4 Ways to Save On Airfare

Guest post by Abby of Mother on a Mission

I enjoy thinking big when it comes to saving money. Getting a great deal on a large purchase, like a plane ticket, can often surpass the savings you’ll see from a month of clipping coupons for the grocery store (don’t worry, I do that, too).

With countless websites promising the deepest discounts on airfare, it would be entirely possible to spend hours upon hours in search of the lowest rate. Instead of wasting time doing that, you can follow a few easy tips to save yourself the hassle and headache of an hours-long search.

1. Use an airfare search engine.

My personal favorite is kayak.com, because it really just facilitates your search of hundreds of other sites, both individual airline sites, like Delta, and discount airfare sites, like Expedia. Just use whatever website you’re most comfortable with, since most offer similar features.

2. Be flexible.

Typically, the cheapest days to fly are in the middle of the week, and the most expensive days are Friday and Sunday. So, if you want to get the best price on a plane ticket (and if you have wiggle room in your plans) select the “flexible dates” option when you search. This will allow you to select a date, and then search up to three days before and after.

You can also choose to search nearby airports. I recently bought plane tickets for my husband and I to fly to Florida for a friend’s wedding. I listed a larger city as the destination airport, but I also opted to search nearby airports. I ended up booking flights into a smaller airport that is actually closer to where we’ll be staying. Not only are the departure and arrival times ideal, but the price was about $50 less per ticket.

3. Consider Southwest.

Southwest sometimes gets a bad reputation for their no-frills approach to flying. By cutting costs, though, they’re able to pass their savings on to the customer. In addition, Southwest consistently receives top scores in customer service. The thing to remember about Southwest is that the only place to find their airfare is through their own website; a search at an independent travel site will not include results for Southwest.

Southwest allows each passenger two checked bags for free, and they’re one of the few remaining airlines to do that. Most other airlines charge at least $25 per checked bag; depending on your travel plans and your potential need to check luggage, this is a savings that should be taken into account when booking a flight.

4. Use a coupon.

You can’t clip a coupon for a discount on airfare the way you can for toothpaste, but there are still ways to save. If you work for a large company, you might get travel discounts through your employer. Don’t forget to do a quick internet search for a coupon code before you purchase.

And remember, the savings don’t end when you book your flight. Keep looking for ways to save money once you reach your destination!

Abby is a work-from-home wife and mom who recently relocated from Oregon to Mississippi. She enjoys baking, front-porch-swinging, and road trips. Abby blogs about southern living and saving money at Mother on a Mission and runs the Etsy shop, Three Thousand Miles, with her sister-in-law.

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Comments

  1. denise says

    I don’t know about anyone else but I always get terrible customer service from Southwest! I fly them when they are my only option but I really prefer almost any other airline!

    But I agree wholeheartedly with #1 and #2! Sometimes changing your trip dates just a tad bit can save you a whole bunch! And Kayak makes that really easy to check!

    • says

      I’ve had poor customer service from nearly every airline, most recently American in December. The thing I appreciate most about Southwest is the free checked bags. Even if their fares are comparable to other airlines, we can check three bags and save ourselves $150 round trip.

      • denise says

        Interesting since American is the one that has given me the best customer service in the past! Probably just depends on the mood of the person.

  2. says

    While I know this site as a whole does not condone credit card use, we do use a credit card and pay it off in full each month. Doing so has allowed us to rack up reward points that we recently cashed in for a completely free airline ticket for myself to fly to a friend’s wedding in March. If you can use a credit card wisely, reward points are a wonderful benefit!

    • says

      My husband and I use our credit card only for booking flights. We always make a payment immediately after the purchase, and then we redeem the points we earned for a restaurant gift card. Each round trip flight gets us a $50 gift card.

      I know people who put every possible monthly expense on their credit cards to take advantage of the rewards. They keep a register just as they would for a checkbook. The register also tells them how much they have in their checking account, so they always know the balance of their account versus the balance on their card. I’m not sure how I feel about running that much on a credit card every month, but if I was going to, that’s how I’d do it.

      • says

        We do something similar to that, Abby. We use our debit card for the first ten purchases of the month in order to meet the rewards requirement for that, then switch over to using our credit card. It is always paid off in full each month and we reap the benefits of the rewards! We cashed come of the rewards points in at Christmas time for a few free Christmas gifts as well. Another way we took advantage of our rewards points was by having my parents use our credit card to pay for our wedding. They were gracious enough to do so and it earned us thousands of extra points.

    • Meredith says

      We use our credit card for flights too. We have family in California and Michigan so we are always traveling so the credit card is a benefit. We dedided to get an American Express Gold card. We get a free bag for each traveler, got a free ticket for signing up, and we usually get a free ticket after each trip taken. I know this site is a credit card no no place but we pay it off as soon as it posts so we are really disciplined with it. If you travel frequently, it’s worth it.

    • says

      My husband and I do the same – we use a credit card for the points and pay it off in full every month. We actually got 2 free Southwest flights with their card. Love it!

  3. Jeannine says

    These are some great ideas. If you travel frequently sign up for Rapid Rewards on Southwest. I recently flew one leg of a trip for free after flying only 3 roundtrips to the same the destination. And my companion flew for only $55 OOP. Great deals are out there, but sometimes you must jump through hoops to get them.

  4. says

    We flew with our 3 children for the first time (with kids) this past year, and we flew with Southwest. We LOVED it! We purchased our tickets on a deep sale ($59/each), and loved the flexibility. (I changed our flight several times–I originally purchased them while pregnant, then had a rough pregnancy, and so rebooked after the baby was born.) I also love that we can pick our own seats–this is great when you have kids (assuming the plane isn’t crowded, which it wasn’t).

    We may be flying internationally with our children later this year (also deeply discounted through an airline sale), and so I’m a little sad we won’t get to go with Southwest! :)

  5. Amy says

    We own a small business and use the Southwest Visa to purchase items. It allows us to get a free “companion pass” for the year and also enough points to fly the rest of us out to family at Christmas. The key is to start looking several months in advance to get the Wanna Get Away fare, which also takes less points. A family of six can appreciate not paying extra for baggage too! Make sure to check in right at 24 hrs ahead online to get in the A boarding group and you wont run into any problems.

  6. says

    I love these ideas! We are hoping to take a trip this summer and I have yet tried to “budget shop” for airline tickets and I am now looking forward to it.

    • says

      I definitely get a little excitedwhen I do all the legwork to book our flights and we end up paying less than I thought we might. Good luck!

  7. Shannon says

    We use Southwest because we are able to fly all the way from the Midwest to the West by direct flight which is huge with a 2 year old. They also include 2 bags each with no additional charges and they are all around the most competitively priced. If you do not have a child, you can also pay the extra $10 to be in the first grouping of people to board to choose your own seats since Southwest doesn’t assign seating.

  8. maureen says

    Thanks for your tid bits on flying. Are there are coupons or codes for rental cars. We have a family of 5. When we go to my mom’s in FLorida we need something to hold all of us . Any considerations would be helpful

    • Amy f;) says

      YES! there are coupon codes with rental car companies. there are tons of ways to save, depending on how much effort you want to spend. Its a little like flight-shopping, if there is an extra-high demand for rentals while you are there, then the price will go up. Sometimes, its cheaper at a nearby airport that is only a fast shuttle ride away or someplace where your mom could easily pick it up for you on the way to teh airport.

      I’ll do a search at a place like kayak and then search for codes on retailmenot and then shop through ebates or shopathome before I make my final purchase that I pay for with a cash back credit card. Before you actually buy, I would recommend reading a couple of articles, because the fine print can get overwhelming the first few times you rent a car and they will point out better than I could things to watch out for so that the rental experience is a good one;)

  9. Nicole says

    Southwest is the absolute best! No change fees, lots of options, and – for 99% of the time – no extra fees. Sit where you want on the plane (no assigned seats), and if you fly a lot, you can choose someone to fly with you for free!! :) :)

  10. Susan I says

    So interesting that you wrote about this today, because I just read about how airlines are increasing costs in so many different areas to try to recoup money, and two things that some airlines are doing are (1) charging for carry-on bags and (2) charging fees when you redeem your frequent flyer miles.
    Here are some other tricks of the trade when trying to score cheaper tickets; some I’ve used and some I’ve just read about.

    1. check online on Tuesday. Airlines evidently start a sale on a Monday and others will follow suite to stay competitive and so all the sales would show up online by Tuesday afternoon.
    2. book online. The article I read also mentioned this, but by calling the airline, you would incur the booking fee. But don’t necessarily read this to mean you shouldn’t use travel agents. We have relatives who are travel agents and while we do most of our flight booking ourselves online, when we travel oversees we usually book through them and I’ve checked them against the prices advertised on line and they have been the same, or cheaper.
    3. Don’t think that you have to book super duper early. About 3 months in advance is the earliest you need, and you can still score deals up until about 2 weeks prior. Also, there are a couple of online sites, bing.com comes to my mind first will predict whether the fares to your destination are going to go up or down in price so you can always gamble a bit and wait to book if bing.com thinks the fare is going to go down in price.

    Personally I’ve never had a problem with Southwest and would pick them more if they flew to places I go. They started off as a no frills airline, and they have the cattle car boarding down to a science. Plus, lets face it, not a lot of airlines are really giving any kind of perks anymore. Gone are the days when you could actually get a real meal if you flew during mealtime. Might not have been the tastiest food, but hey, at least I was able to eat lunch at lunch time!

    • joy says

      Love Southwest… Have flown with them 90% of our traveling. Great customer service… check 2 bags free and a big one.. Can change flights.. with No cost.

    • Susan says

      You can eat lunch at your lunch time — just take something with you to eat. I’d rather pay less for airfare than pay more for airfare with meal service.

      That said, we flew to Beijing recently (United), and the food on the plane was plentiful and quite good.

    • Gwen says

      I wouldn’t consider it a cattle car. Getting a boarding number has eliminated the need to wait in line. The ability to change flights without the $100 change fee is awesome. I was gold on American and Continental at points in my life and there’s really no difference in the airlines anymore. The only thing with AA or Con was maybe I could get first class upgrades.

  11. Ann says

    Also check out smaller, regional no frills airlines, which also don’t appear on Kayak. W recently used Allegiant and had a good trip (but pack your own snacks and be careful about packing–they even charge for roll on suitcases!)

    You might also consider flying out of a different airport. It might be worth the drive to save on plane tickets, especially if you’re flying more than just a couple of people.

    • Kristin says

      I was also going to suggest Allegiant. I live in Florida and we have one small airport (in addition to our huge airport) that uses Allegiant. I can fly anywhere up the East coast and in the Midwest some for anywhere from $15-$45 each way. I have used it a few times and have no complaints.

      You do have to be flexible with your travel dates though bc they only fly on certain days.

  12. Kathryn says

    We love Southwest and fly with them almost exclusively. Their prices are GREAT and who doesn’t love being serenaded with Christmas songs during holiday travel.

  13. Christy says

    I just saw something on the news and thought I heard southwest is going to start charging for baggage but I could be totally wrong.
    We don’t fly a lot, but when we do we always look for the small airlines at the airports we are going to and check them first. For example we have basically flown with allegient air and have been able to fly round trip for $100 we don’t pay for any of the extras. We pack food for the plan and once we get through security either fill empty bottles with water or buy one drink out of a machine before we get on the plane. I have heard they are now charging for carry on bags, but I’m not sure how much and we haven’t flown since they started that.

  14. Rebekah Williams says

    If you book through travelocity you can use shopathome.com to get 1-2% cash back as well! It’s not really a big percentage until you factor in buying plane tickets for a family of 5 to Maine (to see the grandparents :=) ) and then we definitely save more than I can rack up using swagbucks or coupons for a month.

    • Abigail's Mommy says

      Jet Blue goes to Boston now. They give you the first bag free.

      Not sure where they live in Maine. It is worth it for us to fly nonstop to Boston, then drive to Maine. Might not be worth it if they the live in norther Maine. “Only” 2.5 hours to Auburn/Lewiston area. It is about half the cost for us. We are flying from DFW.

      • Rebekah Williams says

        Up to Bangor :(. Not worth it yet to fly into Boston, but once our youngest requires a ticket I’m guessing we’ll revisit the idea.

        • Rebekah Williams says

          Actually it looks like they have stops in Portland and Bar Harbor, too. It’s getting out of the KY/TN area that’s the problem!

          • Abigail's Mommy says

            Defiantly worth it to fly into Bangor then. Are the in Bangor? Or the Bangor area? (Anywhere north, east or west of Bangor. If you don’t live in Maine.) :)

            It would probably be cheaper to fly them to you. Though you would be missing the seeing Maine’s views and eating good Italian food. (The two things I miss most besides friends/family.)

            • Rebekah Williams says

              FIL doesn’t fly. :( And we most recently got to enjoy single digit highs a couple weeks ago! ;-)

              • Abigail's Mommy says

                My FIL wouldn’t fly either.

                You went in winter?!? We will only go in summer if I can help it. 30 years of the cold and snow was enough for me. We plan on going this June. Hopefully “mud season” will done by then.

                • Rebekah Williams says

                  ‘Cheap’ plane tickets in January. :)

                  We’ve been in May and in June before, beautiful both times. Fewer black flies in June!

                  • Abigail's Mommy says

                    Oh. Not sure if it would make a different for us after I bought DD warmer gear. With boots, a real winter coat, snow pants, proper mittens, long johns or lined pant and sweaters. She is cold here when it is in 50s and heats snow. Your kids probably already have gear though.

  15. says

    Depending on where you are going, another great option is Spirit Airlines (www.spiritair.com). They are no frills for sure & you have to pay for every bag and every little additional thing you want to add, but if you just want a basic flight, they are great! My husband and I flew from DFW, TX to Orlando, FL last fall and our roundtrip total cost was $162 + $30 for one checked bag that we shared. One personal item a piece is free, but carry-ons cost extra, so we didn’t take carry-ons. Service was adequate, everyone was kind, definitely worth the $150+ we saved over what we would have paid flying any other airline. They also have a frequent flyer deal.

  16. Chelsea says

    I’ve started to LOVE Southwest. I have flown everywhere, with many different airlines and the first time I ever flew SW was because I scored an uber cheap $60 flight. Ever since that flight I haven’t flown with anyone other than them. Yes, they are the equivalent to the People Mover in Detroit, so don’t expect the high life, but I’ve never once received bad service from them!

    PLUS, if you have a flight that happens to get overbooked, SW is the only airline that would not only give you an additional free flight, but they’ll give you spending money for choosing to take one of their later flights for helping them out last minute.

    After my next flight through them in two weeks, I will be getting another free trip. :)

  17. Susan says

    We travel somewhat frequently. The thing that saves me the most money on airline tickets is to purchase them during a promotion. Airlines have promotions all the time. I’m surprised the author did not mention this in the post. As soon as I even think of the possibility of a trip, I sign up for alerts. Then when a promotion comes up with dates that work for me, I snatch them.

    I like Southwest and have never had a bad experience. Just be sure to confirm online 24 hours before your flight to be able get towards the head of the line come boarding time. Another thing I really like about them is how easy it is to change a reservation. They do not charge for this. If fares are higher when you re-book than they were when you originally booked, you simply pay the difference. Knowing how simple this is makes it easy to buy tickets when I have a good idea of when we want to go where, even if our dates are not 100% firm.

    • says

      Thanks for mentioning this! When I started writing the article, I quickly realized it could easily be a two- or three-part post. There are tons of ways to make sure you don’t pay more than you have to to fly.

  18. Rebekah Williams says

    I typically love Southwest, but upon reflection I have one major complaint.

    I was traveling across the country last year with a 4 year old and a nearly-2 year old while 15 weeks pregnant. I was carrying a HEAVY car seat and all of our carry-ons (enough stuff to entertain two kids for 4 hours on a plane!). I got to “pre-board” AFTER the entire A group. It was lousy because most of the A group (which you cannot get in to without paying extra) was single people taking the aisle seat, which meant that to fit all of us into an empty row we had to head straight for the back of the plane. I was not pleased. I submitted a complaint to customer service when I got home and they replied basically saying “tough. you should pay more to board earlier.” I flew Delta recently with my husband and the kiddos (including the baby now!) and they were much MUCH more family-friendly.

    • says

      That is my biggest complaint, too. When my husband and I fly with our two year old and our six month old, it’s so frustrating to watch those people file on while we wait. Our strategy is just to head immediately to the back of the plane. It allows us to get everyone situated without worrying about getting out of the way. I’m not sure what I would do, though, if my husband wasn’t with us to carry the heavy car seat.

      • Gwen says

        It’s an extra $10 to get an A boarding pass. Pay for one and whoever it is, carry on the two year old and the car seat (assuming the 2 year old has their own ticket). Pick your row. Sit the two year old in the window seat while you’re installing the car seat. No offense, but no one is going to want to sit in your row b/c you have an infant and two year old. People won’t bother you for that extra seat, I promise. And if they do, just tell them your husband is in the bathroom. Your husband can board with the infant, 2 year old in car seat buckle yourself in and be done.

        Even if 2 year old doesn’t have seat, no one is going to want to sit with 2 year old and infant . You won’t have a problem getting the row you want.

        • says

          That’s a great idea! I never considered paying the money for just one or two of us. Usually we don’t mind the back of the plane, but this would be great if I’m flying by myself with the kids, or if we have a short layover. Thanks!

          And, yes, we seem to travel with some sort of invisible force field, because no one wants to sit anywhere near the toddler and the infant.

      • Kay says

        To play devil’s advocate – the reason they can keep the fares low is by charging people for specific “frill” items from an a la carte menu. So if you want the lowest priced fare, you might have to give up something such as boarding early, extra leg room etc.

  19. says

    I really love Southwest. Their fares are hard to beat. Another thing to do is to allow yourself to be bumped if you have the chance. Yesterday, I was flying (Southwest, actually) and my husband and I volunteered to be bumped if we needed to. They would have given us $300 apiece, plus refunded our current fare, and we would have still arrived at our destination the same day. It didn’t work out for us b/c they didn’t end up needing two people, but it did work out for one guy!

  20. Sakura says

    I fly about twice a month and try to stick with southwest. I have never noticed any poor customer service from them. I stick with one airline to rack up points. I also use a southwest Visa to book flights, rental cars and hotels. I just pay off the card when the bill arrives. By combing the card with air travel I was able to fly my family of five to disneyworld and we have enough points for our 2013 vacation. I always book months early if the airfare looks good and I always check airfare on Tuesday.

  21. says

    I love kayak.com. I heard on the Today Show awhile back that calling an airline directly after 12 midnight on a Tuesday can land you some big deals. I also make sure I pack properly and use a checklist to save money.

    • Laurie says

      Another vote for SW!!!! If SW does not fly to our destination we do not go. We go to Walt Disney World every year and this past Sept I found R/T tickets from Omaha ne to Orlando for $200/pp. I have also have their CC and I use it for all major purchases,have charged over $4,000 of medical bills on to it over the last 3 months. Even bought my last car on it and paid it all off when I got home. Thanks to a nice emergency fund the money was there. I feel very secure when we fly with them and they are awesome in customer service. Would never fly any other airline except when we travel Internationnaly.

  22. SusanR says

    I LOVE Southwest Airlines! In my pre-children life, I used to travel a lot for work. I was a Northwest Airlines fan, as I lived near their hub and I didn’t want a connecting flight if I could avoid it. I avoided SWA because I did not want to connect, and I did not like how they did the “cattle call” loading of the plane.

    But now they’ve changed how they load the plane, and as long as you check in online 24 hours prior to your flight, you are just fine! Their customer service is superior to any other airline I have ever experienced. Their prices are the best 98% of the time, especially once you factor in that you do not have to pay the ridiculous new $25/bag fee all the other airlines have. They treat my children so well. I can deal with a connection to go with SWA. The only time I fly any other airline is when I have to travel (once a year) for work, and I want to go with no connection to spend as little time away from home as possible.

    I have over a million flight miles under my belt. And SWA wins in my book!

  23. Rachel says

    If you are on Swagbucks, you can use the “Shop & Earn” option for Travelocity, Expedia, Hotwire and even Southwest (only 1SB per $, though, for SW). Just log in to Swagbucks first and click the link to go to your booking site from SB’s site. (I just booked through Travelocity – Kayak found the same price ticket but no SBs!)

    I do like SW, but they don’t fly into Dallas, TX, except from neighboring states (OK, LA, NM, etc.) It’s not their fault – when DFW opened that was one of their stipulations – less competition from a lower-cost airlines, I guess! We live in NC, and Dallas is really the only place we fly!

    Thanks for this post (and the comments – I’m going to try the “booking on Tuesdays” one next time!)

    • says

      I just Google the name of an airline, or simply the word “airline” and “coupon” or “coupon code”. You can also search for coupon codes through Retail Me Not or Coupon Cabin. I always book airline tickets and hotel rooms through either ShopAtHome or Ebates.

  24. Dahlia says

    The one tip that really works I’ve used is to either clear the cookies from your browser or use an “in private” tab when searching airfare. Airline and travel sites keep track of your searches, and later searches always come up with a slightly higher airfare. You get better fares if they think it’s your first time searching.

  25. Natasha says

    thank you so much for posting! My middle sister just moved out to Seattle a week ago today so I had been looking at flights to go see her and my family this summer!