(manchester airport, UK, I don’t know who this woman is in the photo. she’s no relation to me)
After reading the NYT’s Frugal Traveller blog religiously over the past few days, catching up with every entry I felt at some level that I too could write how to be a frugal, or rather a cheap-skate, traveller. But covering more of Europe and more of America as apposed to more exotic places like Thailand, China and Brazil like the NYT. Of course, this has its challenges. Europe and America used to be super cheap, especially when all the different countries within the EU had their own currency. Now, with capitalism and inflation, sadly it’s not as cheap as it once was – even in my life time (i’m 22). But don’t fear! It can still be done without the panic of ‘gosh, i’ve only got $40 to last me 3 days!’
I have friends who won’t go on vacation with me because I will do whatever it takes to skimp on the last $$. From going up the Empire State Building 1 whole hour before sunset – so your $21 admission fee allows you see NYC rooftops in the daylight, watch the sunset, and then in the dark. 3 views for the price of 1! To blagging $1 seats, or over night bus/train rides or flights so we don’t have pay for a room. That’s right, because my momma didn’t raise no fool!
Living in the UK, just a lil self important island off the coast of France. Flying is usually the quickest and often cheapest/only option to get where you’re going. There are obvious other ways of travel like the train to get to Paris or Brussels but I’ll be covering trains in another blog post soon.
For now the question is, how to get cheap-ass flights. Transatlantic.
People say, Smizz?! How do afford to pay £550 a time for a return flight to NYC. Easy. Because I’ve never paid more than £420 for a flight to USA (this was flying at a peak time in July – bargin considering) from my local airport, Manchester. The cheapest flight I’ve got return to NYC from Manchester was £240 2 years ago and £360 to San Francisco from London in August. Unfortunately prices like that are now rare with the oil surcharge.
It’s worth paying an extra few $$ to travel from your nearest airport both for peace of mind and you usually save on $ getting to the airport. You can get someone to drop you off and pick you up. If you have no generous friends, the train usually costs less than £6.00 each way if booked 3/4 weeks in advance.
If you have friends that live closer to bigger airports for example, Heathrow LDN. Your flight will likely be £50-150 cheaper than more regional airports. This is because the free market operates on a much larger scale here. For example, Virgin Atlantic have at least 5 flights a day going to NYC during the week and more people want to visit London for business and pleasure than say Manchester.
Getting indirect flights some how often works out cheaper. With the Oil surcharge flying from even Ireland to the USA is £50 cheaper than flying directly from the UK. Germany, Switizland France and Ireland currently have the cheapest oil tax in the EU.
Say NO to Travel Agents
Never buy your plane tickets from a travel agent, unless they’re very specific tickets like the travel around the world offers. It’s never cheaper from a travel agent. The ONLY exception to this rule is STA Travel. If you’re under 26, or a student or a teacher. They offer a 20% discount on airlines such as British Airways. You can’t claim this discount yourself. Sometimes you can get a further £25 off with every flight purchase and if you don’t have the exact money in your account and it’s close to pay day – they can reserve the flight for you and you can pay it off in installments. Just make sure you don’t take too long other wise you’ll have to pay any tax increase!
If you spot a bargain on expedia.co.uk then the reality is that you could get the same flight, with more choice of times to flight at from the airlines own website – at the same price as advertised on expedia, or better! Sometimes the price is really just an exclusive to Expedia. This is key. You need to check lots of sites because they all have different offers. Sometimes expedia gives £100 off vouchers for flights & hotel offers.
Sales are your best friend! Keep an eye out for them. The best sales are always around mid. Jan. March, late April, mid september and sometimes early November excluding flights for the festive period.
Orbitiz.com has a policy that if you book with them and find a cheaper price, they will refund the difference. In addition to this, it’s priced in dollars, which makes it a tiny bit cheaper than everywhere else because of the current good exchange rate.
Other websites like moneysupermarket.com is fantastic for finding the cheapest flights going to a specific location with the choice of comparing flying from 4 different airports. It does most of the hardwork for you! In addition to this, skycanner.net is also a great tool for comparing the market, but i still think moneysupermarket is better.
This is the ultimate trick between paying £300 for a flight and £540 for the same flight. Airlines rely on laziness.
Airmiles, if only for the card
It’s all about the airmiles. You might not think they’ll add up to anything, but if i started to collect them when I first got hooked on NYC – i would have definitely have had a free flight by now (this kills me a little inside thinking about it). Whatever airline you’re flying with, sign up and collect the miles.
Often airlines are related to each other – like the Star Alliance – which includes Air France and Delta. This means your miles are good with about 7 different airlines. And maybe you don’t have enough for a flight, but maybe an upgrade? Maybe a free alcoholic beverage, or ice cream to cool you down on the flight. Maybe, just maybe, you can use your miles for a day pass in the first class waiting lounge room which has free food, drinks, people who wait on you and of course, free wifi!
If, like me though, you check in the airport way too early and don’t have a ticket to the 1st class lounge. Then wifi is your only savior! Most airports will offer at least 20 mins free wifi – to get you hooked. There’s usually ways around getting another free 20 mins. But this will involve you having at least 2 email addresses. Most people do right? Or is that just me?
Getting Bumped Up
Wanna fly business without paying the cost of a small business? The answer is to get a free upgrade. How?! This has never happened to me, (she says through gritted teeth) but it has happened to some friends. They tell me the secret is to dress smart casual when checking in. A shirt and a nice pair of trousers of dark jeans with no ripps in will probably do the trick.
When you get to the check-in desk you casual make conversation, ask how their days gone. Is the flight super full. Are there any spaces left in Business class? At this point if there is, they may ask if you’re interested. You say how much would it be to be upgraded? At this point this is a good point to pass over your skymiles card. The airport checkin person should realize your a loyal member, you look like you fly regularly, and she’ll offer you the upgrade for freeeeeee. It’s all about how you carry yourself.
Indeed, it is all how you carry yourself. Currently the average price pre summer holiday season to fly from the UK to the East Coast of America is between £290-350. If you’re paying more than that before April/May then you’re not looking properly. Or the oil surgcharge got realllllly bad!