Tricks for Saving Even More Money When Booking Your Next Flight
Canadians love travelling, and we have a healthy obsession with trying to save money every time we take flight. Over the years I’ve read some pretty outlandish claims out there about the best way to go about doing that. Some sources insist that booking exactly 59 days before departure is the most cost-effective approach, while others swear that buying tickets on Wednesday at 2am is what will really nab the lowest price possible.
From personal experience, none of those arbitrary, blanket statements are actually true. So I decided to do some more digging. When is the best time to book cheap flights, and how else can we cut down on our travel costs?
Book at Different Times for Different Destinations
Is there really a magic, one-size-fits-all rule for when to book the cheapest flights?
I contacted representatives from Kayak.com, and they confirmed with me that there is no precise date or time that will always give you the lowest airfare. Nonetheless, their data does suggest that there are a few reliable guidelines for when to book, depending on where you want to go:
- Canadians travelling domestically should book their flights about 3-5 weeks in advance.
- Going to the US? Book about 8 months in advance.
- Flying to another overseas destination? Ideally you should try to purchase tickets about 11 months in advance (!) to get the lowest average prices.
Of course, not everyone can plan that far ahead. Fortunately there are some other simple tricks that you can utilize to help you save more money on your next flight.
Book with a Credit Card That Doesn’t Have Foreign Transaction Fees
Some airlines only allow you to pay in the local currency, particularly the low-cost airlines like EasyJet or RyanAir. If your credit card charges foreign transaction fees (and if you’re Canadian, it most likely does), you’ll end up paying an additional 2.5% fee which is rolled right into the exchange rate. For example, I recently purchased some airfare in Euros that cost me a total of $534.51. Had I used a credit card without foreign transaction fees, I would have paid $521.14.
Yes, it’s a seemingly minor difference, but in Europe that’s enough for a fancy dessert or a very decent bottle of wine with dinner. I could have kept that money in my pocket by using one of the below cards that waive or subsidize foreign transaction fees:
You’re still technically paying the foreign transaction fee of 2.5% with the Rogers Platinum Mastercard, but since you earn 3% cash back for purchases in foreign currencies, you actually come out ahead by .5%. Plus the card has no annual fee, there aren’t any limits on daily transactions, and the card is available all over Canada.
The Home Trust Preferred Visa has no foreign transaction fees and no annual fee. You’ll earn 1% in cash back on all purchases (including those in foreign currency) which keep things simple. In addition, you get a Roadside assist membership and Visa Auto Rental Collision/Loss Damage Insurance as additional benefits. It’s important to note that the card does have its downsides: cardholders are limited to 10 transactions a day, and the card is not available to Quebec residents.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one premium travel card, the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite should interest you. Not only does this card offer no foreign transaction fees, you’ll also earn 2 Scotia Rewards points per dollar spent on eligible grocery, dining, entertainment, and transit purchases, and one point per dollar spent on all other purchases. Plus, there’s a pretty sweet signup bonus of 25,000 Scotia Rewards points after you charge $1,000 to the card in the first 3 months (offer valid through June 30th, 2018). This has an approximate value of $250. These premium benefits do, however, come at a cost, as the card has a $139 annual fee.
Fly During the Shoulder Season or Off-Season
Generally speaking, July and August are the most expensive times to travel. If you travel in the spring (April / May) or autumn (September / October) flights tend to be much cheaper due to supply and demand. You’ll also want to factor in any local festivals or holidays that may affect prices in your specific destination, such as cherry blossom season in Japan or spring break in the US and the Caribbean. The other advantage of travelling during the off-season is the fact that there will be less tourists around which means less wait times for attractions and cheaper prices for hotels.
Be Flexible with Your Dates and Locations
Since airfare is based on supply and demand, flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday will likely be cheaper than say a Friday or Sunday. The time of day can also make a difference: flying overnight usually has lower fares since that departure time is much less desirable compared to a flight that takes off at 10am.
If you’re fully flexible, you can find some really good deals. KAYAK has an ‘explore’ tool that will show you the cheapest fares for flights all over the world, which you can filter based on your budget and preferred length of flight.
Charge Flights to a Travel Rewards Credit Card
Any travel-related purchase is a chance to rack up rewards points, which can eventually be used to get heavily discounted (or even free) flights. And depending on which card you apply for, you could earn a signup bonus large enough to fly free right away. Two cards we recommend for travel are:
The Scotiabank Gold American Express Card comes with 15,000 bonus points (about $150 value) when you charge $1,000 to the card in the first three months (offer expires June 30th, 2018). This is a comparatively modest signup bonus, but the major benefit of this card is that it accrues points rapidly. You’ll earn 4 Scotia Rewards points for every $1 spent at eligible gas stations, grocery stores, or on dining and entertainment, and 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. It’s also a very flexible card. With Scotia Rewards, there are no blackout dates or seat restrictions, and you can retroactively apply your points to flights you’ve already charged to the card, rather than having to book through the loyalty program’s specific travel agency. What’s more, you can pay for taxes and fees with your points.
The BMO World Elite Mastercard‘s signup bonus is massive: cardholders get 35,000 points after spending $3000 on the card in the first 3 months, which can knock off about $250 from a flight. Better yet, the annual fee is waived for the first year, so you can test this card out for free (offer valid through April 30th, 2018).
The card earns 3 points per $1 spent on eligible travel, dining, and entertainment purchases, but it takes 140 BMO Rewards points to claim $1 in travel, which effectively makes those spending categories worth 2.14% in rewards. The card also comes with a Priority Pass Standard membership and 4 yearly passes, which have a value of $200. To claim your rewards, you must book through the BMO Rewards travel agency, but there are no seat restrictions or blackout dates.
Use Any Loyalty Points That You Might Have
Before deciding on a flight, check to see if you already have any loyalty or rewards points tucked away that you can use to redeem for a discount. But keep in mind that different programs have different procedures for redemption, as well as minimum numbers of points that can be redeemed at a time. MBNA Rewards, for instance, requires a minimum of 10,000 points to be redeemed on travel. Amex, on the other hand, allows as little as 1,000 Amex points to be redeemed on flights. And every little bit counts.
Sign Up for Newsletters
I know, your inbox is crowded with junk emails, but signing up for newsletters is one sure way to get you a deal on flights. Airlines, tour operators, and deal websites always alert their loyal fans first whenever a seat sale or deal comes up. Quite often these low prices only last a few hours, so you need to book right away!
Consolidate Your Points
We already talked about the importance of actually using points you already have, but by consolidating points, you can potentially save even more. Getting a supplementary or joint credit card is a great way to earn points into a single account with multiple family members. Alternatively, some rewards programs allow you to transfer points to your spouse or even to other rewards programs. If you want flexibility with your points, consider the following credit card.
You’re probably wondering why the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, which is a hotel loyalty card, would help you get cheap flights. The answer? It’s all about the value of transferring your points.
With the SPG card, you’ll earn 20,000 signup bonus Starpoints when you spend $1,500 in the first 3 months of card membership. You can then transfer those points to 30+ airlines or loyalty programs, including Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio. But the real scoop is that for every 20,000 Starpoints you transfer, you get an additional 5,000 Aeroplan points. With 25,000 Aeroplan points you can get a roundtrip ticket to anywhere within Canada and the continental US.
Set Price Alerts
Instead of spending hours searching for cheap airfare, you can save yourself time by setting up a price alert on various sites such as Skyscanner. Simply enter your travel requirements and when you’re on the results page, click “Get Price Alerts.” Now you’ll be notified directly via email whenever there’s a price drop.
One final trick when it comes to saving money on flights is to book a flight with a stopover, or choose a ‘multi-destination’ flight itinerary. Many airlines allow you to stopover in a city for a few days at no extra charge, which is a great way to enrich your trip by seeing another locale.
Multi-destination flights fly into one city and out of a different one, e.g. into Rome but out of London. You would have to make your way between those two cities, but at least you wouldn’t have to backtrack to fly home.
It’s true, airfare can be expensive, but by using some of the tricks we’ve listed, you’ll never need to pay full price again.