Flying is fun the first few times you do it. After a while, however, it starts to lose its appeal, and it becomes somewhat of a hassle. TSA is often difficult, and airplanes are getting more uncomfortable. It seems that they shrink your legroom by at least two inches every year. You start to wonder if driving is the better alternative, despite the extra time.
Finding affordable flights is also a challenge. Airlines seem to inflate their prices at the worst times, making it difficult to find something in your budget. If you want to save big bucks, it feels like you have to bend over backward for it.
Booking cheaper flights or finding more comfortable accommodations is not about using a magic formula that will end your woes. Rather, it's about applying advanced techniques to make flights work for you rather than you working for them.
First, you have to learn what those tricks are, and there's no better place to look than the pros. Some people fly as often as twice a week, both for business and pleasure. They know how to make airlines work for them. Here are some of their tips.
20 20. Sign Up for TSA Pre-Check
Have you seen the line at security screening that cuts straight to the TSA desk rather than snaking through the poles and ropes? You've probably been pretty jealous of their 5-minute wait versus your 30-minute one.
TSA PreCheck costs about $85 for the year, but if you're a frequent flyer, you'll love the benefits of this program. If you're approved, you'll be designated a low-risk traveler so you can get through the lines quicker.
It doesn't take much to be a low-risk traveler. As long as you're not a convicted criminal and are willing to do some light paperwork and a quick interview, you'll be cleared.
It means you won't have to take off your shoes or your belt, and you'll get to go through the expedited line.
19 19. Book Flexible Dates and Destinations
If budget travel is your desire, booking flexible dates and destinations is a good way to save a few bucks on your flights - or even a couple hundred. Booking a trip to Paris in the last week of May may be much pricier than booking it in the last week of April.
If you have to go during a certain time of the year, you can save $50 or more each way by booking on a less popular travel date, like a Tuesday rather than a Friday.
Consider being flexible with your destinations as well. Instead of saying that you want to go to Florida, say that you're going to take a beach vacation, and choose a destination that's not quite as expensive to fly to.
18 18. Beware of Short Layovers
It's often a lot cheaper to book a flight with a layover, especially if you're flying out of a small airport. When you find an option with a layover of 30-45 minutes, you're probably jumping for joy. Nobody likes to sit for hours in a different airport while they wait for the last leg of their flight so that short layover is likely pretty tempting.
However, if your flight is even a few minutes late, that 30-minute layover will cut things awfully close for you, and don't even think about running to the bathroom or grabbing a bite to eat. It's best to avoid the risk and keep your layovers between 60 and 90 minutes.
17 17. Bring a Weighted Blanket and a Neck Pillow for Long Flights
Whether you're exhausted from a late night before you left or you're taking a red-eye, many flyers are hopeful that they'll get some shuteye on their flight. However, when it comes to it, you realize this can be somewhat of a challenge, especially if you're in the center row.
The secret is to bring a good neck pillow and a weighted blanket. The neck pillow will support your head while you sleep, so you don't wake up with a crick in your neck.
The weighted blanket is a popular sleep aid that helps you to relax and shut out the influences around you. It simulates the feeling of a tight hug, which increases your serotonin levels and makes you feel calm and sleepy. It's also a good idea if you have anxiety about flying.
16 16. Book Flights in a Smaller Airport
You might save a few bucks by booking your flight through a larger airport since more flights go through here. However, you'll have to deal with the hassles of navigating the huge space, making it to your gate on time, and working your way through long TSA screening lines.
In some cases, those airports are also more affordable. For example, if you're flying from New York to Florida, La Guardia often has more affordable rates for flights than JFK.
You might also consider booking an open-jaw flight, which means you fly out from one airport and return to another. You'll have to make arrangements for your car, but it might be worthwhile.
15 15. Clear Cookies Before Searching for Flights
Airlines and third-party booking services use something called dynamic pricing. This means that they're allowed to raise the price based on the popularity of the dates you're searching for. They may also raise the price if your search history shows that you've been searching for flights to this destination on those dates.
Refreshing the window won't do anything to make the price go down, but clearing cookies and your search history, or better yet, using a different computer where you're not logged onto any personal accounts, could reveal lower prices.
14 14. Keep Electronic Copies of Personal Information
If you've ever forgotten your wallet when you're trying to check in for a flight, you know how stressful that is. If you're lucky, TSA will pull you aside and run a series of tests and cross-references to make sure you are who you say you are. They'll let you go through security, but who knows if you'll make your flight. They could also just kick you out.
If you have a scanned copy of your passport or driver's license, it will be much easier for you to get on your plane. It doesn't hurt to keep copies of emergency contacts, flight information, and hotel booking info as well, just in case.
13 13. You Can Get a Refund within 24 Hours of Purchase
Have you ever finished booking a flight only to realize the departure time wouldn't work? Or maybe you've found a more affordable option, but you've already clicked "book."
For years, flights have lived by an absolute no-refund policy. However, airlines seemed to have relaxed over the years, and now you can get a refund within 24 hours of purchase, even for nonrefundable flights.
You can also change your booking if you find a flight with better pricing. Many airlines will price match.
12 12. Make a Flight Bag with Essentials
Most people spend a good hour or so preparing for their flights by squeezing your shampoo and conditioner into 3-oz bottles to meet TSA requirements. Wouldn't it be a lot easier if you had a bag full of essentials ready to go when you take off?
Designate a flight toiletry bag with all your 3-oz liquids and travel sized items. Throw in a few flight-friendly accessories like hand wipes or hand sanitizer.
You won't have to even think about it the next time you take a flight. Just grab your bag and go.
11 11. Keep Chargers and Cables Handy
You often use your phone and devices more than usual when you're flying. They serve as entertainment and most people nowadays use them for ticketing. However, if your phone dies, and you don't have a paper ticket, you'll run into trouble at the gate.
Keep extra cables handy so you can charge your phone at any time. Bring an extra cable and outlet adapter just in case the one you have fails you.
You might want to get a portable charger as well. Although airports have made updates to include more outlets for their waiting customers, it's still difficult to find a place to charge your phone if others beat you to it. Your airplane might not have an outlet either.
10 10. Volunteer to Get Bumped if the Flight Is Overbooked
Airlines have an unfortunate habit of overbooking their flights. This means they have to incentivize some of their customers to get off in order to make room for everyone.
When you hear the announcement that your flight has been overbooked, you might initially balk at the idea of volunteering. However, airlines are authorized to give you as much as $1,300 for rebooking your flight. That cash will certainly pay for a night in a hotel, a new flight, and the one you already paid for.
9 9. Use Travel Credit Cards for All the Perks
Not all credit cards are created equally, and some are better suited for travel than others. Look into credit cards with rewards points geared towards travel to collect the most points on your purchases.
Chase Sapphire is a great option, as it gives you two rewards points for every dollar spent on a transaction relating to travel, including gas and restaurants. They usually have an attractive sign-up bonus as well.
These travel cards might also offer you discounts for travel or trip insurance. With this card in your wallet, you'll get all the perks without paying for upsells.
8 8. You Can Sit in a Posh Airport Lounge Even with an Economy Ticket
The sign on the outside of the lounge might say that only business and first-class flyers are allowed in the lounge while they wait for their flight, but that's not always true. You can't get in for free, but if you're willing to pay a few bucks, most lounges will sell day passes so you can enjoy the quiet space with all the best amenities.
You can also purchase a priority pass for a full year so that you get access to airport lounges all over the year. Your credit card may make you eligible for lounging as well.
7 7. Eat Right Before and During Your Flight
The change in altitude can do funny things to your stomach. If you're not careful, you could find yourself sick because you ate too much before hopping on the plane. What you eat can also make you more tired after a long flight.
Expert flyers know they need to reduce their intake of alcohol and caffeine and increase their intake of healthy foods. Get a salad before hopping on the plane, and avoid highly processed foods. This will dehydrate you and make your flight very uncomfortable. Drink plenty of water too.
6 6. Get a Cab at the Departures Zone
In busy airports, it's not uncommon to see a huge line near the arrivals section of the airport waiting for cabs. You can cut the line by running over to departures instead of arrivals.
Here, cabs will have just dropped off their passengers, and you can often snag one before they head over to arrivals. You might even get a more affordable fare this way.
You can have your Uber or Lyft driver meet you at departures as well, which could save some hassle with the traffic of arrivals.
5 5. Book One Passenger at a Time
If you're booking flights for the whole family, you'll probably end up paying a little extra. If you're booking for four, there might be two seats available at $200 per ticket, and two more at the price of $250.
Booking all four seats at once will force you to pay $250 for each ticket while booking them one at a time unlocks prices that weren't available before.
This requires a little patience, but it's a great way to save money.
4 4. Download Your Airport App
Apps are designed to make our lives easier, and it's true with flights and airlines too. The airport app will show you everything from restaurants to gates to convenience stores. This is particularly useful if you're in a large airport and need to take a tram to get to your gate.
Before leaving, download your departure, arrival, and layover airports so you're prepared. It also helps to download your airline's app so you can check in and be updated regarding changes to your flight.
3 3. Watch Out for Exit Rows on Long Flights and Redeyes
Booking a seat in the exit row seems very tempting, despite the increased responsibility. You get several more inches of legroom, which is a beautiful thing when you're used to a mere 29 inches in economy.
However, bear in mind that exit rows do not recline. Nor does the row in front of the exit. This means that if you're on a long flight or redeye, you'll have a very difficult time falling asleep.
2 2. Choose a Frequent Flyer Program
For those who fly regularly, frequent flyer programs are brilliant. With every flight you take and dollar you spend with the airline, you'll get miles that work much like credit card reward points. Fly often enough, and you'll have a few free flights each year.
Choose an airline with a great frequent flyer program, and stick with it. Make sure the airline is comfortable and offers good customer service because you'll be spending most of your flights with them in the future.
1 1. Wait Till the Last Minute to Upgrade
Whether you prefer first class or you just want more legroom, it's tempting to upgrade your flight when you book, even if it costs an extra $50 per seat. However, if you're trying to save a little money, don't make the upgrade right away.
Prices for upgrades often fluctuate over time, and airlines still want to make some money off an upgrade. If you wait until the last minute, you can often get free or premium pricing for a better seat. Just be super nice to the flight or check-in attendant, and they'll take care of you.
References: travelfreak, travelchannel, thrillist, kayak, businessinsider