Saving money on airfare is critical. If you’re trying to travel as inexpensively as possible, and of course that’s the whole point of this site, we have to address the 800 pound gorilla—airfares.
Especially with international travel, airfare can be the largest component of your trip expenses. Round trip tickets to Europe can top $2000 a person in the summer time, way above our target spend of $1000 per person for the entire trip. Clearly, this is an area where savings go a long way.
Fortunately, there are many strategies to bring those prices more in line with our budget.
Summer travel–use miles and points
I’l be honest, summer travel is hard. It’s harder to find good prices, especially if you aren’t traveling out of JFK, LAX, or SFO. I’ve found that for us, the best strategy for summer travel has been to plan far in advance and use miles/points for the tickets. On the plus side, that’s more time to anticipate and plan, too!
Subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights
For the rest of the year, I’ve found that it is usually possible to find good deals. I highly recommend subscribing to the premium version of Scott’s Cheap Flights. The free service is useful, but if you’re serious about international travel, the $49 annual subscription is well worth the cost. With this, you can choose preferred departure airports, and you’ll get email notifications whenever they find good deals from your cities. I have a fairly broad set of airports selected, and I sometimes get as many as five emails a day. For me, the entertainment value of just imagining where we could go is worth the subscription price—but in real dollars, the money I’ve saved has more than paid for twenty years of subscriptions.
When you get a SCF email with a deal that appeals to you, jump on it. Last year, I literally stopped what I was doing to book a trip to Rome for spring break. Of course, if you were looking at round trip tickets from Salt Lake City to Rome for less than $500, you’d stop, too! Some deals sell out really quickly, so don’t delay.
That brings up another important point. If you’re hoping to travel internationally with your family for less, it pays to be prepared. Make sure your calendar is up to date with school holidays, scheduled work vacation, etc. It’ll make it so much easier to make that decision quickly.
But don’t let schedule uncertainty keep you from jumping on a really good deal. US airlines give you a 24 hour grace period in which you can cancel your ticket for a full refund. If you even think that the trip might work, book it. You’ve got 24 hours to figure it out—just don’t forget to double check before your time window is up!
Consider a budget airline
Another way to save money on airfare is to fly a budget airline. There have been several players in that space over the past few years. Although WOW airline stopped operations in March 2018, there’s word that the company might be resurrected, and another Icelandic airline, Play, looks like it will be launching soon. Norwegian Air flies from New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orlando, and Fort Lauderdale to cities in Europe and Asia. Their basic tickets can be as low as $149 each way. Each ticket includes a carryon bag and a personal item, although weight limits apply.
One caveat: budget airlines don’t always have the backup support that larger airlines have. If your flight is cancelled or delayed, you might be stuck for a day or two while things are straightened out. If that’s a deal-breaker for you, stick to larger airlines.
Fly somewhere close to your final destination
Another strategy to consider is getting to your chosen continent, then taking an inexpensive train ride or flight to get to your final destination. This can work well in Europe and Asia, in particular, but it’s worth exploring anywhere. This can work especially well if you have a Scott’s Cheap Flights membership. It’s not unusual for me to see flights from the US to other countries for $300-400 round trip.
When you’re planning flights, it pays to be flexible and think outside the box. Saving money on airfare is possible. Be ready to act quickly when you find a good deal. Before you know it, you’ll be boarding that plane to your destination.