1. Have patience. It does take effort to get a good price on flights. Now, don’t let that deter you, because saving $100+ on flights can mean having more money to spend on sight-seeing, hotel, dining out, tours, etc. This means that if you want to travel in Spring, you should start checking prices in the late Fall or Winter. Sometimes there are last minute deals, but more often than not, you will find the best deals at least 21 days before your departure date.
First thing in the morning (around 9:00am, and in the evening, after 6:00pm) I like to browse travel websites to see if there are any deals being offered that day. I also like to delete my browser history and cookies, because sometimes travel websites and airlines will remember your search and this might cause prices to actually increase.
My favourite website is Skyscanner. One of the great features about this website is that you can check to see what the best price for the day is for travel worldwide from the airport of your preference. For example, I live in Toronto, so I will enter flights from Toronto (YYZ) to Everywhere. This is a great feature because it will tell me where on that day, which date, month, etc. is cheapest for me to fly anywhere in the world. [I used this site recently to help me get tickets for my trip to Seoul, South Korea in April. Other airlines were charging $1,000-$1,500+ for flights to Seoul, but Delta was having a promotion and I was able to get round trip flights for only $850 CAD / $770 USD with the exchange rate.]
Another great feature on Skyscanner, is that you can put in your destination and dates of travel and sign up for “Price Alerts” so they will email you if the price goes up or down for your specified dates of travel. [My sister just used this feature to help her get a flight to Edmonton, Alberta for travel in May. Prices for one-way tickets were around $300-$400 and she was able to get it for $269 CAD.]
Another website I like to use is Expedia. Everyday they will shows travel deals available to the top domestic and international tourist destinations. They will also include deals packages for “Flight + Hotel”. This helps me get a feel for what the average cost is for example, a 4 night trip to Las Vegas. Let’s say the price for flight and hotel to Vegas for 4 nights on the Strip is $500-$600 per person from Toronto, I like to try and keep an eye out for deals that are equal to or below this price – that’s how I know I am saving money and getting the best price.
One thing about Expedia however is that the price advertised is not always available. If I am looking on their flight deals for last minute getaways, I might see round trip tickets to Miami for $250 CAD (departing from Toronto), but once I click on the deal, it may say the price has increased to $350 CAD instead. This isn’t always the case, but it does happen sometimes which is something to keep in mind.
Other websites that I like to use are: Kayak, Redtag, Sunwing, Bing Flight Predictor and Airfarewatchdog.
2. Check the airline’s direct website. While these third party travel websites can be great, sometimes the best unadvertised deals are found directly through the airline’s website. I recommend signing up for email promotions offered through your preferred airline. For example, since I live in Canada, I am signed up for Air Canada’s travel promotions. This let’s me see special offers available as soon as they go live on the Air Canada website.
I really wanted to do a weekend trip to NYC with my sister this past February to celebrate her 21st birthday. In addition to checking third party websites, I would also play around with dates by entering the travel in Air Canada. They did not advertise this deal, but I was able to find direct round trip flights from YYZ to LGA for $199 CAD. This was a great deal that I was so happy to find through Air Canada. Sometimes the Airline’s website will offer promotion codes as well, so it is worthwhile to take a look.
3. Check departures/ arrivals from alternative airports. This is not always convenient, but sometimes a lot of major cities have more than one airport or have another airport within close proximity to them in another city. For Toronto residents, we have Pearson Airport that offers domestic and international flights and Billy Bishop Airport that offers select flights within Canada and the USA. There is also the option of driving across the border and flying out of Buffalo Airport too. It is almost always cheaper to fly out of Buffalo airport than Pearson or Billy Bishop. But the downside is most, (if not all flights) are not direct and you will have to pay for parking since most people leave their car at the airport while travelling. Flying out of Buffalo is always a last resort for me, because it is a 90 minute drive from Toronto (you have to consider gas charges) and depending on how long your trip is, parking costs may bring that discounted flight up to or around the same cost as the flight would have been if it had departed from YYZ or YTZ. However, sometimes there are significant savings to be had when flying out of Buffalo, which will definitely make it worth your while. [When I handled the company corporate travel at my previous job, last minute trips happened often and if a group of 2 or more needed to travel to the USA, flying out of Buffalo saved the company upwards of $300-$600 + per flight ticket.]
This can also be said of not just the departure airport that you choose, but also the arrival airport. For example, when flying to NYC, there are essentially three airports that you can choose to arrive in: LGA, JFK or EWR. Sometimes you can get a better price when arriving at one airport over the other. One thing to keep in mind however is the travel from the airport to your hotel. If you are taking public transit, you can get to Manhattan from LGA for as little as $2.50 when taking the bus and subway train. However it is a bit more pricey when getting to Manhattan from EWR because you have to take New Jersey transit, then switch onto the Manhattan transit system. If you are taking a taxi, prices to get from each airport into Manhattan can vary. This is an important point to keep in mind and I recommend you conduct your own research before traveling.
4. Follow airlines and third party travel websites on Twitter (social media) and sign up for their mailing list. One of the great features about social media is that airlines can use this to advertise special travel promotions through certain social media outlets. Sometimes an airline will offer a special promotion code through their Twitter or Facebook page that isn’t advertised on other websites. West Jet offers Blue Tag Thursdays, which is a special promotion that is offered only Thursday afternoons (unless they have another special running during this time). You can find this on their website, or watch for it advertised on their Twitter or Facebook page. When signing up to third party or airline website’s mailing lists, they will sometimes send private promotional offers to their subscribers that give you secret access to their sale.
5. Don’t be afraid to book your flight and hotel separately. Sometimes you can get a great deal on sites like Expedia when you bundle your vacation and book flights and hotel at the same time, but this is not always the case. If you see an exceptional deal on a flight, book it now, don’t wait! You may be able to find a better price on the hotel later. I also recommend that if you do in fact see a great deal on a flight, please book it now, rather than wait until later that same day. Let’s say you see a great deal on a flight to San Francisco in the morning, but wait until you get home from work to purchase the tickets, this may not work to your advantage.
I will give you an example: I grew up in San Francisco and was looking for flights to go back and visit (this was back in October 2012), but they were around $600 and I wanted to wait for a better price. A few weeks later, Delta had a sale and was offering flights from Toronto to San Francisco for $437 CAD. This was an unbelievable price, considering all I was seeing was $600+ in the previous weeks, so I didn’t wait around and purchased the tickets immediately. I checked later that afternoon to see if the deal was still live and the price had shot back up to $600. I highly recommend booking when you see a price you feel is a great deal, because it may disappear sooner than you think.
Sometimes if you are booking multi-city flights, it may be more cost effective to book them separately than go with the same airline. For example, last summer (June 2013) I wanted to fly from Toronto to Las Vegas, then from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, and finally from Los Angeles back home to Toronto. I spent about a month and a half checking prices daily to get the best deal. I was eventually able to get a sale through Air Canada for the flights from Toronto to Las Vegas and from Los Angeles back to Toronto. I waited on booking the USA domestic flight from Las Vegas to Los Angeles because Air Canada obviously didn’t offer this and prices were around $100 USD for this one-way flight at the time. About a week later, I was on Southwest.com and I saw they had a “Getaway” deal for $49 USD for the flight I needed from LAS to LAX. This was a great deal, so of course I booked right away. My entire multi-city airfare ended up costing $515 altogether. [YYZ to LAS and LAX to YYZ cost me $466 CAD and the Southwest flight from LAS to LAX cost $49 USD].
6. Know what time of year and which days are cheapest for flying. Travelling on Tuesday and Wednesday are generally cheaper than any other day of the week. (Generally, searching mid-week for flights produces the best deals too). From experience, I also find that Thursday and Saturday can offer the best price sometimes as well. Of course doesn’t happen all the time and you will have to experiment with dates, which is why Skyscanner is great for deciphering which day is cheapest to depart and return. Days that tend to be most expensive are Monday, Friday and sometimes Sunday. Airlines know that most business trips take place Monday – Friday, which is why it tends to be more expensive to depart Monday and return on Friday. However, business travelers have started to fly out on Sunday instead of Monday in hopes to get a more affordable fare, but this doesn’t always work. Getting the cheapest departure date of the week of course is dependent on the flexibility of your travel dates.
The time of year also helps. It is usually cheaper to fly to Europe in the off-season and shoulder seasons (late fall, winter and early spring). Last year (2013) my parents traveled to Paris in April with direct round trip flights with Air Transat from Toronto for $671 CAD each. This isn’t the best price I have seen, but it was definitely the best deal at the time for non-stop round trip flights. Traveling during the off or shoulder season isn’t always negative. Sometimes due to poor weather, you will not want to travel during the off-season, but generally the off-season is less crowded and offers better prices.
I find that right now (early Spring) it is a bit more expensive to fly to Las Vegas (around $400-$500 CAD) because most people like to go there during the Spring time before the weather gets too hot in the Summer months. [I am comparing this to flight deals I saw this past winter for around $350 CAD.] It’s always wise to check out what events are happening during the dates you want to travel to a particular destination. Sometimes a holiday or big conference meeting could jack up the fares. I always suggest scoping out the average price for flights to your preferred destination, then keeping an eye on how the price fluctuates.
7. Save money on your baggage. Most airlines now charge you $25 each way to check your luggage. And they will charge you extra if your luggage goes over the airline weight limit. You can avoid this by packing light and making sure that your luggage does not go over the limit (check the airline to confirm the weight limit and for prices on checked luggage). Also, if you are going on a short trip, consider sharing one checked luggage bag with your travel partner(s). This can save you $50 on travel costs, since it costs $25 each way to check your luggage.
If you are going on an even shorter trip (weekend trip), consider only bringing carry on luggage and forget about the checked bag. Most airlines will let you bring a small amount of liquids on board the plane. If you are just going for a quick weekend trip, you might be able to get away with just a carry on bag. I did this for my trip last month to NYC. I went to my local dollar store and bought a small travel pouch of clear plastic containers. This allowed me to bring shampoo, conditioner, face wash, night/ day cream, foundation, etc. It also included sticker labels so I knew what everything was. I do realize that this is not practical for everyone, but for a 2 night trip, I would much rather spend $1 for the travel pouch at Dollarama then $50 for a checked bag. It also saves me the hassle of waiting to retrieve my checked bag at Baggage Claim.
8. Shop around for travel / health insurance. I always recommend getting travel or (extra) health insurance for your trip, but sometimes you are not getting the best price when you select the insurance package offered through the airline when you book your flights. Usually your work insurance will offer some type of travel or health coverage when traveling. Talk to HR about this if you are unsure. You can also buy insurance through your bank – that’s where I tend to find the best prices. This will also be cost efficient in the long run in you plan and traveling multiple times during the year. [Rather than pay for insurance each time you book a flight, you can get covered through your bank or alternative place for the year for a set fee.] If you are over 40 years old (or have a history of health issues), I recommend purchasing extra health coverage (even you already are covered through work). Unfortunately we can never predict what might happen while traveling, and if, heaven forbid, anything did happen, you will be happy that you purchased the extra health insurance. This is something that is unique to each person, so I cannot tell you what the best option is, that is something that you need to discuss with HR, your bank and family in order to see what the best choice is for you.
9. Avoid paying for seat selection (if you can). Some airlines ask for an extra fee to make advance seat selection, sometimes it is included in the price – if that’s the case then great, but if you have to pay $20 or so to make an advance seat selection, I would pass. You can usually check in early (24 hours before flight departure) and make the seat selection for free. You may be able to get the seats that you wanted, or you may not. It’s a hit or miss. If you don’t have a preference on where you sit, or willing to take the risk, then avoid paying the additional fee for advance seat selection.
10. Take advantage of travel reward programs. There is so much competition between airlines and credit cards today, so sign up for their travel reward programs. Talk to your bank and see what travel reward credit card works best for your needs. A lot of them allow you to collect points on your everyday spending so you can redeem them for free flights. Some of these credit cards do have stipulations, such as you can only book the flights through your bank, or there are black out dates for travel. However, due to the vast amount of travel reward credit cards being offered today, they are getting better and you can find one that does not contain any of these stipulations. That means you can use your points to redeem flights anytime, anywhere. Sometimes these cards do come with a slight annual membership fee, but the rewards alone are worth it.