Lifestyle

How to Book Cheap Airfare for Summer Vacation

Written by Noah Bethilda

The first rule of booking airline travel is that it is never too early to think about booking airline travel. Props to you for being on top of it now—it’s almost as if you’re stuffing your toes into a sandy beach or strapping camping gear onto your back at the base of the Andes as we speak. The next step is acting. Brian Kelly, also known as The Points Guy, founder of a site dedicated to smart travel advice by the same name, outlined his rules for booking summer vacation travel now rather than later. (You might run into him in Portugal, Peru, or Ecuador this year.) Safe and sane travels.

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Rule 1: You can’t predict ticket prices.

There is no “trick” to snagging airline deals. “Airfare pricing is chaotic. It can really vary. Anyone who tells you that the Tuesday before four months prior is lying,” says Kelly. The only rule? The earlier you book, the more you’ll save.

Rule 2: Certain airlines are always cheaper.

Generally speaking, tiny low-cost carriers flying from smaller airports are worth the crammed quarters and barebones amenities if they’ll get you straight to your overseas destination. “Suck it up. You’re on a metal tube. And save your money for when you’re on the ground,” says Kelly. So instead of just heading straight to Delta or United‘s website, he suggests checking out Primera Air, WOW Air, or Norwegian Airlines.

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Rule 3: Track airline prices before buying.

Shop around. Get a feel for prices. Use Google Flights to compare different airlines, and make it do the work for you. “If you’re very budget conscious and you have a certain budget like $500, you can actually get an alert on Google Flights, so that when it drops below whatever budget amount you have, you get notified,” explains Kelly.

Rule 4: Use maps.

Google Flights also has a map feature that compares prices of flights to different locations. If you don’t have your heart set on one place, do some destination shopping. “I’m a visual person, so looking at a map and seeing where I can go for what prices can open horizons. You may see a city you never thought of, but it’s an amazing price, so you should think about it,” says Kelly. For instance, if all you want is to plant yourself on the beach for a week, scan every airport lining a coastline—not just Miami or Cancun—for the cheapest ticket. Bonus: You’ll nudge yourself outside your travel comfort zone, too.

Rule 5: Don’t cut too many costs.

Sure, you can get from New York to London for $300 via the Ukraine. That’s really cheap! But if you only have a week off work, do you really want to spend two days of it sitting on an airplane, switching terminals in foreign countries, or re-checking bags? “Airfare is just one component of the total cost of the trip,” explains Kelly. “A lot of times it makes sense to pay a little bit more and not buy the absolute cheapest, especially if it gives you an extra day on your trip.”

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Rule 6: Start putting money aside now.

When it comes time to buy your flight, hotel, etc., “absolutely do not go off on a trip and put it on a credit card and figure out paying it off later,” says Kelly. “You will get eaten alive by the interest. It can double or triple the cost of your trip over time if you don’t have a steady plan in place.” Yikes. But that won’t be an issue if you open a new account now and with every paycheck, add to it. Don’t get a debit card, which would only tempt you to spend what you’re hoarding. Try to use a different bank too, so you can’t easily transfer your vacation funds over to your main account. Give it time, and you’ll have yourself a substantial vacation allowance.

Rule 7: Be smart about credit card rewards.

If your credit is already solid, signing up for a new credit card can get you a nice cash cushion just in time for your vacation. “Credit card signup bonuses these days are easily over $600 to get a card that has an annual fee waived the first year; five hundred bucks even on Chase, Capital One Venture Card,” says Kelly. That signup bonus often goes towards travel (and not just airline miles—hotels and rental cars, too). “You usually have to spend a certain amount within three months to get the full signup bonus, but if you do it now, you could get your points by March or April and have a huge bank of points that could massively defray the cost of your trip.” Just don’t be an idiot about spending past your limit, of course.

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Rule 8: If you see a deal, act now; plan later.

If you think you’ve found the airfare deal of the century, jump on it. “Don’t wait. Don’t call all your friends and try to get them to ask their boss—just book the flight and figure it out in the next 24 hours,” says Kelly. Because unless it’s within a week of your trip, most airlines will let you cancel without a fee within 24 hours, just in case you can’t nail down plans or rally the troops quickly enough.

Rule 9: Use Instagram to save money on the ground.

Sites like TripAdvisor will give you the top places to see in a city based on millions of reviewers and popular opinion. But you don’t want to be like millions of others, right? Plus, those tourist traps are expensive. Before Kelly visits someplace, he searches the location in Instagram and reaches out to those who have tagged it for recommendations. When he arrives, tags his own location in his Instagram story and asks for more recs. “It’s shocking how often you’ll get some amazing tips on where to go, where locals go,” he says. It’s a lot cheaper, too.