One of the biggest expenses of traveling is airplane tickets to get there. According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the average domestic round-trip flight is $328 in early 2022, which is up 16.9% in just one year. And international flights can be much more expensive given how much longer those flights are. When you’re a family of four, the cost of airplane tickets can really add up. Here are 11 ways how to save money on flights so you can afford your next vacation.
Tips for saving money on flights
These are my favorite ways to save money when I travel for business or fly with my family and friends.
And listen to my We Travel There podcast interview with Spencer Howard of Straight To The Points about how to save money on flights.
Use airline miles to book flights
My favorite way to save money is by booking flights using airline miles and points. In most cases, the only cash that you’ll pay is the taxes and fees on these award tickets. Within the U.S., that’s only $5.60 per person each way. Internationally, taxes and fees can be much higher, so always compare the cash price vs. the taxes and fees owed on the award ticket. When the taxes and fees are too high, booking flights using your miles may not be a good value.
See our list of the best airline credit cards for free flights.
Transfer credit card points
Some credit cards earn flexible points that can transfer to airlines. Each of these cards has different airline and hotel partners, so find the card that partners with your favorite airlines and hotels. In some cases, your favorite airline may partner with multiple banks, which gives you extra opportunities to transfer points to earn free flights more quickly.
Most of these flexible point programs transfer to airlines on a 1:1 basis. However, that’s not always the case. In some instances, one bank may offer a better transfer ratio to your preferred airline.
Occasionally, the banks offer transfer bonuses so that you’ll receive bonus miles when you transfer points. Because these transfers are permanent, we don’t recommend transferring points unless you have a specific flight that you’re trying to book.
We’ve created a list of the best flexible point credit cards to help you find the best transfer offers.
Sign up for flight deal newsletters
Flight deal newsletters highlight travel deals to specific destinations that can save hundreds of dollars on your flights. These travel deals are often only available for a limited time, so you’ll need to act fast to take advantage of them. Most airlines offer a 24-hour cancellation period. Book your flight first, then talk with your spouse later.
These flight deal newsletters may offer prices in cash or miles. While many are free, paying for the upgrade will unlock the best deals. A few of my favorites are:
- Dollar Flight Club
- Scott’s Cheap Flights (affiliate link)
- Secret Flying
- Skyscanner (affiliate link)
- Straight to the Points (affiliate link)
- The Flight Deal
Pro Tip: Pick your favorite departure cities to eliminate fare deals that don’t apply to you and minimize the clutter in your inbox.
Book mistake fares
While it may not seem like it sometimes, airline employees are human too. And this means that they make mistakes just like the rest of us. These mistakes include inputting the wrong cash or mileage price for tickets between certain cities.
If you spot a mistake fare, book it immediately. Some airlines will honor the mistake price and eat the difference. However, don’t make prepaid or non-cancelable reservations because airlines can cancel the mistake fares and refund your payment.
- Sign up for our free email course – 7 Days to Your Dream Vacation for Less
Look for mile-saver tickets
Airlines often discount award flights between specific destinations. These tickets often carry additional restrictions, so make sure that you understand the rules that apply. For example, you may be able to cancel without penalty, but you cannot change flight times.
American Airlines has “web specials,” and Delta Air Lines has flight deals, both of which offer even lower prices. As always, compare the cash price vs. the price in miles to ensure that you’re getting good value on your award booking.
Avoid peak travel season
When you travel during summer, holidays, and summertime, plane tickets are often the most expensive because demand is so high. If you can travel outside of these dates, you’ll save a lot of money on your flights.
While traveling off-peak may not be as desirable, “shoulder season” dates typically offer good weather without the crowds and expense of peak travel dates. For example, traveling in September can be ideal because you’ll still enjoy summertime weather without families because school has already started for most children.
Some airline award charts offer discounted flight prices for off-peak travel. Booking during these dates can stretch the value of your miles and points. The discounts and pricing vary based on where you’re traveling to and from, so check the award charts when determining your travel dates and destinations.
Be flexible with your travel dates
For most trips, if you are willing to adjust your travel dates, you can save money or miles on your flight. When I book airplane tickets, I always select “flexible travel dates” so that I can see the prices of flights departing and arriving on the days surrounding my preferred travel dates.
While this strategy can save money on your flight, remember that extending your trip increases the cost of your accommodations and meals. These extra costs may be more than the savings on your ticket.
On the flip side, cutting short your vacation to save on your airfare may not be worth it either. If you miss out on exploring your favorite attractions or enjoying the local cuisine, was it worth saving a few bucks?
Consider alternative airports
Airfares vary depending on which airport you are departing from and flying to. If you have multiple airports within a short drive, check out the prices from each airport.
When I lived in Southern California, we had six different airports within 90 minutes of our home. Although we lived in Orange County, I saved my neighbor $1,600 off his Hawaii vacation by booking tickets out of San Diego for his family of four. And the drive was only 15-30 minutes longer than going to Los Angeles.
Now that I live in Nashville, we only have one airport here. But I can drive four hours to Atlanta if the cost-savings are worth the drive. In some cases, I’ll book a cheap Southwest flight to “position” myself to a major airline hub to take advantage of incredible deals.
Choosing different flight destinations can also save money. Fly into one city, then drive or take a train to reach your ultimate destination. This strategy also lets you experience two cities for the price of one if you spend a day at your first stop.
Get a companion ticket
Many airlines offer a companion ticket where one or more people can travel with you on the cheap. While most of these companion tickets can only be used once per year, the Southwest Companion Pass can be used an unlimited number of times each year.
These are the airlines that offer companion fares and how to get them:
- Alaska Airlines Companion Ticket. The airline’s personal and business credit cards provide a companion ticket each year when you renew the card.
- American Airlines Companion Ticket. You’ll earn a companion ticket based on your spending with several American Airlines credit cards. Barclays AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® requires spending $20,000, while you must spend $30,000 on the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® to earn the companion ticket.
- British Airways Travel Together. When you spend $30,000 in a calendar year on the British Airways Visa Signature® card, you’ll receive a Travel Together ticket that is good for two years. This ticket is good for one companion fare or a 50% ticket for one person.
- Delta Air Lines Companion Ticket. The personal and business versions of the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card and Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card both include a companion ticket good for a domestic round-trip flight.
- Southwest Companion Pass. Take 100 flights or earn 135,000 points (starting January 1, 2023) in a calendar year to earn the Southwest Companion Pass. The welcome bonus and points earned from purchases on any Southwest credit card count towards this point total.
- Virgin Atlantic Companion Ticket. An anniversary benefit of a Companion Fare when you spend at least $25,000 on the Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard® before it renews. You can also exchange this benefit for a one-category upgrade for the primary cardholder when booking a reward flight.
With all of these companion fares, you must pay the associated taxes and fees for the “free” companion ticket. In some cases, the airline may charge a nominal fee (typically $99) for processing the booking of the companion fare.
Splitting your ticket
Booking a round-trip ticket is usually the easiest way to book your flight. However, it isn’t necessarily the cheapest option. Travelers may be able to save money or airline miles by booking each direction with a different airline.
At the very least, booking two one-way tickets provides flexibility in case you find something cheaper later on. I do this all of the time with Southwest Airlines. They offer fare sales on a regular basis, so I can cancel or rebook my flights to save money if fares drop in the future.
Hidden city ticketing
To make their business more efficient, airlines typically use hubs to route their airlines through. This means that you’ll have to stop in one city on the way to your ultimate destination. While this can be a pain and slow down your trip, it can also offer opportunities to save money.
A flight from Los Angeles to Nashville can be expensive. However, a flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta, with a layover in Nashville could be much cheaper. With “hidden city ticketing,” you’ll book the LAX to ATL flight and get off in Nashville to save money.
When using this strategy, there are important concerns to pay attention to:
- Don’t check bags. Your bags will fly to Atlanta while you’ll be in Nashville.
- Book one-way flights. If you don’t complete your flight to Atlanta, the rest of your ticket will be canceled.
- Don’t attach your frequent flier number. Airlines don’t like this strategy, and they could penalize your loyalty account if you do it too often. I’ve also seen instances where they match your frequent flier number to your ticket based on your name, phone number, address, or credit card.
- Beware of schedule changes. Airlines change flight schedules on a regular basis. This means that your layover in Nashville could change to another city or could be eliminated completely.
The bottom line
Flying can be one of a family’s biggest expenses when traveling. That’s why I created this list of 11 amazing ways how to save money on flights. I want all of my readers to be able to save money on their vacations so they can travel more, spend less, and live better.
While you may be unable to use all of these tips at once, pick the ones that work best for you and use them to save on your next vacation. Then, please come back and share which tips worked best for you. Are there any tips that I missed? If so, please share them in the comments below.