In 2014, I booked a one way ticket to Spain. From there, I traveled all over Europe every weekend for eight months. When I moved back to the United States, I managed to keep the travel dream alive by traveling to places like San Francisco, Niagara Falls, and Disney World. One thing I found to be a constant is that traveling can be hard on the budget, but there are travel hacks to save money.
Airline Credit Cards
Sign up for airline credit cards! Frequent flyer miles can keep you flying on the cheap. There are tons of ways to earn frequent flyer miles, but airline credit cards are the solid base. Every major airline and most minor airlines offer credit cards with different perks. You can get things like bonus miles, free checked bags, free food and drinks on the flight, but one get one free flights, priority boarding, and upgraded status.
The downside to airline credit cards are that they usually have annual fees and high interest rates. The best way around high interest rates is to pay off the card each month. The best way to think about annual fees is that the small fee pays for itself in airline bonuses ten times over. You can compare all airline credit cards at allcards.com.
General Travel Credit Cards
Besides airline credit cards, there are major credit card companies that specialize in travel rewards. One example is the American Express Blue Sky card, which I’ve had for years. Every 7,500 points gets you $100 back on travel (which includes plane flights, rental cards, hotels, or other travel-related expenses). The trick is to look for a card that offers two percent or higher on purchases related to travel. One of the advantages of choosing a general travel credit card over an airline credit card is there are some with $0 annual fees. Another advantage is that you can use your travel points on any airline or any hotel, not just the specific one you have a card for. You just might not get as many fun perks as you would with a specific airline credit card.
Airfare Search Engines
Back in the day, you used to have to call specific airlines to book flights. It made comparing airline prices pretty difficult. Luckily in today’s technology age, there are plenty of airfare search engines that search individual airline websites and even other airfare search engines to find you the best price in about five seconds. There are no excuses to pay top dollar for plane flights anymore.
One site I really like for booking flights is Google Flights. Google has managed to win my heart in almost all things virtual, and their travel search engine doesn’t disappoint. You can search specific dates and places, like a normal airfare search. But if you’re flexible, you can put specific dates in to see where it’s cheapest to go; alternatively, you can put a specific destination in and see when it’s cheapest to go. Basically, it’s like asking Google’s recommendation for travel, and it gives you the best information on the Internet. How did Google get so smart??
Another site I like, similar to Google Flights, is Skyscanner. Skyscanner offers the same functions as Google Flights, telling you when or where it’s cheapest to go. It usually has more options than Google Flights, but is a little slower on getting prices. I like to use them hand-in-hand when searching for travel destinations.
Finally, an oldie but goodie is Kayak.com. Years ago, when I first discovered airfare search engines, I thought kayak.com had the best prices. They were much better than anything else I could find anywhere! I think that, since then, search engine algorithms have changed and while it still has some really good options, it might not always be the best for flights anymore. However, Kayak.com is still unbeatable when it comes to rental car prices.
Watch for Cheaper Flights
Don’t book that first price you find! Do some research before you commit. Typically, Tuesdays are the best days to buy flights, specifically in the afternoon and evening. The best days to fly are Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Airline seats rarely go on sale so if you see a good deal pop up, take it. Flight prices also tend go up as the date gets closer, so spontaneous travelers like myself need to bite the bullet and plan ahead.
There are free sites like Airfarewatchdog.com and Kayak.com that will keep an eye on your travel dates and send you updates if a cheaper flight comes up. You can subscribe to receive email alerts as new deals become available.
Try a Budget Airline
Budget airlines get mixed reviews: some people love the low costs, others can’t stand that bags, drinks, and snacks aren’t included in their price. Some people are wary of a cheap flight and think it’s because the pilots are young and inexperienced or you’ll have bad turbulence because the plane is defective. This isn’t the case at all. Let me squash that belief right now.
Turbulence is caused by changes in weather. Pilots might avoid or fly with jet streams to save fuel because they can flow up to 250 mph, like a fast-flowing river of air. When moving into slower air, there might be some bumps, just like you might experience while driving. Turbulence isn’t dangerous and pilots can easily navigate it, so turbulence isn’t a sign of a defective or inexperienced pilot and not a reason to avoid a budget airline. Also, a commercial airline pilot must have at least 1500 hours in the air and be at least 23 years old to fly your plane, so put yourself at east that you’re in good hands. In fact, many pilots come from a military background where they’ve flown much more intense aircraft than big, comfortable airplanes.
So to sum up: don’t be naïve about budget airlines. Budget airlines aren’t cheap because they hire young, inexperienced pilots or have faulty airplanes that experience dangerous turbulence. They’re cheap because they are newer and therefore lighter and more fuel-efficient. Spirit boasts one of the youngest fleets in America, and WOW Air might be the youngest fleet in the world. Budget airlines also save us money by doing away with some of the luxuries not everyone needs like booking a seat or bringing a checked bag, and they don’t have a business class that offers free food and drinks.
Follow Travel Blogs
There are many travel blogs that focus on great travel deals. One of my favorites is The Points Guy, who shares the best travel credit cards to maximize frequent flyer miles. Another is the Frugal Travel Guy, who shares tips and tricks to travel the world frugally and is an encyclopedia of travel hacks to save money. Finally, New York Times best-selling author Nomadic Matt shares tips for traveling cheaply and using frequent flyer miles.
My favorite travel blogs right now is TravelPirates.com, which I follow on Facebook because they post real-time error fares and the cheapest dates for traveling all over the world. I even booked a flight to Cebu, Philippines for $176 round trip thanks to TravelPirates.com’s Facebook updates! TravelPirates.com isn’t an airfare search engine, but they do offer a search engine. When you find a fare you like, it will redirect you to the airline or search engine to book, so TravelPirates.com remains a cheap travel blog.
Do you have any other travel hacks to save money? Share them with me in the comments below to help me go on my next trip!
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