Tips for Traveling on the Cheap

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Like most things in life, an affordable vacay is all in the timing. Dreaming of a last-minute getaway to Reykjavik? A few days (or even hours) can mean the difference between ponying up just $450 for round-trip tickets or a heftier $750 for the same flights. So how can you see the Northern Lights and still keep your bank account in the black? Borrow one of these expert-backed timing tips and book a frugal (yet fabulous) getaway: 

Find the lowest airfares on Tuesdays…and Wednesdays…and Thursdays

Conventional wisdom (and roughly a billion online travel guides) will tell you that Tuesday is the best day of the week to purchase low-price airfare, but Cheapflights.com editor Amanda Festa cautions against a "Tuesday or Bust" mentality. “Airfares are really dynamic, and airlines always spend a lot of time adjusting their prices, so predicting the exact right time is kind of like finding a unicorn,” she says. “You could miss out on a great deal if that deal hits on a Wednesday or Thursday."

Which means you should rely less on this obsolete “rule of thumb” and more on strategic airfare stalking monitoring to find an affordable flight. Festa suggests subscribing to airline newsletters and following their social media accounts, where sales and specials are typically announced first. A little vigilance could pay off big. 

Book in advance…but not too far in advance

A 2016 outlook found that, when it comes to flights within North America, the lowest airfares can be found 57 days before departure, while airfares to Europe are cheapest 176 days ahead of time (160 days for flights from North America to Asia-Pacific).1 But just like your boss’s housewarming party, you don’t want to show up too early: Average domestic airfares six full months ahead of time were almost 11 percent higher. Use a similar Goldilocks approach to snag a thrifty hotel room: TripAdvisor’s “Best Time to Book” report suggests reserving a room within two months of a summer trip.2

Pick the unpopular times

Cheap seats tend to be that way because they’re less popular (#pityparty). Flying midweek instead of during high-traffic weekend days is a no-brainer, but did you know the time of day you fly can also affect prices? Turns out, runways have “rush hours,” just like highways do. “Look at flights that are less appealing to travelers—the first flight in the morning or the last flight at night,” Festa suggests. “Those are typically less in demand so you can find some deals.” Go ahead, pick the less popular option: Your wallet will thank you.

Get wise to seasonal flux

Summer vacation sound enticing? Of course it does, to you and everyone else on the planet. If you want to score a cheap trip, look to the months less traveled. January takes the top spot, as airfare is roughly 18 percent below average when compared to the rest of the year.

If you’re dead-set on traveling over summer vacation, August can be up to 13 percent cheaper than June and July.3 For international trips, consider February and March.4 (Valentine’s dinner in Paris? Yes, please!) And even if you don’t have kids, take a peek at the school calendar (trust us). If you book a trip when school’s back in session, you’ll avoid the crowds and save serious cash. 

Consider last-minute travel … and location, location, location

It’s Thursday afternoon and you decide a weekend getaway is in order—great! There are definitely deals to be had, but you’ve gotta be flexible—not just about when you travel, but where. One painless way to pinch a few pennies is by flying into a less-popular airport (look for the “nearby airlines” option in your travel search engine of choice). “Alternative airports can mean big savings,” Festa says.

In fact, in Cheapflights’ most recent Airport Affordability Index, which ranks 101 of the most popular U.S. airports for affordability, Long Beach—a convenient alternative to LAX—ranked No. 1. Ditto for No. 3 LaGuardia and No. 49 Newark, which outpaced nearby JFK at No. 95.5

So forget what you learned in middle school: Popular isn't always better—especially when it comes to cheap travel.

 

1 “Preparing for Takeoff: Air Travel Outlook for 2016,” Dec. 10, 2015 Airlines Reporting Corporation

2 “‘Best Time to Book’ Report Shows Travelers Booking During Optimal Times Can Save About 20% on Hotels for Summer in Popular Destinations Worldwide,” Apr. 16, 2016, TripAdvisor

3 “How To Find Cheap Flights In 2014: Everything You Need To Know To Save,” Feb. 14, 2014, International Business Times

4 “The Cheapest Time to Fly Internationally,” Jan. 29, 2015, Hopper

5 “2016 Airport Affordability Report, July 20, 2016, Cheapflights.com

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