Travel on a budget - Part 1 - Airfare

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Everyone is watching their bottom line lately - and I think when it comes to spending someone else money, the same rules should apply!  Most of my travel is on my employer's dime - and it would be easy to spend double on travel than I actually need to.  I decided to put together some tips I use when searching for the best deal on travel.  This entry will focus on airfare and airfare related costs, and a later post will talk about hotel costs.

  1.  Start early, but not too early - I just searched for flights in late August 2010 and then did the same search for 9 months out, and the price in March 2011 were 70% higher.  I find that the sweet spot is around 3-6 weeks before your desired travel date. Using sites like can save you time by showing you price trends and allows you to search various airlines AND Expedia AND Priceline using the same search criteria. 
  2. Be flexible - If you are just looking for a get-away, don't get locked into a single location when searching.  Sure, Cancun may be fun, but what about Cabo san Lucas? Or Belize? Or Puerto Rico?  Or Hilton Head Island?  What about traveling mid-week?  For a future vacation, I'm flying out on a Wednesday and returning on a Wednesday which saved about $180/ticket by flying off-peak days.
  3. Drive a little, save a lot - Des Moines International Airport isn't known for having the best fairs, so many travelers in the metro area drive to Kansas City or Omaha to catch cheaper flights.  This can mean substantial savings to some, but this option doesn't always make sense for me.  When I'm gone for 3-4 weeks, my parking fees in Kansas City or Omaha outweigh my savings.  I prefer to fly out of Des Moines and look to save money by flying into a major airport.  A flight from Des Moines to Augusta, Georgia averages around $600 round-trip.  Flying into Columbia, South Carolina (only 70 miles away) can save $200 on a trip.  If I have time to drive a little more (about 3 hours), I can fly into Atlanta for under $300 (over 50% off!).  Of course, it is important to factor in the cost of fuel when determining which option is right for you.  
  4. Last minute deals - I know, this totally contradicts tip number 1, but sometimes there are amazing deals out there for last minute trips.  Especially on Priceline!  You can name your own price on hotels (more about this later) or on flights.  It can certainly be hit or miss, but worth looking into.  A friend of mine once logged on to Priceline at 7am, booked a flight to Cancun for noon and was on the beach before sunset...not a bad way to start the weekend.
  5. Sign up for emails - Spam - ugh.  I can't tell you how many emails I receive each day - too many, for sure.  Awhile back, I signed up for emails from Priceline, Travelocity, Expedia, etc.  You tell them places you want to travel and they'll send you alerts any time the prices get below a threshold that you set up, or just cheap tickets in general.  Of the 3 or 4 emails they send me each week, most go to the trash bin - but the one email that saves me $200 on a flight makes it all worth it!
  6. Sign up for miles -  Take advantage of the bribes airlines offer - miles. You can direct your miles to apply to hotel rooms, or if you travel enough - free airline tickets! 
  7. Use a travel agent - Sure, with the internet, it is much easier to compare flight information yourself than it was, say, 15 years ago.  But travel agents usually have years of experience and can find great deals on flights and vacations.  They know all the tricks of the trade, and can often find better deals than you or I.  A personal shout out to my travel agent and family friend Julie McClaflin!  Wait until you see the trip she set me up on!
So what are your tips for saving money on air travel?


  1. Yes, by all means, come visit Hilton Head and we'll go too! ;-)

  2. Heck yes! I know you guys look at airfare between Augusta and DSM, any tips to share?

  3. Fly into or out of anywhere but DSM. Did you see it made the list of top ten most expensive US airports again this year? Moline & KC are great.

    You mentioned miles - w/Delta SkyMiles we get a mile for each dollar of our gas bill (Scana Gas) each month. AirTran's A+ rewards are great too.

  4. I changed my mind... we need to go to Tybee and eat at the crab shack. :D


Please make sure your comment does not contain information on my employer. Thanks!

Latest Instagrams

© Has Passport, Will Travel. Design by Fearne.