4 Ideas For When The Flight You Want to Book Is Too Expensive

Flexibility is key when searching for alternatives to an expensive flight, but points and miles can help too.
Josh Garber
By Josh Garber 
Edited by Giselle M. Cancio

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If you're planning a trip and the flight you want to book is too expensive, below are four ideas to help save you money and keep your travel plans on track.

1. Use credit card points or airline miles

If a flight you want to book is too expensive, a great way to save some money is to use your credit card points or airline miles to book your flight instead.

To illustrate this, let's say you're planning a ski trip to the Swiss Alps. You want to fly from Houston-Intercontinental to Zurich one way in business class, leaving on Jan. 18, 2024, with no more than one layover.

Searching on Google Flights, the cheapest flight within these parameters is a $3,086 ticket on United Airlines.

You may not be out of luck if that's beyond your budget. By going to United's website and searching for award tickets, you can find one-way business class flights from Houston-Intercontinental to Zurich, on the same dates and with one layover, for only 80,000 miles and $5 in fees.

In this case, you could use United MileagePlus miles or transfer points to miles from a credit card partner like Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

One of our favorite tools for looking up flights using points and miles is Point.me, a website that lets you sync your reward balances and then shows you options for how to best use your points and miles for booking flights. While membership costs $12 a month, you can also get a $5 day pass, which can be helpful if you want to book a single flight.

2. Change your travel dates by a few days

Flexibility with dates can save you money on your flights, even if you're only flexible by a few days.

The Google Flights date grid feature is our favorite tool for searching for lower-priced airfare based on dates. To illustrate how being flexible by a few days could save you a significant amount of money on your flight, we looked at round-trip, nonstop flights in economy class from Los Angeles (LAX) to London-Heathrow (LHR) from July 22 through July 27, 2023.

With those dates, the lowest price fare was $2,647 round trip.

If you have any flexibility with your dates, when searching with Google Flights, you should always click "Date grid," to see if cheaper flights are offered around the same dates. Below is what the date grid for the flight looks like:

By moving the outbound flight to just one day earlier — leaving Friday, July 21, instead of Saturday, July 22 — the price for a round-trip, nonstop ticket from Los Angeles to London drops to $1,153, saving you a whopping $1,494.

Keep in mind that the more flexibility you have with dates, the better. As you can see above, the most expensive flight option is $2,727 and the least expensive is $1,118, meaning you could save up to $1,609 by being flexible with dates.

3. Fly into or out of a nearby airport

Similar to how flexibility with dates can save money, flying into or out of a nearby airport can also result in serious savings.

For example, let's say you're planning a trip from Miami to Washington, D.C. You're set on traveling from Aug. 10 through Aug. 13, 2023, with no wiggle room. You also want a nonstop flight.

Using Google Flights, you find a nonstop United flight to Washington-Dulles for $557. However, there's a notification on the search page that you can fly into Baltimore-Washington for only $145 round trip — a savings of $412.

Not only will flying into Baltimore save you money, but the train trip from Baltimore to downtown D.C. may be quicker than getting there from Washington-Dulles.

Even if Google Flights doesn't prompt you to let you know that you can save money by looking at different airports, we'd recommend searching nearby airports yourself if the flight you're trying to book is too expensive.

4. Consider taking a train or bus instead

If the flight you're trying to book is too expensive, consider taking a train or bus, where it's a feasible option.

Europe is one of our favorite places to save money by taking a train or bus. Let's say you need to get from London to Paris on July 22, 2023, and you're not flexible with your travel date. When searching for flights, you'll see that a one-way plane ticket would cost you at least $238.

But by taking a train instead, you could pay as little as $168 — a savings of $70. As a bonus, you'll depart from and arrive in the middle of the city, so you won't need to spend time in transit to and from the airport.

While train and bus options can be more limited in the U.S., it's still worth looking for viable alternatives if the plane ticket costs too much. For instance, you could take a train or bus from Philadelphia to New York instead of a flight.

What to do when your flight is too expensive

Suppose the flight you want to book is too expensive. In that case, you can take a few steps to save your cash, including using points or miles, having flexibility in your travel days, flying to or from a nearby airport and looking into taking a train or bus where feasible.

Some of these options can result in significant cash savings while positively impacting your travel budget.

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