Summer has arrived, and that means it’s vacation time! If you’re planning a trip to a far-off destination, you’re in good company. The industry association Airlines for America is predicting a record number of airplane passengers this summer, with an especially noticeable increase in international travel. While that’s great news for the airline industry, it’s not such great news for you. And we’re not just talking about the longer lines or the influx of screaming infants. With the increased demand, it’s going to be harder to find great deals on air travel. Fortunately, we have a few tried-and-true tricks to ease your burden. We can’t control whom you’ll sit next to, but at least we can save you money on airline fees.
1. Consider a travel credit card
Looking for a quick discount? Some travel credit cards offer airline-specific savings, waiving bag fees, giving out priority upgrades and more. Other cards, like the Starwood American Express, don’t help you out on any specific airline, but they do earn you 1.25 miles per $1 spent on most major airlines. If you’re loyal to one airline or consortium, you can get great value out of the cards’ auxiliary perks.
If you like to airline-hop or tend to purchase through third-party sites, you’ll probably be better off with a general travel card. These earn bonus miles on more than just one specific airline, and give you greater flexibility in redemption. No matter what route you take, remember to choose a card with no foreign transaction fee: the charge, levied on all purchases made abroad, adds up quickly. If you spend $2,000 overseas in a year, with a 3% F/X fee, you’re out $60.
Be mindful of extra fees
Be careful: that cheap airline ticket might not be so cheap once you tack on the extra fees. Auxiliary fees have grown exponentially – not that we need to tell you. Once you’ve paid the base airfare, brace yourself for fees tacked onto every other activity: checking baggage, bringing a pet, using priority boarding, or even selecting your own seat! Check out NerdWallet’s airline fee comparison tool for a complete overview of domestic airline fees.
Be flexible with time
When are you planning to leave? Maybe a Friday night or a Saturday? While that might be great for your work schedule, it definitely won’t guarantee you the cheapest tickets. Weekends are more convenient, and airlines know it, so that’s when tickets will be the most expensive. You’ll save a lot more money if you can fly on unpopular days. Historically, Wednesdays are the cheapest days to fly. If you can’t fly mid-week, you should at least book your tickets mid-week.
The Internet is (sometimes) your friend
The Internet is like space. It’s the final frontier, full of fabulous things to discover, and very, very vast. You’ll probably have to put in a fair amount of time and effort to find a good deal, unless you know where to look. Travel search aggregators like Kayak, Qixo and SideStep allow you compare offers from airlines and travel search sites side by side to get a sense of the going rate for your route. You can also look at fare charts to see if ticket prices go down on a certain day of the week, or during a given month.
Let someone else book it
With the influx of travel booking websites, travel agents may not get as much buzz as they used to, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t useful. Many people avoid them for fear of extra fees, but the fact of the matter is many travel agent services are free, or at least cheap. Travel agents make most (if not all) of their money by referring people to travel service providers. Plus, they’re travel professionals, so they’ll be able to give you real world advice that travel websites just can’t provide. If you’re looking for help planning your trip, you may also want to consider a complete travel package that includes your airfare along with your lodging, and maybe even some of your activities.
Laura Edgar is a senior writer for NerdWallet, an unbiased personal finance website committed to saving you money on travel.