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Is it your first time taking to the skies or are you an airline warrior anxious to hop back into that narrow metal tube? Whatever the reason and even though tickets can be expensive, there are ways to save money when booking flights. Here's a look at how to save money on flights, tips for finding the best flight deals and other ways to save on flights.
» Learn more: The best travel credit cards right now
How to get discounts on flights
1. Be flexible
Are you looking for the single best way to save money on airline tickets? Then, you need to be flexible. This is probably the most common tip you’ll ever hear, but it’s true. The more flexible you can be when booking your flights, the better. Let’s take a look at a flight from New York to Orlando during Thanksgiving. That holiday weekend is known as one of the most-expensive travel dates on the calendar.
Leaving on Nov. 23 would cost $618. Spending $600 on a flight that's less than three hours long is expensive, especially on this leisure-heavy route. However, look what happens when moving your dates by just a few days.
Opting to travel to Orlando a few days earlier will set you back $333, nearly cutting the cost of your flight tickets in half — and if you’re traveling with multiple people, those savings add up quickly.
2. Use points and miles
Award travel is one of the easiest ways to save money on flights. Using airline miles or credit card points to travel can score you discounted plane tickets, even in first class. Of course, you’ll need to find available reward seats — which can take some finagling — but the savings can be well worth it compared with paying cash.
Let’s look at a one-way economy flight from Los Angeles to Paris. One example would set you back $1,074 for a one-way ticket.
That may seem like a lot, and it is. That same ticket using reward miles will cost 22,500 American Airlines AAdvantage miles.
NerdWallet values American Airlines points at 1.7 cents per point. That means the 22,500 points needed for this ticket are valued at nearly $400. By booking this trip, you'd get an excellent redemption value given the $1,074 this ticket would cost out of pocket.
Keep in mind that it doesn’t always make sense to use airline miles, especially when cash prices are low. However, in times of high demand, or when a ticket is expensive — like in the example above — you can save a lot of money by doing so, especially when looking to book last-minute flights.
» Learn more: A beginner’s guide to traveling on points and miles
3. Travel in the offseason
Although this may be more difficult if you’re trying to coordinate travel with family, flying during the offseason will nearly always save you money on your tickets. We showed you earlier how moving your dates by just a few days can nearly cut the cost of your ticket in half. This can even help you save money on multicity flights.
The same is true when traveling during the shoulder seasons. Depending on where you’re going, this is likely during the spring or fall. And flight tickets won’t be the only thing that’s cheaper — hotels will cost less, restaurants won’t have trotted out tourist menus and tours can be less crowded. For example, here's a ticket from New York to Greece at the beginning of September.
A ticket to Athens in September would cost $435. That price tag to fly across the Atlantic is cheap in any scenario, but booking similar tickets during high season can set you back $906.
Again, the price more than doubles if you’re trying to travel when everyone else is traveling.
» Learn more: The trick to traveling cheaply? Flexibility
4. Book at the right time
Did you know that there are specific times you can book flights to get a cheaper rate? According to a 2021 study by CheapAir.com, the best time to book flights to Europe is 120 days in advance. The time frame changes when you’re traveling domestically, where you’ll want to wait until 64 days before departure to book your trip. So a great method to save on flights is by timing your purchases.
Flight prices rise and fall as airlines attempt to predict demand. By waiting for low prices, then jumping on them, you can save substantial amounts of money. Google Flights has a handy feature for this. When searching flights, Google will pop up with a tracker that’ll show you the average rates for your tickets and when to book flights to save money:
» Learn more: The best days to book a flight and when to fly
5. Set a price alert
Price alerts can contact you when the fare you’re looking to buy drops in price. Again, Google Flights has a feature that will automatically notify you when flights are cheaper. To set this up, first, conduct your search. Then, in the toolbar on the results page, you’ll see a toggle to turn on price tracking.
The Capital One travel portal also offers recommendations on when to book air travel and can refund you if the price drops.
6. Jump on fare deals
This is probably the most helpful tip we can give. Besides being flexible with your dates, be flexible with your destination. Popular websites such as Scott's Cheap Flights, Fare Deal Alert, The Flight Deal and Secret Flying regularly track cheap flight tickets and send out alerts when they occur.
Are these always going to give you flights where you’d like to go? No, but they are going to give you rock-bottom pricing for a variety of destinations around the world. You can find seats in economy and even business class if you like the idea of free champagne on your flight.
» Learn more: The best way to book flights
7. Purchase travel insurance in advance
Nothing spoils a vacation quite like a missed flight, lost luggage or a last-minute trip cancellation. To better protect your upfront travel expenses and mitigate financial losses, consider booking your trip with a credit card that provides travel insurance or by purchasing a separate standalone travel insurance policy to cover your risks.
Though purchasing travel insurance can mean additional costs upfront, it can provide peace of mind that your thoughtful travel planning and spending won't be all for naught.
Some travelers opt to purchase additional coverage called Cancel For Any Reason so that any potential disruptor won't mean huge losses (typically 25% of expenses rather than 100%).
» Learn more: Is Cancel For Any Reason travel insurance worth it?
These are just some of the best ways to save on plane tickets
Air travel can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Whether you’re paying cash or using reward miles, being savvy about when and how you book can save you tons of money. Those dollars you’re saving on airfare can instead go toward fancy restaurants, exciting hotels and new experiences — what’s not to love?
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card