“You should buy flights on Tuesday afternoons – that’s when the airlines release all their sales.”
Sadly, that simple piece of advice is not true anymore. The rules have changed so much, even over the last few years. So how do you pay less for flights so you can spend more money on enriching experiences and more luxurious places to stay on your next vacation?
Here are my Top 4 Tips to score a deal on airfare:
1. Use Frequent Flier Miles or Credit Card Points
This is my favorite piece of advice because you can fly basically for free (except taxes if you use miles). This strategy is the single biggest reason how I travel as much as I do.
Frequent Flier Miles
The sad truth is that the value of your miles is constantly going down. I used to be a MAJOR miles hoarder when I traveled for work. However, each year airline loyalty programs devalue miles little by little, so I highly recommend adopting the “use it or lose it” mentality with your miles.
If you’ve got a solid stash of miles, by far the best value for your miles is to fly Business or First Class on a long haul flight. That’s where you’ll get the most bang for your buck based on the miles per dollar valuation of those premium seats. Who doesn’t want to travel in a lay-flat bed with a glass of champagne in hand for only the price of taxes?!
Credit Card Points
If you aren’t using a credit card where you can redeem your points for travel, then start immediately! Depending on your spending habits and financial situation, it may be worth it for you to pay for a premium card with an annual fee to earn more points and get other travel benefits (e.g. lounge access, status with hotel chains, etc.).
To use your points, go to your credit card’s travel portal, search for the flight you want and it will convert the dollar value of the flight into the number of points needed to pay for it. The best part about using credit card points for flights is that you still EARN miles for those flights! You don’t earn miles on flights where you redeem miles.
Using Miles vs. Points
When debating between using miles vs. credit card points vs. paying out of pocket, consider the dollar valuation of your miles/points to make an educated decision. Check out this Monthly Valuation summary for January 2018 by the Points Guy. It’s a great summary to help you get the best value out of your miles and points.
2. Be Flexible with your Dates, Destination, or Both
I recommend signing up for these email newsletters to get a feel for what qualifies as a really good flight deal. Prices fluctuate based on season as mentioned in my previous newsletter, so a good deal to Europe in the summer is very different than a good deal in the winter. Getting a baseline understanding for pricing will allow you to capitalize on a deal that fits your criteria as soon as it pops up.
Tips for snagging a deal/mistake fare:
- Act fast – the best flight deals don’t last long
- Remember you can always fly into one city and then take a different flight to wherever you really want to go. Europe and Asia for example have TONS of frequent and inexpensive flights you can take advantage of.
- If you have buyer’s remorse on a flight deal that you purchased, remember the 24 hour rule: If you purchase a flight originating from the US more than 7 days in advance, you have 24 hours to cancel the flight for a full refund.
One of my other favorite tools to use if you’re flexible on destination, is to type in “Everywhere” as your destination in Skyscanner. It will show you the best deals by country for your dates.
3. Monitor Pricing
Some vacations have set dates and destinations that you can’t change, so in those cases, I recommend setting up an automated price alert using a tool like Google Flights or Kayak. You’ll get an email when the fare changes. You can set up multiple alerts for different dates if you have a little wiggle room on when you leave and return.
When you’re satisfied with the price, then book it – don’t overthink it! It’s always a gamble…it could go further down or spike up within hours, but you’ll see some trends if you’re monitoring it over time. Remember if the price drops within 24 hours of you booking, you can institute the 24 hour rule as stated above.
4. Unpublished Fares
I have access to some unpublished fares that sometimes are a better deal than anything you can find published online. These are usually on long haul international flights. I can’t guarantee any deals, but I have been able to hook some of these deals for my clients.
Caution: Not all airlines or fares are created equal!
The introduction of low cost carriers has made it way more complicated to compare fares across airlines, even for Transatlantic flights. You have to dig deeper to understand what is and is not included in each fare to know if you’re comparing apples to apples.
Even “regular” airlines like United, American, and Delta have got into the unbundling game with their Basic Economy seats where you have to pay extra for carry on bags that are larger than a personal item and advance seat reservations. Be sure to do your homework before you book!
Lastly, I always recommend booking directly through the airline (or me, who would be booking direct). Trust me, if there are issues with your flight, you will generally not get much support from a third party booking site and you are subject to more rules on top of airline rules. The risks are usually never worth the savings.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or simply don’t have time to deal with doing your own flight research and booking, just contact me and I can help you. I honestly geek out about finding the best flight deals, miles/points analysis, and I have SO many more tips to share!