1) Airline loyalty pays off. I definitely don’t love Delta, but flying them almost exclusively gets me a lot of benefits, mainly in the form of miles. The year I went to both Alaska and Hawaii, I earned elite status and was upgraded to first class on almost every flight for the next year. Obviously, choosing the airline who has a hub in your city makes the most sense. It may not always be the cheapest option, but if it’s close it may be worth it in terms of rewards.
2) Get your preferred airline’s affiliate credit card. Here’s what I get for using my Skymiles American Express:
– I got 25,000 miles the first time I used the card. That’s a free domestic flight.
– I get double miles from Delta.com (Why buy airfare through Travelocity or Expedia? All they do is list the airline’s own fares, sometimes with additional fees.)
– They often offer great promotions. I’m getting 5x the miles for my flights to San Diego, LA, and Key West because I bought them during the correct timeframe.
– Checked bags are free. Which means if two of you check bags once a year, you’ve recouped the annual fee. ($50/year, waived the first year.) That’s one bag per person for everyone in your party, too, not just your own suitcase.
– You earn miles on every purchase. If you’re a credit-card-averse person, you can do it the way I do: make the purchase with your American Express, then transfer the cash to Amex from your bank account. That way you owe no interest and don’t carry a balance.*
3) Check airfare obsessively, even multiple times a day. I saved $150 on my flight to San Diego just because I jumped on it at the right time. My preferred search engines are Bing (the fare predictor is pretty reliable) and Kayak (they seem to aggregate a few airlines you don’t see often on other sites). I’ve found that their search parameters make finding the right combination of flights much easier, and then you can just click through directly to the airline.
4) Sign up for every promotion airlines/credit cards offer, even if you don’t think you’ll take advantage of them. I’ve often accidentally qualified and gotten extra miles or cashback.
5) Get a lightweight luggage scale and bring it with you. Overage fees for bags are insane – often close to $100. Also, it really sucks to have to tear your bags apart and shove everything in a carry-on while you’re standing at check-in. Trust me on this.
If your bags are too heavy, go to the local post office and take advantage of their flat-rate shipping boxes. We packed those $15 boxes full of what was easily 30lb worth of souvenirs from Hawaii, and they were waiting for us when we got home. You’ll often find local shops offering this kind of shipping deal too, even in foreign countries.
6) Before redeeming frequent flier miles, calculate their value. It always changes. This article is old, but the lessons are correct: if the flight is cheap, you’re often better buying it and saving the miles for something more expensive, particularly if you will earn a lot of miles for flying that route. (You don’t earn miles on free flights, obviously.)
That’s really only valid if you fly regularly, though. If you don’t and have saved up enough for a free flight, you should probably use them if you can. Many airlines also offer the option to pay for a portion of the flight with miles, so that’s another situation where you need to evaluate the value of a mile.
7) Be flexible. The cheapest flights are always going to be the ones with more inconvenient times. Consider going a day earlier or coming back a day later. Most airlines’ sites let you search for a range of +/- 3 days, and the prices can vary a lot. If you’re a good plane-sleeper, they practically pay you to fly red-eyes. Consider flying to nearby airports and driving, too. (For example, it’s almost as easy to fly into Ft Lauderdale or Palm Beach as an alternative to Miami.)