The word of the day today is flexibility. Say it with me: F-L-E-X-I-B-I-L-I-T-Y.
Repeat it. Know it. Never forget it. ‘Cause it’s probably the most important thing you should know about traveling on a budget. In order to help you understand a little better, let’s talk about the three most important pieces of the travel planning puzzle. They are:
- Where you’re going
- When you’re going
- How much you’re willing to spend to get there
I’ve always said that in order to be a happy camper (or in this case, traveler), you must choose not to care about at least one of the three things above. Since the title of this post intrigued you enough to be here, I doubt you’re willing to compromise on number three. You don’t want to spend a fortune on plane tickets.
So this leaves you with two other options: where you go and when you plan to go. Pick one you think you can be at least somewhat flexible with, and let’s get the ball rollin’ by taking a look at three different scenarios.
FIRST SCENARIO: YOU ARE FLEXIBLE WITH DESTINATION, BUT CAN ONLY TRAVEL BETWEEN A PARTICULAR SET OF DATES.
Enter the holy grail of the cheap airfare pursuit: Skyscanner. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this website has changed my travel life forever. It’s that good.
When I decide I want to go on a trip, I try to keep an open mind about where I go. I like browsing what’s cheap and going from there. That’s why Skyscanner is perfect for me.
The website has an “everywhere” function. Just type in your nearest airport and then, in the destination box, select “everywhere.” See below, where I type in my home airport of Cincinnati.
Then select the dates that you have in mind. For this example, we’ll use February 11th-18th. See below.
Once you click that pretty green search button, Skyscanner will provide you with a list of places all over the world to which you can travel for cheap. Take a look below at what came up on this particular search. Keep in mind that all prices mentioned in this article are for ROUNDTRIP flights.
You could travel to destinations within the US starting at $93. You could fly to Puerto Rico for $246. You could go to Mexico for $360. And if you wanted to go to Canada, you could do that for $339. The list continues on, but these appear to be the best value during these dates.
Now let’s pretend that a vacation within the US sounds appealing, so you’ll click on that and delve a little deeper. Check out the options below.
You can get to New York City and back for $93 bucks (yep, you read that right). You could go to Los Angeles for $175. You could go to Tampa, Orlando, Denver and Vegas… all round-trip and all for $193 or less.
Now we’ll take one of those flights and compare it to the price it would be if booked directly through a major airline such as Delta. We’ll use the trip to New York for comparison and we’ll be sure to use the same dates.
As you can see, Delta offers a ticket for the same trip for $615. That’s $522 more than the price of the flight booked through Skyscanner. Thanks, but no thanks, Delta. 😉
SECOND SCENARIO: YOU ARE NOT FLEXIBLE WITH DESTINATION, BUT YOU ARE FLEXIBLE WITH DATES.
This, of course, is the opposite of what we just talked about. For this scenario, we’ll pretend that you want to go to Paris, France (but who has to pretend that they want to go to Paris?). Under “from”, select your home airport. Under “to”, select Paris, France. Then go on to select your flexible travel dates by clicking on “cheapest month” (you also have the option of choosing a general month of travel, with which Skyscanner will only search for flights within the month you select).
The site will then direct you to a calendar that reveals the cheapest month to fly to Paris. Currently, the cheapest month to fly is March. You can play around with the dates and prices that are shown in the calendar to fit what works best for you both financially and in terms of travel dates/length. To get the best deal, we’ll chose March 2nd through March 13th for only $481. Check it out below.
Oh, and the same trip on Delta? A whopping $1,079.
Take that $598 you saved on airfare and use it to eat your body weight in macaroons.
THIRD SCENARIO: YOU ARE FLEXIBLE WITH DESTINATION AND YOU ARE ALSO FLEXIBLE WITH DATES.
I am lucky to work as a server in a restaurant with a lot of staff and extremely flexible scheduling policies. For this reason, I am able to take off work and travel whenever I want to. I realize that not everyone has this luxury, but most people have at least a few vacation days, holidays, personal days, etc to work with. If you don’t care where OR when you go, you’ve found the pot of gold at the end of the budget travel rainbow.
Select your home airport, select the everywhere option AND choose the cheapest month.
Press search and prepare to have your mind blown.
US flights starting at $54. Puerto Rico for $208. Spain for $480. Cuba for $323. Costa Rica for $409.
Isn’t it beautiful?
This is usually the point where I start falling into what I like to call “the internet travel vortex.” I start Googling each destination, reading travel blogs, researching the country’s food, possible accommodation options, exciting attractions, Pinterest photos, etc until I decide which destination would be perfect for me. Then I click that blue arrow and buy the ticket (if you do the same, make sure you don’t take too long…these prices can quickly go away in a day, an hour, or even minutes).
Once you click on your destination of choice, check out the dates of travel. Let’s pretend that Costa Rica has long been near the top of your bucket list, so we’ll see what we have there.
The cheapest flight to Costa Rica from Cincinnati at the moment is $409. It departs on March 6th and returns on March 9th. Those dates may work perfectly for some, while they may not work at all for others. Play around with the airfare calendar and see what works for you. In most cases, it’s probably gonna be better than this price, right?
OTHER HELPFUL AIRFARE TIPS:
Go incognito- The Internet knows who you are. The Internet knows what you like. The Internet knows that you were searching for Justin Beiber’s nudes yesterday and that’s why his album is being advertised to you on Facebook right now. In the same way, airlines know what tickets you’re searching for. They track every move you make and they are perfectly capable of raising the prices for a ticket that they know you need. In order to avoid tracking of your searches, go “incognito” mode on your browser. On Macs, go to File -> New Private Window. On Windows computers, press Ctrl+ Shift + N and a new private window should pop up.
Check all surrounding airports- While I always start by searching for flights out of my home airport, it never hurts to check out other departure points. In some places, airfare can be drastically cheaper. A good example of this is New York City (JFK), where tons of budget airlines fly regularly. I often find that flights out of JFK cost a significant amount less than flights out of other smaller airports. Of course, this may require you to drive a few hours but hey, it might save you a few (or more than a few) of your hard-earned dollars. Some people see this as inconvenient, but I just see it as another opportunity to check out a different city before my trip even starts!
My favorite budget airlines to search independently:
Frontier Airlines (North America domestic)
Allegiant Airlines (North America domestic)
WestJet (North America domestic)
WowAir (great airline for US -> Europe flights)
Norwegian Air (another great airline for US -> Europe flights)
RyanAir (European domestic)
EasyJet (European domestic)
AirAsia (Asia Domestic)
—Any questions, comments or awesome tips that I didn’t mention? Comment below!–