After a year of travel restrictions, closed borders and canceled flights, the cabin fever is getting a little too intense. We’re ready to explore again—not to mention, do more than stare at the inside walls of our houses and apartments. Traveling gets expensive and stressful quick, so keep in mind various ways to keep costs down and the stress level low. It’s meant to be fun. Do what you need to so you can enjoy yourself.
Saving Money on Flights
The key here is to stay flexible. Bumping a flight a day or two earlier or later can make an enormous difference in price. Avoid peak hours and days if possible. Friday and Sunday often have the steepest prices. Fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday and take a redeye or overnight flight. Either way, you’ll probably end up sleeping through it, which is probably the best way to spend time on an airplane. Slip on some noise-canceling headphones and you’ll happily wake up hours later in another country.
Book Flights in the Sweet Spot
Keep the prime booking window in mind as well. “The earlier, the better,” isn’t necessarily true for flight prices. There’s actually a sweet spot in the timing to hit the lowest prices for a flight. The best time is around ten weeks in advance, but there’s a couple-week leeway on both sides. Also, take the season into account for your destination. Travel in general is often cheaper in Europe in late fall and early spring. If you hit the timing just right, you’ll see a gorgeous change of season in process there and save money while you’re at it. Know what the off seasons are for your destination.
Delete Those Cookies
When searching for tickets, delete browser cookies on a regular basis. Part of the reason the tickets keep going up is because data tracking knows you’re interested. Along the same vein, use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to base your location in other countries and see what the prices are for locals. This can be handy for hotels and rental cars as well. The one caveat: be sure your credit card isn’t weighted down with high foreign transaction fees or the entire plan may backfire on you.
Search for Hidden Cities
If you’re not finding anything viable, consider hidden-city ticketing. This is when you buy connecting flights because they’re cheaper than direct, but you’re getting off before the final flight. It’s not ideal, because you can get banned from airlines for it, but it’s still technically legal. Careful with this plan if you do it, though, different airlines have different repercussions for missing a connecting flight. You don’t want this to make things more expensive for yourself in the end.
The Actual Flying Process
When it comes to boarding your flight and enjoying time in the air, here's what you do.
Forget About Checked Bags
Don’t check bags. Checked luggage fees are getting ridiculous and if you really need one more shirt to wear to the beach, just buy one wherever you're headed. Even if you’re not checking luggage, make sure to keep essentials with you. Sometimes carry-ons end up getting checked last minute, and you do not want to be separated from your passport, wallet, or anything else of value. It’s also a good idea to pack a fresh change of clothes in the bag that won’t leave your side. If things get lost or anything bizarre happens on the flight, you have clean items to wear right off the bat.
Save Time with Technology
Download the airline app for updates, info and easy check in (because no checked bags anymore, remember?). TSA Precheck is worth it if you plan on traveling at all in the next five years. If you’ll be doing more international travel, go for Global Entry. It’s only $15 more, plus it includes TSA Precheck. It lasts a long time, it’s a one-time fee, and you get to skip those terrible lines. Your TSA Precheck and Global Entry will be connected to your airline app, so this means you don't have to worry about another piece of paper or important document.
Comfort Over All Else
Wear something comfy. You might end up sitting on the tarmac for hours while they “fix” something on the plane without deboarding. If you do plan on staying awake, make sure you’ve come prepared in case there’s any connection malfunction or a broken backseat screen in front of you. Sitting wide awake on a long flight with nothing to watch or read makes for a miserable time.
Book ahead while there’s still free cancelation, that way you can hold a rate while continuing to shop. Make sure you’re aware of any membership discounts you might be privy to (auto benefits, military discount, or senior citizen organizations, especially). While hotel booking websites often show the most appealing price, many prominent hotels are willing to price match booking sites. You'll also find that booking directly through the hotel can result in a more pleasurable stay. Free breakfast or early check in/late checkout may be offered complimentary for those that book with the hotel directly.
Always ask for an room upgrade. 9 times out of 10, it won't work. But it never hurts to ask and sometimes a wink and a smile can go a long way when you're dealing with people.
If you’re going to be renting a car, don’t do it through the airport. You’ll be paying extra for the convenience of just getting into a rental car right away. Be sure to shop around online but compare the discount sites to the actual rental company rates. You may not be getting a discount after all. Just have one driver; this saves a bunch of fees. Always ask for an room upgrade. 9 times out of 10, it won't work. But it never hurts to ask and sometimes a wink and a smile can go a long way when you're dealing with people.
Use every advantage available to suck the points and rewards out of your credit cards. Even if it means signing up for a new one… or two… whenever you open a card, they have tons of initial bonus points that pile in pretty quick if you use them. Sign up for multiple cards. Some travel cards are aimed at airlines, others at hotels, and some are for general travel. Know which card to use for what so you can cash in maximum points and discounts.
Know your cards’ perks. Hotel and car rental discounts can be significant, and you often get treated better, possibly even upgraded for free. Try to pick at least one card with a private access lounge in the airport. You’ll feel calmer, better about life, and most likely there’ll be free food.
Overall, spend some time familiarizing yourself with your options so you know what’s a good deal and what’s not. And at the end of the day, don’t stress. Travel is finally permitted again, as well as leaving your house. So, take a deep breath and let it all soak in.