Saturday, December 27, 2014

Finding Deals: Plane Tickets Part I

No one believes me when I say I don't make much money, but I don't. It's actually less than the average for a college educated American. So I have to be very frugal in my daily life to afford traveling. I also have to scour the web for the best deals before I buy.

The first thing when searching for deals is to be flexible, and with every parameter.  Since I live in Baltimore, I know I can fly from any airport in the DC area. I can also easily take Amtrak to Newark. If I have to, I can also use Amtrak to access airports in Philadelphia and NYC. Right there, my options open up. I also have a very long list of places I want to go. That means doing a lot of searching (or signing up for a lot of web alerts that tell you when prices drop for a certain trip). I might sit down and plug in 5 different destinations just to see if anything is on sale.
Of course it's also a good idea to play with dates. Many sites allow you to search +/- 3 days on both ends of your trip. Take advantage of that feature, even if you might not be able to make those dates work. That way you can get an idea of what the range of prices might be for a trip you are interested in. Then you might know: I have to save for this trip, or, I have to keep looking at this trip until the prices drop, or, this is probably the best deal I can get for this trip.

For that reason I also do not accumulate miles for rewards. I have credit cards that instead give me cash back on my purchases. This way I am not tied to any one company or any set of rules when it some time for redemption. I can shop any sale with any carrier or company.

Another thing to consider is the tourist season of wherever you'd like to visit, and try to visit outside of that time. It will make your trip cheaper, both while getting there and while staying, since demand for everything is lower. I am not a fan of crowds either, so while I haven't always had ideal weather, I am not usually fighting off hoards of people as I try to see the sights.
You can often just google 'tourist season for ....' and find out what the high season is for your destination. Rules of thumb: Europe will be cheaper in winter,  more expensive in the summer. The Caribbean will be cheaper in the summer. Also consider that your destination may have holidays of it's own. China and Japan for example, have holiday times during which most of the country travels to see family. Those times might not be ideal for foreigners as trains and hotels will be more expensive and harder to find vacancies.

So to being the search, one of my favorite websites for travel deals is Kayak. They allow you to search with many different options and even give you some insight into how good your deal is, by comparing it with trends and with others who searched for the same flight. It's a meta-search engine, meaning it will search many airlines and also travel sites like Expedia to look for the best prices.

Keep in mind, this is what I like to do for international flights.
Because of personal experience with their excellent customer service (and not-so-excellent-service elsewhere) I try to fly Southwest Airlines whenever I fly domestic. I also try to consider Amtrak when traveling in the US. It's a great way to travel.

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