I’m a solo female travel blogger on a mission to complete 12 trips in 12 months. I want to accomplish this personal feat before I turn the big 3-0.
As a young professional, I’m on a tight budget. The most expensive part of any trip is the flight, so I had to find cheap airfare to meet my travel goals. Stops on my year of adventure include the South of France during lavender season, Mexico during whale shark season and Iceland during the autumnal equinox. So far, I’ve booked 11 of the 12 trips, most for under $400 round-trip. My cheapest round-trip flight came in at just $70.
Finding cheap flights is not an easy feat. It can take a lot of time and effort. But if you’re okay with being flexible on the dates and airports, you can save hundreds of dollars.
Below are some examples of the types of deals I’ve come across and the secrets to finding them.
The deal: $353 for a round-trip flight to Stockholm
The secret: Fly with budget airlines
Budget airlines get a bad reputation, as many travelers believe they’ll be sacrificing quality for a bargain price. But those flying with budget airlines overseas might be pleasantly surprised. Italy-based Alitalia gives you two meals, a blanket and complimentary headphones on transatlantic flights, for instance. Colombia-based Avianca will take you from Lima to Cusco for under $100, with snacks, drinks and a carry-on included in all fares and a meal on all international flights.
I booked a round-trip flight from Miami to Stockholm for just $325 with Norwegian, directly through their website. Norwegian charges extra for everything from your seat selection to water, so I bought food at the terminal and risked my seat assignment on the way there to minimize additional costs. I lucked out and got an aisle seat, but on the way home, I decided not to risk it and paid $28 to make sure I would have a window seat — bringing the total cost of my flight up to $353.
The deal: $145 flight to Quito, Ecuador
The secret: Get a travel credit card
One of the easiest ways to land a practically free flight is to sign up for a travel credit card, especially if you tend to pay your balance off in full each month. If you’re apprehensive about taking on additional debt or living beyond your means, start small. Choose an airline specific credit card with a low spending threshold to earn extra sign-up miles. The reward can range anywhere from 5,000 to 100,000 bonus miles depending on the card, which could cover a round-trip flight with that airline Also, don’t scoff if you hear flight attendants peddling a credit card on a flight — these can often carry twice the bonus miles typically offered.
With my first travel credit card, I received 5,000 bonus miles for signing up and used those miles to buy a nonstop flight through JetBlue from Fort Lauderdale to Ecuador. The one-way flight cost me 7,500 miles and $16 for taxes and fees. I booked the return flight a few weeks later after accruing additional miles on my card, coming out to $129 for taxes and fees on the reward flight, for a total of $145 round-trip.
Before you sign up for a travel card, however, make sure you’re aware of any fees, such as annual fees, and the interest rates that come with the card. The point of getting a rewards credit card is to reap a financial benefit, and there’s enough competition that you should be able to take advantage of a promotional offer that doesn’t include administrative costs.
The deal: $182 round-trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico
The secret: Sign up for an email subscription list
In the beginning, I signed up for every flight tracker app and alert out there, with no success. Then I found Scott’s Cheap Flights, a service that emails you cheap or mistake fares that are mostly international as they come up.
The email, from travel expert Scott Keyes, details the airline, departure airports affected, price range for tickets and how long a deal is expected to last. I was on the free list for a month before upgrading to the premium subscription which lets you receive news of the deals before others and gives you access to more of the deals.
I recently booked a $182 round-trip flight from Fort Lauderdale to San Juan, Puerto Rico on Spirit Airlines.
The deal: $339 round-trip flight to Reykjavik, Iceland
The secret: Don’t hesitate to buy when there’s a ridiculously low one-way flight
Good deals are hard to find, and they don’t last for long. If you come across an offer that looks too good to be true, don’t think, just buy. The Department of Transportation mandates that airlines give you a 24-hour grace period where they’ll refund your purchase in full for any reason, as long as the trip is at least seven days away. So this comes in handy if you truly experience buyer’s remorse afterward.
Do not mull over your options or wait to hear back from potential travel mates. It seems counterintuitive, but book the flight first and figure out the logistics of your trip later.
I’d heard about Wow Air’s $99 fares to Iceland, but they seemed like a myth. Every time I went to book, tickets were $300 and up. When I was alerted about a $99 flight to Iceland during a holiday weekend, I pounced. The return fare was $240, bringing my grand total to $339 round trip for a nonstop, round-trip flight from Miami to Reykjavik. A friend who later resolved to join me on the trip missed the sale and paid double the price.
The deal: $70 nonstop, round-trip flight to Oranjestad, Aruba
The secret: Utilize fare finder calendars
You may have heard travelers debating the best days to travel or purchase airline tickets. Fare finder calendars can take the guess work out of booking, giving you an idea of fares months in advance.
Google Flights has a map option where you can input flexible dates and departure airports and browse the most affordable destinations worldwide. Using this method, I found a $23 connection from Nice, France, to London.
Also, using the Best Fare Finder on JetBlue’s site, I found a $54 promotional fare from Fort Lauderdale to Aruba. Combined with a $16 rewards fare for my return trip, the cost of taxes and fees on the flight, I flew nonstop, round-trip to Aruba for only $70.
The deal: $397 round-trip flight to Marrakesh, Morocco
The secret: Consider nearby airports
Morocco is a bucket-list destination. Shopping for exotic spices in the souks, riding camels in the Sahara desert and admiring the streets of Chefchaouen are experiences many dream of having. However, depending on your city of departure, flights to Morocco can be really expensive. The solution? Consider nearby airports.
When I was informed of good deals for Madrid, I was hesitant. I had just returned from Spain and wanted to venture out. Then I remembered Madrid is a connection hub for major cities like Athens, Istanbul and Marrakesh. I booked the round trip from Miami to Madrid for $321 on Air Europa, unsure of my ultimate destination. A few weeks later, during a Ryanair promotion, I booked a connection to Marrakesh for an additional $76, bringing my grand total for Morocco to $397 round-trip. Note that it would have been just as easy to connect to any of the other cities I mentioned for a comparable price.
Traveling doesn’t have to be expensive. There are good deals everywhere for those who know where and how to look.