Finding Cheap Airfares Without Using Miles or a Credit Card
She’s been talking my ear off for a good 35 minutes, barely stopping to take a breath. I’m trying to listen, but the gnawing boredom makes it difficult to concentrate. Something about airline miles…points…7 different credit cards…
“I haven’t paid for a flight in 3 years” she boasts, beaming with pride as she continues to rattle off hack after airfare hack.
I interrupt her to prevent myself from falling asleep and inquire, “How long would you say it took you to research all of these different credit cards, apply for them, learn the various rules for acquiring points, and redeem said points when buying your airline tickets?”
“Oh man!” she exclaims, groaning. “Hours upon hours. It took forever to research the right cards, and then every time I book airfare I have to find flights where I can use my points. A lot of the time the dates and times I want aren’t available.”
So….what’s the (pun intended) point?
Now if you want to spend your precious time dealing with all this hullaboo in the name of travel hacking, more power to you.
The thing to realize is that you aren’t, in fact, getting anything for “free.”
The woman from the story above probably spent some 40 hours researching which credit cards would give her the most/best airline miles/points.
She also spends hours booking flights that a regular paying customer could book in 15 minutes.
Now, I do recommend putting airfare purchases on a credit card if possible to protect you from fraud. But beyond that, finding cheap airfare is pretty easy – and doesn’t require you to invest hours upon hours of your life just to earn “free” miles (are those miles really free? Time is money, people!).
Use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights on the Internet – this site is fantastic for international and domestic travel. I always find the cheapest available flight on my chosen date/time, and you’re automatically redirected to the airline’s website to book.
Avoid using Google to research airfare – their search engine is surprisingly limited, and if you’re searching from the U.S., many international flights won’t be displayed.
Book a one-way ticket – If you’re strapped for cash but need to travel abroad, it can be hard to come up with the cost of a round trip ticket all at once. Why not book a one-way flight now and book your return ticket later, when you have the necessary funds? This way, your trip is definitely “on” and you can maintain flexibility in case you’d like to stay at your destination longer than planned.
And contrary to popular belief, it’s not always that much cheaper to buy a round-trip ticket.
Case in point: I recently flew from Bangkok to Chicago one-way for about $400. The round-trip ticket was just under $800, just slightly cheaper than the one-way price.
And final word about round-trip flights being “cheaper”: $400 is less money than $800. The “cheaper” benefit only comes into play if you actually purchase a return flight.
Mix and match departure and arrival locations – If you’re flying from Rio to Paris, look for flights that originate in Rio and arrive anywhere in Western Europe. It might be cheaper to fly into London, Copenhagen, or Berlin, and then take a short commuter flight (or bus, or train) to Paris from there. If cost is more important than convenience, flying into a bigger, busier airport is almost always less expensive.
Get (un)comfy – It probably goes without saying that comfortable flights (nonstop business class) are almost always more expensive than uncomfortable flights (coach, 2+ stops, horrendous layovers). If you have an adventurous spirit that still makes long layovers and multiple stops exciting, this is one of the easiest ways to find a cheap ticket.
Use Airtreks.com – If you’re flying to multiple international destinations during a single trip, you can save hundreds, even thousands of dollars using a service like Airtreks. They will research the cheapest airfare for your destinations and include unlisted prices not available anywhere else online. If you want to fly to Paris by way of Ho Chi Minh City by way of Seattle before flying to Munich, this is the way to do it without dropping $5,000.
If the thought of spending hours applying for credit cards and calculating points makes you yawn, don’t let those travel hackers scare you. You’re not destined to pay full price airfare forever, and you can find affordable flights without racking up points on a credit card.
Use Skyscanner and Airtreks, remember that Google is not omniscient, and consider booking a one-way ticket. If all else fails, start tacking on multiple stops and layovers to decrease your airfare even further.
How do you save big on international airfare?
Have you found a credit card that offers points without the pain?
Rebecca Anne Nguyen is a freelance writer and the Founder of TheHappyPassport.com, an inspiration site for solo female travellers.