Last week it was announced that the US Justice Department would be investigating several major airlines for possible collusion. In recent years, the number of available seats domestically has declined, prices on several routes have increased and those pesky airline fees have us trying to stuff as much as we can into a carry-on bag that may be to large to fit in the overhead bin, if one is even available by the time you board the plane.
In recent years we have seen the merger of United and Continental, Delta and Northwest, and American and US Airways. I don’t know much about mergers, but these mergers while they came with many benefits, e.g. more nonstop flights per airline, left an industry where 80% of the market is controlled by four main actors, those previously mentioned and Southwest. This minimal amount of competition has led to what the Justice Department suspects might be collusion, as many benefits are not being seen by customers.
In 2014, Delta, American and United made $2 billion in baggage fees!!! As Jet Blue recently announced it will no longer be offering free checked bags, Southwest is the lone wolf of free checked bags on domestic flights. Checking one bag can tack on $50 – $90 to the cost of your round trip flight depending on the airline that you are flying.
So in a market that seems to constantly be trying to increase the price of travel for consumers, $2 shots of water I’m looking at you, how can you save money on travel?
On December 24th 2014, as an early Christmas gift, Etihad Airlines, mistakenly, released thousands of cheap flights to Abu Dhabi, Cape Town, Mumbai and Manila from a number of US cities including Chicago, DC, LA and NYC. I found out in a group travel chat that I am a part of in the wee hours of the morning. I ignored it. When I woke up at 7am and people were still talking about it, I investigated. Low and behold, I found a flight from Washington Dulles to Abu Dhabi for $218, yes, cheaper than I have ever paid for a flight between DC and Detroit. I did not book it immediately because I wanted to loop in a few friends. I sent out what seemed like a million text messages and within an hour four of us were going. Within a few hours nearly 20 of us had booked.
The keys to taking advantage of glitch fares are: flexibility with dates, quick decision making and agility when clicking the “purchase” button. Most glitch fares only last a few hours, if that, so waiting for your friend that takes days or even weeks to decide on whether or not to take a vacation, will cause you to lose out on a cheap flight. Don’t be afraid to travel alone!!
This post by fellow travel blogger Oneika the Traveller will give you the low down on where to go for glitch fares.
More and more airlines are having sales nowadays. All it takes is one airline to put a route on sale and the others follow. If you have very specific dates that you want to travel then you may not be able to take advantage of many of the sales, but if you are flexible you can capitalize on daily sales from major US cities. Below I have shared a few websites that will send you daily emails and even track certain routes for price drops.
I had no intention of traveling to Thailand this year, but I found a flight for $630 from LAX to BKK so I had to purchase it. These emails can be helpful or dangerous! Be careful.
A lesson my eldest sister taught me a long time ago was “use other people’s money,” meaning, find ways to use credit cards to your advantage. In my early 20s I abused credit cards, so around 24 I got rid of all of them except one that had a limit of $3000, in an effort to keep me out of trouble. Now that I am older and wiser I can use credit responsibly. In the past five years, I have used cash for EVERYTHING; flights between continents, clothing, food, everything. My motto was if I don’t have the cash, I don’t need to buy it.
Since coming back to America, where credit is very accessible, I have stopped using cash all together, rather I use credit cards that reward me for spending and pay my entire bill at the end of the month so that I never pay interest.
For frequent and not so frequent travelers, there are a number of cards that will earn you mileage credit for your favorite airlines. My primary driver when selecting a card was on that would earn miles on Delta because that is the airline that has my loyalty. This article rates 17 travel credit cards. Another consideration when choosing a card is whether or not your card charges a foreign transaction fee. This fee is usually 3% with most credit cards and banks.
The credit card that I use most often is the Delta Platinum American Express card, though the annual fee is $195, you get a free companion ticket, which pays for that fee and then some if you travel far enough. I am planning to go to Hawaii with my mother with the free ticket. No foreign transaction fees and a range of other perks, including access to the growing network of American Express airport lounges and fee waiver for your first checked bag, make it the perfect card for me. I also use the Chase Freedom card which gives me cash back on every dollar that I spend. If your credit card doesn’t offer any perks from spending, you are using the wrong card!
Cards with 0% financing for a set period of time are also very useful. You can buy a bunch of plane tickets and pay it off within the specified time using money from your travel fund or savings. Just don’t miss that deadline. I think they take your unborn child if you do.
Picking an airline to be loyal to can be difficult, but check out this article I wrote a while back on how to determine which airline to give all of your money to. Airline loyalty pays off!
No one can agree on what the best airline loyalty program is, but here is an article that does a great comparison. While I have accounts with every major airline group, loyalty has its perks. As a Gold Medallion with Delta, I get free upgrades to first class (based on priority of all passengers on the flight) on domestic flights as well as flights to the Caribbean and Mexico, I do not pay fees to check my bag, I get free economy plus seats, and priority boarding, which means I never have to fight for space in the overhead bins. But all that glitters is not gold! Delta’s recent change (program year 2015) to mileage accrual, in my mind, makes it one of the worst loyalty programs, but because I have status, I earn more than the average traveler. Another way to earn miles with Delta is to do Skymiles Shopping. You can earn miles for purchases you make online. It includes a long list of websites. Check it out.
Beyond the perks once you achieve a certain status, with each trip you take you get to earn miles, which eventually turns into free flights. Deciding when to use your miles can be tricky because you have to find the perfect balance between the cost of the flight and how many miles it would take to fly that route. I preserve my miles for trips to the Caribbean or trips between the east and west coast.