8 tips and tricks for finding a great travel deal
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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information.
If you’re hoping to travel on a budget, one of the best ways to save money is to take advantage of travel deals when they come up. We’ve seen some great deals recently as more people start planning spring and summer travels.
But for beginners, it can be hard to know how to take advantage of deals. Part of the equation is being flexible enough to jump on last-minute deals when they pop up (something I still struggle with because I like planning trips far in advance). The other part, however, is knowing where to look and how to decide which deals are worth taking.
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So today, I’m going to walk through a few tools, tips and tricks for spotting deals and figuring out which ones you should jump on.
Travel apps and services
If you’re just dipping your toes into the travel universe, the right app on your phone can help you find the best deals for budget travel.
Scott’s Cheap Flights
This service allows you to set up deal alerts catered to your home airport and a select number of destinations. The base service is free, but you can also pay for premium or elite versions that range from $49 to $199 per year and come with additional perks such as the ability to choose more airports and destinations, get alerts for premium-class tickets and more.
With the Hopper app, you can set alerts for flights and hotels based on where you want to go or stay. The app uses predictive technology to determine when the best time to book a trip will be. You can also freeze prices for a specific window of time if you find a deal but don’t want to finalize your plans just yet.
Alerts are a free service, but you will have to put down a small deposit whenever you freeze a flight or hotel deal.
Skyscanner is a booking website that publishes daily deals and allows users to set price alerts for flights.
It’s also a good resource if you aren’t sure where you want to go. When you type in your home airport, you can leave the destination blank for Skyscanner to pull up the best deals for top destinations so you can explore the possibilities that make the most sense for your budget.
You can set up email alerts for specific routes through Google. This is best for when you have specific flights in mind and want to know the best time to book.
The TPG app can help you track your points and miles balances so you can maximize your spending and have the confidence to book award flights and hotel deals when they come up. The Award Explorer tool can help you find your next destination and see how many points it takes to get there. This also helps you have a baseline for how much a trip will typically cost in points or miles so you know when you come across a great deal for a specific route.
Follow the right accounts
There are also a number of accounts you can follow on Twitter that share deals every day. These deals won’t be catered to your specific home airport or bucket list destinations, but it’s not uncommon to find some solid cheap flights shared by these accounts. Just know that sales, mistake fares and other deals tend to go fast — especially when shared with a large audience — so you’ll have to be quick to book on some deals or you’ll miss out.
We have a separate Twitter account that exclusively posts every single TPG deal article we publish.
This account focuses on inexpensive paid tickets, so follow if you like to hunt for affordable cash flights.
JetBlue Cheeps is an official side account for JetBlue where deals on last-minute flights and JetBlue sales are posted. Of course, these flights are all JetBlue, so if you don’t live near an airport where JetBlue flights are regularly available, this account isn’t as relevant for you.
When to jump on a deal
You’re on your phone, and — ding — an email alert for a deal to a destination you’ve been wanting to visit pops up. Do you take it?
It can be hard to know when a deal is worth it.
The first step is knowing what typical flights and hotels cost for your desired destinations. Google Flights is a good resource for exploring cash prices for flights, and the TPG app is a great way to gauge how much certain trips will generally cost in points and miles. Once you have a good idea of what standard prices are, it’s easier to recognize when a deal is worth it.
But it’s not just about the price. Also consider these factors before hitting “book” on a deal:
- Source: Is the deal only available on a third-party booking site you’ve never heard of? If so, it can be risky to book. Also keep in mind that when you click into a deal to book from a third party, the price might jump up. Always double-check the final price before finalizing a reservation and putting money down for a ticket.
- Layovers: Just because the price is low doesn’t mean it’s an ideal flight. If you’ll need to spend the night at an airport (which means risking it to sleep at the gate or shelling out money for a hotel), it could negate the lower price of the flight.
- Flight time: Even if the flight is nonstop or only has one layover, check what time it flies. If you aren’t willing or able to get up super early or fly overnight, the deal may not be worth taking.
- Airline: Not all airlines offer the same experience or the same customer service policies. Know which airline is offering the deal and its specific cancellation policies, baggage fees and other terms before booking the flight.
If you’re looking at a potential points and miles deal, a good rule of thumb is to compare the points cost of the flight or hotel to the cash price at the time of booking. At a minimum, you should try to get at least 1 cent out of every point. You can use TPG’s most recent valuations to see if the points cost is comparable to or better than what we typically value points or miles, or check out our new points versus cash calculator to help do the math for you.
For example, let’s say you find a flight on Delta for 60,000 miles round-trip for a flight that normally costs $1,200. Using the 1-cent-per-mile rule of thumb, the award flight is a good deal ($600 versus $1,200). Even when you use TPG valuations (which currently value Delta SkyMiles at 1.46 cents each), you’re getting a better value by using miles than paying cash ($876 versus $1,200).
Not every deal you come across is going to make sense for your travel goals and budget, but hopefully, these tools and tips will help you find deals that you can take advantage of as we all book our upcoming getaways. The key is to be flexible enough to book a deal once you find it before it disappears.
Featured photo by d3sign/Getty Images.
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