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One of the most common questions I get asked is how I afford to travel so much. There are many layers to that answer, but a large part of my strategy is not blowing my budget on airfare!
Flights are generally the biggest expense of a trip. If you’re only going somewhere for a short period, do you want to spend half of your vacation funds just on the flight? Probably not! I can’t stand buying expensive flights, so I try to avoid it at all costs.
This post will go over some of the top strategies I follow to consistently get find cheap flights anywhere. Instead, use that money to travel more, and go on more amazing adventures while you are away!
#1: Be flexible with your dates.
The difference in one day can be astronomical when it comes to flight prices. For example, last year I flew from Toronto to Belize City return for $300. If I had left a day earlier or stayed a day later, that flight would have cost me over $1000. That’s a crazy difference!
A great way to get a visual look at the cheapest dates to travel is on Skyscanner. Put in where you want to fly in/out of, but instead of picking a specific date, choose the month option. That way, you can easily see what day is the cheapest to fly there.
In the example below I searched for one-way flights from Toronto to London for June and pulled up the month view.
If I had just selected June 22nd as my departure date the flight price would show me $591. By looking at the month view I see that if I Ieave a day later on the 22nd, I can fly for $387 (2/3 of the price).
The more flexibility you have the better this will work, but even changing your dates by a day or two can make a huge difference in the price.
#2 – Consider alternative airports.
Often in big cities, there is more than one airport. And the price differences between them can be huge. Discount airlines can’t afford larger airport taxes and fees, so they will base themselves out of a smaller one.
Hamilton airport is a great example of this. It’s further than Toronto’s main airport, Pearson, but they have low-cost airlines like Swoop and Norwegian Air.
Lasy year, I bought a flight from the Hamilton airport to Dublin direct with Norwegian air for $250. If I had flown out of Pearson, it would have cost me over $400. Some people who go as far to drive to Buffalo, New York from Toronto because flying out of the states can be that much cheaper.
London, England is another great example of this. There are six different airports in the area surrounding London. If I search for flights from Dublin to London, the flight prices range from London Southend airport for $20, all the way to London City Center is $100. Of course, you have to consider where you’re going in the city and if the cost of transport there from the airport outweighs the flight difference. But generally speaking, you can save a lot of money by choosing an alternate airport in the same city.
# 3 – Be open with where you’re willing to go.
I want to travel to every country in the world, so it doesn’t matter much to me where my next destination is. In fact, I often base my trips on where the cheapest place to fly is.
Skyscanner is great for finding out this information. You can put in the location you’re leaving from, choose “everywhere” as the destination, pick a month, and it will bring up the cheapest destinations available to you.
Even if you’re set on a specific type of trip, like a beach holiday down south, you can still save money by having some flexibility in the country you pick.
Maybe you want to go to the Bahamas, but Aruba is hundreds of dollars cheaper to fly in. They are both amazing tropical paradises, can you really go wrong?
Unless you have a specific reason why you want to travel somewhere, I would just go with the cheapest option right now. If you have a big list of places you want to go, great! Check them all out and see what the cheapest option is.
#4 – Be creative with how you get there
Even if you’re set on a specific country or city, be creative with how you travel there.
For example last fall I wanted to travel to Sri Lanka, but flights from Vancouver were almost $1000. Instead, I searched where the cheapest place to fly in Asia was from Vancouver. Then I found a flight from Vancouver to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for $370.
I ended up flying to Kuala Lumpur and bought a separate flight to Sri Lanka for $100. I saved myself a few hundreds dollar, and I got to spend a few days exploring Kuala Lumpur, which is an amazing city.
Once you are in a specific region like Europe or Asia, it can be extremely cheap to fly between countries. It’s not at all like flight prices within Canada which are notoriously expensive.
It’s the long-haul flights across continents that can be expensive, so just get yourself to the continent in the cheapest way possible and then fly regionally.
# 5 – Think outside the plane.
While you can’t take a bus across international waters, I have saved hundreds of dollars by flying to an airport close to my final destination and then taking a bus or train.
For example, a couple of years ago I wanted to visit Guatemala during Easter. The flights from Canada were over $1000, but a flight to Cancun, Mexico was only $400. So I bought the flight to Mexico, and made my way to Guatemala by island-hopping through islands in Belize.
In the end, I made it to Guatemala for half the price of the original place ticket, and also got to visit a bunch of other amazing places along the way. Busses are generally quite cheap, especially in countries like Mexico and Guatemala.
# 6 – Set Price Alerts
If you have your heart set on a destination and some time to spare, set up a price alert for the dates you want. That way, you will get a notification via e-mail if the flight suddenly drops in price. I set up price alerts through Skyscanner.
When looking at flights on SkyScanner, it even tells you if the price is high or low compared to the average. This gives you a sense if you should wait or buy now. If it says the prices are high, it might be worth waiting it out.
It’s hard to predict exactly when the best time to buy a flight is. I’ve gotten amazing deals two days before and also two months before. I recommend setting up price alerts if you don’t want to check every day.
Remember that at the end of the day, you can’t predict flight prices. Don’t second guess yourself if you find a fare you’re comfortable with.
If you are frequently searching for a flight, make sure you clear your cookies or use an incognito browser. There is some evidence to show that flight networks will increase prices if you are frequently searching on them and browsing for the same destinations. I’ve noticed this in my own experience!
# 8 – Travel off-season
If you travel to a destination during its peak season, chances are the flight prices will be higher because airlines know they can get away with it.
I’ve saved significant money traveling during the off-season. For example, I recently saw a flight to Costa Rica from Toronto for $220 return in October. During the busy season, you would pay 3x as much as that, if not more.
Generally, with tropical destinations, they have a rainy and dry season, and the dry season is the most popular. But unless it’s a full-on monsoon, you can definitely still travel there during the ‘off-season’ and have lots of sunny days.
For example, I went to Jamaica in October (the wet season) and most of the time it was dry. Anytime there was rain, it was just a quick downpour and then it was nice again. And it was super cool to see the storms! Clouds make for way better sunset photos anyway 😉
# 9 – Travel-hack your way to free flights.
Travel Hacking is the art of using point reward systems to get free travel. It’s completely legal. And if you’re a frequent traveler, I recommend starting. Especially if you live in the United States, as they have much better credit card reward systems then Canada.
Essentially, the idea is to sign up for credit cards with huge point sign-up bonuses and use the cards that will get you the most points for your daily expenses.
A lot of credit cards even have promotions where they wave the annual fee for the first year, on top of the signup bonus. You just need to spend a minimum amount in the first couple of months. I sign up for cards all the time, spend what I need to make the bonus points, and then cancel the card before I’m charged the annual fee.
I keep a few cards in circulation and try to use the ones that will give me the max points for my expenses. For example, I have a visa infinite credit card with TD which allows me access to the Expedia for TD portal. If I book travel through there, I get 9 points back for dollar spent. That helps me get more free travel for booking travel. Yay!
I’m not an expert in this area, but it’s something I’ve gotten into recently which has allowed me to travel more. If you want more information about how to do this, I recommend checking out Nomadic Matt. He wrote an entire book about travel hacking which helped solidify the concept for me.
Note: I don’t recommend this if you are not good at managing credit cards. It can be easy to rack up debt and managing multiple credit cards does require some amount of organizing and diligence. While I do think it’s smart to use credit cards to pay for daily expenses to get points, I realize this isn’t suitable for everyone. Be honest with yourself before trying this.
# 10 – Follow Flight Blogs
There are entire websites devoted to finding cheap flights that will alert you when one comes up. My favorite for Toronto is YYZ deals. I’ve found incredible flight deals from Toronto through this blog, like a $600 return flight to Tokyo.
The deals usually don’t last long, so I recommend signing up for e-mail alerts or following them on social media so you don’t miss a great deal. The people who run this site also have them for other cities in Canada. If you live in the United States, check out Scott’s Cheap Flight for amazing flight deals.
I hope this post helped give you some ideas on how to find cheaper flights! It is the biggest expense when it comes to booking a trip, so finding a good flight deal is key to a budget-friendly trip. Are there any strategies you use to save money on flights? Let me know in the comments below!