Flying tips

Befriend budget airlines

Budget airlines offer significantly cheaper tickets than their full-service counterparts. It should be obvious, but this comes with compromises such as less leg room and no “free” food/drink on-board (which by the way, is normally covered in your higher-priced ticket with full-service airlines). If you are considering flying budget, which in our opinion is a great way to save, I'd highly recommend reading our guide on 7 must-know facts about budget airlines. Below is a comprehensive list of budget airlines around the globe. Red indicates true budget airlines while blue implies the cheapest companies available where budget airlines don't exist or aren't plentiful. But First… A NOTE ON BOOKING BUDGET AIRLINES. Always read the fine print and do the following:

  • Check where the airport location is (some budget airlines fly to airports further out of  town).
  • Ensure you've booked & paid for your luggage allowance. Adhere to restrictions on weight, height, and # of bags allowed. Some airlines (e.g. Ryanair) will charge hefty fee if you're over. Remember, paying only for the exact luggage space/weight you need is how budget airlines keep their prices lower than traditional airlines!
  • Read the fine print. The best example is that Ryanair WILL CHARGE AN AIRPORT CHECK-IN Fee €/£55 if you do not check-in online in advance and print your boarding pass, or use their mobile boarding pass. A warning of this fee is clearly stated in all capital letters in the first sentence of your e-confirmation. In a nutshell, always read and follow instructions! Remember, if you want to book the cheapest flight possible (not service-of-the-year-award-winner), be adaptable, do your research, and know the budget airline's requirements & restrictions. If you're heading to any of these parts of the globe, start stalking these airlines. Use Twitter, Facebook or regularly check budget airline webpages to keep you in touch with specials before they sell out. Air Asia, Jetstar, Tiger Air and Ryanair are especially good at having regular deals. Many of these budget airlines have their own airline rewards credit cards, and most of them offer a major signup points bonus. For example, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card from Chase offers Companion Pass (every time you fly, your friend flies too) and 30,000 bonus points after hitting the minimum spend in the first 3 months. However, a general travel rewards credit card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is the best option for most people, as you have the flexibility to redeem your points towards a wide variety of airlines and hotels. You'll receive 100,000 bonus points worth $1,250 through the Chase Ultimate Rewards program after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months of your account opening, and the card features no foreign transaction fees. Compare this card to other travel cards here. On a side note, Wikipedia has a more detailed, comprehensive listing of low-cost airlines down to specific countries here, though what they consider “low-cost” is debatable. Still, if you're going to a specific country, it's worth checking so you know all your options.

Fly for free with points

The cheapest flight you can book is free, and the easiest way to do that is with points. If you don't have any, don't fret – signing up for just one travel rewards credit card and hitting the minimum spend can land you a major points bonus, often enough for a free flight! You can sign up for an airline rewards card that earns points with a particular airline, or a more general travel rewards card that lets you redeem points across a variety of airlines. As a beginner card, we recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. You can earn up to 100,000 in bonus points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months after your account opening. That's worth $1,250 when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards, and more than enough for an international flight. And since it includes trip cancelation insurance, car rental collision damage waiver, lost luggage insurance, and no foreign transaction fees, it's the perfect all-rounder travel credit card. You can compare this card with other top credit cards. We recommend using your card for everyday purchases, and to treat it like cash, using only the money you have in the bank, and paying your balance off each month. That way, you won't be charged interest, and you'll effectively get your points for free! For more tips on how to master points travel, check out our guide How to Get Free Flights with Travel Credit Cards and Points for everything you need to get started.

Identify the cheapest day to fly out

While many theories exist around booking specifically on a Tuesday to save money, the reality is there is no consistent truth to exactly which days are cheapest to fly. Most of the time it is cheaper to leave on a weekday, though this isn't always the case. Your best strategy is to get a quick visual of prices for a whole month to see what days are cheapest for your specific route. Here's how: Step 1. Hop on the Skyscanner website or download the app Step 2. Enter your departure & arrival cities Step 3. Select “one-way” (even if flying round trip – you're just determining the cheapest days to fly out first) Step 4. On a computer: click “Depart” but instead of entering a date, select “Whole Month”, and then “Cheapest Month” so you can browse all dates to see which is cheapest. Hit “Search flights” to easily see which date is cheapest. In the mobile app: Tap the departure date, then change the view to “Chart”. You can easily swipe left and right to find the cheapest date, and tap on one of the bars to see the price. Repeat these steps for your return flight if applicable. You can still book a round trip in one booking, but doing these steps first will let you see which dates are generally cheaper to fly in/out on for your round trip. and Google Flights work similarly to Skyscanner, plus they have map views as well, so you can see where the airport is. For tracking when and where is cheapest to fly, Hopper also offer price analysis and track fluctuations (i.e. when is best to fly).

Use the best flight search engines

All search engines have inflated flight costs as part of taking a cut from the airlines. Some search engines (e.g. Expedia) consistently inflate much higher than others (listed below). It pays to familiarise yourself with sites that offer the best prices. As of 2020, most budget airlines will now appear in the broad search engines we are recommending (but NOT Southwest). If you want to be 100% sure though, you can do an additional search for regional budget airlines (we've listed as many we know of further below). Finally, no single search engine is consistently perfect (though we typically find the cheapest price on Skyscanner or Momondo). As such, you may need to try a combination of search engines to ensure you're not missing any results. There doesn't seem to be one that gets the cheapest flight 100% of the time.

Keep your searches top secret

You're not crazy for thinking that a flight price has changed after searching it a few times in your web browser. Based on the cookies in your browser, flight prices do increase when a particular route is repeatedly searched, as the site wants to scare you into booking the flight quickly before prices get even higher. Always search for flights in incognito or private browsing mode to see the lowest prices. In Google Chrome or Safari, incognito is enabled by hitting Command (or “Control” if using PC), Shift, “N”. For Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer, hit Command (or “Control” if using a PC), Shift, “P”. This will open a new browser window where your information is not tracked, thus not inflating prices as you search. Note: if you're using an older version of OS X, open Safari then click “Safari” in the menu bar, and select “Private Browsing”. Your cookies are reset each time you re-open an incognito window. So if you want to start with a clean slate for each flight search (so your previous searches aren't “remembered”, potentially inflating costs), close all your incognito windows, open a new one, and then perform your flight search.

Believe in your fellow humans’ decency

I think one reason Southwest gets a bad rep is because some people subtly, but snobbishly, think of it as a cattle class experience where you rub elbows with “unsavory” people. Which is stupid. Yes, you’re on a public flight and yes you don’t get to choose who you sit next to. Every airline is like that. And while people will certainly fight over seating preferences, in general humans are decent. Believe in your fellow humans’ decency and be decent yourself and everything should be fine. Southwest doesn’t overbook flights, so everyone will get a seat. Also, people tend to help others out, especially those with families. Leslie tweeted this right after I landed from my Southwest flight.

Witnessing lots of kindness aboard @SouthwestAir in #BNA tonight. Passengers swapping seats to help families boarding late due to flight delays sit with their kids. Human kindness is alive and well! #TMOM #southweststorytellers— Leslie Harvey (@TripsWithTykes) June 10, 2018

So don’t stress out too much and just enjoy the flight! What’s your experience on Southwest? Got any tips to help make a better experience? Please, share in the comments! Never miss a post! Subscribe below and receive an e-mail once a day for new posts from asthejoeflies. Also, follow our family adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Don't forget about local airlines

While the above search engines are great, they do not always include small airlines, especially in less popularly booked routes and/or in remote regions. If you're flying somewhere obscure, Google search and ask around if there exists a local airline. While in South America we learnt that the LADE Air in Argentina (run by the military) has cheap flights to Patagonia, which is of course not listed in mass search engines online. When you do find small airlines, even if they are listed in a search engine results, it often pays to check the company site which may reveal exclusive online offers not found in a regular search engine. For example, when flying in Western Canada, I found that Hawk Air, a small and local company offers weekly deals on certain days. Be sure to double check!

Change or cancel your flight without fees

One of Southwest’s best features is the ability to change or cancel your flights without change fees. You can cancel or change your flight any time before the listed flight time and not pay any extra fees. If you’re changing, obviously you need to pay any difference in fares. Your refund will come in the form of Southwest credit. You also need to use this within a year and for the original traveler, so be careful. If you book with points, you get all the points refunded to your account, so if you have them that’s the way to go. Either way, not having to pay change fees is great for flexibility. You can use Southwest as a placeholder while you wait for something better to open up. See the full policy here.

Use Wi-fi from gate to gate

One great thing about Southwest is their Wi-fi is available from gate to gate. Download the Southwest app beforehand, although I had no problem using my browser. You can stream TV from your browser for free as soon as you get on the plane. Wi-fi also only costs $8 for 24 hours (across all your flights), so you can pay to browse the internet and what not. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another US carrier that does that. I will say I had no problem streaming TV, but for some reason I couldn’t pay to use Wi-fi at all. I tried to give Southwest my money eight times, but it didn’t work! I’ve asked enough people though to know that what I experienced isn’t really the norm, Southwest Wi-fi is as good (or bad) as any other airline, with the added benefit that it’s relatively inexpensive and you can use it from the moment you enter the cabin to the moment you leave.

There should be plenty of overhead space

Sam from Milenomics, as he is wont to do, asked me a very good question as I was figuring out my check in plan. “Why do you want to have a high boarding group?” He rightfully pointed out that even B60 boards before one third of the plane, so getting a window or aisle should still be possible. He also mentioned that since Southwest allows free checked bags, a lot of people take advantage of that so there is plenty of overhead space. That’s a great thing to know, when flying Southwest you generally don’t need to stress out too much about overhead space.