Transportation can easily be the greatest single expense of a trip. The expense of meals is easy to adjust, you can chose to eat in a five star restaurant, eat at local vendors off the street, or buy local groceries and make your own meals. You can stay in a 5 star hotel or a hostel. Deals can be found in a lot of areas, but it is harder to economize on an airline ticket. Still, with a bit of work, research, and flexibility it is often possible to substantially lower your costs!
Obviously good places to start are comparison websites like Expedia or Travelocity that compare and contrast fares. In my mind though, they really just set a baseline and give you ballpark average so you will recognize a deal when you find it.
When comparing air fares, consider flights into the surrounding airports, not just the major local hub. Most large cities have more than one airport. The Washington DC metropolitan area has three. London has four. Frankfurt has two. Dallas has two and New York City has three. You get the point. Different airlines have hubs at different airports and prices will depend on your origin. However, you can also think more broadly and creatively. For example, if you need to get to DC, Philadelphia and New York City are both an easy drive, and it’s common for flights into New York City to be much cheaper. When thinking outside the box like this, be sure to take the extra time and cost into account.
A family of four coming to northern Virginia for a two week vacation will probably rent a car anyway, so if they can save $75 per person on a flight into Newark, it’s probably worth it. On the other hand, if all you’ve got is a 3 day holiday weekend and are traveling by yourself, then flying into La Guardia to get to DC wouldn’t be worth the extra time and expense. On the other hand, the opposite could be true if you are traveling from DC to London. International flights are significantly cheaper into Dublin or the continent (Berlin or Frankfurt). If you are traveling alone and light, you can pick up a European discount airline and make the final leg very affordable, and maybe even gain a bonus half-day in another city. Adding a layover like this for frugality reasons probably won’t be worth the extra time and hassle with a larger group or if you have to pay high luggage fees, or extra transit for several people.
Unless you’re traveling for a very specific reason or event, try to be flexible on your destination. I’ve been blessed to live overseas for many years, and with proper expectation management you can take advantage of Europe’s wonderful discount airlines. While living in London I would hop online Wed afternoon and check out the 1 penny sales from Easy Jet and Ryan Air. Similarly, while living in Turkey, I would stalk sales on Turkish Airlines and Pegasus Airlines. Not only does this mean you will find wonderful deals, it will expand your destination options in new and unpredictable ways. You’ll likely end up on an awesome trip that you never dreamed of, and in fact this is how I first ended up in the Balkans. I’ve since returned many times to explore this beautiful and diverse region.
The US doesn’t have quite the same kind of discount airlines that Europe does. American discount carriers tend to be smaller, regional, and don’t always advertise or show up on comparison websites. Keep an eye on AirFareWatchDog and WhichAirlines. I am personally a huge fan of WhichAirlines and often just put in my origin and hit search to see what magical locations come up! If your heart is set on one destination in particular, get acquainted with the apps Skiplagged and Skyscanner. Also, visit the website of the airport or airports you are looking at and see what airlines fly into and out of that airport. You might be surprised and find one or two worth investigating.
Don’t be afraid to mix and match airlines. Many airlines these days sell one way fares, and it’s not the security red flag that it used to be. You can mix up your departure and return flights, or, if you don’t live in a major city, you can build your own itinerary cheaper than the airlines have the ability to offer.
Don’t forget and certainly don’t underestimate the value frequent flyer miles. Maximizing your miles and points programs can become a second travel related hobby, with remarkable and memorable results.
All of these strategies have repeatedly and successfully worked for me over the years, it does take a little extra work, time, and planning, but that’s part of the fun of travel. If you’d like some help and guidance don’t hesitate to let me know!
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