TripIt is teaming up with our friends at Thrifty Traveler, a site that helps you travel more for less, to share ideas for booking budget-friendly air travel.

You’ve probably been hearing a lot about how summer travel is heating up—and forecasted to be at levels we haven’t seen since the start of the pandemic. While we’re excited to see travelers returning to the skies, we also know they’re going to be up against some challenges, including increased airfare prices and demand.

There’s no question flights are more expensive right now than they’ve been in years. That’s why we’ve rounded up five ways to book budget-friendly air travel—to help you plan a trip now (or down the road) that leaves some travel funds left over for your next adventure, too. 

1. Follow the flight-first rule

The flight-first rule is exactly what it sounds like—search for flights before you block off your calendar, book hotels, reserve a rental car, or plan, well, anything. If you give yourself the flexibility to shift plans by a day or two, you can often find major savings by letting the price guide your booking dates. This is the key to finding the biggest savings on travel, especially if you are multiplying across several tickets for family members or friends. 

Tip: Book at least 30 days in advance for domestic flights and 45 to 60 days beforehand for an international trip. Once you get inside those windows, airlines are more likely to charge more. 

2. Book a flight deal

While you’re at it, forget all the travel myths. There is no best day to book flights. It’s all about flexibility and timing. The more flexible you are and the quicker you can jump on a good deal, the more you can save.   

Related reading: 6 Tips to Stretch Your Travel Budget

Yes, flight prices are getting higher with renewed travel demand, but that doesn’t mean prices are sky-high for flights everywhere. At Thrifty Traveler, we’re finding some great flight deals this spring, summer, and fall. So why not plan your trip around somewhere that’s going to be cheaper to get to?   Alaska stands out with some regularly discounted fares on major airlines, as does Belize, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, and Portugal. Plus, some of these destinations are cheap once you get there, too!  

Tip: No matter where you decide to go, remember to add your flights to TripIt, and TripIt Pro’s Fare Tracker feature will notify you if you’re eligible for a refund or credit when your airfare price drops after you book. 

3. Lean on your points and miles 

Now is a great time to lean on your balance points and miles for flights—and travelers seem to have more of them than ever after continually swiping their cards while staying at home during the pandemic. Even when fares are high, the award rates to cash in your miles might be more stable. That makes now the perfect time to use your miles. 

Tip: TripIt Pro’s Point Tracker lets you monitor your reward accounts and get notified when points or miles are about to expire. 

4. Plan to travel with a carry-on bag only

It seems daunting, but the reality is that you’re likely packing way too much in your checked bag anyway. Plus, packing only a carry-on bag won’t just save you money in checked bag fees, it’ll also save you the stress of worrying about lost bags and time at the airport, where bag drop and reclaim lines seem as long as ever. 

Traveling with only a carry-on bag takes up less space in your rental car or hotel room, too. 

Tip: Looking for another way to expedite the airport experience? Be sure to check out TripIt Pro’s four-month free trial and discounted membership to CLEAR—another way being a Pro member saves you money. 

5. Learn how to avoid checked bag fees

If you must check a bag, consider flying with airlines that give you free checked bags, or on an airline that you also have a co-branded credit card with—and thus, a first-checked-bag-free benefit.

No card? No problem. The above travel credit card perk can stretch far beyond the traveler with the card in their wallet, as most airlines also give a free bag to at least two (but as many as eight!) other travelers booked on the same reservation. 

Tip: If you do check a bag, make sure you also have TripIt Pro, which will send you a Baggage Claim alert with carousel information when you land. 

By following these five tips, you’ll be well on your way to planning more trips with fewer hiccups—and more wiggle room left in your travel budget.

About the Author

Kyle Potter is the executive editor of Thrifty Traveler, a travel and flight deal website that specializes in finding cheap domestic and international fares for travelers.

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