Catching a flight is typically the fastest, easiest way to travel, but costs can add up fast. The 2016 average domestic round-trip plane ticket in the US was $349, but this doesn’t include extras like baggage fees and non-complimentary in-flight entertainment.
Chances are, you’re making at least a few travel mistakes that are hitting your wallet hard. Some extra fees might not seem like a huge deal at the time, but they add up fast when they’re multiplied over several trips or across a family of four.
It takes some savvy thinking, but air travel doesn’t have to break the bank. There are plenty of ways to get to your destination safe and sound without spending more than necessary. Jet out of town at the lowest possible price by keeping these travel mistakes to avoid on your radar.
1. Failing to consider alternate airports
Many mid-sized cities have only one airport, leaving you no choice as to which one you’ll fly in or out of. Many major metropolises have multiple airports, however, so be sure to check rates at each before booking your flight.
The amount you can save depends largely on your point of origin. Jet Blue flies into both Los Angeles International (LAX) and Long Beach, but opting to land at the latter can save you up to $50 to $100 per ticket, according to Travelzoo.
A few major metropolitan areas with multiple airports include Chicago, New York and the Bay Area. Keep the lesser-traveled airports on your radar, and remember that some carriers only fly into certain airports. For example, Southwest only flies into Chicago’s Midway.
Of course, it’s also wise to make sure transportation to your destination from the alternate airport doesn’t override your savings. Stretch your dollar as far as it can go by calculating the total cost of your trip before booking.
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2. Focusing only on nonstop flights
Searching exclusively for nonstop flights is one of the most common travel mistakes many people make. They’re obviously quicker and easier, but working a layover into your journey can reduce the cost of your ticket if you have the time to spare, putting more money in your pocket that you can spend at your destination.
In fact, passing on nonstop flights can sometimes save you $100 to $200, according to Travelzoo. If you’re traveling as a family of four, this means savings of $400 to $800 — enough funds for an extra day or two of vacation.
If you’re worried about your luggage getting lost on a connecting flight, don’t stress. Only 2.16 instances of mishandled bags per 1,000 travelers were reported in February 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, and this is down from the 2.64 instances per 1,000 travelers reported in February 2016.
Think of a layover as an adventure. Sometimes you’ll have your choice of stops for the same price, so choose a city you’ve never traveled to. It’s true that you won’t be leaving the airport, but at least you’ll be able to say you’ve passed through.
3. Not being flexible with your travel dates
The cost of your plane ticket also depends on the day of the week you fly, FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney told the New York Times. He said you can save 10 percent to 40 percent per ticket by flying on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday. Traffic is heavier on Monday, Friday and Sunday — Thursday is neutral — and airlines offer cheaper rates to fly on days of the week with lower traffic.
Say you’re traveling round-trip from Los Angeles to New York in July 2017. A recent search showed fares can run as low as $222 from LAX to LaGuardia on Tuesday, July 18, as well as for a return trip on Wednesday, July 26, totaling $443.55. Flying the same exact route on the same airline but changing up the days just a little differently makes a major price difference. The cheapest ticket from LAX to LaGuardia on Monday, July 17 is $297, and it’s another $297 to fly back on Friday, July 21, totaling $593.96. In this example, you could save $150 just by being flexible with your travel dates.
4. Packing more than you need
It really does pay to pack light, unless you’re flying Southwest where each passenger gets two free checked bags. Although it might sound a bit crazy, other major airlines charge you to check your luggage.
US-based carriers collected more than $4.1 billion in baggage fees in 2016, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (last updated in May). American Airlines collected the most in baggage fees at more than $1.1 billion in revenue, followed by Delta with more than $800 million and United at more than $690 million.
American Airlines, Delta, and United all charge $25 for the first checked bag and $35 for the second for domestic travel. If you fly with one of these airlines and bring two suitcases with you on your vacation, you’ll pay $120 round-trip just for your bags to fly. If you have a family of four and everyone checks two bags, you’ll pay $480 just to transport your luggage.
It’s best to pack everything you need into a single carry-on bag when possible. With the exception of some airlines, others allow passengers to bring two personal items aboard for free. You might have to do laundry at your destination, but that’s a whole lot cheaper than paying to check extra bags.
5. Purchasing airplane food
Showing up for a flight hungry used to be perfectly acceptable because your ticket came with a free meal, but not so much these days. Even snacks aren’t free on some airlines anymore, making this one of the easiest travel mistakes to avoid.
Bringing your own food on board ensures that you’ll pay a fair price for something that actually tastes good. This requires some extra planning, but one glimpse at an airplane menu will probably be all it takes for food to land a permanent spot on your packing list.
For examples, you can get a $5.99 order of Chobani Greek yogurt and fresh fruit or an $11.99 cheeseburger on select United flights. You can buy an entire loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jelly for less than $6 and pack a lunch. Satisfy your hunger without paying a sky-high markup by making a quick trip to Wal-Mart before your trip.
6. Passing up frequent flyer miles for kids
One of the biggest travel mistakes parents make is not creating a frequent flyer account for their children. Some carriers, like Delta, may require you to fill out a special form to create an account for your kids. JetBlue even offers a Family Pooling account where up to two adults and five children can share points.
Creating frequent flyer accounts for your kids and keeping track of the numbers can be a hassle — especially if you’re not loyal to one airline — but it’s worth the savings.
The number of points you’ll accrue will obviously depend on how much you travel, but at $349 for the average domestic round-trip ticket in the US as of 2016, that’s approximately $700 you wouldn’t have to spend if your two kids earn enough points for a free flight.
7. Paying for in-flight entertainment
Air travel can get a bit dull unless you have a way to pass the time. Some airlines offer complimentary in-flight entertainment, but prepare to swipe your credit card on others.
All in-flight entertainment is complimentary on American Airlines (although available options vary from flight and plane type). But if you’re flying United Economy, DirecTV + Hit Movies can be purchased for $5.99 on flights of less than two hours and for $7.99 on flights lasting more than two hours. The airline offers free streaming to personal devices on select flights, but this isn’t offered on planes with DirecTV.
Thinking ahead can help you save big. Google Play offers some free movies and television shows, so download them to your device before leaving home. If you have a Kindle, use it to check books out of your local library for free and spend your flight relaxing with a great read.
Even grabbing a magazine from the airport terminal can be cheaper than purchasing in-flight entertainment. It may only save you a dollar or two, but that still adds up across several family members or multiple trips.