All my friends and family know that we travel on a budget. Living on one income is no reason to give up the dream of traveling with your children. It is doable but it requires you to really want it, to be extremely disciplined and to make it a priority.
Every time I post on social media that I’m about to go somewhere, I get lots of private messages asking me how to get the lowest fares. When traveling on a budget your biggest expense is usually the air tickets so this is important and the cornerstone of any trip planning.
What I do is no big mystery. I use the internet. But the way I find low rates requires to be a little obsessive about it and to practice, practice, practice.
First of all, you have to know geography. This sound silly but seriously, you have to know exactly where everything is at. This will give you a huge advantage because then, it becomes second nature to create different routes to the same destination and every route has a different price.
You have to learn the codes for every airport of every major city. This will save you tons of time. And by every major city I mean EVERY one.
You have to check for all international airfares at least 3 times a week. (See why you need to know airport codes?) It takes me 15 minutes to check every airfare to every major city in the world leaving from San Diego. This way you learn the trends of prices and how they fluctuate during the year. The trends change every year so your work is never done. You read it right, at least 3 times a week!
I have a crazy rule: never ever travel in the Summer! Fall, Winter early Spring are the best times to travel (inexpensive and way less crowds!).
Plan your trip at least 9 months in advance. I know this is hard. Everyone has a very busy life and sometimes it is not possible to plan ahead. But you should always try and book as early as you can. If you get the green light from work today, get home and book those flights that same day. I can not stress this enough. I have seen tickets go up by a lot in a matter of seconds. If you see the right price, you better jump on it. Only a couple times I have gambled and waited to get a lower rate and one time I got lucky and another time I got burned. That’s how this game goes.
Once you know the trends it will be easier to asses if the rates you are seeing are good rates or not. Certain cities are extremely cheap one year and extremely expensive the next. But knowing the trends will give you an idea of an average amount to compare your search with.
Another way to do it, if you are flexible, is to see what fare, leaving from your home base to anywhere in the world, is cheapest and go to that destination. This is what I’ve done 80% of the time and the reason why our first international trip ever was to Scandinavia and not Paris for example. Be flexible! Paris will always be there and the rates may be better the following year.
It used to be that the best rates were published on Tuesday night and Wednesday very early in the morning. This is changing. I’m not sure if airlines have a crazy plot to mess with airfare hunters or what, but I have seen a change this past year. This is why it’s important to do your airfare scan three times a week. Also, traveling on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays is usually cheaper than traveling right before a weekend.
From the US, South America airfares have been crazy expensive for years and they rarely go on sale. (Still, one day I’ll make it there!). Asia is not cheap but sales are not as rare as to South America. You can find great rates to Asia if you plan way in advance. Also, for Asia you pay a lot to get there but once there, everything else (hotels, food, etc.) is inexpensive, so it evens out. For Europe it is easier to get a good rate to a major city and once there, local airlines will take you anywhere for less than $50 USD, sometimes even less than that. For example, a flight from Madrid to Istanbul can be as cheap as $44 USD round trip!!!
The useful websites change constantly so I don’t use a specific one. I use them all! When I’m in the zone, you will find me with ten opened tabs on my desktop, plus the Ipads on the sides of my desktop with another four tabs opened each. And my phone also doing some heavy searching. I look like a crazy person. Travel hubs, individual airlines websites, airfare alarms, airfare apps, etc. I use them all. But honestly the ‘airfare alarms’ have given me nothing good. It is about learning the trends and recognizing a good fare when you see it.
Ain’t nobody got time for that? Then you’ll pay full price. The horror!
I sometimes imagine my rich friends reading me with a condescending smirk on their face or thinking I’m cute because they can drop $6k for a first class ticket without even blinking. And here I am looking like the Architect from The Matrix with my multiple screens trying to find a ticket for under $500 to…wherever!
For us mortals, and a stay at home wife of a fireman, this is what I have to do to fulfill my life project. I scour the internet constantly and so far it has paid off. $6k for one person just for a flight? I can plan a nice 2 to 3 week trip to ____you name it_____ for a family of 4 for $6k!!!
Now go get a beer, coffee, tea, water, lemonade, tequila or whatever you drink while surfing the web and start learning airfare trends. This is what we have to do until the airlines stop playing mind games with us all.
Ready, set, GO!
Use these sites to begin with. Once you see the fare you like, go to the airline website and compare. See if they have sales or specials. Then compare again and make your move.