I'm willing to book at the airport to save $38. Are you?
But when it comes to tickets and fees, there are ways for savvy passengers to save on flights. I’ve used these not-so-well-known tricks to save dozens each time. Here’s what to do to save money on flights.
Look for hidden-city fares
Let’s say you want to fly one-way from New York City to Los Angeles a month or so from now. You could book a direct flight for around $150. Or you could book a $121 flight to Phoenix with a layover in L.A., and never get back on the plane. These kinds of rates are called “hidden city” fares. Airlines hate when passengers abuse hidden city fares since it means more empty seats. This translates to less money for the companies’ bottom lines.
Like many cheapskates, I live with the guilt of nibbling into airline profits. In exchange, I find cheaper hidden city fares on Skiplagged. This flight comparison website analyzes direct and hidden city routes. Skiplagged was so effective that United Airlines sued the site’s creator in 2014. But a federal judge dismissed United’s case in 2015.
If Skiplagged reveals a hidden city flight $19 cheaper than a Spirit Airlines one-way flight — $40 round-trip — skip this step.
If not, prepare to fly one of the most complained-about (but cheapest) airlines in the U.S.
Spirit’s airplanes have non-reclining seats, iPad-sized tray tables, no Wi-Fi, no back-of-the-seat TVs, and less legroom than other airlines. Flights can feel uncomfortable, especially if you are long-legged like me.
But a savvy cheapskate can save more than $100 flying with a company famed for leaving customers feeling nickeled-and-dimed.
The first step for saving big with Spirit is to compare flights on the company’s website. For instance, the site shows a three-day round-trip between Denver and Chicago can cost as little as $90. It may be tempting to book online right then and there, but do not.
The second step for spending less with Spirit is to book a flight in person. Hidden in the bill for flights like the Denver-Chicago example is a “passenger usage fee.” This fee adds about $19 to a one-way flight, $38 round-trip. I like to avoid this fee by booking a Spirit flight at the airport. I also avoid airport parking fees by using public transportation. I use Transit app to find the fastest route to the airport.
Twenty-four hours before a flight, Spirit will send an email with information on how to print your boarding pass. If you print the pass at the airport, you will have to pay $2, or $10 if an agent does it. I avoid this fee too — and using printer ink — by saving the pass as a PDF, then emailing it to myself. At the airport, I pull up the PDF on my smartphone for staff to scan.
That already-cheap $90 flight can become $52, plus a few bucks for public transport.
Stuffing and layering
Extra clothes means extra bags, which can mean extra fees. You might end up paying fees to check bags or store them in overhead bins. Airlines like Spirit and United charge at least $30 for overhead storage.
To fit as much as possible into one backpack-sized bag, I fold clothes into burrito-sized rolls. Youtuber “armygringo” has detailed videos showing how to efficiently pack pants, shirts, socks, and underwear, army-style. With space-saving packing hacks, I can pack a week’s worth of clothes into one carry-on bag, avoiding added fees.
If you still have too many clothes for one bag, consider getting overdressed. Wear shirts on shirts or tie sweaters around your waist, middle schooler-style.
Scottish boy band member James McElvar wore 12 layers of clothes on a flight in 2015. He passed out from heat exhaustion.
But if you strike a balance between saving money and getting hyperthermia, you will get more bang for your buck. After takeoff, you can remove extra layers to form a makeshift neck pillow. Those sell for at least $10 online, more at airports.
Get free water
When you sit in a stiff-backed chair in a packed, metal tube in the air for four hours while your ears pop from uneven air pressure, a drink becomes a luxury.
But to protect civilians from terrorists, the federal government bans bottles of water at airport gates. You could bring an empty bottle to fill up once you get past airport security, but you may have no room in your backpack. And some airlines, like low-cost Spirit, charge for water.
I like to ask flight attendants for a cup of water to wash down medication. I do not take pills, but no steward or stewardess has ever questioned me. They scoop some ice into a cup, fill it with water, and hand it to me. For free.
Article last modified on September 19, 2017. Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: How I Fly Like a Cheapskate - AMP.