare, but the 33 hour travel time with 3 layovers just doesn’t appeal to you? Hipmunk allows you to rate flights by “agony” level, taking into account not just the monetary cost but also the personal cost. They remind you that the cheapest flight is rarely the “best” flight.

Rome2Rio

Don’t want to just fly? Want to compare different transportation options? Enter your origin and destination and Rome2Rio will suggest routes and prices in flights and alternative transportation. They currently include flights, trains, metro, buses, and driving (even including ride sharing). This site even includes commute time to and from airports and train stations. We usually use Rome2Rio to compare alternative options to flying for short distances. Is it worth showing up 2 hours ahead of time at the airport for a 2 hour flight? Maybe not…

Do you have suggestions for saving money on travel costs? Do you have other must-use search tools or websites? Share them in the comments!

 Related Articles:

How Becoming Digital Nomads Destroyed My Marriage

The Luggage Debate – Size Matters

Preparing to Travel Around The World Full-Time

Other helpful tips from fellow full-time travelers:

Explore Guides and Travel Tips from Top Blogger TravelFreak

Do You Need Travel Insurance

What Backpack for Travel Backpacking

How to Start a Travel Blog and Make Money From It

20 thoughts on “How We Save Thousands on Airfare

  1. Great tips. I found that having flexibility on the dates is one of the things that saves you more money. I also don’t plan a destination I just search on skyscanner – not sure why you didn’t mention it – to fly “everywhere” and usually buy the ticket for the cheapest destination

  2. Great tips. I found that having flexibility on the dates is one of the things that saves you more money. I also don’t plan a destination I just search on skyscanner – not sure why you didn’t mention it – to fly “everywhere” and usually buy the ticket for the cheapest destination.

    • The “everywhere” option is a great tip, and one we’ve used! If you have total flexibility, it definitely gets you the best deals. I agree that skyscanner.com is a great option, and we’ll add it to the list.

  3. These are some really great tips on how to save money on airfare.

  4. Thanks for the great tips! I pinned this post to my Pinterest Air Travel board for posterity. 🙂

  5. Appreciate all the tips my friend! I’ll have to use a few for my next flight.

  6. Wow! These are great tips! I know another guy and his wife who have figured out how to save money just as you do. It’s a great skill to develop! As an international traveler myself for years, I could have used this. Now I stay home and care for my aging mother … but always love to read about these kinds of things and imagine…Thanks for sharing so many how-tos with us!
    Amy

  7. What a great post, and such helpful resources. This came at a perfect time, too. Will bookmark this.

  8. Great tips. I’ve tried most of these, but I’m just curious about the flying alone. I’ve often used this technique to get one flight cheaper, but how do you get the airline to match that price for the second passenger?

    • Once you find the flight you want at the price you want, go directly to the airline site itself and find the same flight, and see if you get the same fare (usually, you do). Then, try the multiple passengers, and see if the airline honors the fare for multiples. The idea is not to limit the search in the beginning.

  9. These are fantastic tips. I’ll definitely be checking back with this website regularly because I am planning a trip to San Diego for sometime this fall. I am on a fairly low budget so I am looking to travel as inexpensively as possible. Thank you for this information.

  10. Thanks for sharing these helpful tips! I will bookmark this.

  11. Some great tips here on something all travellers are constantly discussing. We do several of these but I never considered booking a convoluted round trip in order to get a cheaper fare for a single leg, genius!

  12. Skiplagging is a good one!

  13. Great tip about always doing a search for 1 person, I hadn’t thought of that! I have always put in 2 since I almost always travel with the hubby. I hadn’t considered booking a budget carrier to get to a final destination in Europe either. We will be going to Europe for the first time later this year and will definitely keep these tips in mind!

  14. Some great tips here, thanks..! I’ve never used the skip legging approach, though. I wonder if I should try? 🙂 I’ll check out the website, I didn’t realize there was one for that.
    And yes, I’m totally in love with Google Flights and Rome2rio! Such great sites..!

  15. Wicked tips! I’ve found that booking with flexible dates and flying alone seems to work best! Plus I’m a huge fan of Skyscanner!

    http://www.thetechgypsy.com

  16. I feel like I could create a career out of finding the travel deals. I watch Twitter and have specific sites notify me if there is a deal. (I live in Houston & recommend Airfare Watchdog and Escape Houston.) we are going to New Zealand in Sept for $440 round trip!

  17. Though we tend to prefer road-trippin’, clearly that’s not always an option. Thanks for the great tips! We’ll undoubtedly use some of them next time we book airfare. 😉

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