The key to flying for less is timing. July, August and December holidays are the most expensive times to fly. If you want to travel for less, consider mid January through May and September through mid December. While Europe in February is too cold for my tropical butt, it’s a great time to visit warmer climates like the Caribbean. Europe in April is awesome. All you need is a light jacket and you don’t have to worry if the Airbnb you are renting has a/c. In fact, April is awesome everywhere. Perú in April means less crowds and not having to book your tours in advance. September is a bad time to visit the Caribbean, as it is the height of hurricane season, but October is a great time to visit as the beach is still warm and not crowded. Like April, October is a great time to travel to almost any destination. So is November. December is a little chilly in the Northern Hemisphere, but Manuel and I spent the first two weeks of December in Northern Spain with great weather and no crowds.
Once you have in mind a destination and time of year, you can check Google Flights to see prices in a calendar view. This is a great way to see the price differences between months, length of trip and day of the week. When you hone in on the best travel dates, consider airlines and times of departure/arrival. You can also subscribe to a service like Scott’s or Mochileando to get notices of low fares.
Ultra low cost carriers are great, but did you know you could end up paying more than on a regular airline? Consider the following factors to make sure you are not paying more on that ultra low cost airline than you would on a regular airline.
First, start by comparing fare costs. Search for the same flight on various airlines. For instance, a six day October trip from Florida to New York is $138 on an ultra low cost carrier and and $146 to $148 on regular carriers. However, the same trip is $190 on a low cost carrier.
Second, check if the price of luggage is included in the published fare. Checked bags often cost about $30 each way in ultra low cost airlines. Add the cost of luggage to compare between airlines. Many times, an ultra low cost airline ends up costing more for a far inferior experience.
On a trip from Florida to New York, an ultra low cost carrier will charge you $37 for a carry on bag and $30 for a checked bag, during booking. So you are better off checking your bag, rather than carrying it yourself. If you didn’t pay for any bags during booking and do it later online, you will pay $10 more. $47 for a carry on bag and $40 for a checked bag. The price during check in remains the same. However, if you try to sneak in without paying, it costs $65 at the gate for a carry on or checked bag.
On the search performed for the October trip from Florida to New York, the ultra low cost carrier fare, including a carry on bag, would be $146 + $37 = $187. It would be more expensive to travel on the ultra low cost carrier for this trip.
On the topic of luggage, consider how little luggage you really need. Personal items are still free on all airlines. While dimensions vary from airline to airline, a personal item is something that fits under the seat in front of you. I have a large Swiss Army briefcase (pictured on top) that I use for work and it fits under airline seats. This is the personal item I use when flying ultra low cost airlines for trips of about five days. Other passengers use medium sized backpacks or similar bags. I take three outfits, one of them I wear while traveling, plus underwear, Keen sandals, a few toiletries, computer and chargers. I also pack a small purse to use once I arrive at my destination.
For longer trips, I take a carry-on bag. My favorite is the Osprey Meridian 60L. It is the most versatile piece of luggage I have ever owned. First, it fits even the smallest carry on plane compartments. If you didn’t know, not all carry-ons are the same and some airlines, like Ryanair in Europe, have smaller carry-on compartments. You don’t find out until you are about to board and the gate agent forces you to check your bag with a hefty fifty euro fee (true story, times two). The Osprey Meridian 60L also has straps to be worn as a backpack for those cobblestone streets in Prague, Metro stairs in Paris or transferring from bus to train to Machu Picchu. The detachable backpack is very comfortable and perfect for daytrips. It’s just a well designed piece of luggage. I never travel with anything larger than this bag. For really long trips, I wear outfits twice and do laundry one or twice.
Back to shopping for cheap airfare. Time of departure and arrival are important too. Does your flight arrive so late you will have to pay an extra night at a hotel? We arrived at Lima at 1:30 in morning. It cost us an extra night, but there were no earlier flight options. Recently, I was helping a friend shop for a flight from Puerto Rico to Orlando. The cheapest option departed at three in the morning and was $30 cheaper. Departing at three means being at the airport at one and arriving at Orlando exhausted. In my opinion, it is not worth $30 to loose a night of sleep and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the first day of a trip after a sleepless night. Do the math to see if it is worth it.
If you opt to fly an ultra low cost airline, there are a few other things to consider so you don’t end up paying more. Choosing your seat starts at $9. If you don’t mind not sitting together, let the airline assign you a seat. You can also arrive early and ask to be seated together at the gate. You may get it, you may not, but you saved the fee.
Make sure you check-in online and print or bring your mobile boarding pass. Some airlines charge $10 just to print your boarding pass.
Ultra low cost airlines usually don’t provide any entertainment. Don’t expect any and you won’t be disappointed. Bring your own. I love that the Netflix app lets you download movies and series to your mobile device to watch offline.
Finally, bring your own snacks and an empty water bottle (preferably reusable). Water bottles often go for $3 at most airports and during your flight. On my last trip to Orlando, I flew on Allegiant. It is a great ultra low cost airline, but they don’t even give you a free glass of water. They have snacks, water and sodas for purchase. I always bring a reusable empty water bottle that I fill up after going through TSA. I also brought sandwiches from my favorite bakery, which are cheaper and better than anything they sell at the airport. The food gets packed in a separate bag because it is easier to go through TSA and it doesn’t count towards luggage allowance.
If you have any other tips on how to fly for less, I would love to hear from you. You can leave a comment below.