People always ask us how we afford to travel as much as we do.
We spend a LOT of time searching for flights, and we’ve figured out a few pretty good tricks.
The field is always changing; airlines and booking agencies alter their practices, so we are constantly having to learn new techniques to hunt out those deals. Here are our best tips, as of October 2017.
Best times to fly.
Finding reasonably priced flights is getting more and more difficult as airlines both cut flight routes and raise prices. Summertime flights are always the most expensive, but deals can still be found if you are flexible. The best rates are to be found October-early December and January-early April. Premium times to fly are Christmas, New Year’s, and mid May-September. Car rental and hotel rates will also be more expensive during those times. Airfare sales are usually posted on Tuesday. Cheapest days to fly are usually Tuesday and Wednesday.
Budget airlines within Europe may not be the deal you think they are.
On many sites dedicated to travel you’ll find advice telling you to fly to a major airport (e.g. Paris or London), then take a budget European airline to get to your true destination (e.g. Ryanair or easyJet). The trouble with this: Often the budget airlines are flying to obscure airports, which may have no rental car facilities and odd hours. Budget airlines also have all kinds of fees for baggage, ticketing and other concerns (this is how they make their money – on fees), so you need to read ALL the fine print to make sure you know what you’re in for.
Search for open-jaw tickets.
One good thing to know is that you can often find good deals on “open-jaw” tickets to Europe that is, flying into one city, and out of another. This also works well with rental car policies, when picking up and dropping off in the same country. Flying open-jaw can help you avoid driving time. You may also get a better deal — sometimes it’s cheaper to fly in to Rome and out of Milan, you just need to check prices for each.
Search for flights using a private window (“Incognito”)
When looking for tickets, be sure to use a private search window. Airline and booking websites track what you’re searched, and then offer higher rates once they notice you’ve searched the same fare more than once. They also show higher rates for Mac computers vs. PCs, so if you have access to a PC it’s worth it to search on that.
Buying flights early has more than just a price advantage.
We usually buy flights a few months in advance, as we find the best prices then. It’s possible, though rare, to find last-minute deals, but then you will miss out on one of the nicest aspects of a trip, which is all the planning and fantasizing you do about the trip in the months before you leave. This idea is even backed by scientific research: https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/18/how-vacations-affect-your-happiness/
Use booking websites to search; but always book direct with the airline.
One important thing to note is that sites like Travelocity and Orbitz are great search engines, but once you find a good flight, it’s best to book directly with the airline. In the event flights are cancelled or changed, you’re much more likely to have the problem solved if you’ve purchased the ticket from the airline directly. The last thing you want, when stuck overseas, is to have American Airlines say “Call Orbitz, this is their issue”, and then call Orbitz to have them say “You need to talk to AA”. Trust us, we’ve been there.
Always check “Vacation Packages”.
When booking an airline ticket, if you are also planning to drive, check out the “Vacations” tab on airline sites — you can combine your plane fare with a rental car. Often great deals can be found here, because the exact distribution of airfare and car rental costs are not broken down, which allows airlines to sell cheaper fares without revealing its true cost to the consumer (and therefore not creating expectation of cheap fares in the future). If the airline is looking to fill up a flight, they sometimes put their cheap fares in these vacation package deals. We have found some great deals using this method recently. [For example, we were able to book a flight and car on Delta for both of us from Nashville - Brussels for New Year’s Eve, for for $1400. Looking at Delta’s site for just the flights alone, the cost was $1100/flight. By using the “Vacations” feature, we saved at least $1000!]
Be mindful of connections.
The quality of the trip is just as important as the price. Living in Nashville, we always have to take two flights to get to Europe. We try to avoid northern states in the winter if possible, to minimize the risk of having flights cancelled due to snow. We never take more than one layover, as that makes the trip much more difficult, while also increasing the chance of missed/delayed flights. It’s better to have a long layover than a very short one. If there is a very short layover, and your first flight is delayed at all, you risk missing your second flight. US flights are frequently delayed; but overseas flights rarely are, and if you miss your flight there is no guarantee they’ll get you on the next one, even if it was their fault.
A long layover can be a great way to visit family, friends, or just do some sightseeing. We generally try to get the earliest flight out possible, then arrive in (for example) Miami, Philadelphia, or Chicago by 9 AM. We’ll rent a car or meet friends/family, and spend a day sightseeing, hanging out on the beach, and having a great lunch. Then return to the airport, drop off the rental car, go back through security and get on our overseas flight, totally exhausted (and very ready to sleep on the plane). This is also a nice way of making an otherwise bland travel day feel like part of your fun vacation.
We hope you use these tips to find yourself some great deals...