This is a guest post from Susan Guillory of The Unexplorer.
The problem with being a travel junkie is that it costs money. Especially if you want to travel internationally. I dream of the day that I can both afford and justify the outrageous cost to fly first class overseas, but until then, I’m scrimping and being strategic about how I book my flights in coach. Here are a few tips on how to spend less on airfare that I’d like to pass along.
1. Be Strategic With Your Credit Cards
I’m not advocating that you open a bunch of credit cards and rack up debt. But if you are open to getting a card or two, choose carefully. Some credit card companies are affiliated with specific airlines and offer major bonuses if you spend $X in the first few months.
With both Hawaiian Airlines Mastercard and Citi AAdvantage Mastercard (American Airlines), I was able to earn bonuses enough to take a flight (one to Hawaii, the other international) with each within months. I believe I had to spend $3,000 to get the points bonus. Sounds like a lot, but if you start paying your bills and buying groceries with one card (and then immediately paying it back), you’ll hit that threshold in no time.
Note: even if you have enough points to travel, you’ll still pay some fees. I booked a flight to Sardinia using American Airlines points I’d accrued through my card and ended up spending around $300 for my ticket’s fees. Of course, the ticket would have cost me $1200, so I’m still winning! Domestic fees are much lower. I’d pay about $11 to redeem a round-trip flight to Hawaii.
2. Leverage United’s Many Point-Earning Opportunities
I don’t know if any other airlines have quite the robust point-earning tools, but United Airlines are pretty great. Not only can you rack up MileagePlus points with your travel bookings, but you can also connect your United credit and debit cards to your MileagePlus Shopping and Dining accounts and earn miles every time you eat at or shop at a qualifying restaurant or retailer.
Also, there’s a secret way to earn points: Opinion Miles Club. You earn points for filling out online surveys. It’s not a ton of points, no, but they do add up, and I enjoy filling out surveys.
United has featured offers that you can leverage to earn even more points, like booking your Hertz rental car through its MileagePlus site.
3. Spend Less on Airfare Using Flight Tools
I admit, booking my flight, especially internationally, can be stressful simply because I spend a ton of time trying to find the best deal and spend less on airfare. Pricewise, you’re best off looking within 2-3 months of travel. I use a few tools to help:
Hipmunk (now closed) allows you to monitor flight prices easily. Just input your days and destination and you’ll get a notification when the best time to book is. Kayak is cool because you can look at a map to see where you can afford to fly with your budget. No matter what these tools tell me, I then go to Google Flights as well as individual airlines’ websites to make sure I get the best price and schedule.
My planning takes longer for international flights because I look at alternates to flying directly to a place. For example: if I’m going to Sardinia (and I am), I might book a flight to London, then a cheap hopper down to Pisa, then a puddle jumper over to Sardinia if it saves substantial money and doesn’t give me a crazy travel time. I also look at flying out of a nearby airport, which for me in San Diego is Los Angeles. There are a lot of direct flights from LAX (like the one I took to Warsaw last year), and it’s just a 2.5-hour train ride away.
I constantly worry about whether or not I’ve gotten the best deal when I book airfare, but I’ve gotten this down to a science, so I’m pretty confident in my skills. I’d love to hear if any of these tips helped you spend less on airfare!