On Sunday, November 25th, known as one of the busiest travel days of the year in the US, I found myself on a crowded bus going from San Francisco to Los Angeles, CA. As I sat, crammed into a corner by the window with a dying iPhone and nothing to satisfy my growling stomach except the remains of chocolate bar, I wondered why I hadn’t just spent the extra money and booked a flight. A flight from SF to LA takes an hour at most. On Sunday, I was in transit for a full eleven hours.
Living in LA, most of my money goes toward rent and living costs, and there’s rarely much leftover for things like airline tickets. However, after wasting two days back and forth on a bus, I realized that my time and comfort is probably worth a little extra expense.
So, how can a girl on a budget save on airline costs and travel expenses? With Hanukkah, Christmas and other winter holidays fast approaching, I’m sure this is something that a lot of us are wondering.
How to get the cheapest airline tickets
After a bit of research and asking a friend who works as a travel agent, I learned that there are some tricks to getting cheap flights. So why sit on a bus for eleven hours if you can fly for not much more? Note that most of these rules are for domestic US flights only.
1. If you can arrange it in your schedule, the cheapest day to fly is generally Wednesday. Other cheap days tend to be Tuesday and Saturday, whereas the most expensive are Friday and Sunday. Also, the cheapest time of day is usually early in the morning! So look for those flights at 6am on a Wednesday and you might find that they’re less than you were expecting.
2. The best time to buy airline tickets is 3pm EST on a Tuesday. Buying airfare on the weekends will often show the most expensive results.
3. Use Bing Travel to track the trends in airfare! It’s an incredibly useful tool that tells you if it thinks airline prices will go up, down, or remain the same from the time you look them up. They also have a system that will send you email alerts when prices drop to and from your destination of choice.
4. Start pricing your flights as soon as possible. My travel agent friend says that 3 weeks before a flight is a good time to book, but with the busy holiday season, the sooner, the better.
5. Try not to check a bag. Most airlines will charge around $25 per check bagged, which is $50 roundtrip and often one of my motivators to travel by bus or train. However, if you’re just going home for the holidays, try to fit everything you need in one carry-on. I know, this means no bringing perfume, shampoo, liquid foundation, mascara, etc. (unless you get tiny, disposable bottles for everything), but a lot of this stuff you can borrow from friends and family while you’re there.
6. If you’re going home for Christmas, take some extra time off work and fly around the busiest period, which means trying to fly out before December 18th – 20th. You will notice a big difference in prices.
However, if you can’t manage a flight this holiday season, the bus is a very viable option. When I was traveling around the East Coast, I used the Bolt Bus and Megabus to go between cities like New York, Boston, Providence, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and more. They are relatively comfortable (as far as buses go) and many of them have WiFi and outlets for your computer. It’s not a wasted day if you can get work done while you travel! I hear that Megabus is coming back to California, and I couldn’t be more excited!
What is your favorite way to travel? Do you have any tricks for flying cheap? Share with us in the comments – we’re dying to know.