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I was recently in the middle of planning a girl’s trip to Los Angeles to visit my cousin Brianna Jade, who’s currently there for work over the summer. Of course, as the designated family travel agent, I was in charge of booking the flights.
That means choosing picking the cross-country flights to/from Orlando, plus mine from Anchorage, Alaska…during the summer. Which is expensive!
We’re all about traveling on a budget, but I wasn’t too concerned since I’d found cheap roundtrip tickets from Orlando to LA before.
Little did I know that booking flights for this trip was going to be completely anxiety-inducing!
Read on to learn from our mistakes and see helpful ways to find cheap flights!
We Were SO Ready For Vacay…But Here’s Where We Went Wrong
Our first “mistake” was planning the trip for a very specific weekend.
Normally, when we travel, we keep our dates fairly open so I have some freedom to save as much money as I can when booking the trip.
This gives you some flexibility when booking. This time, though, we were more limited due to work constraints.
Another concern was the fact that we were flying back home on a Monday, which is a prime business traveler day.
Flights tend to be more expensive on Mondays as business travelers often don’t care about budget-saving options.
Add to that our preference for morning flights, and wanting to have our flights arrive and leave around the same time so we can save money on car rides, and you’ve got some seriously high maintenance flight qualifiers!
How to Get Cheap Flights
The first thing you need to do is start watching prices as soon as you’re even considering flying to a location. This way, when you’re ready to book you’ll have an idea of what average prices tend to be.
You also want to try to keep your dates and locations flexible as much as possible to save money. If you know you must travel on certain dates, having plenty of options for where you go can save bank!
If you have your heart set on visiting a specific place, try to be a bit flexible on vacation dates and which days of the week you fly.
Follow Trending Travel Topics
Another thing to watch are trends and issues with flights. The current ground hold of the 737 MAX8 planes has caused a major shuffling of flights.
Just think of all those scheduled flights having to be condensed and shuffled around. I’m sure that’s playing a big part in the increased flight prices I’ve been seeing.
Set Up Price Alerts
Once you know roughly where and when you’re traveling, it’s time to set up price alerts.
You simply set your flight criteria (airports, dates, amount of stops, etc.) and activate the Track prices button. You will then get an email whenever the prices change. When you see a drop, get ready to snag it quickly!
Sign Up For Email Lists
If you know you just gotta get away soon, but don’t have a specific place in mind, keep an eye out on the email lists of your preferred airlines.
They often email deals to specific places that are only available for a limited time. It can be a great way to find a fun new destination at a discount!
Check Airline Websites For Extra Deals
Southwest Airlines flights don’t show in flight trackers like Google Flights, so it’s important to regularly check for deals.
We were looking at fares of over $600 per person ONE WAY for the Los Angeles to Orlando flight. That’s absolutely insane pricing!
Luckily, I had been monitoring for awhile and saw Southwest was having a one-day sale that dropped the flight price by over $400 per person, which is much more reasonable!
I snagged it immediately, and when I checked again a few minutes after booking, the price had already increased by $50 each. Which brings me to my next tip…
Book Early to Save Big
Airlines are out to make as much money as possible on each flight. One way they do that is by limiting the number of tickets sold in each price range. That’s why booking early could be a great way to save money.
For our Southwest flight, it showed 2 seats left at the price I booked. Afterwards, the price had increased and it showed 4 seats remaining.
I’ve also seen this on Delta, so it’s a common tactic across the airline industry. When I was pricing for 2 people, the flights were $40 per person more than the price for one single ticket.
If you run into this, you could consider booking the one single ticket to at least save that bit of extra cash off one ticket. Proceed with caution though, as there’s no guarantee the next tier of pricing won’t skyrocket.
Be Open to Going Anywhere on Vacation
Google Flights price tracker works especially well when trying to plan a last-minute getaway where you don’t really have a specific place in mind, but you just want to get away fast.
Set your home airport and dates you want to travel. It will then show a list of places you can visit along with the lowest air ticket prices.
I don’t get to enjoy this perk much right now, since pretty much all Alaska flights are pricey, but it works great if you live near major airports with plenty of destination options.
Use Airline Miles and Other Reward Programs
Airline miles are one of the best ways to save on flights! The day we found out we were moving to Alaska was the day we applied for the Alaska Airlines credit card.
We had my parents apply too, and it’s been a lifesaver when flying home to visit family, or getting them to come see us.
Besides the great mileage program, another awesome benefit of the Alaska Airlines card is the annual companion airfare ticket. A companion airfare for only $121 helps make it affordable to travel home each year.
We recently got a Capital One Venture reward card. While I still feel I get better options for free flights using miles with my Alaska card, I do like the ease of cashing out rewards for the Venture Card.
It earns 2X miles per dollar, which can be used to reimburse miscellaneous travel expenses. So you can apply it to your flight, rental car, hotel or Airbnb, whatever travel purchase you want!
I really like that I don’t have to buy my tickets from a specific website to use the rewards. It also has an awesome perk of reimbursing for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, which is amazing if you travel often!
Mix Up The Airlines You Fly
Back in the day, everyone used to book flights as round trip tickets on the same airline.
One way flights were often more expensive, so sticking with one round-trip booking was the best way to fly.
That’s not necessarily true now!
With airlines struggling to keep up with each other, pricing structures tend to be similar. Sometimes round-trip flights are still less expensive than two separate one-way tickets.
But occasionally you can catch cheap one way flights on one airline, while the return flight could be drastically cheaper on another airline. It’s totally okay to book one way flights this way to save money!
It’s not ideal to book your trip to a destination on two different airlines with a layover in between, however, it can be done with some planning if there’s a good amount of money to be saved!
When I went to Bali a few years ago, the flights were pretty expensive out of Orlando. I ended up finding a great deal on one airline out of Los Angeles to Bali, and luckily scored another great deal from Orlando to LAX on American Airlines.
I planned a long enough layover (3+ hours) and I was able to grab my bag and make the long trek over to the Tom Bradley International Terminal. I quickly checked in, and made it through security with plenty of time to relax before spending another 24 hours traveling!
Watch Out for Baggage Fees
It’s almost misleading to see prices for the flight that seem great, but then you find out bags are an extra fee. And that’s not just checked bags anymore.
Some airlines are even charging for carry-on bags to be stowed in the overhead compartments!
Apparently they think you should just travel like Joey from Friends (could I BE wearing any more clothes?!) and waddle down the aisle into your seat!
When pricing out your trip, make sure you account for the extra cost of a bag. Sure, you could save $35 on a Spirit Airlines flight, the budgetiest of budget airlines. But you’re only allowed to bring a purse or laptop bag.
Extra bags will run you between $28- $102! Their prices increase the closer you are to flying, so if you do use Spirit, plan accordingly when booking and packing for your trip.