How We Save Thousands of Dollars on Airfare (And You Can Too)

We haven’t always been savvy on how to save money on airfare.

In fact, it took traveling to 21 countries for us to realize that maybe it was time to open up frequent flier accounts. Yikes.

Luckily for our bank accounts, this past year saw us investing some time and energy into learning how to purchase tickets wisely.

And you know what the best part was? It didn’t even take that much time or energy.

With just a few simple steps, we’ve literally saved thousands of dollars on our airfare purchases.

We want to share how we do it. For full disclosure, we are by no means the experts. We don’t do mileage runs. We don’t read forums or research promotions. But we’ve still been pretty successful. Plus, at the end of the post we’re going to direct anyone who wants to take their travel hacking to another level to an awesome resource.

 

The Basics

There are a few super easy ways to save money on airfare. Many of these you might already be doing, but let’s go over them just to make sure:

 

1.    Be as flexible as possible

Be flexible with the dates you are flying. Be flexible with the times you are flying. If you can, be flexible with the airports you are flying into.

It’s amazing the difference a day can make in the price of a flight. Typically mid-week flights are less expensive as the demand for a Tuesday flight is less than that of a Friday flight; however, it’s always best to check all your options. We recently saved over one hundred dollars each on tickets to Europe by changing our departure date by one day.

 

2.    Shop for tickets at the right time

We stick by the notion that flights are the cheapest if you purchase them on Tuesday afternoons. However, it’s best to watch your ticket in advance and see if the price fluctuates at different times throughout the week.

Some say six to seven weeks before your desired departure date is the best timeframe to purchase a ticket. We are rarely that organized. Know that you will pay more if you purchase your ticket last minute or too far in advance.

 

3.    Get e-mail alerts from airlines and search engines

We always sign up to get email alerts about fare changes for the tickets we’re watching. We use Scyscanner, but there are certainly other options out there. It’s also a good idea to get email updates from major airlines. Discounts don’t always happen on Tuesdays, and sometimes the airlines don’t advertise their biggest promotions outside of their email list.

 

4.    Clear your cookies when searching for flights

I recently had an airline representative tell me that this is a gimmick, but I’m sticking by it. Just a few days ago when we were looking at tickets to Mexico, we watched the price double as we kept refreshing the search page. Some airlines and search engines track if you are a returning visitor and use this to gauge your likeliness to buy a ticket. The more times you visit the page, the higher the price goes up. It’s always safer to clear your browser’s cookies and cache to make it appear that it’s your first time looking at the flight.

 

5.    Call the airline

If you want to use a specific airline, always check to see if there is a less expensive rate that the representatives can see. This is especially true when making purchases with frequent flier miles. Let’s go back to that Mexico flight. We could only find tickets online for 80,000 frequent flier miles (economy class). When we called customer service, a representative found us the same flight for 60,000 miles in first class! Sometimes they will charge you a fee for purchasing the flight over the phone, but you might still end up saving money.

 

Our favorite way to save money on airfare comes at the airport itself. It takes a bit of luck, flexibility, and a pre-purchased ticket, but it can end up saving a lot of money in the long haul.

Get bumped. 

Airlines continually overbook their flights. They know that for some reason or another, a certain percentage of people who book flights won’t show up. However, their formula doesn’t always work out, and often there are more seats sold than available on the plane. By signing up to get bumped, you are giving up your seat. The airline will give you meal vouchers, pay for your hotel (should you need one), put you on the next plane, and—here’s the good part—give you a voucher towards your next flight. The value of the voucher depends on the airline, but from experience it’s around $600 for international and $300 for domestic. There are some catches to this. You have to use the voucher in a year from the date it’s issued and it cannot be combined with other offers (like frequent flier miles). Additionally, you must redeem it for tickets on the airline’s website (where prices are sometimes more expensive). Still, if you travel frequently, it can work to your benefit.

Note: Thanks for everyone in the comments who informed us we may be too proactive. If you volunteer to early you may not get a competitive offer. As with booking, timing is everything.

We paid $25 per person for our roundtrip tickets to Costa Rica because of vouchers we had from getting bumped. And that’s including baggage and taxes. That’s cheaper than filling up a tank of gas! Typically we ask the gate agents at the check-in counter if the flight is overbooked, and if so, request to be added to the bump list. Occasionally we get annoyed looks if the flight isn’t even close to being full, but normally they actually appreciate having volunteers. It’s best to ask early though—as more people learn about this trick, the competition is increasing!

 

Frequent Flier Miles 

Okay. Let’s get into the juicy stuff: frequent flier miles. Used correctly, frequent flier miles can save you some serious dough. And they aren’t nearly as difficult to obtain as you might think.

Most people don’t earn the majority of their frequent flier miles by actually being a frequent flier. Weird, right? By doing things you are already doing now, you could be earning miles towards your next trip.

Before you start earning miles though, you need to open up free accounts with the airlines. We have accounts with Delta, American Airlines, and United. Each of these airlines is in a different alliance, or network of airlines. You can typically earn to use miles on any airline within the alliance; hence why having one account within each alliance opens you up to the most reward possibilities.

Credit Cards 

Opening up credit cards that earn you miles is probably the quickest way to earn frequent flier miles. We’ve only started to utilize credit cards, but so far it is working well for us. Typically with an airline credit card, there is a hefty annual fee (that may or may not be waived the first year) and high interest rates. However, you’ll receive a generous number of miles for signing up for the card—often anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 miles! There are also added benefits, such as earning miles for every dollar spent on airfare, free baggage, boarding in the coveted “zone 1”, etc.

Obviously there is a lot to consider before opening up a whole slew of new credit cards just for the sake of miles. For one, there is the annual fee. It might be waived the first year, but you will need to decide if the benefits are worth keeping the card open after that. Should you decide to cancel the card, your credit score could drop a point or two.

More importantly, you have to decide how you handle credit. These cards are not the type to accumulate debt on. With the astronomical interest rates, you’ll want to pay off your total balance every month.

We have credit cards with Delta Skymiles American Express, Starwood American Express, American Aadvantage, and The Hyatt Chase, and we’re also in the process of applying for a Chase Sapphire. These cards have a variety of benefits and allow us to earn miles and hotel rooms. The annual fees pay for themselves in the miles and hotel rooms we use, and we don’t carry a balance on any of the cards.

If we are making any purchases—especially on airfare—we put them on these cards. That way all the money we are already spending is at least helping us work towards free flights. So if we want to make an online purchase, we put it on a skymiles card. Then every dollar we’re spending earns us one mile towards a flight. Sometimes our cards will even earn us 2 to 5 times the miles for every dollar spent.

 

If credit cards aren’t for you, there are other ways to earn miles! Buying something from BestBuy? Do it on a site like Mileage Plus Shopping and you’ll earn one mile for every dollar spent- no special credit card required. Similarly, you can earn miles with restaurants you normally eat at  from programs like Skymiles Dining. The important thing here is to make the money you’re already spending do more for you.

 

The Resource

We’ve only covered the basics of how to save money on airfare. However, if you want to get serious about earning frequent flier miles and staying in the know on what promotions are happening, we recommend the Travel Hacking Cartel. All our knowledge about frequent flier programs comes from here, and we’re huge fans of the founder, Chris Guillebeau. There’s a 14-day free trial and then it’s $15 a month. The program truly streamlines the process of understanding and obtaining frequent flier miles. If you are saving for a big upcoming trip or know that you’ll be traveling often, this is for you. We are paying members ourselves, and since our membership we’ve earned enough miles for two free international flights—without spending any extra money. Score!

 

Travel Hacking Cartel is an affiliate link. However, we only recommend products we use personally.

 

So that’s what we do. Now let’s hear from you.

What do you do to save money on airfare? Have you tried any of the tips above or do you have any to add yourself?

We love hearing success stories and adding more tips to our books! 

 

Meet: Casey Siemasko


Casey Siemasko is a blogger, content marketer, and co-founder of A Cruising Couple. She has been living and traveling outside of the US full-time since 2011. She finds her life inspiration in exploring the world and seeks to find the magic in the most ordinary of places.

41 Comments

  1. Love love love this post! I’ve read a lot about how to save on travel, and the serious, dedicated hacking I read about seems way too time consuming for me to actually do. These tips are totally doable though! My travel drive has been restored 🙂

    Reply
    • YAY! I’m so glad. We also hesitated for so long in part because we didn’t think the time we had to put into it would end up making any difference. It’s amazing the ways you can save with just a few little adjustments though. Let us know if we can ever help you! We have to keep that travel drive in top gear 🙂

      Reply
  2. The bump list is a great idea if you can do it! Now that I don’t have a ‘real’ job in the ‘real’ world anymore, my traveling is a lot more flexible. The flights to the island I live on are ALWAYS oversold, and I’ve got some sweet vouchers for volunteering in the past. However, I never sign up for the list…I just wait and see what happens. I’ve seen the airline up the ante several times before people will offer their seats, so I wouldn’t always go for the first offer!
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted…Things your scuba diving instructor will never tell you….My Profile

    Reply
    • That’s awesome that you’ve got to take advantage of those vouchers! And thanks for the tip about waiting to see what happens. Haha I guess it’s a testament to my impatience that I’m always the first person at the desk asking about it. Going to try to play it cool on our way home from Costa Rica… 😉

      Reply
  3. This whole issue has always really confused me, and to be honest, I’ve been too easily overwhelmed to actually try and get my head around it. Chris’ resource looks like a great place to start though; thanks for the recommendation!
    Sam recently posted…From Bean to Bar: Learning to Make Chocolate in LimaMy Profile

    Reply
    • For sure! Yea it is definitely a confusing subject, and that’s exactly why we waited so long to start utilizing things like loyalty programs and credit cards. Once you get into it though it gets much easier! The Travel Hacking Cartel definitely breaks it all down and streamlines the learning process. I’m not sure how it all works in Europe though and if that makes it more difficult.

      Reply
  4. I have been booking my flight tickets for the past 5 years and I’ve learnt one thing- being flexible with your date and flight destination is crucial. I have been so unlucky every time I try to book a flight back home. The prices are so high and I spend hours in front of my computer screen trying to find some discount tickets. I’ve heard of loyalty cards you can use with your favourite airlines. They can save you a lot of money (which you have already mentioned). Great tips!
    Agness recently posted…How To Combine A Full-Time Job With Long-Term TravelMy Profile

    Reply
    • Thanks Agness! Loyalty cards might really help you if flying back and forth from Asia to Europe. I lived in Europe for less than a year, but I will always miss those budget airlines that hop all over! That’s awesome that being flexible has helped you though- it’s amazing the difference small changes can make!

      Reply
  5. I really need to get a credit card with frequent flyer miles. I am booking so many flights, so it would be really worthwhile I think. Thanks for the tips guys!
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted…My Cambodia homestay experienceMy Profile

    Reply
    • Definitely! The nice part about signing up for the cards is getting the huge mileage bonus at the start. If you know you will be flying often, I definitely think you would take advantage of it! Good luck!

      Reply
    • We’re also guilty of forgetting to clear our cache! Definitely try for the bump list next time you fly! It doesn’t always work, but when it does it’s awesome 🙂

      Reply
  6. I love this and shared it, I need to postmark it so I can come back I really divest it and put it on my to do list to get it done and go see more. ;o)

    Thanks so much
    God speed to you
    kymee ;o)

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing it! We hope it is useful to lots of people 🙂 Let us know if you ever have questions about the tips!

      Reply
  7. Nice one guys! I honestly have never heard of the “bump” thing! I can’t believe you got your tickets to Costa Rica for $25each? Unreal. We’re going to look into that for sure. I also like the tips about the frequent flier miles, we haven’t gotten into that yet because we haven’t found a good one for Canadians. Going to check out your affiliate link now.

    Cheers for all of the helpful tips!
    Dariece @GoatsOnTheRoad recently posted…Travelling The Pamir Highway: High Lakes, Hiking & Holy Shrines-Keng Shiber To BulunkulMy Profile

    Reply
    • Thanks! Yea I’ve definitely heard that it is much more difficult for Canadians 🙁 I think the Travel Hacking Cartel does have resources though for people living outside of the US, so I hope that it’s helpful! At least try the bump list. I had a friend who always had to fly around the holidays, and he would end up getting bumped like four or five times in a row and then fly the rest of the year for free. We haven’t been that lucky, but it never hurts to try! Good luck!!

      Reply
  8. As for volunteering on overbooked flights, be sure to not sign up to early as you won’t get a good amount. I’ve worked as a gate agent for 5+ years and while we do love it when people volunteer before we even mention the flight is oversold/weight restricted, you might only get a $150 offer. Be sure to be close to the gate when they are making announcements so you can take advantage of their more desperate offers.

    Another thing to note, is if they say a flight is oversold/overbooked and you are bumped from the flight involuntarily, they have to pay at least the full amount they were offering for volunteers and possibly more depending on your ticket. However if it is due to a weight restriction, volunteer before you get bumped, because if you get bumped involuntarily from one of these flights you will not receive the full amount, it’s usually around $200, which is ok, but not much when they’ve just screwed your whole day up.

    Also the people at check-in counters are Ticket Agents, not Flight Attendants, and the ones at the gate are Gate Agents. All different jobs, just wanted to clarify as Airline folk are a very proud folk haha.

    Reply
    • Thanks so much for all the information! Glad to get it from the source, too 🙂 We made the edit to say gate attendant, thanks for letting us know! I guess we’ll have to try our patience and wait until they ask for volunteers next time. We’ve seen more and more people doing it lately which is why we always ask as soon as we arrive. I don’t know if this is an odd question, but would you know what percentage of flights normally require volunteers to get bumped? It seems every time we are at the airport we hear the announcement, but I’m not sure if we have just been lucky.

      Reply
      • Can’t say that I have a specific percentage, but on an average 8 hour shift I would encounter anywhere from 1-3 overbooked flights on an non-weather delayed day (called O.SO – off schedule operations – in the industry). Granted I worked at O’Hare for the regional carrier of one of the top 3 carriers in the U.S., so we saw 300-350 flights a day.

        Best days for overbookings I’d say are Friday & Monday, with Sundays in a close 3rd.

        Saturdays can be overbooked but are generally considered a light travel day and carriers have reduced schedules these days. You do not want to get delayed on a Saturday, chances are you could get stuck overnight even if it’s only 4 in the afternoon. Though if it’s earlier on in the day it’s not too bad, but still not a great day to travel if you’re worried about delays.

        That being said, all days see overbooked flights, unless it’s January and a blizzard hasn’t screwed anything up.

        Other things to take into consideration are bad weather days – not that you can plan these – but if you have the ability to be bumped, even to the next day, they can become a goldmine. I often worked 12-16 hour days much like the rest of my colleagues and I’ve had a few people who know what they’re doing and would volunteer for every single flight that day, racking up $800-1500 in vouchers. Some of them I would give advice to, “If you really don’t care when you get there the next 2 are overbooked by 3 so you should be able to volunteer for those as well.”

        I could go on & on about this stuff, but this comment is becoming a blog post in itself haha.

        Oh one more thing, if you have a mileage/frequent flyer membership make sure to ask if they’ll give you some miles for volunteering as well. If they are desperate enough you could get 1-2K bonus miles!

        also .. Max payout on regional carriers is $500 and $800-1000 on mainline carriers. The max is not always allowed, but 9 times out of 10 it will get there if they truly need it.

        OK, NOW I’m ending this.
        Devlin @ Marginal Boundaries recently posted…Comment on Beaches In Cancun – Puerto Morelos by T.W. AndersonMy Profile

        Reply
  9. We generally don’t fly that much unless is very necessary. Those tips are super precious for us because we aren’t experts when it comes to flights. For instance I’ve never heard of getting bumped, amazing! Thanks again 🙂
    Franca recently posted…Weekend Photo Theme – Little LucyMy Profile

    Reply
    • We were pretty amazed when we heard about getting bumped after it happened to a friend of ours. It seems like a pretty easy way to snag a free opportunity to fly. We were even more surprised when it actually happened to us! :-p

      Reply
  10. I’m pretty useless when it comes to booking flights. For instance, like Franca, I’ve never heard of getting bumped before? I also never, ever sign up for frequent flyer miles which after reading this post, is just dumb! Thanks!

    Reply
    • Up until recently we had no idea about most of this stuff, but we fly quite frequently now so every little bit adds up. It took me too long to sign up for frequent flyer programs as well. We missed out on a bunch of miles we would have earned anyway because we were already flying. But we were to lazy to take 2 mins to sign up for the free reward program. When it comes to frequent flyer programs there’s no excuse not to :-p

      Reply
    • Thanks Brian! I hope they help you get a better deal on your next trip.

      Reply
  11. Just a note on your getting bumped advice… The airlines are legally required to pay you much much more than the value of those tickets if you get bumped, especially for an international flight. By willingly accepting vouchers you are relinquishing them of their obligation and saving the airline boatloads of money… Look it up! I read this in an article in Travel and Leisure. 😉

    Reply
    • Thanks for the heads up! Maybe it is better to hold out until the airline is desperate enough to give you a full value ticket, but then again you might lose your chance to get bumped at all if someone else is willing to settle for less. It’s a tricky game. Since we are rarely on a tight schedule we would rather take something over missing the opportunity.

      Reply
  12. That’s some good stuff! I’ve always been worried about getting put on the bump list and then having it mess up my itinerary. I don’t fly too often, so typically when I do, I’m on a tight time frame.
    Kenin Bassart recently posted…Taking the First Step to Getting HealthyMy Profile

    Reply
    • We are pretty lucky to allow lots of room for flexibility when we fly. Call us optimistic, but we’ve even started planning our dates to make sure if we do get bumped it won’t throw off our entire schedule.

      Reply
  13. What worked the best for me is definitely being flexible and getting email alerts from airliners. Most of the time they advertise their promotions through newsletter or social media pages. Saved me a lot of money!
    Zori recently posted…Make Free International Calls With RebtelMy Profile

    Reply
    • Those email alerts have some really great deals. We have a separate email dedicated to airline alerts just so we can keep them all organized!

      Reply
  14. For those with less experience searching for flights, Flightfox is an excellent resource too. You pay $39 and have specialists finding you the best flight/price on a given route. It might sound like you loose $39 on top of your flights but these guys will come across excellent prices, almost for sure. We tried them a couple of times with good savings (for very long, multi-country, expensive flights). Better if you can book by yourself, but if you don’t want the hassle or don’t know where to start, this is a good option too.
    Zara @ Backpack ME recently posted…Mommy, is that you?My Profile

    Reply
    • Thanks for the tip! We’ve never heard of them but sounds like a pretty good resource.

      Reply
  15. Great post guys. Definitaly very useful right now when I’m trying to find good deals towards our next adventure in Mexico.

    Reply
    • That’s awesome!! Good luck 🙂 We’ll also be in Mexico in January and February 🙂

      Reply
  16. My brother suggested I might like this website. He was totally right.
    This post truly made my day. You cann’t imagine simply
    how much time I had spent for this information!
    Thanks!
    buy a property in Singapore recently posted…buy a property in SingaporeMy Profile

    Reply
  17. Always using air miles, usually to upgrade for business/first class.

    Reply

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