A Comprehensive Guide to Booking Cheap Travel: Flights, Hotels, and Tips!
[et_bloom_locked optin_id=”optin_1″] I founded Elona the Explorer with a fundamental belief that 1.Traveling can be affordable and 2. Traveling long distances for short periods of time could be just as exciting and impactful as a long getaway. You are reading this because you want to know where and how to find the best travel deals (or someone recommended you because they thought you may be interested!) This is a free comprehensive guide that will introduce you to everything I know and all the portals I personally use. The intention here isn’t to sell you anything and needless to say, this post is not sponsored!
If you find this post helpful, please consider sharing my website with a friend. As the old saying goes: “The best compliment you can give is a referral!
Finding the right deal requires a little research that can go a long way. First things first – always browse in “private” or “incognito” mode (if you don’t know how to access a private tab, Google it as it’s different for every browser). I am not a web professional but I can tell you that your online activity is tracked and travel websites know you’ve been browsing flights previously … they even know what “prices” you were interested in and consequently they inflate prices on their websites based on what they think you’re willing to pay. Browsing in a “private” window or better yet with VPN – will mitigate the risk of price inflation.
When I browse for flights I open multiple tabs to cross check pricing. My three favorite services are:
Skiplagged is an awesome website that scans the entire web for flight deals and something called “hidden routes”. Hidden routes are important to understand because they impact you as a passenger. Lets say you are looking for a flight to San Francisco from New York. Upon initial research you find a price of $350. When you look on Skiplagged, you will see a flight from New York to Hawaii that flies through (or layover) in San Francisco for $200. This flight is called a hidden route, because, although the flight is going to Hawaii, you can leave the airport in San Francisco where the layover will be! For flights like these, you cannot check in luggage because checked luggage goes to the final destination. You also have to be conscious of passport regulations (for example: if the flight above wasn’t going to Hawaii but to Australia, you would be mandated to board with a passport not just a license). In general, traveling like this is not good practice and if you do it often, you may not be able to get points/status honored with the airlines you’re flying with. That said, it can save you a lot of money – no risk, no return. Also, not all Skiplagged flights are hidden routes – you can still browse regular flights that are generally cheaper than other websites!
I’ve been loyal to Skyscanner since day one and it remains one of my favorite booking portals. Skyscanner, like Skipagged, also browses hundreds of other websites to give you the best pricing available. The only difference is that Skyscanner has it’s own way of auditing other websites to make sure they are legit resellers so you can be fairly confident that you will get a legitimate deal. Perhaps the best part about Skyscanner is that it allows you to put “everywhere” as the destination so you can see the places you can fly to for the lowest price. The only caveat with Skyscanner is that it doesn’t always show all available budget airlines where prices may be even cheaper. For those you will need to resort to Skiplagged or Kiwi.
Kiwi is another great portal for booking cheap travel – in fact, you can book not only flights but also busses and trains! Kiwi is especially great for booking travel in places like Europe because it will give you the cheapest and most efficient route (which could be a combination of plane + bus) and it saves you the trouble of booking everything separately. Similar to Skyscanner, Kiwi has a sweet interactive map that shows you the flight prices to virtually all corners of the world from your base airport.
After crosschecking Skiplagged, Skyscanner, and Kiwi, I always look at the airlines direct website as well. The reason for this is because airlines often have special sales only available if you book directly through them. For example, I recently booked a flight to Dubai with Emirates directly on their site because they were having a Labor Day Sale + they offered me an additional $30 off my flight! These prices simply weren’t passed on to third party resellers that Skyscanner, Skiplagged and Kiwi promote.
1. WOW Air
WOW Air has done a fantastic job of promoting Iceland as an end and a stopover destination. Some of the best flights to Europe are from WOW air – however most (if not all) have a layover in Reykjavik. It is worth checking out the WOW Air stopover program, where you can spend a day or two in Iceland for free before heading to your final destination.
Norwegian, to me, is at the higher end of the “budget airline” spectrum and they offer very attractive prices. See below! I check all these websites regularly because deals can appear randomly and they also disappear quickly.
I recognize that there is a negative stigma associated with most budget airlines and sure although you may not get top-notch comfort, at a price like the ones below – it’s a fair trade. In fact, Frontier has some of the most amazing cabin crew members! I flew with Frontier multiple times in the past – including a $68 roundtrip flight to Puerto Rico.
Tips to save money
1. Try a long-weekend
There is a common misunderstanding that traveling and vacations are expensive and should last a long time (7-10 days minimum). This simply isn’t true – of course everyone has their own style of travel but it’s always worth trying something new, especially if it can save you money. When you book airfare as cheap as some of the deals above, you can spend less days in a destination and perhaps splurge on better accommodation. Or the opposite, you can book an affordable airbnb and travel on a budget. I completely understand that when booking very expensive flights it only makes sense to go for an extended period of time, but in cases like this you can save a lot of money by exploring a city over a period of 3-5 days. Plus taking 3-5 days at a time (especially when combined with a long weekend), allows you to travel more often rather than taking one or two long vacations a year.
2. Ditch the luggage
If you decide on doing a short long-weekend getaway, take less stuff with you! Most budget airlines are able to keep their prices so low because they offer you an “a la carte” service, meaning you can get only what you pay for and the base price is for the flight itself. On top you can add on things like luggage, food, blankets, etc. Typically even when you pay extra for luggage on a budget airline, your flight price will still be lower than major airlines. An important thing to remember is that usually if you pay for your luggage at the airport, the price will be significantly higher so if you are definitely traveling with luggage – pay for it when you book your tickets or before you get to the airport. Travel hack: If you check-in to your flight online and get a mobile boarding pass, you can bypass the airline counters at the airport, meaning you can also bypass weighing your bag. Overall this is not good practice and you risk the chance of having to weigh your bag at the airport but in general you can getaway with a few extra pounds by using this method.
3. Use a travel credit card
Did you know that many travel credit cards have incredible travel perks? My personal favorite is the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) card. Some of it’s benefits include no foreign transaction fees, lounge access at airports (in most cases you can eat and drink for free before your flight!), a $300 yearly travel credit (good enough for a ticket to Europe!), and more that you canread about in my post here. Insurance is an expensive but important add on for any trip – however if you book your vacation with a travel credit card like the CSR, you will be insured on things like lost luggage, trip delay and cancellation, medical, and more … essentially free of charge!
4. Know your rights
For U.S readers: Under the DOT’s regulations, as long as a customer books a non-refundable ticket at least seven days ahead of the scheduled departure, an airline is required to offer one of two options: allow that customer to change or cancel the trip within 24 hours without penalty, or hold that reservation at the current price for 24 hours without payment. The airline is not required to offer both options, just one. However most airlines except for American Airlines allow you to cancel a reservation within 24 hours and if the ticket was booked at least seven days ahead of the scheduled departure.
Emails worth signing up for
I typically hate receiving newsletter emails from companies – but some newsletters are definitely worth it. Like the ones below!
1. The Flight Deal
The Flight Deal is an awesome website that tracks down the best deals and offers from all airlines. Deals as good as a $330 roundtrip ticket from NYC to Singapore that I snatched last spring. They have a drop down menu where you can pick a major city as your outbound airport and they will show you deals from there. The Flight Deal also features error fares. Airlines make mistakes. Sometimes it’s human error or fuel surcharges and fees were omitted or a currency conversion was wrong – whatever the cause, if you’re lucky you can get fares for as much as 90% off the sticker price. With error fares there is always a chance that the airline won’t honor the ticket – depending on how much money they’re losing. Overall I still think it’s worth booking if you find one – I flew on an error fare at least three times without any issues. The Flight Deal finds great fares and error fares fairly quickly so it’s worth signing up for their newsletter or just bookmark their website.
2. Scott’s Cheap Flights
This email has to be my favorite of the day! Scott’s service is simple: whenever his team finds a very attractive deal, they send it out. Upon signing up you choose your region so the deals are tailored to you and your inbox doesn’t get flooded. Scott has a free service and a premium subscription service – I strongly recommend you to sign up, at least to test his free service first! Similar to The Flight Deal, Scott’s team also locates error fares quite often and they predict how many days the fares will last.
3. Travel Pirates
Travel Piratesseeks out the best deals on everything from flights to vacation packages and even bus and train deals. They are another handy email newsletter that comes in with fantastic deals.
4. Join ETE on Facebook
Join me on Facebook where I post great deals that I find on the web and have open discussions with my readers! A funny meme or two might pop up too.
5. The Points Guy
Brian Kelly a.k.a The Points Guy a.k.a TPG is the King of utilizing and maximizing credit card points for travel. Besides that, his website & Facebook group are great sources of travel information from the most well seasoned travelers in the world.
6. Direct Airline Newsletters
As I mentioned previously, airlines often have sales on their websites and the only way to know about them first is to be a part of their newsletter. When I told you about my Emirates experience, I was able to book a sale flight + the extra $30 off because I was signed up for their newsletter. Signing up is free and requires little time but can bring huge ROI in the future.
How to look for hotels
Agodais the Skyscanner of accommodation – it searches the web for the best deals and if you find a better deal they will even price match. Agoda also has a customer service line which is a great value prop.
HotelTonightsells last minute “unsold” hotel rooms at incredible prices! The app has now expanded it’s service to allow you to book far in advance however the cream of the crop deals are usually within a week of travel! You can get $25 off your first booking by using the code EKARAFIN.
*Some links in this post are affiliate links. I always appreciate it when my readers use the links in my posts because it helps me put out more helpful content like this. Thank you if you choose to use the links in this post!
Useful tips & resources that don’t require your email:
Hover Over Me!
You can save a lot of money by being flexible with your departure and return dates! The websites below offer great deals on specific dates. If you can, work around them.
Sometimes a roundtrip ticket from the same airline isn’t the cheapest option. Always research if you can book two one way tickets, perhaps from different airlines or airports.
Did you know that some airlines charge you for checking in at the airport and printing your boarding pass there? Always try to check-in to your flight online and the sooner you do it, the better chances you’ll get a good seat (if that option is available). You’ll also save a lot of time because you can bypass the airline counters at the airport entirely.
Luggage rules are quite important, especially on budget airlines. Carry-on’s come in different sizes: there is the domestic and international carry-on size. Check the luggage rules on the airline’s website to ensure you are carrying the appropriate size.