Recently, I went on a trip to Italy with my husband and two kids. One of my children flew as a lap child and the other didn’t (though there was still a lap child fee for infants since it was an international flight), but I still remember the rude awakening the first time I had to buy an airline ticket for my first daughter. Even though it was actually only a 50% increase in cost, going from two tickets to three made every trip feel much more expensive.
We purchased our flights to Italy for a great deal—about one-quarter the typical cost of flying from Salt Lake City to Europe. Additionally, my family spends a lot of time traveling within the U.S. and we try to keep the cost down, especially with two little ones in tow.
Based on my experience, here are some ideas to keep in mind when trying to find cheaper airfare:
Use services that send notifications of good deals on flights. There are great resources already doing a lot of the legwork when it comes to finding good deals. I like the Instagram™ account flightsfromhome™, which posts current deals on flights out of Salt Lake City. There might be four posts about great deals in a day, or there might be one, depending on what they find going out of Salt Lake City Airport. I have seen $400 round-trip tickets to Europe, $75 round-trip tickets to Washington D.C. and, last week, $410 round-trip tickets to Australia.
There are other similar Instagram™ accounts with deals and email services. Scott’s Cheap Flights sends emails notifying subscribers of current deals and I have friends who have found deals that way.
Know what you’re looking for, but be flexible. When I’m looking for a flight, I like to use Instagram’s notification feature to make sure I don’t miss the deal I want since they sometimes sell out within hours. When we bought our tickets to Italy, my husband and I decided on a list of three countries where we wanted to go, general time-frame and our budget. We were flexible with our dates—we wanted to go during the fall but we looked at what dates had the best deals. As soon as one of the destinations with our general time-frame came up through flightsfromhome, I checked for tickets within our budget and purchased them within a couple of hours. Some airlines allow you to cancel within 24 hours, but what really helped me to feel comfortable buying tickets on short notice was the research we did ahead of time.
Research typical costs for flights to your desired destination. Google Flights is a great resource for preparing to book a trip. You can use Google Flights to look up the lowest-cost flight per day on a certain route. I like to look at a couple months out on Google Flights to get an idea of what tickets are going for in the near future to a certain destination. Then, if you select a date, you can see the carrier, times, total travel times and cost. I think this can be especially helpful when you have an exact destination in mind. When we were looking for tickets to Cincinnati, Ohio for Christmas (which is fairly expensive for a domestic flight), I used Google Flights to get an idea of what costs we would be looking at for certain days.
Look everywhere. Even though I tend to do the bulk of my flying on the same few airlines, looking at sites like Travelocity™ or booking.com™ are great for finding possible flights. There might be a carrier that has a new non-stop route for the destination you’re looking for. I typically fly on Southwest® or Delta™ when I visit my family, but Alaska® has a new non-stop flight on the same route that I always forget about. When I check for flights on a site like Travelocity, I am reminded of that route and then I usually check each of the airlines’ own sites to get actual cost for booking and can compare deals.
Know your airline’s policies. If you know you’re traveling with luggage, maybe the slightly cheaper deal on an airline that charges fees for bags is actually going to cost you more in the end. Some airlines allow passengers to check two bags free. Personally, I have a travel credit card with an airline that also allows me to check a bag for free. So, when the cost of a flight where bags are free is only a little more than the cost on another airline, I might choose the one with free bags, since holiday travel, for example, means I’m bringing gifts that won’t fit in my carry-on.
Some airlines allow you to cancel many flights without any fee, and when I’m not sure of my holiday work schedule, I can save money by booking two trips ahead of time and cancelling one when I know my schedule. That way, I’m booking before fares go up. Make sure you know all the rules regarding cancellation policies before you book this way—most airlines have strict cancellation policies and others may only allow you a refund in the form of credit with the airline.
Loyalty to airlines can benefit you. If you’re making long flights or many flights, consider the added benefit of earning miles you can use later. We travel on Delta a lot and a couple of years ago we had enough miles to use some on a trip to South Carolina. At the time, we would not have been able to afford all three tickets to go as a family, but we realized we had enough miles for one ticket that made the trip totally doable for a summer beach vacation with grandparents.
Keep learning! Even though we travel a fair amount, I regularly search for tips on finding cheap flights. Sometimes I don’t learn anything new, sometimes I’m reminded of a tip I don’t use very often and sometimes there’s a tip or new research that I have never heard. It’s fun for me to do research about how to travel more, so make sure you share your tips here for me!
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