It’s a question we hear often: “I have to be in XX city on YY date and don’t have enough miles for an award ticket. What do I do?” The problem becomes more acute when you are beholden to the school calendar and flying on exactly the same dates as everyone else. Airfares are near historic lows: you can easily get to Europe, South America, or even Asia for under $500. Travel Hack Traveling Mom is here to help with her 5 rules for finding the best airline tickets for less.
Find the Best Airline Tickets for Less
This summer my family of four is going to Chile. From Washington, DC we’re flying for less than $1500 round trip in July. That’s right. I found tickets on a twelve-hour long flight to a different continent for $370 during peak school vacation season. And it wasn’t even that hard!
We’re often thinking big: South America, Europe, and Asia. But these strategies are also effective (sometimes more so) on smaller USA destinations. I’ve found tickets to Iowa that were more expensive than those to Italy! Follow my 5 rules, and you’ll be on your way to getting the best airline ticket for your family.
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Best Airline Tickets Rule #1: You’re not going to get 100% of what you want booking the best-priced ticket.
When your parameters are set in stone, you’re going to pay top dollar. If you need 100% of it, prepare to pony up. However, between what you need and what you want could lie that great deal — if you’re willing to accept good enough instead of perfect. Something will have to give.
Best Airline Tickets Rule #2: Find the absolute non-negotiable first.
If you’re going to an event, your absolute non-negotiable may be the place. Alternatively, if you’re on a school schedule, it may be the date. However, if you flex at all with one or the other, you might find huge savings, especially on 3 or more tickets.
Once I’ve located my non-negotiable (which these days is usually the dates), here’s what I flex, in the order of which I flex it. I use Google Flights for most of my flight searches. ITA matrix is also handy, but Google Flights is more user-friendly.
- Departure city: In DC, we’re lucky enough to have 2 airports close by: IAD and DCA. If I can’t find what I need there, I’ll flex up to four hours depending on the length and cost of the trip. If I’m buying four tickets, I’ll often save enough to make the cost of gas, tolls, and parking worth it, as in this Hawaii trip I priced from Newark instead of DC. Google flights (using the plus sign on the departures box) flexes up to 150 miles. Over that, you’ll need to use ITA Matrix which will flex up to 2000. For DC, I tend to just use BWI, PHL, EWR, and JFK.
- Arrival city: If I’m flying to South America, Europe or Asia, I use a “just get over the pond” strategy as intercontinental flights are readily available and inexpensive. Trains are also an option in Europe. Take a look at my Provence on Points trip for some ideas- the strategies are the same for paid or points tickets.
Best Airline Tickets Rule #3: Stop thinking in circles.
Yes, you need to be in XX city on YY date, but the standard round trip is unnecessary. Have some fun! Try an open jaw: arriving into one city, taking a train, leaving from another. Got a layover? See if you can make it a free stopover and add a destination to your trip. Icelandair is the king of the free stopovers!
Best Airline Tickets Rule #4: Look outside the major airlines.
Some of your best flight options may not show up on search. In the States Southwest is the biggest hole in most search engines, but in South America, Europe and Asia many budget airlines don’t show up. To find a handy list, I go to Wikipedia and type in my gateway airport- it gives me a list of EVERY airline and destination that goes in and out of that airport. If I’m looking for Europe I’ll try FlyLC: a low cost airline search engine.
Best Airline Tickets Rule #5: Consider a one way car rental.
This tip works best during one-way car rental season, but many trips are within driving distance one way but not both in a long weekend or a week. I’m going to Florida next month via flight on the way down and via $8/day car rental on the way back. I wouldn’t want to drive I-95 round trip often, but one way is totally do-able.
I’d love to hear what has worked for you when booking paid airfares on oblications and other set in stone trips.