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How to Find Cheap Flights and Fly More Budget-Friendly Skies

Airplane Taking Off During Sunset

While travel costs have undoubtedly plummeted in 2020, flying remains the most expensive mode of transportation when compared to train rides or road trips. Whether you’re flying upstate, across the country, or to another continent, airfare can get pricier and pricier every step of your journey, from the moment you book your ticket to the second you step off the plane.

Not only are you purchasing the ticket itself, but you’re also paying hidden fees for everything from your seat selection, extra leg room, carry-on baggage, pet boarding, snacks and drinks, in-flight Wi-Fi, and even pillows and blankets. Before you know it, your seemingly reasonable ticket has packed on fees that can amass hundreds of additional dollars if you don’t pay close enough attention. To put it in perspective, Americans spent $5.8 billion in baggage fees in 2019, along with $2.8 billion in ticket change fees!

The reality, however, is flying is essential, as it’s the fastest way for friends and families with distance between them to come together within just a few hours. For that reason, it’s important to make airfare as reasonable as possible so you can budget for at least one well-deserved getaway a year.

Here we offer a few tips and tricks to finding the cheapest flights and avoiding hidden costs so you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the journey without having to sweat that credit card bill waiting for your return.

Use Orbitz to Ensure You’re Getting the Best Rate

If you’ve ever booked a flight, chances are you’ve heard of or used Orbitz, which lets you compare flight deals across hundreds of airline ticket sites so you find the best prices. In order to find the best rate, the site lets you easily compare dates and times of travel, as well as the airports you travel through and the number of stops you’re willing to make. If you’re flexible with that criteria, you’ll find the best rate for you.

Orbitz also has a few offerings that set it apart from its competitors that allow for extra savings. For example, they offer packages where you can add an accommodation and a rental car to get a discount on your overall trip. They also feature a rewards program where members save up to 50% on select hotels with insider prices, plus can earn money on booked flights and hotels, which can be applied toward future bookings (they list how much you’ll earn with each listing). Cancellations are also free within 24 hours of booking, so you won’t have to pay a hefty price like you would when booking directly through an airline.

The coolest feature? With each flight, it details the cost of baggage and change fees, so you have no surprise costs after booking.

Shop for Tickets Early; Fly Mid-Week

There are a lot of conflicting rumors circulating the web confusing travelers about when the best time to purchase tickets is. To put them to rest, we took a deep dive into CheapAir.com’s 5th Annual Airfare Study, which breaks down when to shop for tickets and when to fly to save up to hundreds of dollars. Unlike the countless blogs out there that simply speculate, this study is based on an analysis of 917,000,000 airfares in more than 8,000 markets, so it’s smart advice to follow.

In terms of the book a flight in advance vs. shop last-minute controversy, the answer is: book in advance. According to this study, the “Prime Booking Window” is about four months to three weeks in advance of your trip.

The study puts to rest the myth that shopping for tickets on Tuesdays and Wednesdays will give you the best rates, but it does confirm that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the cheapest days of the week to fly, with rates nearly $85 cheaper on average than Sundays, the most expensive day to travel, and Fridays, the second most-expensive day.

Sign Up for Multiple Airline Newsletters

While CheapAir.com’s study does provide a pretty solid equation to follow, there are always fluctuations in prices that can derail their “when to buy” and “when to fly” advice. For this reason, we also suggest signing up for newsletters from a wide selection of airlines. Airlines have sales, deals, and special promotions throughout the year, and when you see a price that seems attractive, jump on it. Try not to hesitate and search for tiny fluctuations in cost, because if you wait too long, that discounted rate you saw in an email will disappear before you know it.

Swipe a Credit Card That Racks Up Points

If you’re using a credit card for day-to-day spending anyway, we suggest applying for a credit card co-branded with a specific airline or a general travel card. Every time you swipe your card, you’re getting points toward travel savings. If you rack up enough, they’ll offer free flights, reduced airfare, and a ton of other travel perks, such as seat upgrades and free in-flight dining. If you have an airline you fly regularly, we suggest choosing a card with that specific airline, for example the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Mastercard® or the Jet Blue Card. If you’re more concerned about price hunting across all airlines, opt for a general travel card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Venture® Rewards from Capital One®. When shopping for cards be sure to compare annual fees and spending minimums necessary to earn points and other perks. These change from one card to the next, and it’s important to find the right one that aligns with your spending and travel behavior.

Bring Your Own In-Flight Essentials

We mentioned how Orbitz and travel credit cards can help you avoid cancellation, change, and baggage fees. Another smart tip is to bring your own in-flight accessories so you’re not spending money en route. We suggest packing a meal, snacks, a blanket, and a pillow to save dollars there. For great travel pillows, for example, be sure to check DealPilot’s vast array of deals on cozy essentials that will make your in-flight experience a little cheaper, and whole lot more comfortable.

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