You don’t have to pay first class rates in order to have a smooth flight.
We’ve all had those moments. Moments when you throw your arms up in the air and admit to yourself, “I need a vacation!” As tempting as it may be during these times to hop on the Expedia and search for your next flight, it may be worth it to wait.
1. Buy your tickets at the right time
Believe it or not, buying your tickets 4 weeks versus 4 months out from your date of departure can make hundreds of dollars of difference. That said, the appropriate amount of time between your buy date and your “bye” date varies depending on where you’re going.
According to CheapAir.com — who watched nearly 5 million flights change over the course of almost a year — Central and South American flights are best purchased 96 days out. Caribbean vacations are not too much worse, at 144 days. If you’re traveling to any other continent, however, you better make plans fast; everywhere else priced cheapest over 7 months in advanced.
If only it were that simple.
Other research reveals that the top airlines announce reduced fares on Monday nights. That means by any given Tuesday, many of the smaller airlines have published their own competitive rates.
If you really want the best deals, however, CBS News’ Peter Greenberg suggests you wait until 1am Wednesday to snatch up Tuesday’s leftovers that are likely to be discounted even more.
In sum, if you’re flying to Latin America or the Caribbean buy your tickets sometime between Monday night and early Wednesday 96-144 days out.
2. Do your research
To avoid unpleasant surprises at check-in, make sure you ask some key questions: What’s included in your airfare? Will there be meal service? Do you get to check a bag? Are carry-on’s extra? Some airlines, like Spirit, have switched to an a la carte style of travel. This means that while the base-rate of the flight may be cheaper than anything on the market, you’ve got to pay extra every detail from baggage to in-person check-
Obviously, if you’re traveling for a longer period of time or are required to check multiple items, flying with a more traditional airline may make a lot of sense. Don’t completely discredit the a la carte menu, though. Light travels who can embrace flexibility are able to save a lot of money with those airlines.
3. Wear the right clothes
A little-known fact is that socks are actually the most important detail of your outfit on flight day.
Even if you elect for sandals to rush you through security, bringing a pair of socks is a must for the plane. Not only will they keep you warm when the mid-flight freeze sets in, a clean pair of socks will shelter you from the attendant’s glare when you decide to ditch the shoes. Moreover, when it comes to flying, compression socks or tights are for everyone! Really. The risk of blood clots on long flights does increase with various risk factors, but put on the right pair of socks or tights, and you’ll make sure you’ll not only look great but feel great. The right kind of compression can improve blood flow and diminish the tiring effects of running from one end of the airport to the next. Even some quality leggings could make a difference.
Of course, other cool gear does exist to make your airport experience more enjoyable.
For example, Clever Travel Companion has introduced a line of clothing with creatively hidden pockets to make sure you always have the important things nearby. Slip on shoes also are an obvious must when making your way through security—not to mention metal-free belts which can save you even more time.
With all the walking and carrying and security checks, it may be quite tempting to turn to sweatpants and a tourist tee, but there are still advantages to dressing to impress in the airport. While it’s no guarantee, if you show up early, mention you’re a loyalty program member, and sweet talk the agent a little bit, you’re far more likely to score a first class upgrade wearing slacks or a nice skirt than gym shorts and a hoodie. Due to many companies’ policies to purposely oversell flights, free upgrades do still happen. Even if you’re not the lucky one in five customers to receive a bonus, what’s the worse that could happen? You never know who you might run into.
4. Brown-bag it
Did you know that you can actually bring food through the dreaded doors of security? In fact, you can bring a whole meal hassle-free as long as it’s not liquid or produce! This means cheese and crackers that aren’t $16 a package, sandwich meat you can trust, and even ramen that you can cook using the flight attendant’s hot water for tea. The possibilities are endless.
Or, for those of a thirstier nature, use your allotted three three-oz carry-on bottles to BYOB to the plane. Liquor tastes better anyway when it’s not three times the price.
5. Take advantage of perks
You’ve seen the commercials, received the emails, but still aren’t convinced. Do I really need a credit card with travel perks? Honestly, it depends on how frequently you travel and where you’re going. For short-term, short-distance fliers, you can probably get by with just joining a loyalty program. For those planning to enjoy a far-off getaway or to live abroad though, get a card! Many credit cards with travel perks for air travel offer no foreign transaction fees, which is huge for people planning to spend a long time away from home. Spend a year abroad, you’ll not only save on fees and but you may rack up enough frequent flier points to cover your flight back.
That said, fee waivers and frequent flier miles are not the only travel perks you should look out for.
Using the right credit card or loyalty program can gain you access to exclusive airport lounges, early boarding or even free checked baggage for you and your whole family. Some even offer free concierge services so you can use your time between flights to book a stay a luxurious spa or plan an adventurous day in the rainforest.
Oh and lost luggage or changes to your itinerary? Not a problem since many travel cards come with travel insurance.
Many sites offer lists of “top credit cards for travel.” NerdWallet and Get.com offer some great comparisons, but the truth is there’s no one size fits all. Not everyone has the same travel style, so not everyone should get the same credit card. If you’re loyal to one company, you may be able to get a higher points per dollar rate than cards that are applicable to many airlines. If you typically travel with your family, you’ll definitely want to look into cards that have perks that can apply to them too.
Whether you’re a chronic business flyer, a wanderlusting free spirit, or just your average Joe looking for a weekend vacation, make the most of it. Follow these five suggestions and have a much better trip.