How to save money on flights without using credit cards
I made the unfortunate mistake of staying away from credit cards until about a year ago, so my credit history is a work in progress. This means I don’t have access to those shiny airline cards with all the travel perks and free flights that you see on the Points Guy or other blogs.
I also don’t have the attention span for “travel hacking”… i.e. Buying hundreds of yogurts to save on flights or religiously following those pirate travel blogs that search for glitch airfares (rarer and rarer these days anyways).
These tips won’t get you into a 20 hour first class Air Emirates flight for only $200, but they definitely help you save hundreds of dollars on flights if you’re willing to exercise a little patience and tech savviness. I suspect I’ve saved thousands of dollars using these apps … and I didn’t even have to travel hack or sign up for crazy credit cards.
When it comes to saving, I’m all about the low effort and high payoff. Here are the techniques I use to save on flights – and I suspect I’ve saved almost as much as some of the higher effort ones (I usually average at least 50–75% savings on my flights).
My secret? Apps! Let technology do the hard work for you. But there are so many flight savings apps out there… which ones are best? Here’s my guide on when to use which ones.
When you have a place in mind but flexible dates
Hitlist is perfect for crossing items off of your bucket list. You save the places you want to go in your profile and setup your home airport, and Hitlist will send you notifications via app or email when those places are having a flight sale.
Sometimes the dates are a little weird and inconvenient, but the prices are so cheap it makes up for it.
Here’s a few examples from my Hitlist (from my home airports in the NYC area)
- Barcelona for 12 days – $307
- Amsterdam for 6 days – $343
- Bangkok for 10 days – $505
- Hong Kong for 17 days – $454 for a 20 hour nonstop flight!
Not bad at all!
When you are heading to a specific place at a specific time
Ever booked a flight and wonder if you got the best deal? Wonder what the best time is to book (is it Tuesday? The weekend? A few days before? 60 days before?) Hopper is here to help avoid the feeling you’ve been cheated by bad timing.
Hopper is an amazing “airfare watching” app that will watch the prices of a specific route over time and advise you on when to book.
The app breaks down specifically how your preferred route will drop and rise until your departure date. They tell you exactly how much you can expect to save according to their massive logs of flight data they have put together, and will send you push notifications when airfare drops on your route. This app has already saved me at least $1000 in airfare since it came out.
When you have a fixed destination but no fixed date
Skyscanner is an app designed to help you compare dates and fares across multiple airlines quickly.
The chart view is incredible at quickly comparing average fares across a wide variety of dates. I’ve never seen anything like it in an app, and I design apps for a living!
The app also has a handy notification setup where you will be alerted when fares drop for our destination.
As you sift through the flights, you can sort them by price, duration, stops, and “rating”, a combined score of the first three categories.
When you want to avoid as many fees as possible
Sometimes you spend so much time dealhunting that you don’t realize you’ve booked a bargain flight on an airline that will nickel and dime you for the basics, such as drinks, carry on luggage, picking your seat, and even printing your ticket at the airport.
Cheapflights is the perfect app for comparing extra fees across airlines to make sure you are getting the most bang for your buck on these budget air deals.
Final tip: always clear your cache!
This tip doesn’t apply to flight savings apps such as Skyscanner, Hopper, or Hitlist, but if you are searching for flights on your computer or phone, make sure to clear your cache between searches.
Many flight websites are notorious for putting a tracker on your computer, tablet, or phone that will watch for you to come back and bump up the price on your second or subsequent visits. Shady!
Here’s a handy site with instructions on how to clear your cache for every browser and every device.
Have any other tips for scoring cheap flights? Send them my way and I will share! Happy traveling!
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