Air travel can be quite costly, and if you don’t know the secrets of smart booking, you might be tempted to give up on that trip altogether. Sad!
There are several ticket-booking strategies that most people know: start looking early, set airfare alerts, and try to fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday. That’s all good advice, but we’re here to let you in on a few more unusual ways to score cheap flights anywhere in the world.
Add a stop on purpose
Yes, it’s a lot easier to fly direct to your destination. But depending on your itinerary, it’s not always feasible. Many tickets tell you where you’re going to stop and change planes, but you can actually decide this, too.
Do it by designing your itinerary in segments, from your ultimate destination back to home. For example, if you are interested in visiting Scotland, start by searching for the cheapest flight to Scotland from various large hub airports. Once you find one you like, search for the best ticket to get to that hub from your home.
If you use this strategy, remember to leave at least a couple of hours between flights to lower your risk of missing the connection. This is especially important if you are going to switch airlines.
Know that if you do switch airlines, it’s unlikely you will be compensated for any missed flights. But if you stick to one airline, even if you design your ticket piecemeal, you can sometimes rebook a connecting flight for free.
Search single seats
The algorithm that sets airline ticket prices is super complicated. It considers not only demand for that flight at that time, but also the price of oil, labor costs, competitor’s prices, and market pricing tolerance. That’s why prices are rising and falling all the time. But one universal truth is that no one likes the middle seat.
All of these factors together mean that airlines set different rates for different seats on the same plane. And when you book multiple tickets together, the airline will charge the highest price in that block of seats for every seat in the group. You can get around this by purchasing each seat individually.
The single-seat strategy means that you may have to sit separately from the rest of your party. This is fine for adults, but tricky to pull off if you’re traveling with children. If you do have kids, though, check to see if the airline offers cheaper tickets for youngsters.
Get a job with the airline
It’s not just pilots and flight attendants who fly for free or get greatly reduced rates. Airlines need all sorts of employees, including customer service reps, baggage handlers, financial analysts, interns, maintenance workers, and recruiters. Flight perks are an easy thing for airlines to offer their employees, so they do.
There’s no need to travel alone, either. Your employee benefits extend to your spouse, children, and parents. Many airlines even offer something called a Buddy Pass that lets your guest pay just the taxes on their ticket rather than the full price.
Usually you have to fly standby, so there’s no guarantee that you’ll get to go when you want to. That pretty much always eliminates holidays as a feasible time to travel. Summer vacation months can also be tricky in terms of finding empty seats, but it depends on where you go.
Score airline miles
With some advance planning and the ability to understand the fine print involved with credit card offers, you could earn a hefty number of airline miles in a short amount of time. Usually this means receiving miles in exchange for making purchases on your credit card.
To make it work, you’ll need to be comfortable charging your regular high-dollar expenses (such as the mortgage) and then paying off the card quickly to avoid carrying fees. You might also aim to score a big haul of miles when you have a large purchase to make anyway, such as when you are furnishing a new home.
We don’t usually recommend airline miles for travel because they are notoriously tricky to use. You’ll find yourself stymied by expiration dates, blackout dates, and other restrictions. And the worst thing is that airlines are at liberty to devalue those miles at any time without warning.
If you are going to rely on miles for a cheap flight, it is best to play a short game that aims at one particular trip in the near future. Verify before you start spending that the miles will actually apply to that trip. Then, cross your fingers and hope that the airline doesn’t change the rules before you hit the boarding gate.
With a little (okay, a lot) of creativity, there are cheap flights to be found. If you can master the insane complexity of air travel pricing you’ll have a lot more to spend on souvenirs during your trip.
Of course, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. It might be worth polishing up your resume, or else making friends with someone who already works at an airline. However you do it, we wish you bon voyage!