That last one? Yeah, it can really wreak havoc on a budget. We enjoy our share of cheap little weekend getaways, but sometimes you really want to get away. You know? Over the years I’ve found some tricks that allow us to travel for less without becoming flight attendants or drug mules. Both would really cramp our style. These are strategies that can be used time and time again, with very little effort, by the average traveler. No mileage hacking or travel reward credit cards involved.
And because this topic is so broad and enormous, I’ve divided it into multiple posts; today’s post is PART ONE, and we’re talking about one of the most expensive factors of your trip…FLIGHTS.
Let’s get started.
I’m going to plan a virtual vacation right now, as I type this, so you can see that the discounts I’m talking about are not just random numbers I’m pulling out of the air. These are real trips I could book today for the prices I show you. I’m going to use my favorite destination, the island of Kauai, staying for 7 days, 6 nights in mid-June for 2 people. A fairly standard summer vacation plan.
Let’s pretend I’m a typical traveler living in my hometown of Sacramento, California. Many people tend to head over to Expedia.com, so I’ll start there and put in my search parameters…
Sacramento (SMF) to Lihue, Kauai (LIH), from Sunday, June 15th through Saturday, June 21st.
I get the following results…
CHEAPEST FLIGHT = $1,134 Roundtrip per person on United Airlines (x 2 = $2,268)
At this point, if you’re a “Travel Fool”, you go ahead and book it…deciding that must be the going rate for Kauai these days.
But I know better.
1) Be Like a Gymnast…and Get Flexible
First things first…flexibility is one of your biggest allies. This is how you’ll be able to find the deepest discounts. So do some mental stretches and get comfortable with the idea that you may not end up traveling on the day you want or the time of year you prefer. Or maybe you envisioned staying at a resort, but you’re okay staying at an alternative property.
In fact, you may find that thinking outside the box is not only cheaper but gives you an experience that typical vacations will never provide.
2) Get To Know Your Neighbors
Check neighboring cities when searching for airfare. Often you’ll find that if you drive just an hour or two, you can reach a hub airport where fares are cheaper. So let’s go back to our Kauai example.
If I change my departure airport to QSF (this is the code for “All San Francisco Bay Area” airports, see “Hint” below), and press “Search”…I get a new cheaper flight for the exact same dates…
San Jose, CA (SJC) to Lihue, Kauai (LIH) $970 Roundtrip per person on American Airlines
We’ve now dropped our flights from $1,139 to $970 per person…that is $338 in total savings to leave out of San Jose instead of Sacramento (less than a 2 hour drive away).
Hint: Did you know that you can often search and compare all regional airports at one time, by using what is called a “Metropolitan Airport Code”? For example, the New York City area (JFK / Newark / LaGuardia) is “NYC”. The Los Angeles area (LAX, Ontario, Orange County, Burbank) is “QLA”. The San Francisco Bay Area (San Francisco Intl / Oakland / San Jose) is “QSF”. Go here for a complete list. These codes are super convenient; when I entered “QSF”, the search engine looked for the cheapest fare out of ALL regional airports, and not just one.
3) Don’t Travel With the Pack
Travel on low-demand days of the week. I have the best luck with Tuesdays and Wednesdays. So let me do a little tap-tap-tap on my keyboard and change my dates. I’m going to shift my trip by just two days. I plug in a departure of Tuesday, June 17th through Monday, June 23rd and sure enough…I get an even cheaper fare!
San Jose, CA (SJC) to Lihue, Kauai (LIH) $693 Roundtrip per person on Delta Airlines
We’ve now dropped our flights from $1,139 to $693 per person…that is $892 in total savings to leave out of San Jose instead of Sacramento and by shifting our trip to Tuesday through Monday.
4) It’s Time to Get Off the Peak
If you’re not set on traveling a particular time of the year, find out the off-peak season for your destination and travel then. Once again, we’ll go back to our Kauai example. Instead of traveling in June, which is during a peak season in Hawaii, we’ll go in November. I plug in a new departure of Tuesday, November 4th through Monday, November 10th. And…you guessed it…the price dropped…AGAIN!
San Jose, CA (SJC) to Lihue, Kauai (LIH) $504 Roundtrip per person on Delta Airlines
We’ve now dropped our flights from $1,139 to $504 per person…that is $1,270 in total savings to leave out of San Jose instead of Sacramento, shifting our trip to Tuesday through Monday and going in November instead of June.
Did you catch that? Just from applying a handful of strategies, that took me 10 minutes…that’s a difference of…
$1,270…a 56% savings!
The “Travel Fool” would have paid $2,268 for 2 round-trip tickets, but since you’re the “Travel Savvy Cool Guy” you knew better and found them for $1,008!
You’re already on your way to vacationing at half-price…stay tuned for PART TWO…I can hardly wait…we’re just getting started!
UPDATE: I’ve been using a site called SkyScanner.com recently and I love it. It essentially does all of the steps above for you. You can even enter parameters that will search for the cheapest place to fly in the world anytime in the next year! So if you know you have $200 bucks to spend, just enter your departure airport, and it will tell you where you can fly and when in ascending order by price. Any destination under your max budget is a possible vacation spot!