There’s nothing better than scoring a good flight deal. Whether you lucked out at the last minute or booked airfare well in advance, getting airfare for a trip that’s way less than what most others pay is a great feeling. And while there are plenty of tips and tricks that can help you pay less for flights, there’s one method that can be used with things like discounts and sales to help you get even more bang for your buck: booking strategies.
A booking strategy is an approach for finding and booking flights that are reduced in price in some way. This can mean keeping your flight searches within certain parameters, choosing specific qualities or details before you begin looking, or even adopting a broader than usual scope when planning your trip. Some strategies can be used together, others are best used separately. Which ones you use depends on what type of trip you want to take and where you want to go.
Here are 7 booking strategies to save even more on cheap flights:
Fly a Budget Airlines with No Add-Ons
Sticking to flights on budget airlines with no add-ons or frills, meaning you stick to your allowed carry-on baggage and bring your own food, has become a standard booking strategy for saving money in the last few years. You can typically fly for a very affordable price, but only if you’re willing to go without the perks and features that come automatically with bookings on more established legacy airlines — like checking bags, reserving a specific seat, and being provided with a meal on the plane. To get any of that on a budget airline, you’ll need to pay separately for each perk. You can spot most budget airlines in the listings, they’re usually the ones with the lowest fares. But if you add any of the extras (especially at the last minute), the price will go up and may end up as much, or even more, as you would pay to fly on a legacy airline that already had those extras included. This is a strategy best for shorter or extremely thrifty travelers since whatever you bring in your carry-on will have to last for the entire stay.
Pick a Destination That’s in or Almost in the Off-Season
If you would like to travel to a specific destination but don’t want to pay the high prices that come with flying there during its peak tourism season, you should consider planning your visit in or almost in the off-season. Many travelers who use this booking strategy schedule their summer vacations for the week or two right before school starts again (especially if they don’t have children). There are more cheap flights because fewer people want to travel that close to fall, but everything that makes a summer destination worth visiting is still open. The same goes for just after spring break but before summer vacation, which is another time when flights are typically more affordable. You can also save money on airfare by going just before or after the prime time for a major event that draws tourists to a destination each year. Disney World, for example, has Christmas events and parades throughout December, but it’s much cheaper to go in the early part of the month, weeks before Christmas.
Be Flexible on the Exact Dates You Travel
This is a booking strategy that most people miss out on. That’s because the timing of a trip or vacation is usually set before most travelers start looking for flights. But you can save a lot of money by being flexible about the dates you travel. Flights that are just a few days earlier or later can have a price difference of hundreds of dollars. So if you know where and roughly when you want to go (what month or season), you can play around with different dates to find different airfares. By not keeping your schedule set in stone before you look at flights, you open yourself up to a wide range of potential deals. You can even set up a fare alert for a specific route and general timeframe that lets you know the fares drop below what was previously available.
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Book a Multi-City Itinerary
If you’re planning a trip to more than one destination or exploring a large region, a multi-city itinerary is a good booking strategy to save money. Essentially, this booking strategy is to fly into one city or airport and fly back home from another. So it’s best for trips abroad where driving on a road trip or getting around by train with a rail pass is part of the experience. It can also be used to get back home, booking to fly in and out of one airport and leaving and arriving at another where there’s a public transit option or a family member/friend that’s willing to pick you up by car. But you just have to be sure that total travel costs are less than what you would pay for roundtrip airfare. Luckily it’s easier than ever to find, compare, and book multi-city itineraries these days.
Stick to Red-Eye Flights
This is a booking strategy that’s stood the test of time. That’s because red-eye flights — flights that take off late at night and typically fly throughout the night — are usually much cheaper than other flights. Fewer people will want to fly at those times because it’s such an inconvenience and disruption to their schedules. So, airlines generally charge cheaper airfare for red-eye flights to fill seats that would otherwise go empty. That means by setting out to book only red-eye flights, you know you’re already paying for less than if you other flights to the same destination. What’s more, not only do red-eye flights typically have less turbulence due to overnight weather conditions but they can help you get ahead of jetlag if you fly on one that arrives during the day in another time zone.
Mix & Max Airlines
A proven booking strategy to save money is to open your search up to multiple airlines. Even if you’re only to direct to one destination and back, being willing to fly out on one airline and then return on another airline can often be cheaper than flying roundtrip on the same airline. And if you start looking at trips that require stopovers and changing planes, you can find some great deals by booking connecting flights with different carriers. Just be sure your itinerary isn’t too tight between connections, since that increases your chances of missing a flight if another is delayed. You should also be sure to the airlines know so your checked luggage will be transferred to your connecting flight.
Anyone who’s ever compared flights before they book knows that direct flights are the most expensive. Having a strategy to avoid direct flights and willingly endure a layover can save quite a bit of cash. Obviously, the savings are due to the inconvenience of having to spend hours in the airport waiting for the connecting flight. But some travlers have started to book really long layovers not only for the lower price, but to use it as a mini-vacation before or after their main trip. If, for example, you are flying from New York City to London and have always wanted to visit Paris, why not book a 24-hour layover in the City of Lights on your way to the UK? You get to spend the day exploring AND cut down on the cost of your flight!
Have your own booking strategy to save even more on cheap flights? Tell us about it in the comments section!